January 25, 2014

Elizabeth Bathory The Countess of the Blood

A noblewoman, Elizabeth Bathory who was later also known as "the Countess of the Blood" was obsessed with immortality.  Some viewed her as good, and some as evil.  Over the course of her life how she was viewed changed as did the concept of who considered her a friend and who considered her a foe. 

One would think that the discussion Elizabeth Bathory would be fairly one-dimensional, though, since she is recorded to have killed over 600 women, mostly young farm girls who were poor and would not be missed, within the land of Transylvania. What many people do not realize is that there are those who considered her to be a friend, or an ally. I know it might odd to think that there were people that considered one of history’s worst serial killers to be a friend, but there were.
            It was not until she was arrested for the torture and murders of lower ranking noble women that people started to consider Elizabeth as a foe. This would also gain her the immortal fame of becoming one of the worst female serial killers of all time.

Elizabeth was a very smart woman and was well educated in a time when most women were not. She was able to keep her secret for at least five years before there was any outright suspicion on the part of the nobility about what was happening within the walls of her castle. Most certainly, some people would have suspected what she was doing, and they would have considered her a foe — or an outright enemy. However, those people would have been few and far between. 

            There would have been one other who considered Elizabeth to be a foe from earlier on: the king of Hungary. He owed her husband a lot of money. When her husband died, Elizabeth still insisted that the king pay her back the substantial amount that he owed. He really did not want to pay the family back. Since Elizabeth was running her husband’s lands she was allowed to insist that the money be repaid. This is why he would have considered Elizabeth to be a foe, in a similar fashion to Vlad III Tepes.

            It sometimes confounds people to think that anyone might have considered her a friend. For Elizabeth to covertly accomplish what she did she must have been considered a friend by many. The majority of the girls she killed attended the finishing school she started. Many people had to trust her and consider her a friend, or at least as someone who could help them. All of the girls that she killed would have considered her a friend. 

This turned into the ultimate act of betrayal when she tortured and killed them for their blood to keep her young. Elizabeth needed people to trust her in order to complete her plan. Elizabeth also had the four assistants who helped her commit all of the murders. Three of them considered her to be a friend. The fourth one was reported to have really feared Elizabeth and that is why that person did what Elizabeth told them. 

She had a powerful family- the Bathory clan- who had links to the Hungarian throne. and they could make most people bend to their will. I believe that the fourth assistant would have actually considered Elizabeth to be a foe.

Whether Elizabeth Bathory was a friend or foe depends on the person looking at any given point in her life. People thought of her one way and then changed their minds once they found out about her actions. Everyone considered Elizabeth to be a foe once they found out that she had started killing minor noblewomen, of the area.  Before this point she was only a woman, who lost her husband and was of a high birth.

January 21, 2014

Vlad III Tepes: friend or foe

Today I would like to continue the "friend or foe?" series by talking about Vlad III Tepes, Prince of Wallachia, who was also known as Vlad the Impaler, so nicknamed for his method of killing his victims. As people know, this is the man that Bram Stoker used as the basis for his novel Count Dracula. He was a prince of Wallachia and was born during the exile of his father in Transylvania. He was considered a friend by some but a foe by many. As with most places in the medieval era, Wallachia saw their fair share of battles and war. Vlad “Dracula” Tepes was also held captive during his youth. All of these things contributed to how Vlad acted, how people saw him, and how he percieved other people.

            In his youth, Vlad’s father sent him and his younger brother Radu to what is now Turkey to be held as a ransom captive in order to assure the Turkish army that his father would behave. For this, Vlad would likely have seen the Turks as foes. This would have affected his actions and behaviour and feelings toward the Ottoman Empire, and the Sultan in particular. For their part, the Ottomans would have seen Vlad and his family as foes as well. Vlad may have also blamed the Turks for the deaths of his father and older brother, Mircea, although in reality they were killed by assassins from the boyars of Hungary. It was during his captivity at the Sultan's court that his father and brother were assassinated in 1447. Vlad never got over the fact that he could not save them.

            The assassins who killed Vlad’s father and brother, and well anyone else who fought Vlad Tepes would likely have seen Vlad as a foe. Vlad took part in many battles. He first fought the assassins to get revenge for the deaths of his father and brother, then he fought to gain control of the throne of Wallachia. Those who wished to have the throne for themselves would have also seen Vlad as a foe. There were also those who took the throne from Vlad repeatedly. They saw him as a foe and unworthy of the throne of Wallachia.

            Vlad Tepes saw other members of the Order of the Dragon as friends. They supported him while he was on the throne of Wallachia. They tried to help him keep the throne and also regain it both times when he lost it. The Order of the Dragon was the only reason Vlad’s father gained the throne of Wallachia to begin with. The Order also considered Vlad Tepes to be a friend, else they would not have helped him to maintain control of the throne. 

            The people of Wallachia definitely considered Vlad III Tepes to be a friend and a good overlord. He protected them and provided for them, or at least this is what history tells us, and these are the main things people looked for in an beneficent overlord. They wanted Vlad to rule — well, at least most of them. There were those who did not support Vlad and were trying to depose him. Many had ties to other kingdoms and they certainly viewed Vlad Tepes in a negative light. 

            So Vlad, like most people, had contemporaries who considered him a friend and those who considered him a foe.

January 19, 2014

Bram Stoker's Count Dracula: Friend or Foe?

I have been asked to do some "friend or foe?" posts for the historical and fictional people that we have talked about so far. 

I have chosen Count Dracula for the first one of these posts, and I do mean Dracula the character and not Vlad Tepes this time. I know that I usually talk about the flesh-and-blood Vlad and not the character that was created by Bram Stoker for his novel Dracula, so I thought I could change things up a bit this time around.

            Count Dracula is an interesting character when considering him as either a friend or foe. There are many who would consider Dracula as a foe. In the classical stories, it is the Church who really considers Dracula to be a foe. In its eyes, he is an abomination and does not deserve to live because he kills innocents in order to live. Because he was considered a foe of the Church, Dracula was also a foe of Van Helsing. There have been some references to Van Helsing being the right hand of God, and it was his duty to kill Dracula. In the 2004 movie Van Helsing, Dracula is killed by Van Helsing. And then again, there is another version: in the 2013 TV series Dracula, Van Helsing is actually helping Dracula — quite a twist of events. In that series, it was Van Helsing that woke Dracula up from his slumber and freed him from the prison the Order of the Dragon put him in.

            Then there are the opinions of normal, everyday people to consider. These people would consider Dracula to be a foe — they were his meals, after all. Dracula was not really known for his mercy and would kill each time he ate. He never left someone alive after a meal. He certainly couldn’t have them talking and telling others about his existence. Once again, the TV series Dracula changes things a little bit. They portray Dracula as having a human manservant who knows about Dracula and what he is. The manservant considers Dracula to be a friend. In one of the episodes, the servant is severely beaten by those who want to know Dracula’s secrets. Since he considers Dracula a good friend, he takes the beating but says nothing. This is a true friend.

            Lastly, let's look at the Order of the Dragon. In the TV series, this topic is considered quite a lot. Dracula had considered the Order to be friend for a long time. It was only after the Order killed his wife that Dracula considered them to be a foe. The reason I bring this up is because it is Dracula who considers the Order to be a foe and not the other way around. Usually it is Dracula who is considered the foe by the other party. This is the only time I have seen Dracula make the first move to make someone his enemy. Van Helsing was by default a foe of Dracula because Van Helsing served the Church. 

January 11, 2014

Transylvanian Facts

Hello! I hope the holidays were enjoyable for everyone. 

It was brought to my attention that we have not had a "list" post in a while, so I figured I could do one today. Thus, I give you "10 things people do not realize about Transylvania." 

1)      Transylvania was originally split in four and was owned by four different cultures. These were: the Roman Empire, the Scythians, the Dacian Kingdom, and (the one that I find most interesting) the Celts.
2)      Many people believe that the Romanian language is similar to Russian. It is, in fact, a Romance Language more similar to French, Italian, Spanish, etc.
3)      A variety of ethnicities makes up the population . Transylvania is 76% Romanian, 20% Hungarian, 2.5% other (including German), and 1.5% Gypsies. Many people believe that there are many more Gypsies in Transylvania than there actually are. A majority of people living in Transylvania identify as Romanian, even though there is a very wide variety of cultures that they would have come from.

4)      Vlad Dracula was not a prince or count of Transylvania. He was prince of Wallachia, a territory in Romania. Bram Stoker confused details a little bit when he was writing about Vlad Dracula.
5)      Vlad's last name was not Dracula; that was a nickname. His actual last name was Tepes.
6)      It is also not widely known that Vlad Tepes had two brothers, one older and one younger. The older brother was assassinated along with their father. The younger brother remained in Turkey after he was taken there to assure his father’s co-operation with the Turkish kingdom.
7)      The Bathory family ruled over Transylvania for a period of time. They began ruling in 1571 while under the Ottoman rule.

8)      Sigismund Bathory redesigned the Transylvanian coat of arms in 1597. He did not change too much, though. He added a sun and moon to flank the eagle in either side.
9)      Elizabeth Bathory had 8 children. She had her first child out of wedlock when she was 14 years old, and the other 7 she had with her husband — 4 sons and 4 daughters. Her illegitimate child was a daughter, who may have borne the name Bathory.

10)  Finally, Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess, killed herself. The nobility of Hungary were the ones to sentence her after her crimes. They did not give her a public trial because they knew that the people would demand her death. They could not kill her because of how much the kingdom was in debt to her, financially. They locked her in a suite of rooms and she ended up starving herself to death.

January 7, 2014

When You Don't Know... But Think You Do About Transylvania

I had a very interesting conversation with a friend of mine.  They love to talk about history, and they love to spend as much time telling you that you don't know what you think you know.  They love learning, and, given I know them well enough, they are also willing to admit to defeat — eventually.

In this case, they were convinced that Transylvania was a part of Romania since 1870 or even earlier.  In fact, it was not; Romania was created in 1859 with the union of the two principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia, and then Transylvania was ceded to Romania in 1919 as a part of the Paris Peace Treaties.

The topic was Transylvania and its history with Romania.  I will admit that I might have some knowledge about the area and its history, in particular the Northern area of Transylvania, because that is where my family has its roots. Many of my relatives have been back to visit, and they always come home with interesting stories of the villages that they left behind.  My point is that, as much as technology has changed the way we look at things and do things here, not much has changed there.

Transylvania seems to be stuck in a time warp.  The major cities are fully in the 21st Century, but in the villages outside of the main areas, the internet and other devices that "make our lives easier" are hardly found.  A good indicator of that is found in many books where pictures show that life has not changed much since  many of the Saxons of Transylvania left in the last 1940s and early 1950s.

Keeping this in mind, has Transylvania changed at all?

Yes, it has. Much of the area is modernized, and much of the Romanian GDP comes from Transylvania and the Banat region (indicated by the darker yellow area of the map above, however, many people do consider it a part of "Transylvania"), and you will find a drive to improve the lives of the people there.  Tourism is a money maker, and people are cashing in on the myths celebrated by the North American tourist.

What most people do not know is that part of the reason why many of the old castles are not being destroyed or are currently being restored (an exception being Elizabeth Batory's castle, which is in a national park, and is also the former residence of a killer) is that these castles are protected by UNESCO, or they earn income for the area.  Not only does Bran Castle provide employment to many people in Transylvania, it improves the chances of Romania becoming a strong player in Europe.

Many people don't know, or don't understand is that Transylvania, politically and culturally, is in constant flux.  It always has been and the land has changed hands many times in the past 100 years, between Hungary and Romania, and to some ultra-nationalists (on both sides) this causes quite the problem. If you don't know this, you might think there is a huge tension in that area, but what it means is that it is a part of the culture of Romanians and Hungarians who live there.

When it comes to Transylvania small facts in what you know and don't know make a huge difference.

January 5, 2014

The "Arrest and Trial" and the Death of Elizabeth Bathory- The Blood Countess

Today I am going to continue with the Elizabeth Bathory theme, looking specifically at her arrest, trial and death. I find the story interesting because of the convoluted investigation and who was involved.

            A Lutheran priest initiated the investigation and then the request for Elizabeth’s arrest. The investigation was conducted by Gyorgy Thurzo, who was a member of a very prominent Hungarian noble house — although not a member of the Hungarian Royal Family. He collected statements and testimonies from multiple people about Elizabeth’s activities. Once Elizabeth was arrested, Thurzo had her son, Pal, and two of her sons-in-law assist in determining what Elizabeth’s sentence would be. They did not really like the idea of a public trial and execution. If they had gone that route, it would have caused great scandal and disgraced a prominent noble family. It also would have meant that all of Elizabeth’s lands would be seized by the crown, and Elizabeth’s family did not want to risk that.

            Elizabeth was put under house arrest. During the trial, the courts decided that Elizabeth had four accomplices. Thurzo tried to convince all of Elizabeth’s servants to testify against her, and eventually all except for one did so. The one who did not testify was tortured and then burned at the stake. Three of Elizabeth’s accomplices were also tortured and burned at the stake. The fourth accomplice, Benicka, was sentenced to life imprisonment. During the trial it was determined that Benicka was bullied and forced by the others into doing what she did. Elizabeth was not actually put on public trial.

            Elizabeth’s punishment was life imprisonment. She was to be walled up in a room. There was a small slot in the wall whereby the guard was able to supply Elizabeth with food and water. Matthias, the king of Hungary at the time, wanted to have Elizabeth put to death. I believe that he wanted this because he owed her much money, and he was unable to repay her. Elizabeth’s family agreed to have her walled up in Cachtice Castle. It is known that Elizabeth remained there for four years, living alone and having meals delivered through slots in the wall. Elizabeth was a very social being, and this way of life would not have been easy for her at all. Elizabeth’s actual date of death is unknown. What is known is that a guard saw her dead body and a few trays of food around her body that were untouched. It appears that Elizabeth starved herself to death. It would have taken her about seven days to die since it was reported that she continued to have water but not food. It appears that Elizabeth was ready to end her life and did it on her terms and no one else’s.