Bloody Mary

History Uncovered Episode 49:
The Real Stories Behind The Legend Of Bloody Mary

Published September 29, 2023

From the tyrannical ruler who had hundreds burned at the stake to the "Blood Countess" who may have tortured and murdered 600 girls, these are the real stories that inspired the "Bloody Mary" legend.

Almost everyone has heard the urban legend of Bloody Mary. As the story goes, this murderous spirit can be summoned through your mirror if you stand in the bathroom, turn off the lights, and repeat her name.

Some versions of the legend instruct the summoner to say “Bloody Mary” 13 times; other versions say that three will do. Some say that repeating “Bloody Mary” isn’t enough — you actually have to say something like “Bloody Mary, I killed your baby” or even the more specific “I believe in Mary Worth.” And most versions of the ritual require the summoner to stand in a dark room, before a mirror, sometimes with a candle burning nearby.

But how did this creepy story start? Though its exact origins are unknown, there are several real women throughout history who’ve been linked with this terrifying ghost.

They include Mary Worth, an alleged witch who was burned at the stake in the 17th or maybe 19th century, Elizabeth Bathory, a 16th-century Hungarian noblewoman who allegedly killed and tortured hundreds of women and girls, and even England’s Queen Mary I.

Bloody Mary

Wikimedia CommonsFrom Queen Mary I of England (pictured) to the American “witch” Mary Worth, the real origins of the murderous spirit Bloody Mary have long been hotly debated.

Born in 1516 to King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, Mary had a tortured childhood. Raised devoutly Catholic, she watched her father split from the Catholic Church and form the Church of England, all so he could divorce her mother and marry Anne Boleyn in hopes of producing a male heir. In the end, though, it was Mary who ascended to the throne in 1553.

Fiercely Catholic, Queen Mary I invoked the law of heretico comburendo in 1555, which meant that Protestants, who Mary saw as heretics, would be burned at the stake. And for the next three years, hundreds did. They included prominent men like archbishop Thomas Cranmer but also regular citizens, most of them poor. For this reason, Mary became known as “Bloody Mary.”

But wherever and however this unsettling urban legend began, it remains one of the world’s most widely-known ghost stories to this day. Now, let’s explore the legend itself, its murky origins, and the women who just might be the real-life Bloody Mary.

Discover the full story behind “Bloody Mary,” the Tudor queen of England.

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