Elizabeth Báthory (1560-1614)
You’ve probably already heard of Countess Elizabeth Báthory, the preeminent figure in a clutch of female aristocrats accused of mistreating and killing commoners for their own gratification (see La Quintrala, Delphine LaLaurie, and Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova for other examples).
According to legend, she bathed in the blood of young girls to preserve her beauty and froze her servants to death to fulfill her perverse desires in a reign of terror said to have taken over 600 lives. And, yet, it’s so hard to pin down what, if anything, actually happened. It may be that she’s one of history’s most prolific serial killers as the hundreds who testified at her trial claimed. It may be that she was the victim of a class-informed, misogynist witch hunt, sentenced to be walled up in her own castle because of society's disapproval of powerful women.
With Báthory, it is not only the image of a regal, reserved woman overseeing cruel, bloody tableaus that attracts us—it is the mystery of her guilt or innocence, as well. Also, she inspired Julie Delpy's The Countess, which we love.