Cristine Brache Talks Elizabeth Bathory


You are a Hungarian Countess. Your name is forbidden to be spoken. You are a myth.

You became the absolute ruler of a large part of Transylvania after your husband died in battle. He gave you a castle but you were already so rich, you didn’t need it. With the help of five servants you tortured between 80 and 650 girls to death—depending on who you ask. You’re a Leo, born on August 7, 1560. You spoke four languages, studied logic and mathematics, but you didn’t understand the word consequence. You are credited as being the most prolific female serial killer of all time. Predominantly, peasant girls aged ten to fourteen were killed. In particular, you used whips, cudgels, daggers, hot irons, needles, and scissors to torture your victims. You bit their faces and took chunks of flesh from their bodies. You stuck needles under their fingernails and beat them senselessly. You loved to push nettles against children’s skin before pouring cold water on them and leaving them outside to freeze.

Two hundred years after your death, a German biographer lied and said you enjoyed bathing in virgin’s blood. He said you thought it would stop you from aging. He said you were vain and feared the loss of your beauty. Because of how he mythologized you, over time you became a mascot, a caricature commonly found at the forefront of a collective trauma bestowed upon women: an ouroboros of insecurity that fuels the beauty industry. I find you in anti-aging cream and eternal youth powder. You find me each time I dare to be powerful. We find each other in shame.

Using human blood or other animal products for cosmetic purposes was once, and could still possibly be described as appalling, or of the occult, witchcraft. However, it is common to find ingredients derived from animals in most cosmetic products sold today: dye collected from beetles (carmine), crushed fish scales (guanine), rendered animal fat (tallow), boiled skin, tendons, ligaments and bones (gelatin), excretion from wool-bearing mammals (lanolin), substance extracted from the livers of sharks (squalene), waxy oil that lines whale’s stomachs (ambergris), fibrous protein from animal tissue (collagen), and estrogen obtained by extracting urine from pregnant horses.

A blood facial, also known as a ‘vampire facial’ is a cosmetic procedure that adds platelet-rich plasma back into your face. The blood is derived from the client’s arm and is then centrifuged to separate the plasma and platelets from the red blood cells. The client’s face is poked with micro-needles prior to the application of the plasma. It promises to restore one’s youth against the passage of time. Wealthy people have them done regularly, paying about $1300 per treatment.

Do you think you could have inspired this treatment? I know you inspired Brothers Grimm and Bram Stoker. When people say Dracula, they really mean you.

In a recent film I saw another interpretation of you. You were shown draining virgin girls of their blood so that it could be applied liberally to your skin, daily, because you were heartbroken and blamed the break up on your age. You thought, if you maintained your youthful beauty, the young man would come back to love you again and always. But he never came back. Your heartbreak compromised your position and sense of self-worth. It allowed a small group of male conspirators, who thought a widow was incapable of managing her own fortune without a man, to plot to take it away from you—and they did. They also arrested you. Regardless of the amount of power and wealth you had, these men would never let you abuse the same power they reserved to abuse themselves. You will never be represented accurately as no one knows what’s happened to your diaries, and you’ve been dead so long any evidence left behind is dubious.

Cinematic heartbreak aside, you were not allowed to testify or be present at your trial. In the film and outside of the film, as was documented on paper. Dozens of people testified against you based predominantly on rumours. The five servants who aided and abetted you admitted to eighty murders and were then decapitated or burned at the stake. They couldn’t burn you at the stake, you were too rich. Instead, they locked you in a room and sealed the windows and doors, brick by brick as you stood inside waiting, watching yourself disappear slowly. A small opening was left at the bottom of the room where the door used to be, in order to slide food into your cell. A cell that used to be one of hundreds of rooms in one of your many castles. You died four years later, at 54 years of age. No one cared that you were killing peasant girls until they realized they could profit off of it and even still, they were only able to act upon it once you started killing young aristocratic women. Some people are so powerful they cannot be touched. Some people are so powerful they think they cannot be touched. No one ever touched you, Elizabeth. You had to be hidden away and left to die naturally. Even your savagery was noble!