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Nursery Rhymes- Where did they come from?

Updated on December 30, 2014

Nursery Rhymes- Where did they come from?

Nursery Rhymes- where do they come from? This article attempts some explanations to the rhymes we all know and love.

Ring-a-round the rosie,

A pocket full of posies,

Ashes! Ashes!

We all fall down.


Ring a Ring o'Roses

Photo Credit: Replacements, Ltd.
Photo Credit: Replacements, Ltd.

Photo Credit: Replacements, Ltd.

The History

Ring a Ring o'Roses dates back to the Bubonic plaguein London 1665.

(Ring around the rosy): a rosy red rash in the shape of a ring on the skin

(posies): pockets and pouches were filled with sweet smelling herbs because it was thought that the disease was spread through bad smells

(Ashes, Ashes): the cremation of dead bodies

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


Humpty Dumpty

Photo Credit: Murals For Kids.
Photo Credit: Murals For Kids.

Photo Credit: Murals For Kids.

The History

Humpty was the name of a cannon in Colchester during the English Civil War (1642-1649). It was made of iron and was therefore very brittle. The stronghold was captured by Royalists in 1648. "All the king's men" held the city for 11 weeks and decided to use "Humpty" against the Parliamentarians and managed the blow the cannon to pieces.

Yankee Doodle went to town

Riding on a pony;

He stuck a feather in his hat,

And called it macaroni


Yankee Doodle



The History

The earliest reference to Yankee Doodle appears in 1768 in the "Journal of the Times" in Boston. It was popular among the British forces during the War of Independence as a mocking appraisal of the Americans soldier's inability to fight or dress themselves properly

London Bridge is falling down,

Falling down, falling down.

London Bridge is falling down,

My fair lady


London Bridge is Falling Down

The History

"London Bridge" is traced back to the Roman occupation of England in the first Century. The bridge was made of wood and clay. It was destroyed by the Vikings in the 1000s.

A stone bridge was built in 1176. It took 33 years.By the 1300's the bridge contained 140 shops (reference to silver and gold in the rhyme).

A new bridge was built on a new site in the 1820's north of the old bridge. It opened in 1831 and the old bridge was demolished.

In the 1960s the modern day London bridge was built. The bridge of 1831 was transported stone by stone to Lake Havasu in Arizona.

Hush-a-by baby

On the tree top,

When the wind blows

The cradle will rock.

When the bough breaks,

The cradle will fall,

And down will fall baby

Cradle and all.


Baby Love, My Baby Love (a.k.a Rock a Bye Baby)

The History

The word "Lullaby" comes from the Greek "lulla" for lapping water. The origin of the lullaby is unclear and has many theories and interpretations.

One explanations comes from the time of the Pilgrims, when the new settlers saw mothers from the Wampanoag tribe make a cradle from birch bark and suspend it from a tree. The Wind would rock the cradle and lull the baby to sleep.

Another interpretation is that of a family tree;

"Baby"=the youngest branch which eventually becomes older and and breaks. The "baby" moves down the tree as fresh branches (succeeding generations) grow above.The wind is an allegory for the passing of time.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells, and cockle shells,

And pretty maids all in a row.


Mary Mary Quite Contrary

The History

The rhyme seems to refer to Mary Tudor (a.k.a. Bloody Mary), a staunch Catholic.

The "gardens" refer to the graveyards full of Protestant martyrs, victims of Mary Tudor.

The "silver bells" (thumbscrews) and "cockle shells" (attached to genitals), refer to instruments of torture.

The "maids" or "maiden" refers to the guillotine.

Three blind mice. Three blind mice.

See how they run. See how they run.

They all ran after the farmer's wife,

Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,

Did you ever see such a sight in your life,

As three blind mice?


Three Blind Mice

Photo Credit: Walton Carbould
Photo Credit: Walton Carbould

Photo Credit: Walton Carbould

The History

The "farmer's wife" refers to Queen Mary I (Bloody Mary) and the massive estates she possessed.

The "3 blind mice" refers to 3 noblemen (Protestant) convicted of plotting against the Queen. They were burned at the stake.

Old Mother Hubbard

Went to the cupboard,

To give the poor dog a bone;

When she came there,

The cupboard was bare,

And so the poor dog had none.

She went to the baker's

To buy him some bread;

When she came back

The dog was dead!

She went to the undertaker's

To buy him a coffin;

When she came back

The dog was laughing.

She took a clean dish

to get him some tripe;

When she came back

He was smoking his pipe.


Old Mother Hubbard

The History

The rhyme refers to King Henry VIII's divorce from Queen Katherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn.

"doggie"= refers to the King

"bone"= divorce

"cupboard"= Catholic Church

"Old Mother Hubbard"= Cardinal Thomas Wolsey sent to facilitate the divorce

Little Boy Blue,

Come blow your horn,

The sheep's in the meadow,

The cow's in the corn;

Where is that boy

Who looks after the sheep?

Under the haystack

Fast asleep.

Will you wake him?

Oh no, not I,

For if I do

He will surely cry.


Little Boy Blue

Photo Credit: Imagens de modelo por luoman.
Photo Credit: Imagens de modelo por luoman.

Photo Credit: Imagens de modelo por luoman.

The History

The rhyme could be used to describe any situation where leaders are failing in their duty.

For example, it could be used to depict Charles II during his time of exile in Europe. The rhyme was a criticism of his whiling away time, leading the good life in Paris while ignoring dreadful state of affairs in his own country.

Baa, baa, black sheep,

Have you any wool?

Yes, sir, yes, sir,

Three bags full;

One for the master,

And one for the dame,

And one for the little boy

Who lives down the lane


Baa Baa Black Sheep

Photo Credit: Yellow Door
Photo Credit: Yellow Door

Photo Credit: Yellow Door

The History

The rhyme refers to the wool industry being critical to England's economy until the 19th Century.

It is a political satire of King Edward I, the Master's, export tax imposed in 1275 where the King collected taxes on all exports of wool

Wonderful Nursery Rhyme Books

What was/is your favourite nursery rhyme?

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Fascinating lens. I love history, and this was an interesting bit of it :)

      Li Li

    • esmonaco profile image

      Eugene Samuel Monaco 

      5 years ago from Lakewood New York

      So many facts about the history that I never knew Great job and Thanks for putting all this together

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 

      5 years ago from USA

      Reading the history behind a story has always interested me. Many nursery rhymes began during war times, and it baffles me how some could be told to a toddler or infant.

    • ValerieJoy profile image

      Valerie Smith 

      5 years ago from New Zealand

      Congratulations on a beautiful lens, and so informative. I had no idea about the background of nursery rhymes so I've enjoyed the learning; thank you.

    • Nicoinstitches profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Ottawa, ON

      @FireHorse27: I like yours better!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Great lens and excellent work on the history of nursery rhymes. I love to change them and tell them to my nieces and nephews. Here is one ( Hickory dickory dock 2 mouse ran up the clock, the clock struck 1 and the other got away in a nick of time.)

    • profile image

      Scott A McCray 

      5 years ago

      I knew the history of a couple of them - but learned quite a bit! Excellent lens...

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 

      5 years ago from Arkansas USA

      How interesting! I didn't know the backgrounds of most of these nursery rhymes. Fun read!


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