Infamous Women of the Middle Ages and Renaissance

The Middle Ages and Renaissance had its share of powerful and interesting women. It included rulers, intellectuals, military commanders and even some saints. But here are three women who were mostly known for their infamy!

When Lucrezia was born into the Borgia family in 1480, she was destined for a life of intrigue and innuendo. She was the illegitimate daughter of Rodrigo Borgia, a churchmen who schemed his way into becoming Pope Alexander the Sixth in 1492. Known for exquisite beauty, Lucrezia was married off three times by her father for political alliances. She also had numerous affairs, and was even able to divorce her first husband on the grounds that they never had consumated their marriage – although she was pregnant at time.

Her second husband was murdered by Lucrezia’s brother, Cesare, who had a close relationship with his sister. The enemies of the Borgia family even accused them of having an incestuous affair. Lucrezia was perhaps one of the more innocent members of the Borgia family, but she will be forever be linked to one of the most notorious bloodlines in history.

Mary the first, queen of England, gained the nickname “Bloody Mary” for the wave of executions and terror she inflicted during her reign in the years 1553 to 1558. The daughter of King Henry the Eighth, she was deeply opposed to Henry’s break with the Catholic church. After the death of her brother Edward the Sixth, Mary was able to overcome a challenge to the throne and become the Queen of England. She soon found a husband – King Philip of Spain, although her marriage was deeply unpopular with her subjects.

Her reputation went down further when she tried to reimpose Catholicism in England – hundreds of men and women who remained Protestant were executed – often by being burned at the stake, while hundreds more fled the country. Even those who repented, like the Archbishop of Canterbury, were executed anyways. She failed to have a child before illness struck her down at the age of 42. Her sister Elizabeth then came to the throne, and undid the repression against Protestants and going on to become one of England’s best known rulers.

Born 7 August 1560, Countess Erzsébet (Elizabeth) Bathory was one of history’s first known serial killers. She was rumoured to be a product of upper class inbreeding; something that was prevalent in tumultuous sixteenth century Hungary.

She was accused of having numerous affairs, of engaging in lesbian encounters and dabbling in witchcraft and the occult. She was also accused of unspeakable acts of cruelty and murder.

Elizabeth engaged in horrific acts of brutality on her hapless victims; biting, exposure, branding, the severing of body parts and the use of an Iron Maiden were but a few of her preferred modes of torture.

Elizabeth was perhaps best known for her infamous “blood baths” where she gained pleasure by smearing and bathing herself in the blood of her victims in an effort to retain her youth and beauty.
She was eventually arrested on December 30, 1610. It has been speculated that between 1585 and 1610, Elizabeth and her four accomplices murdered approximately 650 women. She was sentenced to death but instead lived out the remainder of her life walled up in Csejte (Čachtický) Castle. She died on August 21st, 1614.