Learn about the tragic, historic consequences originating in the Elizabeth Bathory myth.
Original posting: May 17, 2019.
Updated: July 16, 2019.
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One of the most frequent questions I'm asked is "why bother with the Elizabeth Bathory myth? Who cares? - It's just a story." Well, here's my answer with as much restraint as possible in our politically correct world. This myth is no ordinary myth. It's extraordinary. It's dangerous. It's also very relevant to the world you live in. It's not because of the story. It's extraordinary and dangerous because of the reasons why it was created in the first place. Now that we know where the myth originated as folklore and why, who started the myth and why, what were its consequences? Well, the answer to that is stranger fiction, but one needs to know European history to fully understand it. That, unfortunately, is beyond any possible scope of any article. What is within scope, is to reveal its historic consequences.
The manufactured charges of mass murder and torture, the trials, well, that was nineteenth century propaganda. It was dreamt up to obfuscate real history in the propaganda war against Magyar Hungarians at a time of revolutionary unrest in the empire's hard-won prize - Imperial Hungary. What was at stake? Nothing less than the Austrian Empire, imperialism in general for other European regimes, and European "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness"! Guess which won?
The new, nineteenth century, and fast-growing European - and Hungarian bourgeois - class lapped up the Elizabeth Bathory myth word-for-word. They also lapped up a whole lot more! The myth, and subsequent stories made Hormayr and Mednansky very wealthy men. By that time, the Medieval Kingdom of Ungaria - Elizabeth Bathory's Ungaria had been long-relegated by the Habsburgs and their Imperial Hungarian collaborators to the ash heap of dead civilizations. The once powerful Ungarian aristocracy (like Bathory) in Imperial Hungary was extinct ever since Rakoci's 1711 defeat. That was the year when Ungarian liberty died forever. "Ungaria," forever became "Hungary." The Leadership in Habsburg Imperial Hungary irreversibly changed. Only aristocratic imperial Hungarian collaborators who profiteered from this collapse and impoverished aristocrats were left. The rest of the kingdom's illiterate peasant population, since 1514, were all slave property of these same land owners - all serfs - most of them in Central Hungary! Revolutionaries - Magyars - like Kossuth and his historians, thanks to Hormayr and Mednansky, consumed Austrian historical propaganda. They unwittingly, and consequently drove the final nail into extincting the real cultural memory of a once great kingdom and civilization. It's the process by which colonialism of a conquered peoples finally wins! Since the ninth century until the nineteenth century, this civilization had managed to survive more or less in freedom - about one millennium! They used to write their own history once.
The real architect of the Bathory myth, we now know is Alois Mednansky. He went on to become Hungary's chief of police and was eventually assassinated in 1844. His business partner, Hormayr, never did get his lands and titles back, despite trying very hard to do so, spending his fortune in the process. His counter-French activities in Tyrol got him into trouble with the Habsburg-Lorraine regime which could ill-afford another war with France. Eventually, Hormayr had to seek exile in Bavaria where he died in 1848, still bitter, and still only an archivist, but this time, for the Bavarian regime. The two men are relatively unknown today, but they both changed the world, and not in a good way.
Their many history publications fuelled subsequent publications and in the process, history was rewritten, largely due to the popularity of their works. After all, few are prepared to write unpopular stuff, especially if one is beholden to state-funded benefactors! Their achievement was faking history. The consequences of their achievements surpassed anyone's wildest expectation.
By 1848, Kossuth had his revolutionary history, a growing Magyarised population, and enough literate peasants to read revolutionary and historic literature. Elizabeth Bathory's myth had faded, but growing revolutionary popularity and their demands jolted the Austrian regime into appeasement. The emperor finally, after more than three centuries, agreed to abolish serfdom in his Imperial Hungary. It was an important victory for Kossuth's revolution, but he had more in mind - independence and liberty from Austria. His revolution pressed on. It was unstoppable. And so, the severely weakened Austrian regime which was dealing with domestic revolutions too, called on the aid of the Russian Tsar who sent his imperial troops to crush the Magyar revolution. Imperial Russia was, after all, dealing with similar revolutionaries back home. In fact, all European empires had an interest in seeing revolutionary experiment fail following the French Revolution and the American Revolutionary War of Independence from Britain. Consequently, the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 failed ingloriously in tragic war. Kossuth's dream of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness in his Magyar Hungary died as well. He and his cabinet ended up in exile in the United States. Imperial propaganda had caused enough disruption to defeat the revolution. Imperialism survived a little longer. By 1867, any thought of further revolution or liberty in Magyar Hungary was purged, not by Austrians, but by the Imperial Hungarian aristocracy. The imperial regime had done its work with brutal efficiency.
The pro-imperial, now new, reinvented Magyar (old Imperial Hungarian) aristocracy, seized the opportunity to fill a political vacuum after Kossuth's exile. They entered into an agreement with Austria. Together, Austrians and Hungarians formed a new Austro-Hungarian Empire of which, the Austrian emperor still remained king of Hungary. Little changed except that people were no longer someone's property. A new legislated policy of Magyarisation became state law. Literacy in the Magyar language and history was on the rise, sold as a victory of the new regime. It was exploited as a policy of repression to ethnically and culturally cleanse the kingdom of foreign, undesirable elements - its own people. For more than a millennium, this kingdom had been a multi-ethnic, multi-denominational, multi-cultural domain, a place of refuge for persecuted Europeans. Now all this was at an end. All non-Magyar languages, even family names, were officially outlawed. Millions were forced to Magyarise (Hungarianise) their family names or face loss of employment, deportation, or worse. Children were taken from parents to be re-educated in Magyar culture and language. Former serf citizens who had no family names (last names were based on the estates aristocrats owned) had to choose one. Ironically, many chose the aristocratic names of their former owners. It's why many Magyars today claim a false heritage of aristocracy. Those that did not were assigned a generic ethnic last name like "Horvath" if one were of Croat descent, "Tót" if one were Slovak, or "Pap" if one were a Jew, and so on. Magyar Hungary turned its back on its millennium-old Slavic-Turkic culture and began to implement its systematic ethnic and cultural cleansing of its Slovak, Romanian, Croatian, Serbian, and minority citizens in an attempt to further stem new rebellions from these places. By now, thanks to a new version of Magyar history, the new, reformed post-revolutionary Magyar Hungarian state had been metamorphosed into fictional "descendants" of Attila the Hun and their fictional "Magyar Conquest." Incredibly, it was as if the very laws of the cosmos ceased to apply in Hungary! It did not include historic champions of liberty like the Bathorys, Zapolskys (last kings of an independent Ungaria). Such entities were expunged, replaced with new, or even reinvented historical "Magyar heroes" to make them suit their brand of nationalist history. Kossuth, champion of liberty, died in exile in 1894 in Turin, Italy. Hungarians became at odds with each other over their own history ever since.
Kossuth, in reality, was a Slav, a Magyarised Slovak to be precise. His Slovak name was Ludovít Košút. Despite being portrayed as a national hero in today's Hungary as a Magyar, back in his time, he was somebody whom Hungary's chauvinist elites did not want in Hungary. He was politically dangerous in life, but useful as a propaganda tool in death. In what way? He stood for liberty, but even worse, he was a Slav and nothing could wipe that stain from his person! Paradoxically, a Slavic-Turkic country had fully metamorphosed into a Magyar country, one in which Slavic territories were desired - minus its Slavs who lived there. The Turkic peasant populations which had been made serfs for four centuries along with Slavs had been swept under the Magyar national ethnic rug with the name "Székely" long ago! Magyarisation of Slovaks, Rusyns, Romanians, Serbs and Croats was simply not working outside of Central Hungary. These people had enough of Magyar madness. Now they demanded independence from a country which turned its back on them, and which for the last one thousand years they called "home." Naturally, Kossuth got a glorious send off - a state funeral - after his death in Budapest as a national hero. This is classic propaganda - metamorphosing political enemies into useful political heroes. Europe's future direction took a very dangerous trajectory.
Something in the world had changed. It was an obsession with the science of language (philology), ethnicity, and race. Throughout the Western world, nation states were all re-organising themselves around linguistic, ethnic, and racial lines. The word, "ethnic," had entered the political lexicon in the late nineteenth century. In fact, National Socialism, like Communism, were healthy, alive, and pervasively everywhere, not just in Austria, Germany and Hungary! And no, Communism did not originate in Russia. National Socialist and Communist ideologies were feared by the establishments, whether aristocratic, democratic, or republican! Soon, the words, "ethnic cleansing," "genocide" and "holocaust" would enter the lexicon of culture and politics. This was the fruit of Magyar Hungarian and Austrian chaos. It initially caused a tidal wave of Slavic immigration from Hungary into the United States. This, in turn, forced the U.S. Congress to take certain actions in America too, taking a page out of Magyarisation policy and calling it Americanisation. America's predominantly Anglo-Saxon population feared being drowned out by Slav immigrants! It's a chapter of American history many would rather forget and one which most don't even know happened. This chaos was also the earliest salvo of many early twentieth century Austrian-German policies, the First World War, the Russian Revolution, National Socialism in the German-speaking world - Bohemia, Austria, Germany and elsewhere. In Hungary, all Magyars, regardless of social rank remained under Austrian suzerainty until 1918!
In fact, Hungary fought on the side of Imperial Austria, Germany, Bulgaria, and Turkey during the First World War. Also a fact, Hungary was the very last belligerent power still officially at war with the principal allies after the armistice of November 11, 1918. It was as if the carnage on both sides in the conflict had not been enough. It is why the principal allies forced Miklós Horthy who was installed as the Hungarian Regent in March 1920 (of his Kingdom of Hungary, 1920-1946), to surrender on June 4, 1920 at the Treaty of Trianon. Furthermore, the principal powers partitioned Hungary. Slovaks were consigned to remain part of Czechoslovakia (Czechs and Slovaks, today's Czechia and Slovakia), Romania received Transylvania, southern Slavic domains became the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs (today's Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, others). Austro-Hungarian chaos was only a shot across the bow. It was a warning sign of things to come. Thirteen years after Trianon, the Austrian Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. A year later he became Führer. Five years later the entire world slipped into a truly global war. A new Germanic, Teutonic master race in Hitler's imagined new Germania had a vision of another thousand-year empire. Nazi's were resurrecting another " Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation." Japan and Italy had similar plans. Again, people fell for promised glory based on mythical, infallible, histories and political ideologies.
Ultimately, these ideologies took their ethnic cleansing of entire population groups to new, genocidal heights with industrialised efficiency. Magyar National Socialists were no different. Their history was about as realistic as the Teutonic mythology was under the Nazis in the 1920's, 1930s and 1940s. This fantasy history was supported by Miklós Horthy's regime during the same war years. Horthy wanted his "stolen" Trianon territories back minus its undesirables - Jews, Gypsies and Slavs. When WWII broke out, Hungary, once more, fought on the side of a new mythical Teutonic empire as the mythical descendants of Attila the Hun! There would be no glory at the end of the rainbow of another flirtation as one of the master race.
In October 1944 Horthy's dreams evaporated. Self-inflicted tragedy descended on all Hungarians. Horthy's forces were pounded into defeat by the Soviet Red Army. Horthy began negotiating a surrender with the Soviets. Consequently, Hitler fell out of love with Horthy. Otto Skorzeny, the SS commander who freed Mussolini from captivity for Hitler, was now sent to Budapest to capture Horthy at his heavily guarded Budavári Palota (Buda Castle). Consequently, Magyar Hungary came under direct German occupation. It culminated with Ferenc Szálasi's Arrow Cross Party-Hungarist Movement being installed. By this time, hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews had already perished in Nazi death camps. The Arrow Cross were in power from October 1944 to March 1945 - a true doppelgänger of German Nazi ideology. Szálasi's Arrow Cross continued the atrocities and Hungary, meanwhile, almost bled itself dry in futile battle. Horthy, meanwhile, as Hitler's prisoner, lived under house arrest at Schloss Hirschberg, Beilngries, Germany in complete luxury. In 1945, Hungary was in ruins and under Soviet control. Horthy's imprisonment changed hands. He ended up imprisoned by Americans at Nuremburg. Millions lay dead in their graves along with National Socialist infallibility. Nothing happened to Horthy. He lived in Weilheim in Oberbayern, Germany for four years. In 1950, he moved to the seaside riviera of Estoril, Portugal where he died of old age in 1957 - in luxury. After the fall of Communism in Hungary, Horthy was reinterred in Kenderes, Hungary between tens of thousands who showed up to pay their respects at his state ceremony and widespread protests elsewhere in in the country.
It's amazing what one finds if one dares to scratch even slightly below the surface of recent macro history we have all been taught. Take Horthy's WWII captor, for example. Skorzeny, the faithful Hungarian Nazi born in Austria-Hungarian Vienna before WWI who became Hitler's most trusted SS commando during WWII. Well, he, like Horthy, escaped the hangman's noose at Nuremburg. Skorzeny, in fact, helped to organise the Odessa which helped Nazis escape justice in Europe by smuggling them to South America. Moreover, he, thanks to his "unique talents" as an SS man, found a lucrative career working for various Western intelligence agencies during the Cold War. (1) In fact, many claim him to be the "father of modern terrorism" as we know it today. He died from lung cancer in Madrid, Spain in 1975 as a multi-millionaire, and like Horthy, in luxury. This is what happens when people choose to promote historical ignorance, for whatever reason, to develop a convenient historical amnesia.History's lessons were there. It had happened before in medieval times. Nobody bothered to look back at real European history. If anyone did, nobody listened. Lessons were not learned and so it happened again. In fact, and not surprisingly, even today, some are in denial about the past. They, like we all do, after all, have their versions of history and their beliefs in them which inform perceptions of "reality." Some individuals stir up controversies, claiming that deportations of Hungary's Jews during WWII, for example, were merely the actions "of the immigration authorities against illegal aliens." (2) This is merely someone's opinion but it's a hurtful, ignorant one. Whether medieval, or twentieth century, genocides were aimed at cleansing the world of heretics and heathen - the world's "undesirable sub-human races" as defined by psychopathic master races. It's what happens when a cultural identity of peoples - their history - is rewritten and when totalitarian mythology and chauvinist ideology supplants it. When it does, nothing can change its course. It's simply a return of another "Dark Age." Then, even greater tragedy is not too far away. Everyone becomes a genuine victim in the long run. Ironically, by the recently erected monument to Hungarian victims of WWII in Budapest, Hungarians see themselves today as victims. Are there any meaningful historical lessons here? Yes! Is the monument controversial? It depends on who one asks. Everyone has an opinion, but there's no consensus on the matter. Nothing, however, can deny the real past. Not as long as people refuse to allow real history to die. Then, maybe. Just maybe, new generations might do a better job of making the world a better place than previous ones did.
Infallible ideologies are suicidal precipices. Such ideologies can never do any wrong. When they cause harm, it's never their fault and they always have a convenient excuse for their actions. It also guarantees no change in behaviour. It only guarantees yet another tragedy, another failure. Are all people of any nation bad people? No! Only some psychopaths, narcissists, chauvinists and their band of historically illiterate thugs who sometimes get their way are.
And so here we are, living, enjoying our liberties. It's fitting that I finish writing this article today, remembering the past. Today is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the D-Day Normandy landings in France during WWII. Today began the final push to end the tyranny of Hitler's and Horthy's Third Reich dreams in Europe in Western Europe. Russians, at an incomprehensible national self-sacrifice, were smashing the same evil in the east. I just hope we never forget what it took to preserve our liberty and to win it back for others. Then, after the war was over, another Cold War set in. For "liberated" people of Europe's post-WWII "East European" Communist Bloc countries, genuine liberty did not come until 1989 - another forty-four years. It took a little longer for another infallible ideology to fail! That was only thirty years ago.
There's nothing wrong with myths, stories, whether fiction or non-fiction whatsoever. Human creativity is a beautiful thing. We all love and appreciate art, good stories, books, movies, and the like. It's just that sometimes, when we are caught off guard, unscrupulous individuals use creativity for insidious purposes. The only defence against it is to know the difference between reality and illusion. We should think for ourselves but can only do so if we know history. Liberty is a wonderful gift which has always been achieved at great cost. It requires individual responsibility if it's to be preserved. It's very easily given up, and extremely difficult to regain.
So why is the Elizabeth Bathory myth extraordinary? It helped to serve political goals which opened up a Pandora's Box of future tragedies. As demonstrated, propagating myth without a counterbalance of real historical knowledge is a dangerous undertaking. It can be an invitation for needless tragedies, except that one never knows what its impact will be because there's no precedent for it. In fact, dangerous myths, like that of the "Blood Countess" merely exploit the gifts of liberty without giving back anything in return. It's also simply rock bottom cheap consumerism. As I have demonstrated, literature, whether fiction or not, does indeed change the world. It really does influence people's thinking and actions. But healthy mythologies - fictions - have historical counterbalances in history and reality. They inform each other. Elizabeth Bathory's myth has none of these attributes. Behind its facade, behind the curtain lies nothing of substance, nothing real, and nothing which matters to the many, and only serves the few, or the One. "Blood Countess" oficionados should be asking "why?" This myth is a relic of an imperial era just before the Western world went mad once more. Thanks to human ignorance, myths such as that of the "Blood Countess" simply perpetuates disinformation and chauvinism! Left unchallenged, nobody knows where it can lead. Can it ever end? Will it ever end? Can people ever ground themselves in reality and think for themselves? And who thinks a repeat of another Dark Age is a good idea?
The tragic histories and ideologies outlined in this article have their modern origins in the turbulent nineteenth century known as the Age of Revolution, specifically in the Austrian Empire, and later the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Here, the First World War, National Socialism, Communism, and the Second World War were all born in reaction to an archaic aristocracy which refused to change with the times. But to understand these events even more fully, one needs to go even further back in time. Indeed, to understand the real Elizabeth Bathory, one needs to go back as far back in time to when it all began. There are no shortcuts. This history will surprise you!
Just like today, authors of the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, continued to, and I should add, ignorantly cultivate the "Blood Countess" myth until it became what it is today - a harvest of Gothic horror stories and sometimes, even the bizarre! And reality? Real history of Hungary which most Magyars and Westerners think they know? Well, that illusion is less than two centuries old. It continues to foment hatred in some, pride in others, and wisdom in nobody. Its origins go hand-in-hand with Mednansky's and Hormayr's Bathory myth! Elizabeth Bathory was not just anybody. In reality, she's a very important historic personage, one that very few know about or understand! Europe's real history, especially the medieval period which preceded Elizabeth's early modern era, created a cultural environment of hatred, apocalypse, resurrection, imperium, genocide and greed. Little has changed since then except for one thing that many of us take for granted in the West - Liberty. Elizabeth's Carpathian Ungaria (Hungary) was, for centuries, the only bastion of European liberty. Thanks to Ungar struggles in Carpathia, humanity achieved the American War of Independence (Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness) and the French Revolution (Unity, Indivisibility of the Republic; Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood or Death).(3) These were the first signs after Elizabeth Bathory's death and the centuries-old Slavic-Turkic Carpathian struggle that even Western European humanity demanded change - liberty - a novel idea only rediscovered in the Age of Reason. This history is covered in my Chrysalis Books series.
Such is real history. Unfortunately, it's all interconnected. And so, Mednansky's 1812 Elizabeth Bathory story has an important historic significance, not just as a contrived myth, but the beginning of historic changes. None of these were good ones. They were all tragic, affecting hundreds of millions of lives far beyond Austria's and Hungary's borders. Its lasting affects are with us still even in the twenty-first century. Elizabeth Bathory's myth comes with lots of unsavoury baggage. That's the very real, tragic legacy of this myth. Hungarians remain conflicted about their historical past.
- See: Haaretz Daily Newspaper: The Strange Case of a Nazi Who Became an Israeli Hitman, Tuesday, July 16, 2019. Retrieved, July 16, 2019.
- See: The Times of Israel: Hungary won’t change design of Holocaust memorial: Jewish federation says proposed statue whitewashes pro-Nazi WWII Hungarian government’s role in mass murder of Jews, 1 May 2014, 7:49 pm. Retrieved, June 6, 2019.
- Unitė, Indivisibilitė de la Rėpublique; Libertė, Egalitė, Fraternitė ou la mort [fr.]