The story of a legendary killer begins in Hungary in the 1560s. On August 7th, 1560, Elizabeth Báthory de Esced (Báthory Erzsébet in Hungarian) was born to a very powerful Hungarian family. Elizabeth’s father was George VI Báthory, who was from the Báthory family’s Esced branch. This family was literally so powerful, they had multiple branches. Elizabeth’s mother, Anna Báthory, was from the Somlyó branch of the family. If you were paying attention, you’ve just realized both her parents are from the same family. So, yeah, inbreeding. It happens in every story. Anna had a brother named Stephen, who was the Prince of Transylvania (in the same general area that Vlad the Impaler, AKA Dracula, ruled a century before this), and he married a Polish princess, who became King Anna of Poland. And, of course, he was her co-ruler, so Elizabeth was the niece of the King of Poland. The other important uncle that Elizabeth had was a guy named András, another Prince of Transylvania.
Hungary at Elizabeth’s time wasn’t a single unified country, there were three parts. First, there was the part the Ottoman Empire ruled, Transylvania, and then Hungary, part of the Holy Roman Empire. A man called the Palatine of Hungary was elected to basically be this part of Hungary’s governor for the Holy Roman Emperors. Remember that the position exists, because a future Palatine is going to be very rude to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth may have had seizures (possibly caused by epilepsy, which was possibly caused by her parents being closely related) while growing up. It’s been said that this is why Elizabeth became a murderess, or maybe it was because she witnessed her family being quite cruel to peasants around them. Growing up, she would’ve seen many executions of and cruelty towards peasants. This was fairly normal, though, and the way nobles kept control was through terror. One thing to keep in mind is that it was completely legal to kill any poor person you wanted, as long as you were rich, so the Báthorys could essentially do whatever the heck they wanted, because money.
The Báthorys were an extremely important family in their time and place, so Elizabeth was educated very well. It was the Renaissance, and it was starting to become a good thing to be super well-educated. It was also a good thing for Elizabeth to get married and have children with someone just as important as her so that the Báthorys would gain some extra prestige, so Elizabeth, who was eleven-ish, was betrothed to this guy named Ferenc Nádasdy. Ferenc’s family was nowhere near as rich as Elizabeth’s because the Báthorys were literally the rich people, but his father was the Palatine of Hungary, so a marriage was arranged.
There were rumors that Elizabeth had an affair with a peasant during the time she was betrothed but not married to Ferenc and had a baby at age 13. This is probably just a rumor though, as it was spread by peasants well after Elizabeth died. If it was true though, Ferenc found out, castrated the peasant, and murdered him brutally. Fun. Also, because Elizabeth was pregnant and stuff, she gave birth to a daughter (this is all rumor), whom Ferenc promptly murdered as well. Nice work, Ferenc, nice work.
Ferenc was also well educated, but because the general perception of Elizabeth Báthory to most people was that she was a cruel person who loved nothing but a good murder, Ferenc is seen as pretty much a really sadistic guy. He, like Elizabeth, was very well educated.
Five years after they’d gotten engaged, in 1575, when Elizabeth was 15 and Ferenc was 21, they got married. BUT GUESS WHAT. Elizabeth Báthory didn’t take her husband’s last name and become Elizabeth Nádasdy. Where’s the fun in that? No, Elizabeth kept her last name, and Ferenc became Ferenc Báthory. That’s how important Elizabeth and her family were.
Reading about the wedding made me sad I wasn’t Elizabeth. Like, seriously, even though she was chained to a pillar for the last few years of her life, she got to enjoy being rich for a good half-century. They invited 4,500 of their rich friends, and the peasants were allowed to come if they wanted, so that was a lot of people. As a wedding gift, Ferenc gave Elizabeth one of his many, many castles, a nice place called Čachtice Castle. She would live there for a while, and that’s where all the murder we know her for would allegedly take place.
So, Ferenc was almost constantly at war, because Hungary was almost constantly fighting the Ottoman Turks. He was almost never with Elizabeth at their many huge castles, so Elizabeth had to manage those many huge castles, and she was quite skillful. BUT. Ferenc being away meant that Elizabeth couldn’t conceive a child as quickly as anyone would’ve wanted. Of course, this meant that everyone was like, “oH nO iT’s A wItCh” because that’s what people were like back then. They would’ve blamed Elizabeth because what were women for if not popping out babies? Finally, in 1585, Elizabeth silenced all the “she’s a witch” rumors by giving birth to a daughter, Anna. A daughter and a son, Orsolya and András, were born, but both died in childhood. Next came surviving daughter #2, Katalin, and finally, a son who survived to adulthood, Pál. There are rumors that Elizabeth and Ferenc may have had two other children, but we don’t know for sure.
So, now with a male heir, Ferenc could go attack the Ottomans to his heart’s content, with absolutely no worries. So, Elizabeth was still doing stuff for him while he was away. A sorta important thing to note: Elizabeth might not have been the most pleasant person to know.
Because Ferenc was away, and Elizabeth couldn’t do everything herself, she had to hire some more household staff. So this is (allegedly) when all the murder starts. Around this time, Elizabeth hired two new people whom you’ll have to remember: Anna Darvulia, who was governess to Elizabeth’s small children and oversaw the female servants (maybe). We don’t know much about her, though. We don’t even know if “Darvulia” is actually spelled that way. But she’s important because she possibly oversaw the female servants do their work, and was really, really cruel to them. Remember the cruelty part. Also, because a lot of what we know about Elizabeth is speculation and rumors, you might hear that Anna was Elizabeth’s lover or something like that. Probably not true.
So, during this time, Elizabeth was, allegedly (just remember that word, it pretty much describes every little thing I’m going to say about Elizabeth’s “crimes”), torturing and killing local super-poor peasant girls because fun. This may or may not be true, but in a little bit, we’ll get to the whole numbers thing, because she allegedly killed a ton of people. That’s why Elizabeth is remembered as more of a legend than a human being.
Also, have you heard that Elizabeth liked to bathe in people’s blood? Literally none of my sources talked about this, but after a lot of searching, I was able to find out why the heck this crazy myth is one of the most popular things we know about Elizabeth Báthory. So, she was allegedly beating one of her servants, and she must have been hitting the woman hard because the blood fell all over Elizabeth. IF this happened (it probably definitely didn’t) Elizabeth would’ve felt that her skin was much softer and just plain nicer than it was before, you know, the blood fell all over her. So, to preserve her beauty, she would bathe in blood. Seriously, why would anyone believe this?
Anyway, back to more important and definitely more true stuff. While Ferenc was off fighting the Turks, he got this disease, and we have no idea what it was, which made him unable to use his legs. This unknown disease ended up killing Ferenc, and he died at 48 in 1604. Just before he died, he left the Palatine of Hungary as pretty much Elizabeth and her children’s new guardian. “Screw that,” said the Palatine.
Now, the Palatine of Hungary — and he’s about to get important, so remember his name, it’s György Thurzó, and this guy is trash — thought that Elizabeth’s money, all that super-cool money he could buy himself a new car with, or whatever the 17th century equivalent of a new car was, was pretty nice. So, Elizabeth, now in her late forties, is just having some fun with all this new car money, and because she’s so rich, she can just torture and kill as many poor people as she wants for fun because it wasn’t illegal at all in Renaissance Hungary. Not only Elizabeth did it, but every sadistic noble also did.
But Thurzó wants her money, and because he’s so rich and powerful, and because he’s running Hungary for the Holy Roman Emperor, the most powerful man in Europe, he’s in the perfect position to just go up to Elizabeth and say “oh, that’s your money? Too bad, it’s my money now,” and then laugh evilly. Not just Thurzó wanted Elizabeth’s money. Elizabeth’s two daughters, now grown women with husbands, had married some really trashy dudes. Even they wanted Elizabeth’s money, so everybody was sort of circling Elizabeth and her young son, Pál, like a bunch of sharks.
So, Thurzó is the main guy who does stuff. He saw it like this: if he ruins Elizabeth Báthory, then he’ll obviously end up with all of her money, and he’ll be able to buy his 17th century equivalent of a new car. So, pretty much what he does is he tries to find evidence of Elizabeth murdering people, even though she was just killing poor people, and, even though that’s not a good thing, it wasn’t illegal at all. Elizabeth, with all her family’s money and power, was pretty much above the law, even though there was no law against killing poor people. That’s why that little bit is so important, because Thurzó is about to attempt to arrest her for not breaking any laws.
Elizabeth did start getting a little nervous, and she knew what Thurzó was up to. When a servant girl died in her care, Elizabeth told the authorities that the servant hadn’t died because Elizabeth killed her, but because she’d been ill for a very long time. Even though killing servants wasn’t illegal at all, Elizabeth was scared enough of Thurzó’s schemes that she felt the need to go tell the authorities about this.
But Elizabeth did make one huge mistake: she took in daughters from noble families, whose parents thought that the very well-educated Elizabeth was giving them lessons in etiquette and just teaching them what they needed to know to be good women in general. And this was all Thurzó needed. But because Elizabeth was really rich, he needed something concrete. So, basically, if he caught Elizabeth torturing — better if she was murdering — someone, best if it was a richer person, then he could just arrest her. That’s just how it worked, and that was Thurzó’s plan.
So, because every other noble was also torturing and killing their servants because they could, Thurzó decided to ignore that entirely and focus on the whole “rich girls are being killed” thing. So, the best thing Thurzó could do was catch her killing and/or torturing rich girls, and legend says that he actually walked into a room and was like “hey, is Elizabeth Báthory here— OH MY GOD SHE’S KILLING SOMEONE!”
And that’s how Elizabeth Bathory, the famous murderess, met her fate. Allegedly. We’re not done yet. Just keep in mind that this is Renaissance Hungary, and we’re dealing with a woman who’s become nearly a legend at this point, so some of this information might be true while some might just be stories, and I’ll tell you when they probably are, but take it all with a grain of salt.
So, during a Christmas feast just a few days after the holiday, Thurzó the piece of crap just walked in and arrested Elizabeth, who was attending this feast (allegedly). His reason fit perfectly with his original plan: he’d caught Elizabeth killing a rich woman, he said. And because he claimed that Elizabeth had killed rich people, it was a crime, so he could arrest Elizabeth. Nobody could question him, because his literal employer was the Holy Roman Emperor. The King of Hungary, Mathias II, also had no problem with this, because he owed money to Ferenc.
But because Elizabeth was rich, just like her possible victims, people did question Thurzó. “So, if she killed someone,” they argued, “where did she throw the body? What about the tortured rich girl, where is she?” And a day or so later, he even had “physical evidence”. He showed everyone a dead body of some random lady and told them that this was obviously the woman Elizabeth had killed, and then he showed them all an injured woman, who was obviously the woman Elizabeth had tortured for fun.
And so, Thurzó had some “really good” evidence that Elizabeth had tortured and killed a bunch of rich people, which was a crime. And she was arrested. So, what is it time for now? The trial!
This “trial” was basically supposed to be a bunch of people coming forward and telling everyone publicly how terrible the person on trial was. Elizabeth wouldn’t be allowed to say anything, because it wasn’t even a real trial. So basically, Thurzó had Elizabeth arrested, and she was living in terrible conditions because that’s just what happened to 17th-century prisoners.
Because Elizabeth was arrested, she couldn’t do anything anymore, and because Thurzó was the Palatine of Hungary, nobody said anything. The next thing Thurzó did was try and get everyone to agree with him, and because he was the big, scary Palatine of Hungary, people did. Cruelty-wise, most people seemed to blame people with jobs in Elizabeth’s household such as Anna Darvulia’s job of overseeing the female servants.
The high-ranking servants of Elizabeth’s household that had been arrested along with her all agreed under torture that around 36 — 50 people had died/been killed by Elizabeth. Elizabeth definitely killed people, but it wasn’t an oddity, everyone did it.
Thurzó put Elizabeth’s high-ranking servants on trial, but he also had to show that yes, Elizabeth had killed wealthy girls, so he got some witnesses. Most of those witnesses were Thurzó’s friends and family, which is only a little suspicious. And then this random woman who’s known as Susannah shows up, and she claimed that Elizabeth killed 650 people, and that’s why Elizabeth Báthory is said to be the most prolific female serial killer history’s ever seen. But I hope we can all agree that 650 people is a little much, even in this weird story.
All the witnesses said that, along with Elizabeth, her high-ranking servants who’d been arrested with her had also been doing some murdering rich-people stuff, and even though all the servants said they’d been doing all this murdering and torturing because Elizabeth had told them to, three out of four of them were executed. We don’t know exactly what happened to servant #4, but she was probably a rich person whom Thurzó didn’t want to execute (he didn’t want to execute a kinda rich servant woman while he had the rich person, Elizabeth, in prison? This makes no sense to me).
Apparently (and to me, this is very hard to believe), Thurzó never put Elizabeth herself on trial because he felt bad that he wasn’t protecting Elizabeth and her young son the way his old pal Ferenc would’ve wanted him to, and putting her on trial would’ve made the Báthorys look bad, so he didn’t do it. Either way, Elizabeth was being locked up for killing wealthy women, so this wasn’t making the Báthory family look any better. Before Thurzó decided to ruin Elizabeth, the Báthorys were one of the most respected, important families. Now, everyone hated them. Remember how Thurzó was only Palatine of Hungary? Well, there was also a King of Hungary, who had, at that part of this story, been okay with Thurzó locking Elizabeth up. This king wanted Elizabeth to have a trial, but the Báthorys obviously couldn’t let Thurzó do that at this point, because they were hated so much. Why can’t Thurzó just stop? What’ll he get out of this, other than all of Elizabeth’s money?
So, we’re almost nearing the end of this absolutely horrendous story. There was another woman who apparently helped Elizabeth kill and/or torture and/or something else someone, so she was just dragged off and murdered without a trial. Was it Thurzó’s doing? Of course, it was! Who else could be that horrible in this story?
Elizabeth was, by the standards of the time, an old lady. Čachtice Castle, which Ferenc had given her all those years ago when they’d wed, was now Elizabeth’s prison. She wasn’t kept in what you might expect to be a rich people-prison, it wasn’t like a luxurious room she got to stay in. It was literally solitary confinement, and, as Wikipedia describes it, she was “locked in a brick room”. Before this, she’d been under house arrest, but after Thurzó put all her servants on trial and executed three, he’d just locked her in a brick room. Poor, Elizabeth. She definitely killed people, but definitely not 650. And of course, Thurzó killed people too, that hypocrite.
Do you remember how Thurzó had been trying to ruin Elizabeth to get her money? Well, in that he was successful. He and some of Elizabeth’s relatives just divided up her lands and wealth, and there Elizabeth was, locked in a brick room. On August 21st, 1614, Elizabeth Báthory died at the age of 54, locked in a brick room in Ferenc’s castle which, by this point, Thurzó had moved into.
If you’re like me, you’re wondering what happened to Elizabeth’s son, who she was acting as regent for. I wasn’t able to find anything out about him, but if you know of anything, please let me know what ended up happening to him!
Elizabeth is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being history’s most prolific female murderer, and honestly, I don’t hate that page, because it contains the word “alleged”, and I’ve been saying “allegedly” a lot. Elizabeth killed people, but probably not 600, even though there’s no way to tell. Moral of the story: don’t kill anyone, and stay away from Thurzó-like people.