Vampires explained – the history and horror!

In a new series of videos, I’m going to be looking at the history of horror. And I’m starting with vampires. The origins of these blood suckers goes all the way back to ancient Greece and the myth of the Lamia. Interestingly a female vampire. Men, it would seem, do not have a monopoly on sinking their fangs into the living and draining their blood!

Vampire history and real-life murders!

Fascinating that over the last century several murderers have claimed – sometimes in mitigation for their appalling crimes – that they were vampires. The infamous English killer John George Haigh is referred to today as the Acid Bath Murderer on account of how he disposed of the bodies. But at the time, Haigh claimed he drank the blood of his victims and was referred to as the Vampire Killer back in the 1940s.

In the 1920s, the German city of Hannover was rocked by a series of murders of young men and boys. Their necks were savaged by the killer’s own teeth as he tore at their jugular veins. Eventually Friedrich Haarman was apprehended and confessed to everything. He begged the state to behead him. If you’ve watched the TV drama series Babylon Berlin – set at this time – you’ll be aware that beheading was still a form of capital punishment in Germany. Haarman got his wish and was decapitated in April 1925.

The Irish history of Vampires

One curious aspect of vampire literature that I discuss in this film – which I hope you enjoy – is the preponderance of Irish Protestant authors who loved to write about vampires. Charles Maturin was a Church of Ireland cleric and the descendant of French Huguenots – as were the other vampire scribblers, Sheridan Le Fanu (wrote the lesbian vampire drama Carmilla in 1872) and Dion Boucicault (wrote The Vampire as a theatre play renamed The Phantom for American audiences in 1856). And of course, Bram Stoker – author of the novel Dracula – was also an Irish Protestant.

DISCOVER: The Slovakian female vampire of the 17th century!

I note their religion because Stoker in particular is keen to show that only Roman Catholic sacred items like the crucifix, rosary, and communion wafers, can deter Count Dracula. A very odd twist on the ancient vampire myth from an Anglican. And even stranger when you consider that Transylvania is actually in a part of Europe where the form of Christianity is Eastern Orthodox. I’d be curious to know what you think about this.

Do watch the video – it’s pretty comprehensive and should give you a thorough understanding of the history of vampires!

The vampire Countess Bathory!

Bathory
Don’t accept that invitation to dinner!

Countess Bathory isn’t that well known outside of her native Slovakia but she really ought to be. This was a real-life female vampire aristocrat who had young women round for dinner – and then, literally – had them for dinner.

She indulged her vampiric passions with gusto!

The other day, I met a Slovakian gentleman called Lukáš in the English town of Farnborough who had seen me on TV talking history and was very keen to share the story of this murderous noble woman from his country.

Her name was the Countess Elizabeth Bathory de Ecsed (1560 to 1614). And she is believed to have tortured and killed up to 650 women between 1585 and 1609.

Yes – you didn’t misread that – six hundred and fifty women.

Most infamously, the vampire Countess Bathory was accused of bathing in the blood of victims who were virgins at the time of their death. The reason? To remain young of course!

It may not be surprising therefore to discover that her uncle was the highest ranking official in Transylvania – the mountainous land where the fictional Dracula had his castle. Well, that’s according to the nineteenth century Anglo-Irish author Bram Stoker.

Eventually, crimes of the blood soaked countess were brought to the attention of the Holy Roman Emperor who ordered an investigation. Some three hundred witnesses all but fell over each other to spill the beans on the vampire princess.

They had seen the vampire Bathory abducting peasant girls and biting at their flesh or burning them with red hot tongs – before ending their lives.

Worse, from the point of view of the aristocracy, this ghoulish killer had even enticed girls of high birth to her castle. She had promised them lessons in etiquette. What they actually got was a lesson in why not to trust the vampire countess Bathory!

She tried to plead her innocence but the evidence was pretty overwhelming. Although the death penalty was called for, it was decided that as an aristocratic woman, she would endure something more refined but equally terminal.

The vampire Bathory was walled up in a small series of rooms with a big enough gap to pass her food. It took four years for this royal serial killer to die.