Wednesday, April 15, 2015

M: by Medicine (26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary)

Have you heard about Elisabeth Báthory, the Blood Countess? She is usually presented in pop culture as the female Dracula, a vampire, famous for bathing in the blood of virgins to gain eternal youth. At best, she is talked about as the most famous female serial killer known in history.
She was neither.

Báthory Erzsébet (1560-1614) was a Hungarian countess from an old and prominent family; niece to a king of Poland, and wife to count Nádasdy Ferenc, known as the Black Bey because of his bravery (and occasional cruelty) in the wars against the Turks. She was rich, well educated, and used to running the estate of her husband while he was away. Her independence and strength came in handy, because she was widowed in 1604, at the age of 44.
What the legend says: It is claimed that one day she slapped one of her maids so hard that she got blood on her hands. Noticing that the blood made her skin smooth and soft, she arrived to the idea of bathing in virgin blood to keep herself young forever. She started kidnapping girls, torturing them, and bleeding them out for regular baths. Eventually someone reported her to the authorities and she was captured and brought to trial. She died walled into her own home.
What really happened: It is biologically impossible to bathe in blood. It was a political trial. She was a widow with a large estate, strong political connections, and the king himself owed her family tremendous amounts of debt. She was brought to trial, but never actually convicted; all the witnesses confessed under torture, and she herself was never questioned. Her alleged accomplices were beheaded. They sent Erzsébet into house arrest, walled her in, and she died five years later in miserable conditions.
History is more cruel than legend sometimes.

But why medicine?

There is a theory supported by a re-examination of the trials that suggests that there were indeed bloody things going on in Erzsébet's basement - she was trying to heal people. If you are familiar with medicine in the 16th century, you know that never looked pretty. Many things mentioned as her "sadistic torture" methods actually line up with the medicine of the time: Ice-cold baths, bloodletting, etc. As the lady of the land she felt responsibility to care for her subjects. The bodies allegedly buried in the castle garden were probably the victims of illness, but the marks of attempted cures made people think they had been tortured.

Still not feeling bad enough for her?

Báthory was known for taking in girls, regardless of their ethnicity or social standing. She housed and sheltered girls that had been disowned, raped, or widowed, and made efforts to help and educate them. She essentially ran a women's shelter in her own home. This probably gave fertile ground to the allegations that she was gathering virgins to kill, and made the work of her accusers a lot easier...

(I have a full-hour storytelling show based on her legend and her life. I feel like the myth of the "Blood Countess" has been told enough)

Aslo, if you watch one movie about her, make it this one (warning: blood and boobs, obviously)

23 comments:

  1. Wow, that's a pretty sad story if it's true she was only trying to do good. I guess the authorities didn't like a strong woman getting by and being successful on her own. And once the rumour mill got started...

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  2. When you put it like that I can totally see the frame up. I like your version better, even if she does make a cool vampire legend in the alternate.
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

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  3. I watched the scene in church and wondered how many so-called religious men were actually madmen. In America we called young women 'witches' and burned them to death. How very sad.

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  4. Poor woman. Seems like it never paid to be a strong, independent female in those days. Especially sad that her attempts to be a decent human being was used as ammunition in her downfall. :(

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  5. History is a lot more cruel for this woman than her legend. I wonder where the whole bathing in virgin blood came from.

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  6. History is a lot more cruel for this woman than her legend. I wonder where the whole bathing in virgin blood came from.

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  7. Watched the movie. Now hearing the truth, I think I prefer the movie. I just hate cruel injustice.

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  8. Ah man, but I thought she was a vampire! Next I suppose you're going to tell me Vlad Tepes was a philanthropist?

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  9. People will believe what they want to believe. The media can influence people in many negative ways. Great post.

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  10. I feel really bad for her, it’s stupid how some cruel Kings are known today as saints while this women is female Dracula!!!
    "Haneen/I Will Never Give you Up (430)"

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  11. As someone obsessed with the 16th century, I can confirm that bloodletting was the treatment of choice for just about anything that ailed you. Also that doctors would frequently taste their patients' urine in order to come up with a diagnosis. So yeah, medical practices were just a little bit different from what they are now. Fascinating story!!

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  12. Fascinating! I've never heard this account before but have heard the stories of her bathing in blood. I also thought this was a Romanian story, not a Hungarian one. Have you ever read Outlanders? A woman is transported back in time to Scotland in the 1700s. She was a nurse, so she has interesting descriptions of using leeches and other medical techniques.
    Maui Jungalow

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  13. That's interesting since I've only heard the serial killer tale. I would wonder why the myth is perpetuated, but we as humans seem to like tales like that in favor or a more boring truth.

    ~Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Member of C. Lee's Muffin Commando Squad
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

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  14. I can believe that the tale is made up. Really, who makes the logic jump from blood to virgins blood, except someone trying to make the story more horrific.

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  15. Wow! I am not surprised she was framed like that. It wouldn't be the first nor last time it's happened. But the blood countess story is fascinating as well in a macabre sort of way.

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  16. Independent, caring and educated women have always been victoms. The myth is very horrific and bloody as tales should be. Nothing wrong with the imagination of the storyteller...
    Charlotte @My Green Nook

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  17. Horrible, either way you take it.

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  18. Ooh! I am a sort of history hobbyist, and I'd certainly heard of Bathory, but I'd never heard that she was trying to heal people, and the evidence of this was used against her in this way! And it totally makes sense, too, that it could be used against her, for the reasons you have mentioned. Awesome post!

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  19. That's really sad.... sounds like she would have been taken advantage of no matter what, given that the crown itself owed her debts...

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  20. I am seriously intrigued by this one. I've never heard of Bathory, but now I think I need to see that movie. The trailer was quite good. I like the misinformation that seems to come from so many legends. It says something about us as a human race. Also quite interesting that women of power always seem to be shown in the darkest of lights. Elle @ Erratic Project Junkie

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  21. Bathory is a favorite around my blog. I almost talked about her today, but have spoken a lot about her in the past.

    Yeah there is plenty of reason to believe that a lot about her was made up to get her land. Trouble is history is written by the victors.

    --
    Tim Brannan, The Other Side Blog
    2015 A to Z of Vampires
    http://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/

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  22. Wow! I love history like this, where we can dig into the past and see what may have actually been happening behind the mythology that is created around an individual! Thanks for sharing :)

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  23. Man does she need a new head of PR....

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