Historiography Saturday: Báthory Erzsébet

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Known in English as Elizabeth Bathory, Báthory Erzsébet was a 16th century Hungarian countess who has accrued enough of a legend to merit a separate Wikipedia page for her appearances in popular culture. The allegations agains the “Blood Countess” are difficult to fact-check due to the time lapse and written accounts appearing only a century following her death, but what is certain is that over three hundred witnesses testified at the trial of her alleged accomplices that she had tortured and killed dozens of young women. While the evidence suggests that she did not bathe in virgin blood in an attempt to retain her youth, her practices were clearly sadistic.

One of the many rumors surrounding Báthory was that she engaged in same-sex relationships. (She had male lovers and a husband as well with whom she may have shared letters comparing torture tips.) Along with questions regarding the reliability of fragmented historical evidence, cases such as Báthory’s require thought in how they should be presented. Serial killers capture the popular imagination, and while it is duplicitous to pretend that none have ever been queer (or to suppress mention of queer serial killers), the supposed association between queer people and violence has been a long-employed stereotype with its own awful consequences.

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