Friday, April 8, 2016

Erzebet in History’s Monsters: Simon Sebag Montefiore with John Bew and Martyn Frampton. New York: Metro Books, 2008.

Erzebet in History’s Monsters: Simon Sebag Montefiore with John Bew and Martyn Frampton. New York: Metro Books, 2008.

I am disappointed by Montefiore’s book; his history is not often up to date.  Born just in 1965, he has studied at Cambridge university and has been shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson, Duff Cooper., and Marsh Biography prize (Catherine the Great) and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. (Young Stalin)  He won the LA Times Book Prize for Best Biography and the Bruno Kreisky Prize for Political literature. (Young Stalin). He has written books on Catherine the Great & Potemkin [about another ruthless European female ruler], and Young Stalin, which won in addition to the above prizes for biography and political literature, won the Costa Biography Prize. 

He also writes fiction and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.  For more, go to 

His fell authors are also Cambridge scholars and prize winning writers in history.

Granted, this is an anthology, and not as detailed as individual works on these figures might be, but his few pages on Erzebet are clearly based on the usual myths written about her, and largely created by a 19th c. Catholic priest.  The book is also a hodge podge, with listings for Al Capone, Pancho Villa, Zapata,  Osama Bin Laden, Rasputin, Shaka Zulu, Eliza Lynch and Dr. Crippen.  Some of these figures, and the many others listed, are more “monstrous” than others.

While he lists her alleged sensational crimes, he leaves out the fact that King Mathias owed her money that she tried to collect, that one of her 27 or more estates was confiscated by the Crown and not returned, that other widows in her situation shared her fate and were accused of witchcraft and stripped of their wealth.

Instead, he makes reference to the “blood baths” and blood drinking yet neither confirms nor denies them.

Also, he states that her “penchant for acts of sadism developed into a full scale passion for torture and murder.  Left o her own devices, in the absence of her husband, the dark side of countess’ character ran amok” (147).  He has no citation for his allegations, but is merely repeating historical hearsay proved false in work by Kimberly Craft and Tony Thorne.   See Infamous Lady and other works by Craft including a compilation of Erzebet’s letters, and Countess Dracula by Thorne.

He claims Elizabeth did not have a trial, but other historical accounts state that she did, but she was either banned from it by Thurzo and his cronies, or she refused to attend in protest, much as Catharine of Aragon protested the proceedings Henry VIII brought against her.

He writes of  bodies “thrown from the Castle ramparts in full view of horrified villagers” but again, cites not source.  He claims an “witness”  testified at her trial (147) that even when she was ill and bedridden, she had girls brought to her so she could bite them, it them, “tearing flesh” (148).  Some one bedridden, especially with the types of ailments Erzebet herself complains of in her letters, cannot accomplish these types of injuries.  These accounts are almost verbatim those repeated by McNally in Dracula was a Woman and other accounts of Erzebet that have been discredited.  Again, there are no intext citations or foot notes, and no endnotes.

In fact, there is no bibliography at all for the book, just a list of references to acknowledge the numerous illustrations used. 

Montefiore repeats that the legend of Erzebet may have influenced Bram Stoker when he wrote Dracula, but his history of her is inaccurate and derivative. He also makes not mention of the religious differences she dealt with, e.g., her own Calvinist/Lutheran upbringing and the Catholics, or the Islamic faith of the Ottomans infiltrating parts of her domain.

Erzebet and Catherine de Medici

Erzebet Blog and Catherine de Medici

Somewhat contemporary to Erzebet was the French queen and alleged sorceress, Catherine de Medici.  She “has been called one of the most monstrous European female leaders” (Montefiore  134).  She was responsible largely for the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of August 24, 1572.  The massacre has been memorialized in a  famous painting by Francois Dubois.  3000 Huguenots ultimately died with Catherine’s approval just in Paris.  1000s more died later in other areas of France.

A key player was Huguenot Henry of Navarre, husband of Catherine’s daughter Margaret.  He became Henry IV of France, and later converted, at least on the surface, to Catholicism, allegedly saying that “Paris is worth a mass” (134).

Two quick pieces of doll collecting trivia here; first, Bartholomew babies were dolls made and sold, along with cook books, at the annual St. Bartholomew Fair, also written up as a play by Ben Jonson. Second, Henry IV of France was supposed to have been the model for the Jumeau Trieste or “Cody”/Long Face Jumeau (See books by F. Theimier and others on the Jumeau doll).

Besides Catherine in notoriety are Isabella of Spain, great supporter of the Spanish Inquisition, and Columbus’ benefactor, and Mary I of England, also Queen of Spain, aka, Bloody Mary.  Mary was the granddaughter of Isabella and Ferdinand, and the child of their daughter Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII.  Perhaps 300 people were executed under Mary’s reign, including her cousin, 17 year old Lady Jane Grey.  Many were burned at the stake.

Any alleged crimes by Erzebet pale at these numbers, and she has as much royal and aristocratic blood as Catherine, Isabella and Mary.  The next post will talk about Montefiore’s treatment of Erzebet in his book History’s Monsters.

Monday, April 4, 2016

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