Learn about the peasant's folklore concerning Elizabeth Bathory which began a myth.
Original posting: January 1, 2016.
Updated: June 2, 2019.
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It all began in seventeenth-century Imperial Habsburg Hungary as a tale of folklore after Elizabeth Bathory's death in 1610. Almost immediately, her peasant subjects began to lose their liberty and prosperity they once enjoyed under the protection of their former powerful benefactor. Elizabeth Bathory's son, for a while, tried to maintain this liberty and prosperity, but it was impossible in an imperial Habsburg world. His son - Elizabeth's grandson - tried too, but lost his head for treason. The folklore's embellishment was gradual during this time. Living conditions were getting harder. A mere two generations later, liberty and prosperity was over for the people of a once grand Čachtice estate! It's peasants, after 1671, were reduced to serfs - slaves - to their new masters. They would remain serfs for the next two centuries. Folklore transitioned into a tale of a cruel Countess who tortured and killed her young female victims. This tale has been told in Slovakia for more than 400 years.
Humanity is capable of almost anything - good and bad. But when illiteracy, abject poverty, and brutal repression supplants a former liberty and prosperity, well then, this creates a fertile environment for conspiracies - myths. Why? By this time ignorance has supplanted wisdom and ignorant people desperately try to make sense of what is happening to them. They can't because they do not know history. It's been taken from them. And so, they turn to fantasy in a desperate attempt to escape the harsh realities of their miserable existence, if only for an hour or two. Add political propaganda to the mix and you get something like the Elizabeth Bathory myth.
Local Čachtice Folklore
The story is that of a very beautiful, but cruel Countess, Bátorička, as she was, and still is, referred to in the Slovak popular culture. She ruled over Cachtice long ago from her castle atop a high hill overlooking the entire town and surrounding countryside. With age, and having become a widow, her youth and beauty began to fade, causing her to become even more cruel, especially to the young servant maidens in her household. Then, one day, as she was being assisted with her dressing, and in a fit of rage, she beat one of her handmaidens to the point of spattering the handmaiden's blood on her own skin. Upon wiping off the blood, the Countess observed that her skin had suddenly taken on a youthful appearance! In this manner, the Countess discovered her secret to rejuvenating her beauty. Because of her vanity, and desperate to attract a suitor, the Countess was driven first to torture, and ultimately progressed to killing young local women in order to draw their blood, which she used to draw a bath so as to maintain her beautiful, youthful appearance.
After some time had passed, at first rumours, then fear, began to spread among the local population. Her sudden youthful appearance coincided with mysterious disappearances of young women and something needed to be done. Could it be that the Countess was behind these disappearances? Word reached the king himself, who, having observed the Countess' sudden youthful appearance himself, ordered an investigation to get to the bottom of these accusations. One day, the king's appointed investigator and his men, while calling on the Countess at her castle unannounced, surprised her as well as her servants red handed, so to speak, in the monstrous act, about to kill a young maiden, having already tortured her beforehand! Bátorička, as well as her servants were arrested and summarily found guilty in a court of law. Her guilty servants were sentenced to death, while Bátorička, because she was a noblewoman, was sentenced to life imprisonment, to be walled up in her own castle bedroom wherein she eventually died.
None of this is true, of course. Believe what you will. But take the infamous blood baths, for example. Fact - The average human body holds about 1.2-1.5 gallons of blood (4.5-5.7 liters) at most. An average modern bathtub (like the one above) holds about 80 gallons (302 liters) of water or, um, blood. Seventeenth century bath tubs were way larger. Using these figures, the woman in the picture would require the blood of at least 66 dead servant girls, their blood completely drained for each bath. The myth tells us that the "Blood Countess" was murdering young women since she was at least 15 years of age. She supposedly died at age 54. This means that generally speaking, she was murdering girls for about 40 years. Given that the myth says she killed about 600 young women in total, means that in forty years she bathed about ten times - in blood anyway. Furthermore, they had no refrigerators back then. Human blood coagulates in about 20 to 30 seconds. Someone needs to explain how anyone could kill 66 people at a time, drain their blood, and manage to enjoy a nice warm blood bath before the whole bloody mess coagulated into a putrid blob. Both peasant legend and historic myth begins to fall apart from here onwards.
But wait! Apparently there was witchcraft involved. Maybe it was magic blood. Maybe space aliens and UFOs were involved! There are many maybe's. Maybe, even if one is historically illiterate, the only "maybe" that's relevant is that historically speaking, maybe its all just b***s**t!
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- Unitė, Indivisibilitė de la Rėpublique; Libertė, Egalitė, Fraternitė ou la mort [fr.]