Author: Tony Thorne
Publication Information: London: Bloomsbury, 1998, c1997
ISBN: 0-747536414 (978-0747-53641-3)
Library of Congress Classification: DB999.S283
Library of Congress Subject Headings:
Báthory, Erzsébet, 1560-1614
Hungary–History–Turkish occupation, 1526-1699
There are times that I will write a review for a book that I read years ago. This is one of them. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
I had to order this book from England. It cost me $62.70 for a paperback through Alibris. To the best of my knowledge, this book was never released in the United States. Here’s an example of why scholars and researchers need to go beyond what is published in their native countries and languages when exploring their interests. And what is so great about this book?
Tony Thorne proves that Elisabeth Balthory was railroaded.
She was not a “blood countess,” bathing in the blood of virgins. She was a victim of circumstance, a pawn in a much bigger political struggle. Her reputation was deliberately demeaned and destroyed in a successful attempt to seize the Balthory estates.
With the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, the conquest of Greece and the rest of the Balkans was opened. The Kingdom of Hungary blocked the further Turkish advance into Europe–until the Battle of Mohács in 1526.
Suffice to say that the Turks made war on the Hungarians, and at Mohács they not only killed the Hungarian king but decimated the nobility. The kingdom simply collapsed, which was quickly overrun by the Turks. This is when Vienna was first put under siege by the Turks. A “rump” Hungary, shaped like the letter C, was all that remained of the kingdom, which was under the control of the Holy Roman Emperor and Archduke of Austria. Now the Austro-German Hapsburgs claimed the throne of Hungary, which did not please the native Hungarian nobility.
In the time of Elisabeth György Thurzó was appointed as Palatine of Hungary to govern in the name of the Holy Roman Emperor. Many of the Hungarian nobility looked to the Hungarian prince of Transylvania as the possible unifier of the Hungarians and the next king of Hungary. Who was this prince? Stephen Bathory–Elisabeth’s nephew.
The Bathory estates were vast. Elisabeth had administered them while her husband went off to war several times; there is evidence that Elisabeth was an able administrator, since there were no problems when her husband returned to take control. With his death, Elisabeth became the sole possessor, a woman alone with a vast fortune and a nephew that could possibly become a problem to the Habsburg emperor, to whom Thurzó owed his position.
We can add misogyny to the mix. Thurzó seized Elisabeth’s castle, found “improprieties” in the place, drew up charges, tortured her staff for confessions, and had them quickly executed, imprisoning Elisabeth in her castle for her “crimes.” She was walled up in her bedroom. It was then the stories of the “blood countess” began to circulate. The Balthory estates were now held by Thurzó.
The idea of Stephen Balthory restoring the Hungarian kingdom was just a dream. He was insane and eventually killed, at which point Elisabeth was simply no longer important. Her son was a minor; her two daughters were married, and their inheritances were released to them. Thurzó admitted no wrong; who cared about Elisabeth? So she was allowed to languish, forgotten by all except for the terrible stories told about her that just grew after her death.
Thorne researched the Hungarian court records and found quite a bit of irregularities in her case. No one else outside of Thurzó’s group was able to question the witnesses because they had all been executed immediately. A Hungarian lawyer, a descent of Thurzó, looked into the case and said that the evidence presented would not stand up in a modern court of law; had Thurzó followed the law he would not have had a case.
So the next time you are watching History Channel schlock around Halloween about the “Blood Countess,” remember what was done to poor Elisabeth. Let’s right an historic wrong.