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Bram Stoker, Elizabeth Bathory and Dracula


Elizabeth Miller

[The following is a revised excerpt from Elizabeth Miller, Dracula: Sense & Nonsense (2000). Further details about this book can be found at]

"[Bathory's] legend certainly played a major role in the creation of the character of Count Dracula." (Raymond McNally, Dracula was a Woman, 99)


        The hypothetical link between Count Dracula and Countess Elizabeth Bathory (1560-1614) can be traced back to the early 1970s. By that time, there was an upsurge of interest in the Blood Countess, notorious for murdering young women and bathing in their blood in order to retain her youthful appearance. Inevitably, her lust for blood would precipitate an association with vampires. In 1970, prior to any investigation into possible influences on Stoker's novel, the title of the Hammer movie Countess Dracula created an artificial link.1 Gabriel Ronay included a section on Bathory in The Dracula Myth (1972), as did Donald Glut in True Vampires of History (1971), though neither claimed that Stoker knew of her. In 1972, McNally and Florescu noted that "in some circles it is believed that the story of the Blood Countess was known to Stoker" (In Search of Dracula 159). But they did not pursue any links at that time.

        In 1977, in The Vampire Cinema, David Pirie contends that "With Bathory ... the Dracula resonance is irresistible" (17). Unfortunately, its irresistibility proves nothing. Pirie goes on to claim that "Like the fictional Count, she was brought up 'in the horseshoe of the Carpathians'" (17)2 and is "reminiscent of the Dracula archetype in many ways" (18). These include the hold she exerts over families around the castle, the blood frenzy which drives her search for greener pastures, and her belief that blood could keep her healthy. But surely any resemblance to events in Stoker's novel is coincidental.

        It was Raymond McNally who carried the Bathory/Dracula parallel to an untenable conclusion. In 1983, he tried to demonstrate that Stoker had a second historical person in mind (the first was supposedly Vlad the Impaler) as his novel took shape: Elizabeth Bathory. His claim that Bathory played a major role in the genesis of Stoker's novel is astonishing, given that it is difficult to argue even for a minor role. While Dracula was a Woman has its uses as a biography of Bathory, its investigation into the sources for Dracula is a red herring.

        McNally bases his thesis on the assumption that Stoker read about Bathory in Sabine-Gould's The Book of Were-Wolves (1865).3 Without this, there is no case. Hence it needs to be examined thoroughly. To begin with, we know that Stoker was familiar with this book. It is included in his list of source-texts, and his Notes contain several jottings from it. There is also no doubt that the book contains a section on Bathory. (Actually, Baring-Gould refers to her as "Elizabeth -----" never using the name "Bathory.") What is not certain is whether Stoker read the section on Bathory; or, if he did, whether it played any part in the development of his novel.

        What does Baring-Gould's book say about Elizabeth Bathory? The few short paragraphs deal primarily with her belief that bathing her body in human blood would enhance her beauty, and how this led to the deaths of 650 young maidens.4 That Stoker read this passage is for many critics taken for granted.5 McNally goes so far as to claim that Stoker took notes from it:

I went over Bram Stoker's unpublished personal journals again and again until I hit upon the clue: Stoker had definitely taken notes on the story of the infamous Blood Countess, Elizabeth Bathory from Hungary in The Book of Werewolves, written by Sabine Baring-Gould. (x)

McNally is mistaken. As far as is known, Stoker did not take a single note from those pages dealing with Bathory.

        On the other hand, we know what information in Baring-Gould Stoker did borrow. These notes, scribbled on two scraps of paper, refer without exception to the characteristics of werewolves and their association with vampires. Most notable -- for they were incorporated into his description of Count Dracula -- were the canine teeth, broad hands with hairy palms, eyebrows meeting over nose, and the ability to shape-shift. But there is not a word about Elizabeth Bathory.

        That Stoker took no notes from the short section on the Countess suggests that he did not read it. Of course, one cannot be certain. Is there anything in Dracula that can be attributed to it? McNally contends that there are parallels between the Count and Bathory, sufficiently forceful to be evidence of direct knowledge. His principal argument is as follows:

One of the central themes in the novel Dracula is that after drinking blood, the count begins to look younger. This idea did not come to the novelist from any known vampire folklore but from the legendary blood-bathing of Countess Bathory to keep her skin looking young and healthy. (99)

        True, this concept does not appear in vampire folklore. But this is hardly proof that Stoker found it in the pages of Baring-Gould. It is equally probable that he stumbled upon it in Arthur Machen's "The Inmost Light" or in Stenbock's "A True Story of a Vampire," both published in 1894. Or maybe he just made it up. He was, after all, a writer of fiction.

        McNally finds further ties between Count Dracula and Bathory:

Like Countess Elizabeth Bathory, Dracula is an aristocrat who disdains the common folk around him, the way Countess Elizabeth Bathory looked down upon her peasants. He is the ultimate authority figure in his world, much in the way that Elizabeth was a commanding figure in hers. Like Elizabeth, Count Dracula keeps a storehouse of various women in his Transylvanian castle. There are at least three vampiric women whom he considers his own in his mini-harem. Just as Elizabeth was uncontrite, so Count Dracula is unrepentant. Above all else, Count Dracula, like Elizabeth, demands absolute obedience from his underlings, such as his pitiful minion Renfield....

        In Stoker's novel the character of Renfield embodies a good deal of Elizabeth Bathory. (100)

Such vague "parallels" prove nothing. And just what does Renfield have in common with the Countess? In that Renfield seeks physical immortality, McNally argues, he is a "kindred spirit to the Elizabeth Bathory of legend, who sought to conquer the aging process" and "Like Elizabeth, Renfield is subject to fits similar to a certain form of epilepsy" (101). Hardly convincing.

        McNally adds yet another wrinkle: that Stoker's reading of the Bathory legend was part of the reason he shifted the locale of the opening chapters of Dracula from Styria in Austria to Transylvania (98). That is wishful thinking on McNally's part. Even if Stoker had read the excerpt about Bathory in Baring-Gould, it makes no mention of Transylvania. Indeed, Stoker's Notes identify clearly his sources of information on Transylvania.

        The view that Bathory was an influence on Dracula has spread and expanded since its inception. For example, in Dracula: The Novel and the Legend (1993) Leatherdale links the Countess with "Carmilla" as "twin influences" on Stoker, adding that he "eventually distanced himself from the more obvious Carmilla/Bathory connections, though they remain potent sources of influence and inspiration" (98). Leatherdale had earlier included in The Origins of Dracula the Baring-Gould excerpts on Bathory, claiming that "Stoker was confronted with an account of real-life blood-drinking" (142).6 In his Foreword to the Tor edition of Dracula (1989), R L Fisher contends that Stoker "borrowed liberally from historical sources (including ... the gruesome Elizabeth Bathory)" (x). French scholar Jean Marigny asserts that "without a doubt, Countess Bathory served as the prototype for Carmilla, Count Dracula, and all the aristocratic vampires of the literature of fantasy" (Vampires: Restless Creatures of the Night 37). Following McNally's lead, Marigny also finds parallels: like the hero of the novel, Bathory lived in a feudal castle and had the specific habit of drinking human blood. But then, most Gothic villains lived in feudal castles, to say nothing of Eastern European aristocrats; and as Stoker was writing a vampire novel, one should not be surprised to find that the leading character drinks human blood. Even Bathory's most recent biographer, Tony Thorne, suggests that Stoker downplays the connection because "a hundred years ago for a writer like Stoker, the idea of choosing as a heroine a blood-obsessed lesbian mass-murderess would have been a short cut to literary obscurity" (8). This, in my opinion, is beside the point.

        Stretching the myth even further, Matthew Bunson's The Vampire Encyclopedia claims that Bathory had links to Romania, and thus to Vlad the Impaler: "Romania has also had some local rulers who are ranked among the bloodiest in history, most notably Vlad Tepes ... and Elizabeth Bathory" (225). Before you know it, Bathory and Vlad have become twin prototypes for all vampires, as in this doubly nonsensical statement: "The first reported vampires were real historical figures in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Eastern Europe: Elizabeth of Bathory and Vlad the Impaler."7

        Is it, then, accurate to state that "Bram Stoker certainly knew the story of the infamous Blood Countess [Elizabeth Bathory] when he wrote Dracula and may have considered making his villain a woman" ("Vampires: Thirst for the Truth," The Learning Channel, 1996)? Certainly not.

Elizabeth Miller is Professor of English at Memorial University of Newfoundland. For her full analysis of this topic, see the "Elizabeth Bathory" entry in Dracula: Sense & Nonsense (Desert Island Books, 2000). For more details on this book, visit Dracula's Homepage at

1 According to Tony Thorne, this film borrowed the name "for purely commercial reasons." (6). Incidentally, the title of Thorne's biography of Bathory is Countess Dracula.
2 The phrase "horseshoe of the Carpathians" is borrowed from Dracula. Stoker found it in A F Crosse, and used it specifically for "that part known as the Transylvanian frontier of Moldavia" (Notes 56), nowhere near Bathory's castle.
3 There is no evidence to support Peter Haining's suggestion in The Dracula Scrapbook (45) that Stoker may have consulted Michael Wagener's 1796 account of Bathory.
4 See Baring-Gould, 139-41; Clive Leatherdale, The Origins of Dracula 143-44.
5 See, for example, Leatherdale, Dracula: The Novel & the Legend 97, and Gordon Melton The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead 39. Others are more cautious: Christopher Frayling notes that Stoker "could have read about ... Bathory" (Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula 71).
6 In his Introduction to Dracula Unearthed (1998), Leatherdale refutes his earlier position, maintaining that Bathory played no part in Dracula.
7 This ludicrous assertion appears in their Introduction to Night Bites: Vampire Stories by Women (1996). How could anyone arrive at such a distortion? Possibly it was the result of a careless reading of the following statement in Melton's The Vampire Book (1994): "The creation of the modern vampire depended in large part upon the nineteenth century's appropriation of information on two historical personages: Vlad the Impaler ... and Elizabeth Bathory" (692).