A Real Vampire…
I want to tell you a short story, but while the word “story” may typically evoke thoughts of a fictional tale, that isn’t the case here.
As a quick recap in the past I’ve made the case that magic and demons and the like are for all intents and purposes real if they significantly change the way you live your life, for the worse or for the better. I have a term, “cultural placebo effect”, to describe the phenomenon*. A things actual measurable and observable state of being is often secondary to it’s real world effects.
I’m not even talking about the truth of a thing, because there are many things that, real or not, are, at least presently, outside our ability to measure and observe by any means. So I give you the two types of reality: those things whose existence can be directly observed and/or inferred by its effects and those things whose effects can be observed, but the cause cannot be observed or inferred with any degree of certainty. While it may be hard to believe, this “vampire” story you will soon be reading is of the former, not the latter, variety.
People throughout all periods of history, with no regard whatsoever for time or distance, have always had stories of creatures who feed off blood. The basics are more or less universal, so it’s the specifics that are interesting. Some of these creatures are people returned from the grave, others are those who are living transformed into abominations without ever having died in the traditional sense, still others were never human, and the list goes on even further than that, but in all cases, they want blood for some, typically nefarious, purpose or another.
Between 1585 and 1610 in modern day Hungry, the Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who had succeeded her late husband in controlling his barony and did so the many years he was absent and at war, may have become the most successful female serial killer in history. Estimates range from the low 30’s, all the way up to almost 700 victims, but in any case, she had a damn fine career as a killer. The mere fact of these murders, no matter what the number, isn’t all that interesting or disturbing, why she did it and what she did, as well as her own fate, is what really should give you nightmares.
Apparently concerned over the natural depreciation of her beauty, a resource she is said to have not been in any way lacking, she took to killing virginal women from villages under her rule and later the daughters of the local lower gentry. Killing them wasn’t enough though, like I said, that would be boring, some of her acts would make Hannibal Lector and Adolf Hitler queasy enough to pass on dinner. Using a variety of methods she drained these women of their blood and used it for everything from bathing to drinking to washing her face, all in an effort to preserve what she perceived as her fading beauty. I really mean bathing too. In a tub. With servants pouring it over her. The whole 9 yards. I’m not sure if she also used soap.
It’s also said that he used the heads of some of her victims as candle holders to light her surroundings while taking her literal blood baths and was often known to take bites of flesh from her female servants from time to time.
Even that wasn’t enough. She delighted in torturing these women, often for extended periods, with some being kept locked in cages and dungeons. She quite literally ran out of young women in her jurisdiction. Whether that was due to these women ‘fleeing before the storm’ or becoming victims, it’s hard to say, but that fact is, no young women were left alive. Her ultimate downfall came when she she broke out of her “buy local” movement and started importing women from neighboring territories. At that point, her overlord** had to take notice.
Through logic that I assume was faulty, and it is debated exactly why, she received, not the death penalty, but imprisonment in her own castle for the rest of her natural life. That isn’t to say she was locked up and they threw away the key, there was no key, she was bricked into a small room in her castle, pictured below, and spent 4 years there, howling and screaming – bloody murder – for almost the entire duration before finally starving herself to death.
I’ll mention that it is possible that the stories are not true, at least not entirely true. But the body of historical evidence points to it being at least mostly so. She was owed a large amount of money by her overlord and she was protestant, while he was catholic. However, there was little reason not to have intervened earlier if those things were major league problems between the parties. A second, more plausible, theory is that the charges were trumped up to one degree or another, but I tend to think otherwise. The events are fairly unbelievable and a much more likely story would have been better suited to accomplish the same end result. There was also no real trial held for the Countess, something that would have gone at least some distance in exonerating the king, her overlord, of accusations about whether or not the whole mess was cooked up for his political or personal gain. Among the reasons cited for her not being tried and executed was that she was royalty*** – which actually sounds like a good reason for trial and execution in, and of, itself, but they didn’t ask my opinion at the time.
It is thought that Bram Stoker may have combined aspects of her story with aspects of his more widely known source character, Vlad the Impaler, to create Dracula, the source of the modern vampire myth. It’s important to remember when reading fiction that there are very few original stories, and with very few exceptions there is almost always a real world basis for the things we read and see in the movies. That isn’t to say fiction is based in truth all of the time, but fiction is always shaped and influenced by it. Whether the writers own life experiences or historical events, even other fiction, in the sense that it is itself real, while it doesn’t tell or recount real events.
*At least I think it’s mine, I’ve never heard it used anywhere else.
**The king in question is King Matthias II, actually the Holy Roman Emperor. His name isn’t all that important so I left it out.
***Nobility, at least those of the higher orders, in the Holy Roman Empire was a little different from what we normally think of them being. They were all petty kings and queens, rulers in their own right, not dependent on a sovereign, but sovereign themselves. The Holy Roman Emperor was a more or less elected position, elected by certain of these petty sovereigns. It was a sort of “monarcial federalism”. I might have myself another new term…