The Story Behind Bloody Mary

The Story Behind Bloody Mary

Spooky Stories: Who is Bloody Mary

Is the folklore about Bloody Mary real? It might be…

We’ve all heard the spooky story of Bloody Mary. As a child, I was too creeped out by this story even though in my early days I would be scared of the smallest of things, like the Dementors in Harry Potter.

However some adventurous sorts have tried chanting ‘Bloody Mary’ thrice in front of a mirror at midnight in hopes to say hi to this crude looking woman. This legend also narrates how Bloody Mary would appear and steal children.

Most adults (who aren’t creeped out anymore, like me) would dismiss this ancient legend by thinking it as a nice gimmick to get children to bed on time. However this story of Bloody Mary is not just an old myth but a story woven around a real person!

Even though most of the ghost stories and folklore cannot be traced to the original characters, the story of Bloody Mary leads us to the 16th century Queen of England, Mary Tudor.

Mary I of England, ascended the British throne in 1553, after the premature death of her half-brother Edward VI of England.

To understand why this Tudor Princess was nicknamed Bloody Mary, we have to travel back in time to one the most famous Kings of all times and the father of Mary Tudor: Henry VIII. Few people know him better as the man who married six times!

The Story Behind Bloody Mary
Henry VIII, Mary’s father

In 1532, Henry VIII found himself aged 41 with no male heirs to succeed him as the King of England. Despite the lack of a legitimate male heir, the King had a daughter, Princess Mary Tudor. Never before had England been ruled over solely by a Queen, and Henry VIII didn’t want to leave his Kingdom in the hands of his daughter.

So in an attempt to secure a male heir for England, he tried to divorce his wife Catherine of Aragon to marry a much younger Anne Boleyn. The Pope however was against such an annulment.

Instead of just bidding goodbye to his wife, Henry VIII first separated from the Pope creating a new Church of England. This made England a Protestant nation.

The annulment between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon was finalised in 1533 and England welcomed a new Queen consort, Anne Boleyn.

The Catholic churches were locked up and Protestant churches were constructed.

In 1534, Henry VIII passed a new law which stated that an English monarch would be the Head of the Church of England.


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Henry VIII’s quest for a male heir and the story of his six wives is an article for another Friday.

The story of Henry VIII’s daughter though is important.

After her parents’ divorce, something very new for the 16th century, Princess Mary soon found herself being proclaimed illegitimate by her father. Such a proclamation for a Princess was of utmost shame.

Henry VIII died in 1547 finally safe with the knowledge that he had given England a male heir. His son Edward VI succeeded him at the young age of 9.

The Story Behind Bloody Mary
Edward VI

Edward VI’s reign was not to last long. At the age of 15, Edward fell seriously ill. He and his advisors knew that the young King would not survive.

With no heirs at all, the future of England was again cast in jeopardy. Edward then made a  ‘device’ proclaiming his cousin Lady Jane Grey his successor. Lady Jane Grey was also a teenager of fifteen but most importantly she was married (meaning she could secure England’s future with an heir) and a Protestant.

Mary I though was a staunch Catholic.

When Edward VI breath his last in 1553, the ‘device’ he had drawn up was subject to a bit of controversy.

Before his death, Henry VIII had drafted a will which gave the order of succession as his son Edward VI followed by his daughter Mary and his second daughter Elizabeth (mother Anne Boleyn).

Henry on his behalf may never have imagined his daughters outliving his son. His will, even though it gave Mary the claim to the throne, didn’t legitimise her. The stain of illegitimacy that Henry had given her, was never lifted.

Thus according to a few people, the ‘device’ of Edward VI was to be held true.

Mary was a catholic when the country was Protestant and she was not married like Lady Jane Grey. Her half sister Elizabeth although Protestant, could not be appointed as a next Queen since that meant having to surpass Mary, the elder sister, creating a division of opinion in England.

Mary though was not going to let some ‘device’ drawn up by her younger brother from his deathbed stop her. She believed she was the rightful heir.

With an entourage and troops of her own, she marched upon London. Surprisingly, she was welcomed by the people who believed her to be the true Monarch.

Mary swiftly sent Lady Jane Grey, who was innocent in her own right, to the gallows.

The Story Behind Bloody Mary
The execution of Lady Jane Grey

After her coronation, Princess Mary became Mary I of England, England’s first Queen.

She now had two important agendas to complete, the first was to produce a male heir and the second to guide her country back to Catholicism.

The new Queen shortly announced her intention to marry King Philip II of Spain.

In 1554, Mary, announced happy news to her subjects: she was pregnant.

According to the rather stupid Tudor laws and a serious lack of medical know how, the doctors believed that Mary was indeed pregnant. The child was due in June of 1555.

Mary retreated into confinement for 6 months, she also told the doctors her symptoms which were similar to that of a pregnant woman. All signs were taking of a pregnancy, it was joyous news.

Finally June had arrived and so had the day of the child’s arrival but to their utmost horror, Mary didn’t deliver a child at all!

The Story Behind Bloody Mary
Mary I of England

Mary claimed that there had been a mistake in calculating the date of the birth. So they postponed the date by a month.

After a month, there was no child again.

Soon Mary’s ‘pregnant’ stomach started receding. What had happened? Nobody could explain.

Today however historians give two possibilities: Mary had gone though a pseudo pregnancy, where the brain tricks the body to believe its pregnant or she had a cancerous tumour.

A few years later in 1558, yet again the Queen claim to be pregnant, unfortunately for Mary it wasn’t a child growing in her stomach but a cancerous tumour. She died from this tumour that same year.

On the other hand, when this drama was played out in the Royal court, Mary also spearheaded the Heresy laws in 1555.

According to these laws anyone who was not a Catholic was deemed to be a traitor. Such a person was to be burnt at stake.

Three years after the Heresy Law had been enforced in 1555, a few people were reluctant to convert back to Catholicism.

The Story Behind Bloody Mary
Thomas Cranmer being burnt at stake. Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury and the leader of England’s conversion from Catholicism to a Protestant nation

There were around 300 men and women who were burnt at stake for refusing to confirm to the Heresy laws. The actual numbers vary north or south of 300 but this approximate number is known for certain.

The brutal execution of 300 men and women in a short span of 3 years led people to dub Mary, as Bloody Mary.

Her inability to bear children might have also supported the myth into claiming that Mary would appear and steal children.


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Most surprisingly though, Mary was not the most brutal Monarch in her family. Henry VIII, her father, is thought to have executed a whooping 57,000 t0 72,000 people! These numbers also include two of his own wives and a few acquaintances!

The Story Behind Bloody Mary
Elizabeth I, Mary’s half sister

As for Mary’s half sister who succeeded her, Elizabeth I was no less a brutal monarch when she imprisoned her cousin (Mary Queen of Scots) for 29 years only to execute her later for treason.

Mary’s story unfortunately has been written by her protestant enemies who think of her as England and Britain’s last Catholic Monarch, something not to be proud of.

The real life of Mary though was not an easy one but bloody it probably was! Being born Royal and then castaway by her own father, surely showed her some tough times. I think I’ll remember Mary I of England by her story of emerging victorious through the tough times. What about you? Have you ever tried to summon Bloody Mary? Comment in the section below this article!

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Post Author: GiGlee Magazine

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