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Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Guest Post: Countess Bathory – Between legend and fact

My guest post today is from the lovely Melinda De Ross, a new author.  Whilst her romance is in a contemporary setting, she has needed to get under the skin of the Renaissance character, Madame Erzebet Bathory. She has been kind enough to share that research for my blog page! 

Handing over to Melinda and a bit about her story first!  


In the legendary Transylvania, a castle belonging to Countess Erzsébet Báthory is discovered. Cameraman Hunter Cole and broadcast journalist Serena Scott arrive to make a documentary about the discovery, and the sinister Hungarian noblewoman, known as the most prolific female serial killer in history. 

The two Americans could cope with roughing it in a fifteenth-century castle, with no modern amenities. They can even cope with each other, despite their initial mutual dislike for one another, which gradually turns into a smoldering attraction. 

But when two girls are tortured and killed in Báthory copycat style, the nearby village is shaken to the core. In terror, they wonder who will be next...

the only known portrait of the notorious countess...

Ever since I’ve heard about Erzsébet Báthory, I was fascinated by this sinister character who, even in times when cruelty was far from unusual, still managed to stand out. I did a lot of research on what was fact and what was legend about The Blood Countess, and decided to weave a romance which has as a starting point The Countess and a fictional castle belonging to her. This is what I have gathered from my research.

Erzsébet Báthory (1560-1614) is a known historical figure and was a Hungarian countess, also known as Elizabeth Báthory, The Blood Countess or Countess Dracula. She has been labeled the most prolific serial killer in history, being responsible for the torture and murder of hundreds of young girls. The exact number of her victims is unknown, but is estimated at six hundred and fifty. It is speculated that she kept a diary with the names of all her victims, but if such a document exists, it has never been made public.
She was born on the 7th of August 1560 into a very powerful family of nobility in the Kingdom of Hungary. When she was very young, she learned Latin, German and Greek. When she became a teenager, she already was one of the most educated women of her time. At fifteen she married Ferenc Nádasdy, the son of a baron, in what was a political arrangement within the circles of the aristocracy. Nádasdy's wedding gift to Báthory was his home, Csejte Castle, situated in the Little Carpathians.
In 1578, Nádasdy became the chief commander of several Hungarian troops, leading them to war against the Ottomans. Since then, Erzsébet’s husband was mostly away from home, leaving the management of business affairs and the estates to his wife. That role usually included responsibility for the Hungarian and Slovak people, even providing medical care. For the duration of the Long War, Erzsébet was charged with the defense of her husband's estates, which lay on the route to Vienna. The threat was significant, for the village of Csejte had previously been plundered by the Ottomans.
Báthory and Nádasdy didn’t have any children for the first ten years of their marriage. In 1585, Erzsébet gave birth to a daughter, Anna, who died some time after 1605. After that, she had another two daughters and two sons. There were rumors that she had her first daughter when she was only thirteen and became impregnated by a servant. It is said she was sent away to have the child. Her fiancé—for Nádasdy wasn’t yet her husband— had the boy castrated, then thrown to a pack of dogs.
Between 1602 and 1604, after rumors of Báthory's atrocities had spread throughout the kingdom, Lutheran minister István Magyari made complaints against her, both publicly and at the court in Vienna. The Hungarian authorities took some time to respond to Magyari's complaints. Finally, in 1610, King Mathias II assigned György Thurzó, the Palatine of Hungary, to investigate. Thurzó ordered two notaries to collect evidence in March 1610. In 1610 and 1611, the notaries collected testimonies from more than three hundred witnesses. The trial records include the testimonies of the four defendants—Báthory and three of her servants—as well as thirteen witnesses. Priests, noblemen and commoners were questioned. Witnesses included the castellan and other personnel of Sárvár castle.
According to all testimonies, Báthory's initial victims were the adolescent daughters of local peasants, many of whom were lured to Csejte by offers of well-paid work as maidservants in the castle. Later, she is said to have begun to kill daughters of the lesser gentry, who were sent to her gynaeceum by their parents to learn courtly etiquette. Abductions were said to have occurred as well. The atrocities described most consistently included severe beatings, burning or mutilation of hands, biting the flesh off the faces, arms and other body parts, freezing or starving to death. The collaborators in court also mentioned the use of needles. Some witnesses named relatives who died while at the gynaeceum. Others reported having seen traces of torture on dead bodies, some of which were buried in graveyards, and others in unmarked locations. Two witnesses actually saw The Countess torture and kill young servant girls. According to the testimony of the defendants, Erzsébet Báthory tortured and killed her victims not only at Csejte, but also on her other properties.
If Báthory hadn’t come from such an important family, she would have most certainly been tortured and burned alive. There was no doubt about her guilt, because at the time of her arrest several dead and dying girls were found in the castle. Because of her family’s influence, there was a closed-door trial, where over three hundred witnesses testified. The exact number of her victims remains unknown, but even though the official count based upon evidence of the tortured bodies is around eighty, in a second part of the trial, a newly discovered register was entered as evidence, suggesting there could have been as many as six hundred and fifty victims. Báthory was imprisoned in Čachtice Castle. She was kept bricked in a set of rooms, with only small slits left open for ventilation and the passing through of food. She remained there for four years, until her death. On August 24th 1614, a guard looked through one of the slots and observed Erzsébet Báthory lying dead face-down on the floor. Since there were several plates of food untouched, the actual date of death is unknown. She was buried in the church of Csejte, but due to the villagers' uproar over having ‘The Tigress of Csejte’ buried in their cemetery, her body was moved to her birth home at Ecsed, where it was interred at the Báthory family crypt.

Find Melinda's book HERE

A horribly fascinating woman, thanks Melinda!  those of you who are familiar with my FanFiction writing might recall a certain Erzebet Cerny at Durmstrang, and now you know why I chose her first name, as I rarely use names without a lot of thought! 

Friday, 19 December 2014

The trades that killed in Jane Austen’s time

The immediate thought of the gentle reader regarding risky professions must necessarily turn to those hard physical tasks and of course soldiering. I do not plan to look at the risks of military service in this post, as they are quite apparent and have been addressed ably elsewhere.  Instead I plan to focus on the obvious, and less obvious risks at work.  I’ll start with jobs employing children and work up.  Most of the jobs below, bar pinners and climbing boys, were of equal risk to adults as to children.

One of the jobs open to children as young as five years old; cave-ins happened, floods that came up too fast for the steam pumps, if there were any, and of course the perennial risk of fire-damp, impure methane gas, seeping from the fossil fuels within the earth.  The greatest risk of this was in coal mines.  There were two ways of dying from fire-damp; by suffocation, or by explosion, as methane in the presence of oxygen is explosive.  Not until the invention of Humphrey Davies’ safety lamp in 1815 was the danger of explosion reduced – always supposing the mine owner invested in the same.  Other gases lurked in mines, like carbon dioxide, and sulphur dioxide, and were equally deadly, though they did not explode.  The crippling effect to young bodies of the children employed pulling trucks of coal or ore in mines possibly killed as many in a more drawn out way as died in pit disasters, as did dust on the lungs.

Weaving factories
So much has been written about the danger of loss of limb or life to the children and women crawling under the ever-moving looms to clean them, and the terrible lung diseases engendered by the ever-present cotton dust in the air that there is no need to re-iterate them in detail here.

Chimney Cleaning
Although a patent chimney cleaning machine was invented by Joseph Glass, most sweeps preferred to use geese thrown down the chimney with their legs tied, or climbing boys sent up.  These boys were indentured servants, essentially slaves, as were some of the factory workers, bound to apprenticeship by parish foundling authorities.  They were at risk of sticking in small flues and dying of thirst and hunger, dying of soot inhalation, being suffocated more suddenly by soot falls, and as it was not uncommon for sweeps to drive pins into their bare feet or light fires under them, the chance of sepsis from wounds must have figured in some deaths.  Add to this Chimney-sweep’s Canker, or cancer of the testicles, and this was one of the more miserable lives to be led.  Campaigns to prevent the use of climbing boys were under way, including the publication The Chimney Sweep’s Friend and Climbing Boys Album, edited by the radical writer and poet James Montgomery, which included stories and pictures to raise awareness. Picture taken from here shows an impoverished mother apprenticing her young son to a sweep.  It took until 1840 to ban the practice, and even them was more seen in the breach than the observance.

Crossing sweeping. 
With the amount of debris from horses, sweeping a path for grand ladies with their delicate shoes and long skirts to cross the street, even assuming they were protected by wearing pattens, was a way of earning a vail, or tip as we should call it now, that was preferred by some boys over begging or stealing.  This might be a safer occupation if the drivers on the road had been likely to be prosecuted for causing death by dangerous driving; but the instance of injury or death to the lower orders was of little moment to many gentlemen drivers, and of no moment at all to the hackney cab drivers and delivery men whose jobs depended on getting their passengers or deliveries made at the best possible time.  Running over a crossing sweeper who failed to get out of the way in time would only occasion any interest to these careless drivers if they had damaged their coach, or paintwork, or upset the horses.  Horses will not, at least, generally trample on a human body if they can avoid it, unless trained to do so; but flailing iron-shod hooves when startled might kill without the horse being a conscious participant. 

Pin Making
Pins were still made in the same way as they had been for hundreds of years, one end ground to a point, and the other either coiled or covered in a blob of solder.  This was a job for children, whose fingers were nimble, working in poorly ventilated areas and breathing in the fumes of the lead solder and flux.  As some of the fluxes used from early times contained phosphorous, this was a problem.  Lead poisoning was probably going to kill them first, however, as abdominal pain, muscle weakness, memory loss, confusion and then kidney and liver failure set in.
Grinders of both pins and needles suffered from Grinder’s asthma too…

Moving on to jobs exclusively adult.

Canal builders
Later, railway builders were subject to similar risks, but at the time, the building of canals was the way rapid transport was being taken across the country.  Though stretches of river were used, where new sections were dug, there was always the risk of sections of canal wall falling in, suffocating or crushing anyone beneath them; and when working near rivers, drowning was a real possibility for a population very few of whom could swim.  Sudden deluges were not entirely unknown either. 

Whether driving the Mailcoach, or a stage coach or a hired hack, or a private coachman, the high perch of a coachman to give him a good view also placed him at risk if anything should overturn the coach; and there was plenty that might.  Though the roads had improved out of all recognition since the introduction of the Toll Roads, there were still plenty of ruts and pot holes; and human error, in taking a corner too fast, also played its part.  The thoughtless driving of rich maniacs with their souped-up sports cars – read, high-perch phaeton and four – added to the danger, as such sporting gentlemen wanted to go faster than hire coaches or a sedate squire’s equipage, and expected other traffic to move to the side of the road for them to pass.  Naturally, the side of the road encountered the most extreme camber, and more ruts from farm carts, and increased the possibility of being overturned into the ditch.  And this without the ‘sport’ of ‘hunting the squirrel’ where feckless brats of the road tried deliberately to put slower traffic into a ditch by catching a wheel with their own, relying on their own speed to avoid any damage.  Wheel clips could happen by accident as well, leading to more or less mayhem caused to both parties.
Naturally, being thrown from a seat so high above the road, a driver risked broken bones or a broken neck.  Sitting for long hours in the cold in winter, earache, a cold in the head  and almost inevitably chilblains were his lot, any one of which might also impair his driving judgement.  There might also be floods and snowdrifts, with their attendant dangers, and lightning to contend with, a higher risk then than now.   Add to this the possibility of highwaymen, admittedly less by the Regency than in the 18th century, but still a possibility…
See also my post on the dangers of travel HERE

The phrase ‘as mad as a hatter’ originates in the particular dangers that beset those men who made men’s hats.  It is the response to prolonged exposure to mercury vapour, used in the process of felting animal furs that were used to make men’s hats [even if the popular ‘beaver’ were an inferior and less water-resistant article made of rabbit].  The shyness and neurological problems, headaches, general pain, irregular heartbeat and the shakes were not enough to kill immediately but as pathologic shyness and depression can be symptoms too, suicide and death through lack of self care cannot be ruled out as causes of death as well as mercury poisoning, and tuberculosis caused by the damp conditions in which they often had to work.

Ormolu gilders
Like hatters, ormolu gilders worked with mercury vapour and few survived past the age of 40. France was first to outlaw its use in 1830.  The original ormolu, popularised in the 18th century, was a means of binding powdered, high-carat gold in a mercury amalgam to bronze.   Silver-gilt was produced in the same way. 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Crim Cons - what a 'criminal conversation' really was.

Heyer mentions people gossiping about the latest ‘Crim. Cons’; so what actually is a Crim. Con? 
It is short for ‘criminal conversation’ which was a euphemism for adultery. 
A brief foray into the rights of divorce is needed here; Men had it all their way, and women had very few rights at all.  A marriage could be annulled not, as is generally believed, for non-consummation, but only for an inability to perform at all; for insanity; for adultery [if it was the woman being adulterous] or for inappropriate relationships, ie incest.  A woman had to show not only adultery on the part of her husband, but also extraordinary cruelty or some inappropriate behaviour.  The former was unlikely as a man was permitted to beat his wife, children and servants and considered a good man to chastise as required.  The only successful divorces brought by women involved incest – ie, that the adultery occurred with the wife’s sister.  

Right, now the convolutions of divorce.
A couple could separate moderately amicably, and a divorce in the eyes of the church applied for.  This was a divorce, but had a slight problem.  Neither could marry again.  For a full divorce, an Act of Parliament had to be passed on each case.  And this could not occur until just cause had been proven; which meant a civil case of Criminal Conversation where the woman was caught in flagrante delicto or there were enough witnesses to show criminal conversation.  As a married woman was not a person in law, the person prosecuted was her lover. Damages could be set as seemed appropriate, and the cases avidly reported in the press.  Not all of them were high society, but the majority were of the gentry, since few other people could afford to tangle with the law. 

Once the Crim. Con. case was proven, then it went to parliament, where the old coals might be raked over yet again.  And it was expensive; as much as £5,000, which was a lot of money, bearing in mind that a clerk earned £80 a year, and the extremely wealthy Mr Darcy had £10,000 a year, and at the other end of the gentry, a few hundred a year might be as much as could be hoped for.  Even for Mr Darcy, half a year’s income was significant.  It is hard to precisely equate money of the time to money of today, but sticking a couple of noughts on is a quick and dirty approximation, so we are talking about something in the region of half a million quid in today’s terms.    The excessive cost was doubtless mostly the cost of greasing palms to make sure it went through quickly and quietly, but it would not cost less than £1,000.  

York Herald 16th July 1808


Fowler ver. Hodges

This was an action for damages, brought by the Plaintiff, an attorney, against the Defendant, his clerk, for a criminal conversation with his wife.  It appeared the lady was 45 years of age, and lame, and the Defendant a young man of 21 years of age.  The criminal act was fully proved by a servant girl to have taken place on the 21st of December last, in an office of the Plaintiff’s.  The Plaintiff was at Margate at the time.  The Lord Chief Justice was fully of opinion that the lady, instead of being seduced, was the seducer.  However the Jury gave a verdict for the Plaintive – Damages 150 l. [£150]

Here the damages are in accordance with the status of the plaintiff, and the level of distress and loss of reputation to him.

5th March 1796 Newcastle Courant.

And here the damages awarded to Lord Westmeath are £10,000, after asking £20,000 which were in keeping with his standing according to the jury, and not as high as he set his own self worth.  And in his case would cover the case going to parliament.  I like the phrase “her Ladyship and her gallant in a certain situation which delicacy forbids our particularising”.

Lancaster Gazette Saturday 11th August 1804

And here, the Rev. Charles Massey was plainly hoping to take a nobleman for a small fortune, wanting £40,000 from the Marquis of Headport [so many jokes, so little time]; the jury plainly considered the damages to s reverend gentleman worth £10,000 but no more.  Well, he could afford to divorce his absconding wife with that, but one wonders if he would ever get a living again; and if the living was from the Marquis, whether the reverend gentleman might find himself without a congregation.   Of course if he did not bother with a parliamentary divorce, and invested his damages in the Funds, an income of £500 a year would do very nicely, whether he repudiated his wife or not. 

            The circumstances of an impending Crim. Con. case were also reported, and gossiped about:

24th August Kentish Gazette Friday 24th August 1804

Winchester, August 20.  A circumstance that occurred here on Tuesday night, has engrossed the conversation of every tea table:

A medical gentleman of Southampton, who had missed his wife from an country house in the neighbourhood, traced her to an inn here, and on breaking open a chamber door realised the suspicions he had entertained of her fidelity, by finding her in bed with an illicit lover, who is of the legal profession, and who was severely beaten by the injured husband.  As the affair will probably be the subject of serious investigation we forebear at present to be more explicit. – (Salisbury Journal)

Which is to say the editor did not want to be subject to contempt of court.

My recently completed novel, 'The Unexpected Bride', contains a vital Crim. Con., which has a profound effect upon my hero’s status, and his desirability to be pursued by, in particular, my anti-heroine.   It was a horrible scandal to have associated with the family, which made it highly entertaining for the gossipmongers and bored society ladies to discuss.  This is a society in which some people would go to any lengths to cover up any adultery, as the Duke of Devonshire did, when Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, found herself pregnant by her lover.  She had to go abroad for a year to have the baby [which was adopted by her lover’s family] and give up all contact with the little girl on pain of having contact with her other children removed.
Which was another thing a husband could quite legally do.
Women did not get a fair deal!