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This weekend the first stop on our journey was the castle of Csejte (Cachtice), a scenic ruin in the Vág valley that was made (in)famous by Erzsébet (Elisabeth) Báthory - most commonly known in legend and pop culture as "the Monster of Csejte" or simply "the Blood Countess." Many foreign books, movies, websites, and other sources tag her as the "female Drakula," or, in more reasonable cases, one of the most vicious female serial killers in history.
Legend says that Báthory, a wealthy widow at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, believed that the blood of virgins could make her eternally youthful - and therefore started murdering young women, and bathing in their blood. According to historical sources, she killed about 80 of them before the Palatine and the King brought her and her accomplices to trial. Her name today is synonymous with torture and blood.
Which is sad, because the story is bullshit.
I'll let you do the historical math: 16th century, wealthy woman with no husband, a king who owes a ridiculous debt to her family and can't pay, while the entire country is in a political and religious turmoil that makes Game of Thrones look like the Teletubbies. Oh, and by the way, it is biologically impossible to bathe in blood, in case you were wondering.
Yup, Báthory Erzsébet's trial was a political one. She got imprisoned without a sentence in her castle, walled in until she died alone 4 years later; her two female servants were tortured, maimed, and then burned alive (they confessed under torture), her male servant beheaded and then burned, and her female doctor also burned alive for witchcraft.
And somehow this story is not bloody enough for people.
Here is what pisses me off: People want this story to be true. They want it to be true so bad that even in the face of facts they try to salvage it. In the castle's own museum exhibit (generously supplied with fake Halloween spiderwebs), the sign read "While it is impossible to bathe in blood since it congeals too fast, medieval books could have had secret herbs and knowledge that we know longer know about."
And in the entire, ENTIRE exhibit (or the touristic websites I browsed before traveling) not a single word about how the story might not be true.
But would it really be so hard to make a footnote of history? Say something like "Here is the legend in all its gory glory, but be advised that the historical events were put into motion by politics and greed." I think the real story of women being dragged through the mud, humiliated, tortured, starved to death or burned alive, for the sake of asserting dominance, is way more chilling and emotionally intense than the fancy story of Once Upon a Female Vampire.
Just, you know. Less sexy.
In order to do some justice to Báthory Erzsébet as a storyteller, a couple of years ago I have created a full-hour storytelling performance that presents both sides. It is titled "Requiem for the Blood Countess;" in the first half, I tell the classic legend of blood and jealousy, and in the second half, I tell the historical story of the trial. People can decide in the end which one is worth talking more about.