When I moved to Hungary, one of the first things I did was to investigate who was this Báthory after who the street where I live was named! And I got surprised and fascinated by the history, especially when the vampires came to the picture!
I still don´t know exactly to which family member the street was dedicated, but investigation drove me to fascinating and bloody family history!
The Bathory family was powerful in Western Europe during the late Middle Ages. At that time, power meant military, administrative and ecclesiastical positions in the Kingdom of Hungary. In the early modern period, the family named several Princes of Transylvania (now you can have a clue where this is driving to) and one King of Poland.
Bátor in Hungarian means “brave” and this i at the end means “from”. I did’t know if this was the “meaning” of this name, but it sounds related to me, especially when we use the Polish form of the family name that is Bátori. Then I found one explanation.
The origin of the family was swab brothers (German origin) who immigrated to Hungary during the century XI. Before adopting the family name Báthory, the family used other surnames. In 1279, four family members received a estate in Szabolcs county called Bátor for their military service. In 1310, one of the beneficiaries (Briccius) became the sole owner of the property and from that point started to name himself and his decendents as “from Bátor” or Báthory. My expeculation was not so bad…
Then the history leaded the family members to different destine in Hungary. The one I am interested here is the decedents of the youngest son of Briccius, the Báthory of Ecsed, because they kept the name Bátor. The patriarch kept the original property and also he received land in Ecsed from the King Charles Robert and built a new castle there.
Along the years, the Báthors supported many kings, from Matthias Corvinus until the Habsburgs, fought against Turkish enemies and made several representatives in the church. The family conquered honor, lands and administrative positions for their loyalty and courage in Hungary, Transilvanya and Poland.
However, during the century XVI the branches of the family fought against each other supporting from one side the Habsburgs and another Zápolya, who the Hungarians named King of Hungary.
The myth around this family is vast, but there are 2 of them I need to tell you:
– A warrior called Vitus, predecessors of the Báthors, during the century IX, fought with a dragon next to Ecsed and harassed the countryside. Vitus killed the dragon with three thrusts of his lance and as a reward received the castle. The grateful people honored him with the names Báthory, meaning good hero. In Hungarian, the word for brave is bátor and then we have a new version for the origin of the name. I am happy with this version for the origin because it matches to my guess, but the fault is that the castle in Ecsed was built only in the century XIV! Ok, maybe the dragon part also is a farce, but this is a small detail!
– During the century XIV, one of the Báthors, George VI Báthory, moved from Habsburg´s side to Zápolya´s on the war for thekingdom of Hungary and his castles and possessions were withdrawn by the Habsburgs. This George was married to Anna, niece of the Polish King Stephen, and they were the parents of the most hateful Báthory ever: Erzsébet (or Elizabeth) Bathory (1560-1614), Countess of Ecsed or most famous as the Blood Countess, one of the first known serial killers. Nobody knows the exactly number of murders because the government destroyed all the evidences when she was rested to avoid followers, but the legend around her still persists and several books and movies were done about her. Even it is believed that Bram Stoker was inspired on her history as well for the master piece Dracula in 1897.
Find below the trailer of The Countess, the last movie I watched about her directed and acted by Julie Delpy in 2009:
Also there is a production from Czech Republic, directed by Juraj Jakubisko in 2008. I watched it and he tried to mek a new version for the facts, where the legend was created by her enemies. I this version she is humanized: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pXRyCP4W0lE
It is so fascinating when a simple street name leads you unexpectedly to a thriller story with vampires and dragons, isn´t it? I would never have such think following the street name of my house in Brazil!
On the other hand, I am 100% sure my street was not named after Erzsébeth. The street was named after the real Báthors (brave) people. Nobody is proud about this history. I prefer to believe this is just one more popular legend about vampires from Transylvania, like Count Vlad III, that makes our imagination fly away in books and movies, that´s all!
In 2011, on the way back from holidays in Romania, we stopped in Nyírbathor where you can find the Báthory House Museum and you can learn a little more about the family. For more references, please check this blog: http://greathungarianplain.wordpress.com/2011/09/06/nyirbator-part-two/
More about Erzsébeth Báthory:
After her husband Ferenc Nádasdy‘s death, she felt in love by a young men and taken by vanity and despair, she decided to bath (or drink) the blood of virgins and young women like it was an elixir to rejuvenate. She obliged her servants to help her out on the crimes.
She and some collaborators were accused of torturing and killing hundreds of girls, with one witness attributing to them over 650 victims, though the number for which they were convicted was 80. Elizabeth herself was neither tried nor convicted. In 1610, she was imprisoned in the Csejte Castle, now in Slovakia and known as Čachtice, where she remained bricked in a set of rooms until her death four years later.