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 simonsebagmontefiore.com.
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.