Late last week I did a magazine interview where I said that being a badass juggernaut of unrelenting awesomeness was all about crushing the balls of worthy adversaries on the field of combat, and that there was a big difference between cleaing your way through a crowded, blood-spattered battlefield while dual-wielding a matching set of combat screwdrivers (flathead and Philips-head), and murdering scores of innocent people just because you've completely flipped your shit and now a bunch of completely bat-guano-insane demonic voices in your head spontaneously started telling you that it would be totally fucking awesome if you crammed all your neighbors down the garbage disposal in your sink.
While I completely believed this noble ideal of ultra-righteous badassitude when I said it, upon reading the published article earlier this week I immediately shifted gears, and started thinking of it as a personal challenge to see whether or not I could make a convincing argument for a remorseless, completely-unsympathetic murderer also being totally badass. So, of course in the spirit of attempting to go as completely balls-out as my office dress code will allow, this week I'm talking about a misanthropic sadist who is widely believed to be the most prolific serial killer in history. A horrible, miserable human being with absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. A murderous psycho hose beast who was such a complete motherfucking horrible wretch that for a couple generations after her death it against Hungarian law to speak her name in public. A woman who, to this day, is known simply by one crazy, ominous, yet undeniably-badass title: The Blood Countess. Elizabeth Bathory.
This is not a woman you want to fuck with.
Bathory was born in 1560, in a quiet, pleasant little area of Eastern Europe known as Transylvania (perhaps you have heard of it). Her family was a very distinguished line of illustrious Hungarian/Transylvanian nobility – her Uncle had been the King of Hungary, and her cousin Stephen Bathory, the Duke of Transylvania, had fought several successful campaigns against the Turks, was good buddies with our friend Vlad the Impaler, and to this day remains a much-beloved war hero throughout his homeland. Of course, as is the case with pretty much every royal family in Medieval Europe, House Bathory was also prone to alarming bouts of inbreeding (as one Middle Ages manuscript puts it, "If ye cannot keepeth it in thy pants, keepeth it in thine family"), and a couple generations of squaring off the ol' family tree are bound to produce a few creepy weirdo cousins along the way. So, while Lizzy had plenty of illustrious leaders, warriors, knights and heroes in her bloodline, she also had a drunk-ass lecherous psycho sex fiend for a brother, an aunt who was a lesbian witch, and another uncle who was a devil-worshipping alchemist. Elizabeth herself was raised Protestant, which to a lot of folks in ultra-Catholic 16th century Hungary wasn't a hell of a lot better than being a goat-sacrificing Satanist transsexual sex fiend warlock, and it didn't help her cause much that in her youth the girl was prone to epileptic seizures and what contemporary sources like to refer to as "fits of extreme rage".
Despite brief moments where she went batshit bonkers with a meat cleaver and started swinging wildly at anything that moved, young Elizabeth (whose given Hungarian name is Erzsebet... I chose to write it in the Westernized style so that I don't have to go back a thousand times to see if the z comes before the s) taught herself to speak Greek and Latin, and was one of the few members of the Transylvanian nobility who bothered to learn how to read and write. As was the typical case back in the Middle Ages, Bathory was engaged at 11, got pregnant out of wedlock at 14 while "horse playing" with a local peasant boy (which quite honestly sounds like a little TMI as far as I'm concerned), and at 15 married Count Ferencz Nadasdy, a man affectionately known to his cowering, disemboweled, armless enemies as the "Black Knight of Hungary".
The ruins of Cachtice Castle, the lovely couple's charming little home.
The Blood Countess and the Black Knight ruled over a bitchin' old castle and had a fiefdom of 17 villages stocked completely full of hapless peasants with whom they could pretty much do whatever the fuck they wanted whenever the hell they felt like it. Bessie's husband was gone on campaign a lot, fighting in those endless wars against the Ottoman Turkish Empire that Eastern European Kingdoms seem to constantly have been involved in, and Elizabeth spent a lot of time home alone in the castle with only an army of young boy-toy lovers and obedient servants to keep her company. When having people feed her, wait on her, and have sex with her any time she wanted got boring, Elizabeth started sending letters to her hubby asking him to tell her the gory details about all the sweet torture methods he was using to extract information out of his prisoners. His responses got Lizzie so hot that she then decided she'd test them out on people she'd kidnapped from one of the villages under her domain.
At first it was typical stuff – beating the crap out of servants with red-hot pokers, pouring honey on local peasants and tying them to trees in the woods so wild animals would eat them, and having gypsies sewn up inside dead horses Luke Skywalker Tauntaun-style (yes these are all pretty common punishments in the 16th century – I'm not even making this shit up), but together with The Black Knight, Bathory really expanded her horizons in the field of perverted freaky shit. I won't really go into a lot of the gruesome slasher-movie details of her drunken torture-orgies except to say that she was really into giant mechanical Bond Villain-style deathtraps, and that most of the stuff that went on in her castle probably would have given the Marquis De Sade a boner. It was sick and twisted, sure, but hey, it was a good bonding exercise that helped Elizabeth stay close to her beloved husband while they tried to make their long-distance relationship work – he would mail her suggestions for torture devices, and she'd write him back and let him know how it went. It's cute, in a fucked-up Tim Burton / American Psycho / what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you-assholes kind of way.
|Bathory was also really into Iron Maidens, and I don't mean that she had The Number of the Beast on vinyl (though, now that I'm thinking about it, "Run to the hills / Run for your lives" would have been good advice for the poor peasants unlucky enough to live in one of her seventeen villages).
The Black Knight died in 1604, and his death somehow made the 44 year-old Bathory even more completely Goddamned insane in the membrane. The Blood Countess next started getting really into witchcraft, got it on with a bunch of devil-worshippers, hired a dwarf to torture people for her, and allegedly put together a spell that was supposed to summon an army of 99 black cats to materialize out of thin air and rip her enemies' hearts out in what I can only envision would be the most adorable mauling of all time.
Despite all the cat-summoning and unnecessarily-violent stuff she did to her peasantry, however, what Elizabeth Bathory is most famous for is the accusation that she used to take baths in a large porcelain tub filled with virgins' blood. According to the story, one time Bathory bitch-slapped some servant girl, and noticed that the blood that landed on her skin worked like some kind of badass moisturizer that both hydrated and exfoliated, so she went completely over-the-top balls-out (or whatever the female version of that might be), stripped naked, and started spending a couple nights a week sitting in a candlelit blood-filled bathtub with a good book and a bottle of Mr. Bubble as a means of keeping her skin young and her good looks eternal (this was of course in the Dark Ages, back before Botox, plastic surgery, and Noxema).
(Not pictured: Bottle of strawberry-scented Herbal Essences,
boom box playing either ambient New Wave or "Splish Splash I Was Taking a Bath")
This bloodbath story, incidentally, is the basis for the Dracula / Vampire myth that seems to be a major factor in every single piece of non-Zombie-related literature, television and film released in the last five to seven years. Most people like to point to the name-recognition of Vlad Dracula as the main source of the ever-present Nosferatu legend, but while Vladdie certainly had his own problems, the idea of a Transylvanian Count(ess) who stays youthful forever by drinking blood is much more closely related to Elizabeth Bathory than it is to Vlad the Impaler. So while I continue to hold that serial killing and torture really isn't all that badass, single-handedly serving as the basis for one of the most successful, popular, and all-encompassing modern myths of all time sure as shit is. I mean, fuck, without her, there's no Castlevania, and what the hell kind of sick, twisted world would allow that?
When you tie the whole Castlevania thing in to the fact that she suffered from her fits of epileptic rage even into her later years – making her prone to biting and eating human flesh (!!!) – she was like the Reavers from Firefly meets the vampire babes from Bram Stoker's Dracula with perfect, wrinkle-free skin and without all the obnoxious sparkly-vampire teen angst abstinence of Twilight. The fact that she has a pretty sweet Viking Metal band named after her also helps her badass cred.
Oh, and also the fact that this woman is pretty much the most freak-out terrifying human being who ever lived.
Words cannot describe how much I love this album cover.
Bathory was able to get away with her crimes for 35 years, mostly due to the fact that this Satanic sex-falcon murder-fiend was only torture-fucking the peasants on her land and nobody really gave a rat's sack about peasants anyways. Eventually, Bathory got a little too big for her bathtub and started executing members of the lesser nobility, so the Prime Minister of Hungary got sick of her shit and sent a team of Abraham Van Helsing priests to assault her creepy castle. They staged a raid in the middle of the night on Christmas of 1610, discovered a scene described as "too monstrous" to be recounted (even at her trial), and forcibly took Bathory and her accomplices into custody after a brief struggle. The Blood Countess' staff was tortured for confessions and then buried alive, and Bathory herself was barricaded inside a small Hannibal Lechter-style prison room in a remote Slovakian castle with her only access to the outside world being little slits for air and food. Depressed that she wasn't able to torture anyone anymore, Elizabeth Bathory got super pissed and died by starving herself to death (which you gotta admit is pretty hardcore). She was found dead almost exactly 397 years ago, on August 21, 1614, with her last words being a batshit-insane suicide letter describing the afore-mentioned army of heart-devouring kitties. The 54 year-old Blood Countess is believed to have killed somewhere between 600 and 1,000 people during her lifetime, making her the most prolific serial killer in the history of the world. Suck it, Ted Bundy!
Of course, as a final note, it also bears mentioning that these stories about her could all be bullshit, and the downfall of Elizabeth Bathory could all just have been a wildly-elaborate conspiracy by the Catholic Hapsburg dynasty to discredit and shame the Protestant rulers of Transylvania. For example, that whole "bathing in human blood" story doesn't appear in history until some French dude wrote about it nearly 100 years after Elizabeth's death (it wasn't even mentioned at her trial), and a lot of the gore-intensive accusations made against her were only confessed under Spanish Inquisition-style torture. So who knows. I guess I'd argue that it doesn't matter – that Bathory's legacy is probably way more badass than any of the insane fucked-up shit she did during her actual life anyways.
TruTV Crime Library
McNally, Raymond T. Dracula Was a Woman. McGraw-Hill, 1983.
McNally, Raymond T. and Radu Florescu. In Search of Dracula. Houghton-Mifflin, 1994.
Powell, Michael. 101 People You Won't Meet in Heaven. Globe Pequot, 2007.
Vronsky, Peter. Female Serial Killers. Penguin, 2007.