The Story Behind The Book

Read about the actual history that inspired the historical fiction novel:

Dandelions In The Garden 
by Author Charlie Courtland

History of the Countess Elizabeth Bathory

"The Blood Countess"

Elizabeth Bathory was born in 1560 at the castle of Ecsed in Hungary.  Her father George was a minister who married his cousin Anna.  For her first eight years, she spent her childhood with the Sfarzosa court of her father. 

During this time, the Bathory family was wealthy and quickly becoming one of the most powerful Protestant families in the entire country.  Like most families, her lineage contained two branches.  On one side, the elite family proudly displayed a number of war heroes, as well as a cardinal, and a future king of Poland.  On the other side, the tree was burdened with a group of more infamous relatives – their defects believed to be the result of constant intermarriage, which was common among Hungarian noble families. 

An uncle practiced rituals of Satanic worship, and her aunt Klara was a well known bi-sexual who enjoyed torturing her servants.  Elizabeth’s own brother Stephan was a drunk and a lecher.  Many members of Elizabeth’s family suffered from epilepsy, signs of madness and other psychological disturbances.  As a child, Elizabeth threw frequent fits.  It was reported that she would be easily overcome with rage and lash out with uncontrollable behavior.

At the age of six Elizabeth witnessed an event, which is believed to have made a lasting impression and quite possibly triggered her future habits.  A band of gypsies came to the Bathory home to provide entertainment.  During their stay, one of the men was accused of selling his children to the Turks.  With no evidence besides the word of gossiping royals, the gypsy was declared guilty by Elizabeth’s father and sentenced to death.  Eager to see what all the commotion was about, Elizabeth snuck from her nursery while her governess was asleep and hid behind a tree in the courtyard.  There she saw a horse held to the ground.  Soldiers slit open its belly and then grabbed the man and shoved him inside.  They sewed the belly shut leaving only a small opening for his head to stick out.  The man was trapped inside the dying gut of his horse.  This might have been her first experience at brutal justice, but it was not her last.  She learned at an early age how to deal with disobedient peasants.  When she was eleven, her cousin became the ruling Prince of Transylvania.  Two years later, when the peasants revolted, her cousin ordered that the noses and ears be cut off of the fifty-four captured rebels.

Also during her eleventh year, Elizabeth became engaged to Ferenc Nadasdy, the ‘Black Lord’ of Hungary.  He was gaining a reputation for being a cruel and ruthless warrior, which made him a prize asset of the crown.  Ferenc was born in 1555, of noble birth, but not as notable as the Bathorys.  He attended school in Vienna, but was not a good student.  Rather, he was a celebrated athlete and popular among his peers. 

As Elizabeth matured, it was easily recognizable that she was exceptionally intelligent.  She was fluent in Hungarian, Latin and German.  This was at a time when even the ruling Prince of Transylvania was barely literate.  She was also adventurous and rebellious.  She liked to dress up in men’s clothes and play men’s games.  It gave her a kind of freedom and power that she, by nature, craved. 

During one of her unsupervised excursions, she met a local peasant.  She was smitten and continued a secret romance with the boy.  Unfortunately, this lead to a pregnancy and urgency by her family to cover up the incident and rush a marriage.  The bastard daughter was born in secrecy and given away to a family that assured the Bathorys that Elizabeth, nor anyone else of notoriety would ever again see the child.

On May 8, 1575, at the age of fifteen, Elizabeth married the twenty-one year old Ferenc Nadasdy, at the Varanno Castle.  Since Ferenc was a solider and leader of the ‘Unholy Quintet,’ he spent very little time with his new bride.  In his absence, Elizabeth was left in charge of Castle Sarvar, the Nadasdy family estate.  She carried out her ruling position of head of household like her family tradition encouraged, and soon became known for her cruelty to her servants.  She relished her freedom and power and ran the estate with an iron hand, often personally delivering torture as punishment.  In addition and due to her renowned beauty, she accumulated an innumerable amount of lovers.

In 1585 Elizabeth gave birth to her daughter, Anna, and over the following nine years two more girls were born, Ursula and Katherina.  However, it is speculated that Ursula died as a baby.  Finally, in 1598, Elizabeth gave birth to her only son, Paul.  With the heir born, the family was satisfied.

Living in isolation and away from her husband, Elizabeth grew bored and restless.  She decided to visit her aunt, Countess Klara Bathory.  It is not exactly known what truly occurred during these visits, but rumors suggest that through the urging of her aunt, Elizabeth participated in orgies and bondage sexual practices.  Klara introduced Elizabeth to her new obsession and released a passion that had been locked deep inside.   She realized she had a taste for inflicting pain—it brought her great pleasure.  She was also becoming infatuated with carnal pleasure and developing an interest in the occult.  Soon thereafter, she became associated with Dorothea Szantes, a black magic witch who encouraged Elizabeth’s sadistic tendencies and helped her refine acts and devices of torture.

Historical records are peppered with the cruel and sadistic acts of the Countess.  She would beat, torture and kill her servants with an alarming fervor that even authorities of the court began to question.  During this period in history, high birth bestowed complete authority.  Serfs and peasants were barely considered human.  A peasant could sometimes leave the service of a lord, but in reality this rarely happened. This was because a lord could accuse a peasant of a crime, and then have him convicted by the courts.  It was a perfect territory for a countess with a fetish to flourish.

In 1603, Ferenc suddenly became ill.  He fought for his life and held on until the cold morning of January 4, 1604.  He expired.  It was later determined he had been poisoned, most likely by an enemy spy or more likely, by his wife.

Four weeks later, Elizabeth claimed she had mourned long enough and moved to a townhouse in Vienna.  Much to the horror of Rudolf, the Holy Roman Emperor, she began appearing at court.  Rudolf did not care for Elizabeth and believed her to be too brazen and arrogant.

Also sometime during this year, Elizabeth added another member to her intimate circle, Anna Darvulia.  She claimed to have been in the service of Queen Catherine de’Medici and was familiar with potions that prevented aging and enhanced beauty.  Countess Bathory was an exceptional beauty with long black hair and a contrasting milky complexion, but time was working against her, and she was horrified by the thought of aging.  She tried many things to conceal the decline of her appearance, everything from cosmetics to expensive clothes, but she was not satisfied at the result she saw in the mirror. 

On an ordinary day and for no real apparent reason, the Countess lashed out at a servant girl and slapped her hard across the face.  The impact of the blow caused blood to spurt from her nose and splatter on the mirror and Elizabeth’s face.  After the Countess had cleaned her face she said that she noticed a change in her skin.  She was convinced that the spot where the blood touched appeared more youthful, more vibrant than before.  She was elated by the discovery and together, her and Darvulia, concluded that the ancient claim that the taking of another’s blood could result in the absorption of that person’s physical or spiritual qualities was true.  Wanting more, Elizabeth ordered that the servant girl be taken to the dungeon and drained of her blood. 

Elizabeth believed she was seeing results.  So the pair recruited Elizabeth’s faithful servant, her dwarf Ficzko, and her old wet nurse Ilona along with Dorothea to kidnap and kill more young girls.  They’d ride into town under the guise that the Countess was looking to employ more servants.  Many peasant girls willingly got into the carriage and were never seen or heard from again. 
This continued for nearly ten years and it is believed that over 600 girls disappeared from the region.  This number can not be justified, nor is it certain that Elizabeth is directly responsible for every disappearance, however; it is noted that her practices of ritual blood draining and bathing as a means for eternal beauty was occurring during this span of time. 

Then tragedy struck.  Darvulia, who was nearly blind, died.  Without her trusted chemist, Elizabeth found herself aging again.  Seeking opportunity a sorceress by the name of Erzsi Majorova appeared on Elizabeth’s doorstep.  In order to gain the Countess’s trust Erzsi added a spin to Darvulia’s take on eternal potions.  She told Elizabeth that virginal victims must be of noble birth.  The purer the substance, the better the benefits.  However, getting noble girls was problematic so Elizabeth’s crew procured peasant girls and before presenting them to their mistress, they made the girls wash, scour and dress in finery.  They were then lead into a large dining hall and expected to talk lowly and keep their eyes diverted.  Whether Elizabeth was truly fooled, she went along with the charade. 

Despite the great wealth she inherited, Elizabeth had money troubles.  Her lavish hobby and beauty potions created an enormous drain on her finances.  She was always complaining about money and demanding a larger allowance.  When she was refused, she had no other choice, but to sell two of her estates.  This alerted the family and armed with concern over property loss, they called a meeting.  During this meeting the men agreed that it was time the widowed countess be sent to a convent to live out her remaining days.  However, just days before the plan could be carried out, the Bathory family learned that the Impre Megyert had registered a formal complaint against Elizabeth with the Hungarian Parliament.  For three days, the Parliament would listen to testimonies and accusations against the Countess.  Unfortunately for Elizabeth, times were again changing and the lawlessness and extraordinary power of the nobles was decreasing.  All this was due to the Archduke Matthias II who was on a mission to restore order and balance. 

From March through July of 1610 testimonies of witnesses were recorded.  Some think it was Matthias’s interest in Elizabeth’s property holdings that inspired the trial.  At this time, if a noble was found guilty all their property would be confiscated and most important all the claims to debt, which the crown might owe to a certain noble family (which they did), was void.  This surely was a reasonable motive for Matthias and Elizabeth had made it all to easy for him to execute.

On the night of December 30, 1610, the castle was raided.  The investigative group moved quickly through the halls searching for evidence against the Countess.  Someone tripped over something in the dark and when it was illuminated, they discovered it was a body of a young girl – a body that appeared to be cut and torn.  The men continued on, descending down 150 stairs into a damp dungeon where they found an aging woman crouched over a table fiddling with vials.  It was Elizabeth.  She was immediately taken into custody.  When the search was complete, it was reported that nearly fifty corpses were found under the castle, and a number of girls were imprisoned in dungeons with pierced holes in their bodies.

Elizabeth’s formal trial began on January 2, 1611.  It was a huge public affair and details were broadly cast.  When the public learned of the accusations against the Countess they labeled her the, ‘Blood Countess.’  The story grew more and more fantastic making it difficult to know what was true and what was silly folklore and superstition.  Gossip spread from every mouth about bathing in blood, draining blood and drinking blood – and forevermore, the association with vampirism and the Countess Bathory was born. 

Elizabeth repeatedly denied her guilt and petitioned to appear before the court, but her request was denied.  She was never allowed to speak in her own defense.  This is what was read when she was sentenced:
"You are like a wild animal.  You are in the last months of your life, you do not deserve to breathe the air on earth, nor to see the light of the lord, you shall disappear from this world and shall never reappear in it again.  The shadows will envelop you and you will find time to repent your bestial life."
Elizabeth was condemned to a life of imprisonment.  Stonemasons built a cell high in a tower with only a small opening for food to be passed through.  Four gibbets were built at the corners of the castle to demonstrate to the peasants that justice had been carried out. 
It is recorded that on July 13, 1614, Countess Elizabeth Bathory dictated her will and testament through the small opening to two priests.  She left everything to her children.  Four years later, a guard approached the cell and discovered at the age of fifty-four, the most beautiful woman in all of Europe, was dead. 

Countess Elizabeth Bathory was supposed to be buried at the local town church, but the townspeople rallied and refused.  Instead, her body was reportedly sent to the town of Ecsed, the original home of Elizabeth and where she spent her brief childhood.

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