Death Omens: A magical mystery tour through weird British history

Britain is a very superstitious little island. Every single country and county has different superstitious beliefs passed down from families, sometimes for generations.

My Nan would tell me that seeing a solitary magpie would mean bad luck was coming. There is even a weirdly jolly if somewhat morbid rhyme for it:

“One for sorrow,

Two for joy,

Three for a girl,

Four for a boy,

Five for silver,

Six for gold

Seven for a secret,

never to be told.”

So, if I see one lone magpie I have to follow it until I find another one, or I am convinced I’ll have bad luck (seriously, I once spent an hour hunting for a second magpie. The fear is real) In some parts of the UK, instead of following the magpie, you salute it (which tbh  feels like the laziest form of meaningless superstition).

So whats the deal with magpies? Well, the magpie has long been associated with death and bad luck in the UK as far back as the 16th century, with some version of the rhyme being almost as old.

Historically speaking, death was a much more common occurrence before the age of medicine and more understanding around the mechanics of our own biology, so people looked to nature for ways of foreshadowing coming troubles. Which gave birth to many of the superstitions we still have today.

This continued to be backed up through the centuries, particularly when we hit the Victorian era, thanks to the their obsession with the occult. In fact almost everywhere you go in the UK, you’ll find a new or slightly different centuries old death superstition.

So lets embark together on a magical mystery tour of Britain’s fascination (and fear) of death and the symbols that may just herald its arrival…. starting with: 

1. Birds

There’s so many ways death can announce itself but none more so than birds!

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Once more, the good old magpie crops up here, with the belief that if a magpie taps on your window that’s a sure sign death is on the way. The bird is trying to warn you.

And much like my Nan, the Victorians were particularly superstitious about magpies, with the belief that seeing one solitary magpie is a very bad omen, gaining a lot of traction in this era.

There’s also the belief that hearing an owl screech three times or landing on your bedpost meant death was going to pay a visit.

And of course, crows have long been known as a deathly omen, linked to witchcraft and satanism since the Medieval age.

In fact both owls and crows are closely associated with death in Celtic folklore often being ambassadors for the gods of death and the underworld.

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So if you see this….RUN

And it’s not just live birds that will get you. One old wives tales, which came about during the 16th century’s outbreak of witch trials, warned that if a bird happens to fly into your window/wall and die, then thats a very good indication that you can expect a  fatality within the week.

2. Animals

Ah, man’s best friend. Because of dogs supposedly close connection to humans, it was thought that they could sense trouble coming for their owners. With one belief citing that if a dog continued to howl by your bedroom window at night you could expect to die pretty immanently.

But not all dogs are friendly in folklore though (well, if you count friendly as predicting your death…)

In Wales there’s the legend that if you see Cwn Annwn, a white dog with glowing red eyes the size of a calf, then you’re predicted to die within a matter of days. These dogs are said to belong to Gwyn ap Nud, Lord of the Underworld. You can hear their bark before you see them, and terrifyingly they get quieter the closer they get to you.

Meanwhile, over in Scotland, they aren’t fond of black sheep or any kind of black animal. The colour black has been associated with Satan by them since the 15th century. The birth of a black lamb would foretell misfortune and bereavements, and if two lambs with black faces were born then you’d be said to lose your flock by the end of lambing season.

Black cats are good or bad luck depending on which part of the UK you’re in. Obviously, Scotland believed a black cat crossing your path was a sure sign death was coming to someone in your family. And, black cats were associated with witchcraft, so were seen as a very bad omen.

This kind of superstition is sadly still prevalent today, with black cats actually being the least likely to be adopted from rescue shelters.

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Which makes no sense, because Salem taught us that black cats are the best

3. Household Items

During the medieval era, it was a tradition that brooms shouldn’t be used during the month of May. Because if you did use a broom, then you were inviting death into your home. Similarly, if your broom fell over of its own accord, then that meant death announced itself to your household. So basically don’t clean.

Umbrellas were also frowned upon. With the Victorians believing that umbrellas being opened inside the house meant a member of the culprit’s family would be murdered! This is an interesting one in that it spread across the western world and to this day, its commonly seen as a sign of bad luck to open a brolly indoors (even if most people don’t know why/how its bad luck)

And if you thought that you could escape death omens when sleeping..think again.

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To be fair, sleep hasn’t been safe for a while

4.Dreams and Doubles

Dreams were seen as a precursor and warning of impending bad luck or a bereavement. If, in your dream you saw your doppelgänger, the devil or a solitary crow this meant death was coming for you. They made it personal.

The double as a death omen has been around for hundreds of years. Queen Elizabeth I was rumoured to have seen her doppelgänger reclining in her bed looking pale and lifeless a few days before her own passing!

In Celtic folklore there’s a legend of a fairy creature known as a ‘Changeling’ who should steal children and replaced them with doubles who became sickly and died within days. This explanation meant parents could hold on to the belief their children were alive with the fairies somewhere.

Dante Rossetti, How They Met Themselves, 1864
Dante Rosetti’s doppelganger masterpiece, How They Met Themselves, 1864

5. Funeral Processions

As you’ve probably noticed, the Victorians feature heavily in the world of folklore and death omens. They had a curiosity around death and the supernatural. With one popular and very much believed death omen was around funeral processions.

If you saw a real life funeral procession going on you should not cross paths in front of it or you risked inviting death into your family.

There was also the belief that if you saw a ghostly funeral procession this foreshadowed the end of your life. So, to keep yourself safe you had to turn and walk away from the procession, disrespect be damned!

There was also the legend of Corpse Candles, flickering lights that seemed to hover. These were seen by folks from their window or out walking. They were said to lead the souls of the dead to their resting place. With corpse candles, heralding an oncoming bereavement. And if you were very unlucky, the corpse candles would come towards your house, foreshadowing a death in the household.

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An example of the Corpse Candle.

It’s funny to think of how we dismiss these old omens nowadays. This has come with more of an understanding of how our bodies work and fighting back against many diseases that today we don’t even register but used to kill in great numbers.

There’s still a few that are held onto which have been passed down in families, inexplicably followed almost automatically. We don’t want to give up on these small beliefs and our desire to understand the unknown… and why should we?

This was interesting, where can I find out more? I thoroughly recommend the book A Treasury of British Folklore by Dee Dee Chainey, there’s a chapter around folklore in Death & Burial, but the entire thing is a fascinating read.

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

Creepy Christmas Folklore

It’s Christmaaaaaaaas! Time for presents, stuffing your face and hugging family…

BOLLOCKS TO THAT

We’re going to  show you why Christmas is one of the creepiest times of the year (with the weirdest Christmas lore from across the globe.

Krampus

The Krampus gets more recognisable every year, his PR team are working magic.

This demonic fucker-up of tiny children is a Germanic folklore (i.e the most fucked up folklore-IT’S FANTASTIC) Krampy is also one of the oldest on the list!

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Shitting kids up since ancient times! Via Giphy

So the legend goes that old Kramps kidnaps and then gorily devours children who’ve been naughty that year.

Festive images of The Krampus ripping up kids have been around for hundreds of years. What a lovely tradition.

Krampus himself looks like the lovechild of Satan and a demonic billy goat.

Think gnarled horns, hooves and a face only a mother could live… If the mother was blind, deaf and had no sense of smell.

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So very festive! Makes me feel all warm inside.

In Schlanders (a Germanic city in Italy) it’s still tradition for grown ups to dress as Krampus on Christmas Eve and run around scaring the shit out of children… sign me up please!

After scarring children for life they enjoy a lovely glass of Schnapps by the fire.

Grýla

The first of some terrifying Icelandic legends, this evil mountain witch has a similar M.O as most Christmas creepies, in that she likes to punish naughty children.

She is an Icelandic giantess with hooves, a wrinkled face and 13 tails.

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Damn sneaky kids…

She comes down from the mountains on Christmas eve and kidnaps all the naughty children, taking them back to her home in a giant sack.

Then boils them alive in a stew, which sustains her till the next year.

Tasty AND efficient, this babe does not fuck around!

She also has an equally horrendous extended family!

You’ll meet her sons later in this list, but Grýla also had three husbands… who she murdered because they were shites and they bored her.

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PREACH ELVIRA! Via Giphy

 

Jólakötturinn: The Yule Cat

Cats are dicks. Fact.

This is the biggest dick cat of all: A CAPITALIST LOVING MOGGY NIGHTMARE.

They eat poor children… just poor children.

Now most of us can’t say Jólakötturinn so we just call this bastard ,the Yule Cat, which feels very misleading since their entire thing is slaughtering poor folk.

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Capitalist Cat Dick

Lemmie explain: Christmas is a time to celebrate by buying fancy new duds, splurging on a spiffy hat or a shiny new pair of shoes…and if you don’t, this cat will use its particular set of skills to hunt you down and kill you along with your entire family.

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SO FUCKING FEEL GOOD! Via Giphy

Basically this Icelandic folklore was meant to inspire poorer people to work harder during the winter months so they could afford new garments for their family. CAPITALISM FOLKS!

13 Yule Lads

LADS LADS LADS! These guys are the pinnacle of unwanted Christmas guests.

If you thought creepy Uncle Alan was bad then wait till you meet these guys.

These are the spawn of Gryla, y’know the mountain witch!

Meet her asshole children, they’re basically the seven dwarves shit-head cousins.

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LADS LADS LADS!

These guys don’t have the catchy names of Doc, Sleepy and Sneezy, but they are… descriptive, featuring; Spoon-Licker, Sausage-Swiper, Pan-Scraper, Door-Slammer, Window-Peeper (WTF?!), Meat-Hook (My Wrestling name), Gully-Gawk, Stubby, Bowl-Licker, Skyr Gobbler, Doorway-Sniffer and finally Candle-Stealer

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Them’s some fucking jazzy names! Get the reference… via Giphy

Firstly they don’t all arrive together, they arrive one day at a time, and you’re stuck with them for 13 days.

They leave some nice prezzies for the kiddlywinks who have been good.

But the bad kids get all their shit fucked up.

Though they don’t murder you, like their dear old Mum does. They kick stuff over and pinch food, just more general oikness

Kallikantzaros

This lovely little Goblin bum nugget comes from Southern European Folklore, jumping out of hiding during the twelve days of Christmas to be a total pain in the arse.

Descriptions of them vary from country to country, but everyone agrees they are ugly as hell and causers of lots of mischief.

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What a handsome chap! Via Wikipedia

To keep them away during the 12 days people would light a fire to ward them off or leave a colander outside.

The colander is out there because the Kallikantzaros can’t resist counting stuff apparently… also if they say the number 3 out loud THEY WILL BLOW UP because it’s a holy number.

Standard.

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Via Giphy

Happy Holidays y’all!

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

The History of the Modern Vampire

The myth of life sucking demons has been putting the fright into ordinary folks for fucking ages (or centuries as you might call it)

Through varying incarnations and guises, these iconic undead killers have remained the stuff of nightmares. Pennywises and Freddy Kruegers come and go, but vampires are forever.

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What lippie is that babes? Via Giphy

So without further ado, lets take a look at the history of our favourite monster!

The First Vampire: Ekimmu

Arguably the earliest incarnation of vampires is the Ekimmu or Eddimu from ancient Babylonia (we’re talking from like 4,000 years B.C here)

The Ekimmu was a restless spirit of the dead who drained the blood and life-force of the living. They were said to be created from souls who met a violent end or who weren’t buried properly.

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It’s dinner tiiiiime! Via giphy

And if you thought that after 1000s of years these suckers has flown off, you’d be mistaken! It’s said that The Ekimmu still live in big cities amongst the homeless spreading death and disease…

The Lady is a Vamp: Estries

Estries are another ancient vampire from Jewish Folklore;  female vampires they feed on the blood of the living and have the ability to shapeshift into animals, usually preferring the form of cats.

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It’s basically reverse Sailormoon…but with murder and no dick in a top hat!!

Killing an Estrie meant decapitating and burning the corpse. This form of vampire extermination apparently works…because today decapitation and a good vamp bonfire are also referred to as effective ways to kill our more modern vamps.

Vampires of Eastern Europe 

Now Vampires in one form or another have been around in European folklore for hundreds of years, such as the Shtriga from Albanian folklore.

The Shtriga was a delightful vampire witch that sucked up the blood of babies and infants at night (nice!)

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Mmmmmm babies. Via Giphy

Shtriga would then turn themselves into a flying insect (think moth, wasp etc) and fly the feck outta there post meal without even leaving a tip.

Another vamp favourites from this corner of Europe is the Strigoi (which sounds like it should be a delicious pastry).

These vampires hailed from Romanian culture and have fed heavily into our modern vampire mythos; the spirits of the dead they drained the blood from living creatures and had the ability to transform into different animals, not only that but the jammy buggers could also turn invisible.

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And for my next trick… Via Giphy

The best way to kill one was to cut the head off a suspected Strigoi corpse and to stab it in the chest with steel (because the Romanians are nothing if not thorough). The vampire slayer would then leave the vamp’s head between the knees or behind the bum. Which just seems rude.

The Best Selling Vampire 

We can thank short story, The Vampyre by John William Polder, for our modern day vampires.

Published in 1819 it tells the story of charming aristocratic vamp Lord Ruthven who is a total shit to his mate Aubrey (probably because he is a 19th century aristocrat). Ruthven kills the girl Aubrey fancies and then goes after his sister. It ends with a blood drained corpse and a missing Ruthven.

Next up came Carmilla in 1872, An amazing short story from Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, WHICH BTW GAVE BIRTH TO QUEER LADY VAMPIRES!

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Carmilla trying to cop a feel… Via Wikipedia

Carmilla is a super sexy lady vamp who prefers to chomp down on and suck the life out of innocent young ladies. Sadly though Carmilla is a trailblazer and future queer icon… it doesn’t end well for her, she gets a stake through the heart, then they cut her head off and burn her body… finally they chuck the ashes in a river. Overkill much?

Bram Stoker’s Dracula, published in 1897, was heavily influenced by The Vampyre and Carmilla.

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Phwooooooooooor Drac. Via Giphy

Stoker elevated the modern vampire by taking the already established vampire mythos and building on it in a way that cemented it into the public’s consciousness.

  • Blood lust – check
  • Not keen on garlic – check
  • Hates crosses – check
  • Some kind of toff aristocrat as the main vamp – check
  • Fuck loads of bats – check.

When Dracula was released it wasn’t an immediate hit, in fact it wasn’t until silent nightmare vamp flick Nosferatu was made in 1922 that Dracula became more well-known.

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Creepy as fuck mate. Via Giphy

The producers of Nosferatu wanted to do a faithful version of Stoker’s Dracula, but they weren’t allowed. Stoker’s widow was having none of it.

To get round the fact they couldn’t use Drac producers basically changed some names and tweaked the ending from the book having their count vamp die in a sunlight related accident instead of getting staked.

Thanks to this, we now we know vamps hate sunlight! We also have the word ‘Nosferatu’ as a word to describe vamps thanks to this film too! Knowledge is power! 

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F Yeah History, helping people win pub quizzes since 2017

Post Dracula

Thanks to Dracula’s cinematic success, everyone wanted a piece of the undead action.

Universal had a punt at making the Dracula legend with Bela Lugosi giving Drac that sassy European accent, Hammer Horror upped the sexy factor in their vamp films thanks to Christopher Lee feeding on big busted wenches and also used Carmilla as an influence for some light lesbian vampire action.

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Dead but delicious. Via Giphy

Then you have Buffy, Blade, Anne Rice novels, True Blood and our personal fave the Underworld series (anything that puts Kate Beckinsale in PVC is a winner) plus a million other vamp inspired shows and books that all take lore and influence from Dracula & co.

Our worldwide vampire obsession continues to this day. Everyone loves a new vampire iteration… unless you decide to make them sparkly, creepy and abusive bum nuggets… also BTW no way would anyone in their right mind choose Pattinson over Lautner.

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

The 4 Forgotten Women who Built Horror

For a genre that loves nothing more than a final girl trope, horror always seems to be incredibly saturated by men. Don’t get me wrong, I loves me some Stephen King and John Carpenter, but horror was built by both men and women.

So this Halloween let’s put some time aside to celebrate 4 female forgotten horror heroes, without whom the genre would be nothing but a lone bucket of out of date fake blood.

1. The Writer: Daphne du Maurier

When you think of horror writers, you might not immediately look to Daphne du Maurier; the author of books and short novels including, Rebecca, The Birds, My Cousin Rachel and Don’t Look Now, is often categorised as a romantic author.

Personally I think this a hangover from when Daphne published her work (starting in the 1930s) because if you read her work, 9 times out of 10 it sure as f ain’t romantic!

Hers is a prose that hints to a quiet slowly unravelling menacing dread, it’s gripping and ever turning.

Daphne Du Marier
Daphne du Maurier

You may also have noticed that all of Daphnes work listed earlier went on to become classic horror films.

This isn’t coincidence! Daphnes work lends itself to timeliness horror; its undercurrent of dread and fear making her stories work for audiences across the generations.

From the gripping thriller, Don’t Look Now (which includes Donald Sutherland rocking some amazing facial hair), modern horror, My Cousin Rachel and of course Hitchcock’s seminal classics, Rebecca and The Birds (AKA why I’m scared of flocks of pigeons)

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Seriously though…..fuck birds

The thing that makes Daphnes stories stay with you is the unique brand of evil they contain.

You won’t encounter a mask clad chainsaw wielding maniac here; hers are the monsters that tread in the daylight, the ones who might just step off the page and into your every day…

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Mrs Danvers ofically worse than Michael Myers

2. The director: Ida Lupino

Though she started her Hollywood career as an actress (she described herself as a ‘poor mans Bette Davis’) Ida made her mark behind the camera; becoming know as the Queen of the B’s (as in B movies…not a swarm of overly coifed Hollywood bees)

Ida Lupino
Ida Lupino

In 1953s taut noir/psychological horror, The Hitchhiker (which btw was the first noir by a US female director) Ida shows that when in the right hands, psychology and emotion can be just as powerful as a jump scare.

The claustrophobic film revolves around two guys off on a fishing trip; on the drive up they pick up a hitchhiker…who sadly turns out to be a serial killer (life lesson: hitchhikers are not your friend)

True to form, their new murder-ey pal then happily points out that he’ll kill the men as soon as they’re no longer useful; as he psychologically breaks the men, the film explores what happens when masculinity and fear are trapped together.

The HItchhiker, 1953
So a super happy fun time car ride

You can still see the lasting impact The Hitchhiker had on psychological horror (seriously elements of it are all over!)

But for me, Ida’s biggest legacy is the sheer amount of doors she opened for other female filmmakers.

As well as being the first US woman to direct a noir, she was also the first woman to direct an episode of iconic horror series, The Twilight Zone

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Ida’s episode, The Masks….in no way nightmarish

Through Ida’s use of emotions she succeeded where many male directors had failed; using the human psyche to delve into our deepest desires and show us our darkest fears.

Whilst we’re on the subject of groundbreaking lady directors…may I introduce you to:

3. The pioneer: Alice Guy Blanche

Alice was arguably the first female director in history. Directing 1896s, La Fée aux Choux when she was just 23.

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Alice Guy Blanche, nailing her early twenties

A secretary for Leon Garment -one of the worlds first film entrepreneurs- Alice created a script for a fictional film (then unheard of!) and demanded Gaument let her use one of his cameras to shoot it.

This film was La Fée aux Choux, which depicts a fairy who skitters about pulling babies from cabbages (because…reasons) though shot as a slice of fantasy fiction, the film is now sometimes referred to by modern audiences as a horror film.

I reckon that might have something to do with the whole nightmare fuel situation of a women yanking squirming newborns from vegetables and then dumping them on the floor to twirl around them – who knows.

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how many nightmare babies can you spot?

Over her career, Alice made around 1000 films. I’ll repeat that

1000 films

These films included the rather fantastically (and now bleakly) named, In The Year 2000, When Women Are in Charge.

She was also the first female director to tackle the horror film, making film adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe’s, The Pit and The Pendulam, as wells as films The Monster and The Girl and The Vampire.

These films contained groundbreaking techniques that now appear in horror flicks across the globe; including double exposure (for all you film nerds out there!)

And, ass kicking pioneer that she was, Alice’s work in the horror genre didn’t stop with her!

Two of her mentees Louis Feuillade and Lois Webber, went on to help forge early horror film making and Alfred Hitchcock cited Alice’s work as vital inspiration.

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Promo still from 1913 horror The Pit and The Pendulum, which Alice produced and directed

Yet Despite all her pioneering work, Alice was largely written out of history. When her old boss, Leon Gaument, published the history of his film company, Alice was nowhere to be seen (despite her essential body of work and role as Head of Production!)

Subsequent books around this period also largely overlooked Alice’s contributions and it’s only recently that we’re starting to rediscover this titan of early filmmaking.

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Just casually operating a camera, whilst amending a script in a wedding dress…. remind me again why history forgot this woman!?!

So far we’ve been pretty heavy on pyscholigcal horror and I know what your thinking:

WHERES THE BLOOD?!?!?

Well I’ve got you covered with our final forgotten horror hero:

4. The scream queen: Paula Maxa

Paula (real name Marie) was the original scream queen. In fact, as well as being the first in the genre, I’d argue that Paula was the hardest working scream queen in history; having died over 10,000 times.

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Paula Maxa presents: head shot goals

Paula was one of the most famous actors at Paris Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol. The theatre specialised in gory horror and from 1917 to the 1930s, Paula was killed so many times on stage that she became known as the worlds most assassinated woman!

Here are just some of Paulas on stage deaths:

– Steamrollered
– Eaten alive by a Puma
– Chopped into 90 pieces
– Disembowelled (with her intestines then stolen)
– Murdered by an invisible knife

She once even ‘decomposed’ on stage, a feat of stunt work and special effects she managed for 200 performances

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Just another day at the office (also loving the flip flops, comfort first!)

Paula loved her work; she’d had a morbid fascination with death and horror from childhood and her work allowed her to fully immerse herself into this world.

And she really threw herself into the blood and gore! Plays at the Grand-Guignol were so horrifying that a doctor was on hand for each performance to tend to passed out patrons.

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A fun night out for all the family!

Fresh blood was mixed up for every performance to ensure it looking fresh just like the real deal.

And if a performance finished without walk outs, fainting spells and maybe the odd bit of sick…then it was considered a failure.

Sounds like my kind of theatre

This was interesting where can I find out more? There’s a book all about the weird world of The Grand Guignol (Grand Guignol, French Theatre of Horror, 2015) which covers Paula’s life and career (thats otherwise weirdly tough to read up on!)

Britain’s 5 Most Horrifyingly Haunted Places

Talking about haunted places in Britain is a doddle… it’d probably be easier to tell you places that aren’t haunted or have some kind of horrific supernatural story behind it. We’re tripping over ghosts and castles everywhere!

But these 5…. these 5 places are so horrifically haunted that they deserve a special place in the heart of every Halloween loving goth kid.

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So. Many. Fucking. Ghosts. Via Giphy

Hampton Court Palace

This place has hella ghosts. Like so many that we could probably do a post just on Hampton Court… but we have a word count to keep to (and other haunted spots to visit) so we’ll touch base with just some of their more famous spooks.

The ghosts of Catherine Howard AND Jane Seymour (wives of historical gobshite King Henry VIII) are supposedly busy getting their spook on here.

It is said that Catherine haunts the (rather aptly named) haunted gallery. Catherine supposedly ran down the gallery to beg Henry for mercy; her attempt failed and Henry had her head cut off in 1541. Now Catherine is stuck in some kind of horrifying historic limbo, forever trapped wailing in that corridor.

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Yeeeeeah…Henry was a dick! Via Giphy

Henry’s 3rd wive, Jane, also supposedly haunts Hampton Court and can be seen walking through the palace courtyards carrying a lantern. She died at the palace in 1537 giving birth to King Henry VIII’s only male heir, Edward. TBH considering what a shit nozzle Henry was, she got off lightly.

Hampton Court’s most famous ghost though is SKELETOR (not the He Man baddie sadly).

CCTV caught this spook in 2003 after security staff noticed the fire doors near the Clock Court kept being violently flung open and closed again.

CCTV CAUGHT THE IMAGE OF THE GHOST IN A FANCY ROBE!

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Skeletor! Via Giphy

One half of F Yeah History even had her own ghostly encounter whilst working there. Whilst in one of the shops, Greensleeves started playing on the shops iPod speaker system (nightmarish enough) but the song wouldn’t stop playing, looping itself on an endless repeat.

Our brave lass unplugged the iPod AND IT STILL KEPT PLAYING GREENSLEEVES! 

Note: The other half of F Yeah History is a ghost non-believer and would like to point out that she reckons the speakers were just broken…but screw that we’re going with GHOSTS 

 

Glasgow Necropolis

Now this super ancient graveyard has the literal name ‘city of the dead’ opened in 1833. The place is seriously crowded, housing over 50,000 souls; so you’re bound to see some weird shit happen round there.

Sightings of ghosts have been spotted since its conception, and locals advise that if you’re going there alone at night you should be respectful and polite, unless you want a ghost boot up the arse.

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The John Henry Alexander Monument at Glasgow Necropolis. Via Wikipedia

One of the stranger rumours was that a vampire lurked round this graveyard back in the 1950’s, there were several sightings of a tall sinister looking man in a huge cape who disappeared into thin air if confronted and the vampire was blamed for the disappearance of two local children.

Local kids armed themselves with knives and homemade stakes and patrolled for two nights back in September of 1954.

Local PC Alex Deeprose was called down to make the kiddies dispurse, he was shocked at the sheer number of them and it took weeks for the patrols to stop!

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Sadly a bit before her time… via Giphy

Bolsover Castle

One of our faves, Bolsover is chock full of supernatural shenanigans. This site has had reports of spooky sightings, people being pushed about by unseen forces and objects moving around between locked doors!

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Haunted AF Bolsover Castle. Via Wikipedia

Bolsover was built on an ancient burial ground (recipe for supernatural disaster) and has been around since the 11th Century, so there’s a bum load of history there and room for plenty of ghosts.

One of the more well-known ghosts is that of a little boy who holds the hand of female visitors when they explore the garden.

They’ve had staff check out after experiencing spooks first hand. Night shift security guards have handed in their notice after seeing lights and hearing voices when checking the site on their own.

Once during some routine maintenance work 4 builders watched a period clad lady walk through a wall near where they were working. Two of them decided ‘fuck this!’ and didn’t come back.

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What he said… via Giphy

Note: The other half of F Yeah History would like to note that Bolsover is so supposedly haunted, that its staff have had to start a ghost sightings books, just to keep up with all the creepy shenanigans (apparently, despite not believing in ghosts, the other half of F Yeah History is a know it all…)

Woodchester Mansion

Woodchester Mansion is just a shell of what would have been an impressive gothic mansion, it’s a strange story because the build was suddenly abandoned in the 1870s and no one ever finished off the work, so it’s stood there for over a hundred years.

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Looks quite nice in the daytime! Via Wikipedia

There were rumours one of the workers was murdered on site, and his ghost haunted remaining builders there who downed tools and promptly fucked off… the likelihood is that the money for the build just ran out.

From there its history reads like a series of American Horror story!

During the Second World War the grounds of the house were used for D-Day training and one day a fatal accident took place when a bridge over the lake collapsed and soldiers performing a drill were drowned.

Their bodies were taken back to the house and their ghosts still haunt the ruins; visitors claim to have seen men in uniform wandering through the house.

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😱 via Giphy

The house itself is said to house a bunch of seriously nasty ghosties. Before it was turned into a gothic shell it was the site of a few other fancy houses so the site has collected all the ghosts from previous incarnations.

There’s a ghost monk in the chapel, a mean old lady ghost who grabs at people in the dark and the ghost of a small girl who likes to trip people up (so all nice people)

It’s been featured in loads of ghost hunter TV shows like Most Haunted and Ghost Hunters International so if you want to get in on the action book yourself in for a ghost hunt there. They do them all the fecking time!

 

Bleeding Heart Yard

This one is proper creepy. Legend has it that Lady Elizabeth Hatton a beautiful Tudor socialite was brutally murdered in the yard.

She was found torn limb from limb and her still beating heart was left in the road found by a (probably) really fecking traumatised passer-by.

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People have reported hearing a loud beating sound like, y’know…. a heartbeat, when in the yard, others have seen a mournful looking woman said to be the ghost of Elizabeth looking for her still beating heart.

Depending on the legend she was either murdered by her lover, a penniless dancer, who was jealous of her attention from rich fancy men or it was the devil himself who killed her. Not much difference between those two really.

Now it houses a super fancy bistro (their eggs Royale is the tits), but we used to work near there and neither of us would walk down the yard at night. It is creepy as fuck.

We hope you enjoyed our countdown, if you fancy visiting for yourself there’s ghost tours round most of these ones that go on year round. Bolsover even has its own FrightFest this October celebrating all their ghosties!

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

The Lore of Murderous Mermaids

Society has been obsessed with these fancy fish ladies for thousands of years, and we’re going to look at some of the legends that gave birth to these aquatic marvels.

Just incase you haven’t come across The Little Mermaid and its ilk; what is a mermaid? Well, a mermaid is a creature with the top half of a lady and the bottom half of a big ole fish. The modern name for mermaid comes from the old English Mer, meaning sea and Maid, meaning a young lady; thus mermaid (which way sounds better than ‘sea-young lady’)

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Lookin’ Good! Via Giphy

Nowadays one thinks of mermaids as pretty, nice sea folk, with amazing hair, a talent for singing and an adorable habit for falling in love with random Princes. Well… that is not the case, Disney lied to you.

Historically mermaids were associated with bad omens, shipwrecks and of course:

DEATH BY MUCH BLOODY VIOLENCE.

So, let’s start things off by looking at the concept of merfolk as deities.

The Ancient Babylonians had a mergod called Era who was depicted as half man, half fish. He was the god of the sea (handy that being part fish and all) the Syrians decided to copy the Babylonians and created their own merged, Derketo. 

Derketo was depicted in the more traditional way of top half of a lady and bottom half of a fish. This idea was in turn nicked by the Ancient Greeks, who came up with the idea of Sirens. 

Siren’s in Greek mythology often get cited as a starting point for the more recognisable mermaid mythology.

Half female, half bird creatures, they morphed into sexy fish fancies, luring sailors to their death on the rocks by singing sweet songs and flashing their knockers.

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The Fisherman and the Syren, by Frederic Leighton, c. 1856–1858. Via Wikipedia

Now for the scary bleak stuff!!! Mermaids ain’t all cuddly folks, for example; they appear in One Thousand and One Nights (a collection of Middle Eastern fairy tales) and are described as having;

‘moon faces and hair like a woman’s, but their hands and feet were in their bellies and they had tails like fishes’

Nice!

Some of these tales included whole underwater societies;  in Abdullah the Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman, the protagonist, Abdullah, gains the ability to breathe underwater; in doing so he comes across a mermaid society that basically functions as a proto communist society…so obvs he decides to hang out with a load of half fish commie chicks.

The Japanese also got in on the mermaid fun (just in a fully nightmarish way!); creating Kappa; who had human like faces….with the rest of their body a mix of monkey, fish and turtle.

The Kappa liked tricking humans into becoming their own fish food by pretending to be nice and friendly, maybe invite you to play some Sudoku, followed by ALL OF THE DEATH. They were particularly partial to a nice, crunchy, small child.

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OHSHITOHSHITOHSHIT! Via Giphy

But it wasn’t just Japan coming up with half fish nightmare fuel.

Mami Wata is an African water spirit who appears as a sexy lady or the more traditional part lady part fish. It’s said that Mami Wata steals men from their homes forcing them to become her lovers, she can also be responsible for killing those who don’t give her offerings that please her. She likes mirrors and combs FYI if you ever run into her.

The Russians also joined in the ‘what the fuck, why; party…but being Russia they kept their mermaid lore nice and miserable.

Rusalka are the spirits of young women who had violent deaths, usually by drowning. They appear as shimmery spirits in the water and lure men and young children to their deaths dragging them underwater with their long treacherous ghost hair.

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Witold Pruszkowski “Rusałki” 1877 Via Wikipedia

But mermaid lore wasn’t just for the ladies! Scotland has a cracking legend about Mermen. The Blue Men of the Minch (AKA storm kelpies) who live off the coast of the Outer Hebrides. They had blue skin and really bad tempers. For a laugh (and general sea boredom) they enjoyed fucking about with humans; they’d stop you In your little fishing boat, ask a bunch of riddles and if you got them wrong, they’d tear you to pieces….literally…because they’re fun like that.


In Medieval times it was just accepted as fact that mermaids were real, there’s even an account from the 1400’s of a mermaid being rescued in Holland after getting stuck in a dike.

They moved her to a local lake to recover, teaching her how to speak Dutch and do basic household chores to pass the time, the residents later converted her to Catholicism (yay?)

Now most of us Westerners know mermaids because of Disney.

The Little mermaid has a special place in the hearts of many a girl, but on a recent re-watch (for research) I found myself screaming:

‘SHE’S ONLY 16 TRITON, WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU THINKING LETTING HER MARRY SOME FUCKBOI PRINCE!

So for me it’s an allegory of really bad parenting.

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You’re gunna fuck it all up Ariel. Via Giphy

This was based on the Hans Christian Anderson tale of The Little Mermaid published in 1837.

Hans’ tale is a bit bleaker, because at the end our mermaid doesn’t get her Prince and so, after having her tongue cut out, she dies and becomes foam on the waves. A pretty wanky death. Ah the good old days where everybody was dead or at least maimed by the end of a fairy tale.


So….with all that historic mermaid lore, the question is: are mermaids real?

Well – No. Historians and anyone with half a brain deciphered that in all likelihood mermaid sightings were just your average curvaceous manatee, being viewed from a distance. Honestly being stuck at sea for months and MONTHS on end would make a manatee look pretty fucking appealing to me to.

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Sexy manateeeeeeeeee. Via Giphy

Mermaids have had a bit of a resurgence in the last few years (sadly not manatees though).

They are on your Starbucks mugs, on the big screen (like that live action remake of The Little Mermaid NOBODY asked for), all over glittery stationery, T-Shirts and in story books.

Plus there’s still the odd ‘sighting’ of a mermaid. In Israel in 2009 dozens reported seeing a mermaid leaping out of Haifa Bay and playing around in the waves. The local town offered $1million for proof of the mermaid, but they got bugger all.

There was a more recent one in 2012 Zimbabwe where workers were scared off by mermaids while carrying out maintenance work on reservoirs. The government decided to carry out religious rites on the site and brewed a batch of traditional beer for them. It worked and the boozy mermaids left them to it.

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Up for boozin’. Via Giphy

So there you have it, we’ve only lightly touched the tip of the mythos behind mermaids. It’s a pretty complicated backstory, DRENCHED IN THE BLOOD OF MEN, which always makes for a fun family friendly read. Have you got any mermaid lore to tell us? Drop us your mermaid tails (geddit?) in the comments or on the socials!

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

The Worst Women In History (Vol 1)

Here at F Yeah History we’re all about celebrating women, but some people are just unavoidably the worst.

Sure maybe they achieved a lot, maybe they are badassery incarnate, and maybe they accomplished a lot… but they’re also kinda, sorta massive dicks

So without further ado here are the wort women in history:

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I made this all cute to make up for the horrors ahead – you’re welcome 😘

Ching Shih

Former sex worker turned pirate, Ching Shih ran one of the largest and most feared fleet of pirates in the world. Ching Shih

Ching was married to the leader of the Red Flag Fleet, a much reviled and respected pirate armada. When her husband was killed during a tsunami, Ching took over.

If her men thought they were going to have it easy with a woman at the helm, they were sorely mistaken. To say Ching ran things with an iron fist would be an understatement:

Chings code:

-Disobeyed an order? you’re getting beheaded
– looted plunder? Beheaded
– stole from an allied town? Beheaded.
– raped a female prisoner? oooo you best know you’re getting beheaded 

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And you thought your boss was bad…

But despite all the rules, Ching Shihs pirates were allowed to marry female captives. BUT if their leader heard that they were in anyway messing their new wives around… well hopefully they weren’t to emotionally attached to that whole ‘having a head’ thing.

Yet Ching’s steely control worked and under her rule The Red Flag fleet grew in both infamy and size.

By 1808 Ching had amassed an armada of thousands and was in control of well over 70,000 men. It was then the Chinese government felt that maybe they’d let things go a bit far, and that Ching needed to be reigned in.

An imperial fleet was sent after Ching and she met them head on; the government didn’t stand a chance.

By the end of the battle Ching had actually expanded her fleet (capturing Chinese sailors and offering them the choice of joining her ranks or a bloody death) Ching Shih fighting

For two years the Chinese government tried to destroy the Red Flag, even roping in the British Navy for help. But they just couldn’t beat Ching.

The Chinese knew that things had gone fully tits up when The Admiral of the Chinese navy actually committed suicide rather than face capture by Ching.

So they opened up amnesty negotiations with Ching. But rather then ask for clemency Ching fought for the right to retire.

Obviously nobody said no (if we’ve learnt anything, it’s don’t fucking mess with a Pirate Queen) And so Ching retired to the country where she spent the remainder of her days running a brothel and gambling.

Caterina Sforzia

Born in 1463 Caterina was the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Milan; one of Europe’s most notorious dicks.

The Duke loved nothing more than planning out horrifying torturous deaths for his enemies, tearing them limb from limb, burying them alive – whatever took his fancy.

…Caterina took after her Dad.

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The fucking death stare on this one!

At just 10 Caterina was married off to the Pope’s nephew and a few years later the pair left for the life at the Vatican.

There Caterina was transformed from a teenager to a powerful and famously ruthless courtier.

But Caterina’s world was turned upside down in 1484 when the Pope died and suddenly shit got very real, very quick.

Riots and rebellions spread like wildfire. With Caterinas husband off fighting fires she was left to hold down a fortress whilst seven months pregnant. As you do.

Fortunately (or not, if you were her enemy) this was the famously ruthless and cunning Catarina; she took to life at war like a duck to water.

Having proved her tenacity and strength, people started to turn to Caterina rather than her far weaker husband.

It’s unsurprising then that when her husband was named ruler of Imola and Forli, it was kind of obvious who was really in control.

This was exhibited for all to see following a revolt in Forli. Caterina rode out to Forli to take control of the situation and nice lady that she was, she personally oversaw every detail of the brutal torture and execution of those involved.

oh dear god no.gifBut brutal executions can only quell a people for so long and following a tax increase the people of Forli had had enough.

in 1488 Caterina’s husband was murdered by the Orsis family while he ate dinner (the Orsis were one of Forli’s top noble families – it’s all very Game Of Thrones)

Caterina and the children were now prisoners, but if the Orsis thought a woman and some kids were going to be easy captives then they were veeeery wrong.

Caterina tricked the Orsis into letting her out of confinement, offering to help them convince other strongholds to surrender to the Orsis. They agreed and even let her go in alone to bargain with one fortress so long as Caterina left her children behind as hostages.

Once inside the stronghold, Caterina obviously immediately started organising an attack on the Orsis…

When the Orsis reminded her that if she went ahead with her plans they’d kill her children, Caterina climbed the fortress walls, hiked up her skirt and explained that they were welcome to kill her kids, hell kill them in front of her if they really fancied, because she had the tools to make more.

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Mum of the year right here!

Somehow, despite Caterina, the kids stayed alive.

Caterina herself managed to hold out within the fortress, and sent out a message to Forli:

‘My people, people of Forlì! I tell you to punish and kill all enemies. For it I will consider you my good brothers for evermore. Do not hesitate to act, and fear nothing, because the deed will benefit you and your children. And if you fail to act you will regret it in a few days.’ 

The veiled threat worked!

The people of Forli took to the streets and Caterina left the fortress where she was reunited with her children (who I bet were just thrilled to see her…) Unsurprisingly Caterina’s next step was to hunt down her new enemies and brutally kill them, as was her style.

Linda Hazzard

Born in 1867 in Minnesota, Linda Hazard was in many ways a woman ahead of her time. A female doctor in an era when this was unheard of; a successful author and driven as all hell to boot!

But before we get out the  marching band and erect this bitch a statue, I should also point out that Linda murdered a metric shit ton of her patients.

Linda Hazzard
God damn it Linda!

You see, Linda believed that starvation could cure all diseases.

She practiced this theory in Minneapolis, but after one of her patients actually DIED of starvation, Linda was threatened with legal action.

Ironically she was saved from jail, as she didn’t actually have a medical license.

Though she escaped jail this incident was enough to convince Linda to get the hell out of dodge. So she moved to Washington, where thanks to a legal loophole she could practice medicine legally.

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Yup, seems legit

In Washington Linda opened up Wilderness Heights, a health farm in the Countryside where she promised to fix all medical ailments through starvation. Linda’s  passion – which verged on fanaticism – quickly helped her build up a fan base of loyal followers.

Life at Wilderness Heights was tough for the guests (who paid though the nose to be there). In addition to a diet of essentially no food, Linda also helped them ‘tackle disease’ by enforcing daily enemas, scalding hot baths and massages that verged on beatings.

Some of Linda’s (mainly already really ill) patients just couldn’t take it and soon the emiciated and bruised bodies started to pile up.

Yet people continued to come.

Linda’s ‘health farm’ had became like some kind of cult; the danger was clear, the deaths abound, but followers kept coming. Two such followers were Dorothea and Claire Williamson, wealthy socialite sisters with a hypochondriac streak.

The sisters arrived healthy but within just months, one would be dead.

Under Linda’s supervision the two women entered into a strict diet of almost no sustanace. Within two months the women weighed just 70 pounds. Yet they choose to remain in Linda’s care, most likely as they had deteriorated to much to refuse her.

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I’m sorry, it gets worse

But help was coming!

Dorothea had sent a cryptic letter to an old Nanny. Worried the women came to visit the sisters. On arrival she was told that Claire was dead and she found Dorothea 50 pounds and close to death.

Thanks to the sisters social standing, Claire’s death registered with the authorities (though more than 14 people had already died of starvation under Linda’s care)

Linda was stripped of her license to practice medicine and given 2-20 years in prison.

She of course got out of jail after 2 years.

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God damn it Linda!

Linda traveled to New Zealand where she once more set up shop and peddled starvation as medicine. Several years later she moved back to Washington and set up another ‘health camp’

Again patients died (Linda was fined a whole £100!). Luckily after almost a decade the place burned to the ground in 1935.

Linda appears to have taken this as a sign and slowed down, which clearly wasn’t good for her health.

In 1938 she took ill and died after trying to starve herself back to health. Shame.

Elizabeth Bathory

Now whilst the prior entries on our list have committed dickery in the name of wealth, power and progress… Elizabeth Bathory was just a plain old dick.

Like really. She’s the literal worst.

Elizabeth Bathory
THE WORST!

Elizabeth came from a long lineage of distinguished Hungarian nobility and so, naturally, as a noble woman in the 1500s she was married off at 15.

Her new husband was famed for his cruelty, but fortunately Elizabeth was fully on board with this!

Legend has it that Elizabeth’s new husband lovingly gifted her with her own personal torture chamber (because fuck Barbies dream house!)

Together the couple blissfully lived life in thier castle, occasionally brutalising errant wrong doers from the villages they ruled over.

Then in 1604 Elizabeth’s husband died and, now in her 40’s, she was left to rule alone.

Elizabeth relished her solo role. Everything was going swimmingly until 1610, when word started to spread that Elizabeth had some… er, nefarious hobbies.

That winter a group of soldiers came to Elizabeth’s home and arrested her. From here shit went downhill fast.

Now, it was well known that Elizabeth was partial to a bit of light murder and torture, but it soon transpired that she had been getting up to some seriously bloody high jinks.

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Like this…but x10

Elizabeth was accused of murdering over 600 people, most young women. She did this in many and various ways, but here are just some:

– stuck red hot needles under peoples nails and skin.
– starved people to death (Hey Linda!)
– made one woman cook and eat her own flesh
– sticking red hot irons in very very uncomfortable places – – – covering girls in honey and leaving them outside on a hot sunny day to be slowly devoured by insects. 

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I told you. THE WORST

She was tried for murder, but due to her influential family ties was spared the death penalty (the same cannot be said for her closest servants, who were all executed)

Elizabeth spent the remainder of her days locked within the walls of her castle. Bricked up inside her quarters with only a crack in the wall for air and food.

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I mean, I guess it’s a happy ending?

Wow this was really interesting! How can I found out more? Volume 2 will be coming very soon, so keep an eye out! In the meantime you can discover one kickass woman a day on my Twitter. And a huge thank to the lovely Tweeps that suggested women for this article, you guys really are the best!!

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