Masters Thesis

Scavengers of Human Sorrow: The Lives and Crimes of Gilles De Rais and Elizabeth Bathory, 1405-1614

That members of the nobility in pre-modern Europe were occasionally cruel is no secret. However, the French marshal Gilles de Rais (d. 1440) and the Hungarian countess Elizabeth Bathory (d. 1614) represent something more than nobles behaving badly. They are two of the earliest documented “serial killers,” but despite of what is known about them, their motives have remained unclear. Using an interdisciplinary and comparative approach for analysis, Gilles de Rais and Elizabeth Bathory are revealed here as more complex than previously thought. Firstly, primary sources ranging from trial records to letters provide the necessary historical background. Secondly, modern scholarship supplies the psycho-criminological methods, helps contextualize pre-modern violence and society, and shows the impact of Gilles’ and Elizabeth’s and their victims’ social status, associations, and gender. Lastly, movies, television shows, and song lyrics show how Gilles and Elizabeth continue to be immortalized even centuries after their crimes. Gilles and Elizabeth killed because they were serial killers, but the social climate of their times effectively enabled them to do so.

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