The Bloody Countess

In History on January 1, 2005 at 3:28 am

The Bloody Countess: The Atrocities of Erzsébet Báthory
Author: Valentine Penrose
Release Date: Sep 2000
Publisher: Creation Books
Pages: 189

Erzsébet Báthory, the beautiful 17th century Hungarian Countess who tortured and killed more than 600 girls and bathed in their blood, was not as widely known as the infamous Vlad the Impaler (immortalized as Dracula by Bram Stroker), nevertheless she was a popular gothic icon in horror stories (especially in Japan!? ^^;;). I’ve read dozen of Erzsébet Báthory-inspired characters in girly horror manga when I was young. Horrible but fascinating figure…

Unfortunately, this book was painful to read; it is messy with overtly flowery Gothic prose. I wouldn’t know if it’s the writer or translator’s problem (originally written in French). The author tends to get lost once awhile in a paragraph talking about positions of the stars and planets (ex: how Erzsébet Báthory is possibly a lesbian because she was born under the Mercury blah blah~). It is also poorly constructed, the writing jumped all over places: one minute it is about the witchcraft then it’d wander off on and on about certain cousin of the countess. The author mentioned in the introduction chapter about how difficult was to obtain historic documents, yet she could went in intimate detail descriptions no one could have known. It was starting to read too much like creative writing. It makes you wonder if the supposedly ‘factual’ parts have historical based or not (such as the Hungarian customs). There was no footnote nor bibliography. Though there’s an appendix of the trial records. A map of the region and family tree would help too, as the aristocrat families and their relationships get complicated. Later I found the author was actually a surrealist writer, rather than a well-researched and articulate historian.

The atrocities were so gruesome and sickening…almost numbing to one point. Even though it was the Renaissance in majority of Europe, the author presented the backward and superstitious mindsets persisted in the remote Hungary and Transylvania region. The frightened and oppressed peasants were living upon the mercy of their aristocrats. The book made the point that the intermarriages among the Báthory clans might resulted in concentrated high amount of sadistic psychopaths populated in the family. Powerful, wealthy, cruel and crazy…scary combination. Many factors contributed to why her cruelty was tolerated for such a long period even though the authorities had heard rumors from the peasants: the Báthory family name was THE power and wealth in the country; Erzsébet Báthory’s cousins were Kings; her husband was a well-respected war hero; she was a much needed powerful supporter for the Protestant Church. Even in the end, she was spared of a trial and public execution because of her family status.

” She likes them young, tall and blonde.” A lot of her victims were lured in by being promised a job and better prospect in the castle. Many peasants help the countess finding girls for rewards, one woman even sacrificed her own daughter. She had a few loyal henchmen who carried out her works: the nurse of her children, an ugly dwarf, a washer woman, they carried out most of the actual torturing and killings. In the beginning the countess was just a cruel mistress who beat up her maids, humiliated them by making them stripped naked and worked in front of boys. She would bite them when she had a heredity headache attack. One time she punished her husband’s relative by stripping the poor girl naked and tied her to a tree, covered her body with honey so she would get stung by ants and insects. Later the countess put an oiled paper between the victim’s legs and set on fire. She would stretch the poor maids’ mouth wide open until the rim of the mouth was tear apart (did the same for the victims’ fingers). She would dropped red hot coin and iron onto victims’ palms and even sticking them down their throat.

A witch in the forest whom Báthory acquainted with taught her much of the torturing tricks, which escalated her insatiable appetite for blood that sparked off the killings. She made her victims stood naked in the icy winter and pour water on them continuously until they froze to death. She custom made a spiked cage that locked girls inside while her henchmen pierced them with long spears. She burned the girl between the legs with candles; used a pincher to tear off victims’ flesh (usually of the most sensitive area); beat them black, sliced off pieces of their flesh and feed them (and other prisoners) their own grilled flesh. One time when her daughter and son-in-laws announced to come visit one of her castle, she locked up all the servants and maids in the underground jail and starved them all to death. As old age caught up with her, the witch introduced her the idea of keeping young by bathing in the virgins’ blood. She also custom made an mechanical Iron Maiden (a torture device that shaped like a coffin casket in shape of a woman, with metal spike inside the cover) decorated with one of victims’ long hair, equipped with with mechanical arms and rolling eyes and smirking mouth. It was broken and rusted by blood eventually so she reverted back to her torture sessions.

As her continued to age the countess denounced the bath useless, it was then the witch claimed maybe the lowly peasants’ blood were not effective, she needed blue-blood…the blood of nobles. The countess then began luring and killing daughters of lesser noblemen. It was the deaths of noble girls that prompted the uproar and demands for investigation.

When the authorities finally caught up on her, she resorted to witchcraft to save her. The witch prepared for her long ago a ‘fill-in-the-blank’ written curse to whomever in her way. In that critical moment she couldn’t find it, there they baked a “magic cake” to poison them (which baking it with water she bathed in with poison plants). However her main target: the King, palatine, her son’s tutor (an activist in his anti-Countess crusade) didn’t eat it. The Palatine, an ex-lover of the Countess, had tried to avoid confrontation in honor of her well-respected deceased husband, but were shocked when he found the horrifying disfigured corpses of girls in the torture chamber. His conscience took over and prosecuted her.

All of her henchmen were executed. She was imprisoned inside her own room, with the entrance and windows wall-up, except for a little slit for food delivery. She died three years later. Such end and punishment just wasn’t enough for the monstrous deed she committed. The author never elaborated why and what made Erzsébet sadistic and cruel (except blame all on heredity). There was suggestion of her homosexuality but was never explored nor how it’s supposed to relate to her sadism. The chief motivations suggested of her later blood baths was vanity and desperate grasp of youth and beauty. Erzsébet Báthory, under the writing of this author, just doesn’t feel convincing at all.

Two chapters of the book are on Gilles de Rais, another famed sadistic 15th century French aristocrat serial killer, whom the author drawn parallelization with Erzsébet Báthory. The author assumes everyone knows who he is (well I guess if you know Erzsébet Báthory you would know he is ^^;;) as she started at the point when he was discovered. Gilles de Rais was immortalized as Bluebeard in fairy tales. He was known as the celebrated lead commander of Royal army helping Joan of Arc. After the war he tortured, raped and killed hundreds of young boys, sacrificing them to devils, engaging in cannibalism and necrophilia. The parallelization was evident: both relied on witchcraft and demonic rituals, both chose victims of their own gender, luring peasant boys/girls with lavish promises. As if it was all Satan’s schemes, both couldn’t find their magical relic they relied protection on when they were discovered (in Gilles de Rais’s case, it was a human heart carved with drawings of a devil on it). Though during the trial he tried to lay blame of his crimes on being exposed to the tales of the acts of Roman Emperor Caligula and Nero (just like nowadays some tried to excuse their crimes by blaming video games and violent movies).

The book was short but still took me awhile to read because of the clunky writing. I wished there’s a more reliable, better researched and documented and more readable book out there.

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