The movie Mean Girls follows a group of pretty, popular so-called friends and their backstabbing antics

After Anne Boleyn married Henry VIII, rumours circulated at court that she had six fingers and was really his illegitimate daughter. After the Moroccan sultan Moulay Ismail the Bloodthirsty took a new bride, his former favourite spread harem gossip that this prettier rival had been unfaithful — and so he had her strangled.

And after Sarah Ferguson found herself out of royal favour, she claimed that shoes belonging to Diana, Princess of Wales, had given her a verruca.

Gossip has long been used in royal courts to undermine love rivals. Now a study shows that it might in fact be an evolved weapon in the female armoury. Researchers have demonstrated that women are more likely to spread malicious rumours about another woman if she is…