Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Hmm; So she was Innocent; Countess Dracula

From Countess Dracula by Tony Thorne: Finally, someone has a fresh theory about the alleged crimes of our favorite Countess. He explores many historical and so called eye witness accounts, and presents theories for why she was so vilified. As he writes the Kindle edition of his book, “If we can apprehend the way of life and thinking of Elizabeth Báthory and her contemporaries, perhaps we can perceive the logic in their actions and they will case to be unreachably alien.” Isn’t that what all the fiction written about her is trying to do? And at this point, I will contend that outside of her own letters, all of the so-called biographies are all fictional accounts. One argument he makes is that women of all walks of life were aware of and skilled in healing arts of all types, some involving pagan ritual or forms of “magic” or what was then seen as witchcraft. Other remedies were steeped in tradition, herbology, and old legends. Pharmacies were nonexistent in villages and virtual fiefdoms, while only a few existed in larger cities. People in Eastern Europe were used to home remedies, and these were often more effective than what contemporary medicine offered. In the witch hysterias that followed, healing women, often old crones who lived like hermits in the woods [Think Blair Witch and Hansel and Gretl for negative connotations], were both consulted for their knowledge and later vilified, even burned. The legend/biography of Sairy Gamp, a figure connected with nursing, illustrates some of these issues. Erzebet was by all accounts, well versed in various remedies and healing arts, and in the incantations connected with them. Women of all stations, Thorne points out, lived intimately, and mistresses of great estates like Erzebet were charged with caring for wounded warrior husbands and family members, distant relatives who lived with them and served them, their fiefs and virtual serfs, villagers, and anyone else under their protection. Child birth was almost entirely in their realm, even where other parts of Europe might be employing male physicians. Cosmetics were also sought after, and homemade. As Thorne writes, “The use of magic cosmetics, which Elizabeth was accused of posthumously, was alos part of the spectrum of herbalism and healing:” [cf connection with Snow White, Erzebet’s mirrors, and The Brothers Grimm]. Witness this passage by Thorne, his Kindle edition: Ferenc Schram, in his exhaustive account of the witchcraft trials taking place in Hungary Between 1529 and 1768, tells the story of women villages fighting over possession Of a magic cosmetic. Desire for the substance caused a wave of hysteria which Died down only after the local wise woman had been condemned to death and her ointment had been carried off by her enemies. [Note 20 in Thorne]. Early on, Thorne writes that a woman accused of being a witch had a ‘good chance’ of being acquitted, but it was still a good way to have a political enemy arrested and detained. Furthermore, Thorne points out that medical treatments were often untried, dangerous, painful, and tortuous. Many died more from the cure than the disease. He mentions blood letting was used to purge many ailments, and that patients often died. Cupping, or burring out illnesses to draw out pus from open wounds would have been a remedy familiar to Erzebet’s household. Perhaps the stories of her using candles and open flame, as well as pincers, scissors, and other similar instruments were the garbled accounts of those who witnessed futile attempts to cure servants suffering from all types of plagues and accompanying sores and skin diseases. Other painful, and to us, strange remedies, included leeching [now back in vogue], cauterizing, purging for excessive humours, venescetion/phlebotomy, which is bleeding. According to Throne, “the more e these methods caused pain, the more efficacious they were …” He notes the resulting backlash against women who practiced healing arts also occurred in England. Also, Thorne notes that “In central Europe, a popular medical handbook of 1586, the Ars Medica (written by Gyorgy Lencsés, a member of the entourage of Prince Christopher Báthory’s wife, Lady Elizabeth Bosckai), recommends that patients be bound tightly in chains to help expel poisons from the body, after which they should be bathed or steamed” (Quoted in Thorne, Kindle Edition). It would make more sense, especially given letters she has written to her husband about their daughter’s “mouth rot” and the failed attempts of the dentist/barber/physician to help the child. Erzebet’s own many ailments would have prompted her to try all kind of remedies so that she could stay healthy enough to manage the family wealth and estates, especially in light of the fact that Ferenc was off to war so often. Herbal baths, and all kinds of bathing, were listed as cures for all types of ailments. Thurzo’s own wife. Elisabeth Czobor, was skilled in these same healing arts, according to Thorne. Another aristocratic healer was Éva Poppelova Lobkowitz of the Batthyány family. More telling, there was Lady Anna-Rosina Listhius, “whose family contained many alchemists” and whose later fate “echoed that of Elizabeh herself,” and Lady Poetencia Dersffy, who “lent her book of cures to Elizabeth’s father –in-law. Children, also, were the “center of consciousness” in light of the many wars, plagues, and changes in weather that upset people’s lives and health, and other social reasons. He notes that Erzebet herself lost children in infancy . Such an attitude would have explained the hysteria fed by rumors of what was going on at the castle. It is to be remembered that Erzebet explained the deaths of many of these girls as illness or plague, and the alleged bruises and scars on their body were also, without more evidence, possibly caused by attempt to cure them or medicate them. Thorne makes reference to art that, as Rembrandt put it was lamenting the future,: and he notes contemporary paintings with such grim themes like Brueghel’s Massacre of the Innocents. As far as Erzebet’s/Elizabeth’s relationship wither own family, there is no evidence, Thorne writes, to show she was shunned or left out of her own family because of any scandal or taint. On the contrary, she was at the center of all their activities, public, private, and political, and appears to have been well respected and thought of. Nor, he writes, is there any evidence that she slipped into the “family madness” or any other type of mental affliction after Ferenc died, or after she entered middle age. What a shame we don’t have her own testimony, given in her own defense. Of all the figures in this drama, she is the most interesting. And, the most pathetic. Even after accusation, and even arrest, one commentator writes she was “much respected and loved by other aristocratic ladies: many corresponded with her and more visited her”( quoted in Thorne note 23). Yet, for whatever reasons, Thorne notes that her friends failed her in her most desperate hour of need. Note also, Thorne does a careful analysis of the most authentic painting allegedly of Erzebet, and the symbols in it, key, pearls, clock, box indicating healing expertise [her son Pals testified she had such a box] show a person of competent and noble character, well prepared for her station in life, not a raving lunatic with a thirst for young blood. It just isn’t fair.

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