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Infamous Lady: The True Story of Countess Erzsébet Báthory

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This biography explores the life of the 16th-century "Blood Countess" of Hungary, Erzsebet Bathory. Reputed to be both a vampire and the world's worst female serial killer, she allegedly bathed in the blood of her 650 victims. Based on newly-found source material, translated into English for the first time, this book explores the actual life and trial of Countess Bathory, through letters, documents, and trial transcripts.

342 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2009

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About the author

Kimberly L. Craft

7 books59 followers
Kimberly L. Craft holds bachelor and master's degrees as well as a juris (law) doctorate. She also received a Zertifikat Deutsch als Fremdsprache from the Goethe Institut in Munich. Prof. Craft has served on various faculties, including DePaul University and Florida A&M College of Law. An attorney and legal historian, Prof. Craft has spent over a decade researching the life and trial of Countess Báthory and over a year translating original source material into English.

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5 stars
476 (32%)
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271 (18%)
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145 (9%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 76 reviews
Profile Image for Willow .
233 reviews97 followers
October 9, 2011
I’ve always been fascinated with Erzsébet Báthory, ‘the Blood Countess,’ ever since I watched the old Hammer Horror movie “Countess Dracula” with Ingrid Pitt. Yet most of the books written about her are so ghoulishly over the top and steeped in myth, they’re not very helpful.

This book is awesome though. Not only is it a compelling read, but Kimberly Craft has new material on the Countess, translating letters and real testimony. This is no dry biography either. I couldn’t put it down, caught up in the fascinating crime story that Craft lays out before you.

I don’t want to give anything away, but this is a excellent book. I love it when non-fiction is so compelling it reads better than fiction.
Profile Image for Brad Mcguire.
1 review
June 10, 2010
I had heard a lot about Elizabeth Bathory from friends and have been on a quest to find a decent biography. There seems to be a lot of fiction written about her, but very little factual, well-researched material. I understand it's because her name has been banned in Hungary for the past 400 years, so it's been difficult to access information. Friends recommended books by Thorne and McNally, but both are out of print, and I wanted something more current (McNally wrote his biography in the 80s and Thorne in the 90s). I was really excited to hear about "Infamous Lady" by Kimberly Craft, because it's current (late 2009) and supposedly had newly-found research that has never been printed in English before. I was not disappointed. The book contained court documents, letters, and detailed information about this unusual and enigmatic woman. The book also did a masterful job of explaining the complexities of the legal proceedings of the early 1600s (the author, fortunately, is an attorney) and also explaining the history of this complicated time. Elizabeth, or Erzsebet, Bathory was embroiled in a battle between the Catholic and Protestant churches, between Turks and Europeans, and also caught up in maintaining an extremely high social position while running vast estates in the absence of her husband, a war hero. The woman was clearly no saint, but the book debunks many of the foolish myths and legends about her and gives some interesting explanations, based on recorded history, what likely went on behind the scenes. I didn't realize that this would be such a true crime thriller, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Profile Image for Liz Carrington.
4 reviews1 follower
January 13, 2010
This book is a must read for anyone who is an avid enthusiast of the countess, history and criminal investigations. It is well written, compelling and a significant contribution to the scholarly community. Ms. Craft goes beyond the fragmented story that has been pieced together over the years and presents new information including family history and actual correspondance written by the Countess and those close to her, translated into English for the first time. It brings a new side of the Countess to life and leaves you thinking that she is much more than just the sadistic monster that folklore has made her out to be. It is truly a remarkable text which is perhaps the most in-depth treatise about Elizabeth Bathory available. It is also an amazing bargain as it is half the price of other publications.

The website for this publication is also worth a look:

It has nice reference material and a community for Bathory scholars and Enthusiasts.

I am looking forward to more from this author and supplemental material about the Countess. Enjoy!
June 3, 2010
I have always approached the legends of the so-called "Blood Countess" as a skeptic. The legends of a beautiful, wealthy Hungarian countess bathing in the blood of the hundreds of servant girls she murdered--as a beauty treatment--struck me as fanciful and nonsensical. I am glad to say that the author of "Infamous Lady" thought the same. Using this same skepticism as a springboard, Kimberly Craft launches on an historical odyssey to discover the true facts behind the legend of Countess Erzsebet (Elizabeth) Bathory. The author spares no detail: legends and myths are carefully debunked one after another, and original source material is provided with first-time English translations. I will not spoil this. I'll just say that the author, who is also an attorney, approaches the subject matter carefully and methodically so that in the end, the reader can decide for him or herself what really happened 400 years ago at the manor and castle at Cjethe. Excellent read and highly recommended for the historian who also enjoys a great thriller in a fascinating time period.
January 29, 2010
I absolutely loved this book. I am a "fan" of Erzsebet Bathory and have been searching for a book that gives an accurate portrayal of her life for some time. This is the best I found so far. It was fascinating and appalling at the same time and I found myself unable to put it down. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning about the life of the "Blood Countess".
2 reviews3 followers
May 5, 2010
Excellent book and well researched. I had no idea that the woman reputed to be a vampire, lesbian serial killer who murdered 650 people and bathed in their blood as a beauty treatment actually attended the king's coronation, gave charitable donations to the Lutheran church, scholarships to students, and loans to servants in need. Quite the enigma! I also learned from this book that over 300 people testified but hardly a one saw her actually do anything wrong. The handful that did see and participate in her heinous deeds, however, went on record reporting unbelievable acts of cruelty that, even today, give one pause. I won't spoil anything. I'll just say that Hannibal Lechter had nothing on this woman. The actual trial and witness testimonies are far more shocking than any of the silly legends that grew up hundreds of years after this woman died. All of them are presented here, along with letters, including the speculations of her friends and family who themselves had no idea what she was up to until the very end. The first few chapters explain her family history as well as the politics of her time. For me, that was a little slow going, but the book soon delivered in a chapter called "Strange Goings On." It just got better and better from there. It also has photos of rare portraits that, apparently, are well known in Europe but not in the U.S. A great read for the history and crime buff.
Profile Image for William Anderson.
2 reviews1 follower
February 25, 2010
Excellent book. Although a scholarly work, it was actually pretty easy and fun to read. I especially liked how some of the witness testimony was presented in the form of a literary vignette. History has never been so much fun to read. Countess Bathory was a madwoman, but after reading the book, I had a new appreciation for what she must have been put through and some insight as to why she did what she did. I originally read the book because I was interested in someone who supposedly murdered 650 people under the nose of the king, parliament and nobility. I now understand what likely happened and appreciated the original source material. It's all presented in the appendix, so at any time the reader can decide for him or herself what they think. The author is always careful not to make generalizations and even addresses the various myths that have grown up around this supposed "world's worst female serial killer."
Profile Image for Amy.
287 reviews6 followers
May 5, 2014
I admit, I went in expecting a scandalous thrill; what I got what was repetitive and morbid listing. To be expected, of course, but poorly written -- repetitive, and confuses her facts (was it the shirt that was so bloody, or the skirt?). Half the text is translated letters.
Profile Image for Grapie Deltaco.
506 reviews1,088 followers
May 1, 2022
Fucked up, depraved, and horrific.

There were sections of this that quite little make me full-body cringe and make my finger nails sting. The descriptions of how this woman and her accomplices tortured and brutalized so many little girls was so deeply unnerving and yet I couldn’t stop reading.

The Countess Báthory genuinely was beating to death children and carried on donating to charity and scholarships like the two cancelled out. She believed in a version of Christianity where only the elite go to heaven and thought that she could do as she pleased because she was richer than the king. She was cruel.

I’m most intrigued in getting to know the real her as much as possible. There is so much more fiction that explores vampirism than the actual truth of her nightmarish behavior and I think that’s just so fascinating.

This exploration felt incredibly thorough and has been a fantastic jumping off point.


CW: murder, violence, death, torture and excessive cruelty ,blood, gore, mentions of war, brief references to genital mutilation, brief references to child rape + sexual assault
Profile Image for Anna.
154 reviews2 followers
August 12, 2015
Okay, so as a long time 'devotee' of the weirder aspects of history, I thought this would be a good read. I was hoping for some dialogue, and some conclusions about who the Countess really was, and whether she did the things she was accused of. I mean while I always doubted she bathed in the blood of virgins, I did expect this book to be a bit gory. It delivered, at least with the blood. The descriptions of the Countess setting the servant girls genitals alight with a candle will stay with me for a while, as will the servant girl who was brought to the Countess' bedside when she was too ill to fully torment them. Instead the Countess bit a chunk of the serving girls face off. Yay!
While the writing style was clear and crisp, the book itself was somewhat repetitive. 50 pages at the beginning just listing Hungarian nobles and land registry info etc was not what I was looking for. I didn't want to have to make myself read this book, but even when torture is as inventive as the Countess was, it loses its shock factor and novelty quite rapidly after the fourth time of reading about the girl in the river... the second half of the book is entirely the letters the author used, so everything is repeated again!
As a previous reviewer mentioned, I also would have liked more testimony from handwriting experts and mental health experts. There were a couple shoved in towards the end, but it felt gratuitous rather than important, which is a shame.
I feel this book gave me some new information in a straightforward way, but it lacked spark and it lacked the real reason I picked it up to begin with. I was expecting to see HER letters and HER reasoning for why she did what she did. I was left with a lot of other letters and court testimony indicting her, and a sense of... it being unfinished somehow.

I gave it 3 stars because it was a reasonable account of what happened given that it was 400 years ago, and it kept my attention, kind of.
April 24, 2010
Great book. The author approaches the legends of Lady Bathory like a lawyer, examining the evidence and letting the reader make a conclusion about her guilt or innocence. There are two types of books about this historical woman: gothic fiction which paints her as a sadistic, blood-bathing vampire on a killing spree, hell bent on preserving her beauty through the witchcraft of bathing in virgin blood; and then, accurate, historical accounts of her life and times. Von Elsberg attempted this in the 1800s, and then Raymond T. McNally in the 1980s. Tony Thorne followed in the 1990s. Prof. Craft's new book stands on the shoulders of these previous works and adds material that the serious scholar or enthusiast has likely never read in English. The first few chapters give us a running history of the Bathory and Nadasdy families, and then the fun begins in a chapter titled, "Strange Goings On." The murders start, quietly at first, and the countess blames the death of her servant girls on disease. She and her local clergy participate in their burials. But then the rumors begin, and sometime later, the clergy begins to make accusations that she and a servant are actually torturing and murdering these young girls. The author weaves the testimony of actual witnesses, much of which was taken under King's Orders in 1610, into a fascinating story which is highly readable (the actual testimony is provided in the appendix, written in the flowery style of the time and not quite as interesting as the author's reconfiguration for the modern reader). This is a must read for anyone who is serious about learning the truth about this woman.
3 reviews
April 14, 2010
I have read almost everything available on Lady Elizabeth Bathory and thought I knew almost everything until I read this book. The life of this infamous serial killer unfolded before my eyes with amazing clarity: I actually felt as though I was there, back in time, experiencing life in 16th-century Hungary. The book features narratives and, as the author describes them, "literary vignettes" in which actual historical testimony is recreated into intriguing dialogue in story form. For the scholar, an extensive appendix is included, including rarely seen pictures of the Nadasdy family (including her infamous mother-in-law), her husband, and various castles (she murdered servants in more than just the famous Cachtice Castle), her will, trial documents, letters from the king and parliament, personal writings, a list of servants and staff, and name translations from Hungarian to English. I can't imagine how much time went into researching this work, and it should be on the shelf of not only Bathory researchers but for anyone who enjoys a great crime thriller. I could not put this book down, even though by chapter seven I was giving myself a headache reading so much. I will warn that some parts of the book are graphic--Lady Bathory's crimes are horrific, and the judicial leaders of her time spared no expense in describing them first hand. However, it is as fascinating as it is shocking. Enjoy this one!
Profile Image for Ravin Maurice.
Author 13 books37 followers
July 5, 2011
As an aspiring historical fiction writer, biographies are something I have to deal with quite frequently. Most are heavy with the politics of the time and very little about the actual people, making it hard to discover anything about the actual person, and the language is sometimes so complex you have to re read sentences to make sure you caught everything.
Infamous Lady is not any of these things. It is the most accessible historical biography I have ever read, Dr. Craft's writing is clear and concise, making the information easily accessible and the book a delight to read. I've also been able to go back to check references and it has been quite easy. This book fell into my lap when I needed more information about Countess Bathory - this book is the only book that I am aware of that takes on the myths about the Blood Countess and brings forth historical fact to try to not only discredit them but give readers the opportunity to discover how they started and where they may have came from. My own writing would be lost without it, and I recommend this book to everyone, history lover and biography lover alike.
With the addition of Dr. Craft's newest work, The Private Letters of Countess Bathory, I'm hoping that the cloud hanging over the infamous Blood Countess will soon lift.
Profile Image for Ronel.
48 reviews17 followers
April 8, 2012
The author meticulously researched the history of the Countess, relying on original source documents instead of hearsay and rumours. The Countess is an enigmatic figure and it is shrouded in mystery because of the destruction of a lot of Bathory family records.

The book is well written and I enjoyed the author's way of describing things. She writes with the clarity of a lawyer (which she is) and that makes for very easy reading. I finished the book in 6 hours and I could not put it down.

After reading the book, a lot of questions remain. Not because of the failure of the author to address it, but because of the passage of time. What really triggered her rages? How much of what was testified to at the trial was the truth and how much was because of a conspiracy to rid the King of one of his biggest creditors? What role did the inter-marrying of powerful families play in the proliferation of mental illness?

The chapter on the hand writing analysis was interesting but I would have liked to hear the opinions of other mental health professionals and criminal profilers.

This was a great read, not only because of the Countess' story but also the history of Hungary and the power struggles between the Hapsburg family and inter alia the Ottoman Turks.

Highly recommended.


Profile Image for Tracy Sherman.
75 reviews4 followers
May 11, 2014
Having to do with one of the major historical figures that have shaped the Western Vampire Mythos and taking place in Transylvania this book was of great interest to me.
It's also a story I am very familiar with having read most of the available works on Countess Bathory in English.
There was, unfortunately, very little that was new or of interest here.
Reading about Elizabeth's husband and children was of some interesting but it goes nowhere, that was all that was of worth here.
The constant question that kept coming up for me was, "What about the victims?"
Throughout the book the tortured and murdered girls are treated as faceless propriety. We know that's how the nobles saw them but it seems even the author treats the victims the same way.
She even makes excuses for Bathory's behavior at points.
The other major crime of this book is how badly it's written. Almost half the book is padded out with transcripts of witness testimony. That can be interesting if properly edited but here they only repeat, again and again, what the author has already told us.
It takes skill of some sort to turn such an inherently interesting person into something so boring.
There is a great book waiting to be written about Countess Bathory, but sadly this is not it.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
251 reviews24 followers
October 27, 2018
2.5*

Elizabeth Bathory was a Countess and serial killer who lived in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century in what was then Hungry. Over three hundred witnesses testified to her brutality and murdering of several hundred girls and women.
This was a disturbing read, but that is not why I gave it 2.5 stars. Let me start by saying that Kimberly Craft did an excellent job researching this book. She includes a lot of letters and witness statements, which paint a vivid picture. Unfortunately, this is where the positives end. This book is in desperate need of an edit, and the author did herself a disservice by not having an editor review this before publication. There is a second edition to this book (this review is on the first edition), which I can only hope was edited. Another thing that really turned me off was the author filling in the gaps with her opinions. Something I've seen in biographies before, but not to this extent. This was an informative book and I appreciate the effort put into it, but it was difficult reading through the bias comments and grammatical errors.
February 12, 2010
This book was simply amazing. I have read many things about Countess Bathory but sadly, most have been fictional accounts. The two biographies by Tony Thorne and Raymond McNally were both very good, but this new book, by far, is the best biography in English on this tragic and twisted woman. If you enjoy true crime and historical biography, this is it. I have never seen so many translated, original documents in one place: letters, legal documents, trial transcripts, witness interrogatories, all here. The author does a masterful job of explaining not only the history but also the legality of what went on, as well as providing insight into this woman's character and motivation. The reader is always given the chance, however, to decide for herself, and I never felt "pushed" by the author to form an opinion or see things one way or the other. A must-read for the enthusiast.
12 reviews
July 31, 2014
This wasn't really a book for casual or fun reading. While the story itself is interesting, this book is more a detailed review of the facts. And because of the way the book is organized some of those facts are stated and restated. I like history, details and genealogy, probably more than the average person, but this was just too much. The first few chapters were all about her and her husband's family history- too many long names and places to even follow. One of the chapters at the end was a personality profile from a couple of handwriting specialists. I think there just wasn't enough information for this type of book, so the information was stretched. I would probably have preferred to read a fictional elaboration based on her story.
Profile Image for Bettie.
9,988 reviews15 followers
Want to read
March 6, 2014
Description:
This biography explores the life of the 16th-century "Blood Countess" of Hungary, Erzsébet Báthory. Reputed to be both a vampire and the world's worst female serial killer, she allegedly bathed in the blood of her 650 victims. Based on newly-found source material, translated into English for the first time, this book explores the actual life and trial of Countess Báthory, through letters, documents, and trial transcripts.
Profile Image for Corie.
7 reviews3 followers
May 12, 2020
This was an informative case study and presentation of the charges bought against the infamous Countess, sometimes called 'the world's most prolific serial killer'. I was glad to see that it did not take on the narrative popular amongst a lot of modern revisionists who like to claim that Bathory was 'just a poor woman whose reputation was sullied by evil men out to get her fortune, land, and titles'. If anything, it is her position as noble and a woman that ensured her escape from having to face the full extent of the law

Of course, the punishing servants by nobility were common in this time period, but obviously the scale and extent of the punishment must have been outside the acceptable norm for her to be surrounded by so many rumors. It is akin to the case of another infamous serial killer, Delphine LaLaurie, who in 1830's New Orleans who went above and beyond the standard punishment of slaves, that a public, which widely condoned slavery in those times were so shocked by the documented extent of torture and murders endured by slaves.

It was interesting to learn that Bathory's husband may have been the one to introduce her to methods of torture but also be the one to ensure that the torture had restraints/ 'limits' (as in no murder). Also interesting to note the pathology of framing the murders as a 'release from stress'. The author, Kimberly Kraft notes that they followed a pattern of having to entertain important nobility or visits with royalty, after which Bathory needed to 'unwind' and 'regain control' after having 'the burden of behaving like a woman of her station'.

Some revisionists and 'fans' also like to claim that the ' virgin blood bath propaganda' and witch accusations, again were the result of 'evil men trying to ruin her reputation'. Some like to say that men are just as guilty of 'evil crimes' and never faced justice. But the 'whataboutisms' again have no place in this story. It has been documented in this work and in other sources, that Bathory did engage in procuring the services of forest witches/ doing spells herself in order to curse enemies like the King of Hungary/ her husband's enemies in war, The Ottoman Turks. It is also documented that a forest witch did tell her to 'use the blood of noble girls' for some sort of protection. It might not have been to remain youthful and beautiful, but Bathory did exhibit a pathological distaste for girls ages 10-14 and like a serial killer, attacked them because they were weaker than herself.

Reading about the politics surrounding the charges was also informative. The role of the church, crown, fellow nobles, peasantry all had a role in keeping this murder spree going for so long. It is true that Bathory's husband's reputation protected her and that his death made her more vulnerable to The Crown/ Ottoman raiders. But his death and reputation as a war hero ensured that she was not put to death and that the extent of her crimes was kept under wraps from the public. She was allowed to die in dignity/ with compassion in a way that cannot be said for any of her victims. Her family, including the one daughter known to have procured at least one victim and participate with Bathory in the murder of others, all got to keep their inheritance/ reputation.
Profile Image for Amanda Holmes.
48 reviews
March 17, 2019
I love the time period that Elizabeth lived in. Her life is curious, to say the least. It's a great historical read.
Profile Image for Deborah Biancotti.
Author 38 books101 followers
May 28, 2014
Fascinating portrait of a complicated woman who was at once undeniably murderous and also a benevolent leader and loyal Hungarian servant. She made a powerful enemy of the Hungarian king by trying to insist he repay the massive debt her husband racked up supporting the Hungarian (vs. Ottoman) war of the 1600s. Despite numerous friends and relatives in the nobility (including the Hungarian Prime Minister, who honoured the dying wish of Erzsebet's husband to protect her from her enemies), Bathory was undone by her "bestial" crimes. The King wanted to prosecute & then execute her in order to nullify his debt & seize her lands. But the Prime Minister decreed the sentence without trial: she was to be declared legally dead, her papers destroyed & the Countess herself walled into her castle so that her crimes could be forgotten & the honour of Hungarian nobility restored.

But the claims of the 600 dead virgins & the whole bathing in blood thing--and the moralism over her apparently undermining feminine vanity--shows no historical credence, having first surfaced nearly 200 years after she died. Yup. That bogey-woman stuff was largely exaggerated. She was a torturer and a killer. But the real horror is that she wasn't the only one.

A wealth of information, some speculation (I skipped the chapter on whether the handwriting analysis proved her schizophrenic), & a sizeable, disorganised appendix that could've featured its own table of contents.
Profile Image for Renee.
Author 14 books119 followers
January 18, 2013
I got this in the mail last night and seriously read it all. I read while making dinner, while eating dinner, while my kids watched TV and then after they went to bed.

It had a TON of great information, some of which I didn't know through my own research. I liked that she mentioned which rumors were totally false or that there was no real proof that certain things in folk tale, actually happened. Though she did not touch on stories of Elizabeth having a baby out of wedlock which my research has found many tales of.

I especially enjoyed that she included information of Elizabeth's sisters, children and hand writing analysis as well as information that Elizabeth's killings usually escalated after she had to pretend to be normal at a gathering or after receiving guests.

I think the author wrote these facts with great interest and it was done in such a way that kept me interested and I am not a HUGE non fiction person.

The one negative was that the trail transcripts of all the witness testimony and who the witness were, man…dryer than dry and repetitive. I mean it’s nice to have that information from the records, but reading it was tedious.

One of the BEST non fiction accounts of the Blood Countess I have ever read and my personal library is FULL of them.
July 6, 2010
Superb book. The amount of research and detail found here is astounding, and the author's knowledge of the Early Modern period in European history is incredible. I was particularly fascinated by the legal proceedings of the time period and how the authorities behaved against a widow of the high nobility, whose husband was a war hero and who lent huge amounts of money to the crown, when she was accused of having murdered numerous servant girls. It was a real page turner, especially after chapter four (although the first three chapters provided necessary detail for later parts). If you like true crime, history, political intrigue, and a look at one of history's most unusual characters, you will love this book.
Profile Image for Lisa Marie.
23 reviews
March 19, 2016
Very informative and well translated! An interesting and complicated person the Lady Bathory was. It's astonishing to see proof that people can do things like this, let alone easily coerce others into helping them do it. And it happened at a point in history where they able to get away with it for far too long. Although, the "witness" testimonies do give one doubt as to exactly what happened. But kudos to the author for taking the time to gather all this information for an accurate history book on this famous serial killer!
1 review
May 19, 2011
I read this because my wife had it lying on the bedside. Not sure I'd like it, but then I got hooked. Something about the way in which the author takes history and turns it into an actual story intrigued me. By the end, I read the entire thing, including the appendix. Some of the best information is in the appendix, BTW. No one sugar-coated anything back in the old days. If you think today's murder mysteries and crime stories are bizarre, "out there" or unique, read this.
Profile Image for Romarin Demetri.
Author 9 books85 followers
November 12, 2015
Craft was the perfect person to work on this book and translate it! Though we don't know what actually happened, as we hope most of it can be embellished, she shows us every side to the story. I read this for the first time while completing my Psychology B.A., interested in the world's first female serial killer. It also shows you that no one goes looking until the noble girls start disappearing...
Profile Image for Scott.
182 reviews
May 10, 2014
What the hell does this stuff have to do with ANYTHING? We don't know who this woman was, what her motives were, who her victims were... This makes the book bland and pointless. But even if it were full of pertinent information, what the hell is the point of reading about serial killers?
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