Kateřina of Komárov (Kateřina z Komárova) was a noblewoman known as the Czech version of Elizabeth Bathory.
She married into the very prominent Bechyňová of Lažany family. Her husband, Jan, became the burgrave of Karlštejn in 1529. Marrying Jan was a move up the social ladder for Kateřina, and while he was away attending the royal courts, usually at the Karlštejn castle, she would be managing the Karlštejn estates in Pičín where they lived.
These new responsibilities and authority brought out a dark side of Kateřina; she became a strict disciplinarian, whose sadistic methods cost many young women their lives. Any of her young servant girls who were found being disobedient, promiscuous, or guilty of any other minor wrongdoings, would be brutally punished by her. Her M.O. included beatings, floggings, cutting off the flesh from the backs of her victims, and pouring ice-cold and boiling-hot water over them– sometimes even with hot grease! Another popular choice of torture was rubbing an iron brush against her victims’ flesh, then pouring salt on the open wounds.
Since she also spent time in the Karlštejn castle with her husband, it is also believed that some of her victims endured torture behind those famous castle’s walls. Those who survived her wrath suffered severely for the rest of their lives.
Her reign of terror ended thanks to a priest by the name of Václav Hájek of Libočany, who would later go on to become a famous chronicler. In 1527, Václav became the dean of Karlštejn castle. He became familiar with the local affairs of the castle and started hearing rumors about the servant girls being tortured. At first, he didn’t want to believe these rumors, but one night he heard screams coming within the castle walls. He followed the noise which lead him to the dismembered body of one of the servants. He decided to press charges against Kateřina which ended her horrific, bloody reign.
Not much is known about how long Kateřina was murdering her servants, but the official number the got her to confess to was 14, although some argue that the number could be as high as 30. Abuse against servants was common at the time, but Kateřina took it to a whole other level. One of the rumors that came out and started to circulate after her arrest was that she– just like her Hungarian counterpart, Elizabeth Bathory– bathed herself in the blood of her victims’ to keep her skin young and healthy.
Some of the witness testimony during her court hearing was shocking and terrifying. One key witness, a fur maker named Prokop, from New Town in Prague, testified by stating:
“What I know is that lady Kateřina beat my sister Kateřina of Právovice of Dušník to death on the stairs.”
She also coerced others to participate in her cruel acts. Prokop also said:
“And then the lady ordered my son to beat me and he did and if he’d beat me more, perhaps he would have killed me – an old man.”
Manda Vaňková was another such person who participated unwillingly in the torture and murder of others. Manda admitted to helping kill Kačka Matějkova, a pregnant woman who was unfortunate enough to suffer under the hand of Kateřina. Manda also helped murder a sixteen-year-old named Hedvika.
“The lady was with us, and she ordered us to beat the maiden Hedvika to death.”
One maiden by the name of Dorota, the daughter of a smith from Pečín, was hanged upside down from the perch with mortars tied to her head. Kateřina sent her back to her mother’s home where she passed away an hour after arriving.
The courtroom drama intensified when Kateřina asked for Václav Hájek of Libočany, the man responsible for her demise, to question her. She began to curse him and the judge. Her husband, Jan, later accused dean Hájek of being a jewelry thief, which resulted in him losing his position on April 30th, 1534. He was taken to Prague from Karlštejn, being tied under a horse like a common thief. He was later acquitted, but he never had his expulsion from Karlštejn lifted.
On the 23rd of January, 1534, Kateřina of Komárov was sentenced to starvation in the Mihulka Tower in Prague. After 14 days of imprisonment, on March 15th, she was found dead. It is said that her hands were gnawed to the bone and it is unsure if that is due to rats or her desperation as a prisoner condemned to starve to death.