Morbid History Disquised As Sweet Little Nursery Rhymes
History and Origins of Nursery Rhymes
I grew up reading Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes and have always loved them. Recently, while reading them to my grandchildren, it hit me how violent some of them seem to be. I thought I'd do some research and found some very interesting info I'd like to share. I hope you don't find it too disturbing.
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago........people were punished by death if they were caught gossiping or talking about the events of the time. Very cleverly, they disquised their converstions with short, easy to remember rhymes. These rhymes stuck and are still popular today, although, their morbid, violent history has been somewhat lost with time.
Here are a few of my favorite popular rhymes and their morbid history.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.........Humpty Dumpty had a great fall........All the King's Horses and all the King's men.............Couldn't put Humpty together again.
This rhyme, without even knowing the history, seems sad. I picture a cute egg dressed in little boy bibs and striped knee socks sitting on a wall. However,Humpty was a huge cannon, which was mounted upon a high wall-like church tower. It was used in the Siege of Colchester during the English Civil War. Humpty had a great fall when the tower was blown to bits by enemy cannon fire. Of, course, they couldn't put it back together.
I find this rhyme very disturbing now that I know it's history, Ring Around The Rosie.
Ring around the rosie.........pocket full of posie.........ashes, ashes we all fall down.
This sweet little rhyme, that I so often repeated as a child, while I played, is actually about a horrible killer. It refers to the Black Plague, which killed 25 million people in the 14th century. Ring around the rosie is a "cute" way of describing the Horrific, itchy round, red rash, which was the first symptom of the plague. A pocket full of posie, this line refers to the practice of carrying flower petals in one's pocket and scattering them around the infected person's bed, as to protect themselves from the infection. (They really believed that would work ? ) Ashes, ashes, is imitating the sound of the ill person sneezing ( I would say achew, achew). We all fall down, meaning we are all gonna drop down dead. Sweet rhyme, huh?
BaaBaa Blacksheep........Have you any wool...........Yes, Sir, yes, Sir.........Three bags full........One for my Master........One for the Dame........And one for the little boy...........Who lives down the lane.
This rhyme relates to a 13th century tax on wool imposed by the King. One third went to the local Lord, or Master. One third to the Church, or Dame. Leaving a measly one third to the farmer, or little boy who lived down the lane. Fair deal, huh ?
Mary, Mary..........Quite contrary........How does your garden grow............With silverbelles....... and cockleshells..........And pretty maids.....All in a row.
In my mind, I see a pretty young maiden tending her beautiful flower garden. The truth, Mary is Bloody Mary Tudor, daughter of King Henry VIII. Mary, Mary, quite contrary, had many innocent people tortured and beheaded. She was a devoted Catholic and tortured Protestants into Catholicism. If one remained true to his or her Protestant faith after extreme suffering through torture, they were beheaded. The garden, actually the ever growing graveyard of innocent noncatholics. Silver bells were thumbscrews, which crushed the thumb between two hard surfaces by tightening the screw. Cockleshells ( I always wondered what this flower looked like ) were instruments of wickedly painful torture, which were clamped to the genitals. ( YIKES ! OUCH ! ) Pretty Maids, of course, referring to the guillotine, or Maiden.
I find all of this very interesting and very disturbing. Will I still read the rhymes to my Grandchildren? Hmmmmm. I'm not sure, but probably. What they don't know won't hurt 'em, right? I might get a body chill and my hair might stand on end while I'm reading them, though.