English Nursery Rhymes

We have all been children once. (Dildo McDildoface aka Gudduda the Imbecile is still one). And as children, we all loved fairy tales and nursery rhymes.

But, as you know, children are, by and large, stupid idiots who will believe in anything and everything like Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Boogeyman, Arsene Wenger etc.

And so they take things at face value and enjoy all the fairy tales and rhymes without any idea about the horrors, the savagery, or in some cases the oolala involved.

So what are the stories behind the stories?

Let’s see

We start with one of the most famous of them all

  1. Humpty Dumpty

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 was the nickname of a cannon used by the army of King Charles I to capture Colchester in the English Civil War. The cannon reportedly “sat on a wall” of a church until it “had a great fall”  as it was knocked down by opposing cannon fire. “Humpty” the cannon could not be repaired despite the efforts of “all the King’s men.”

 

  1. Baa Baa Black Sheep

Original Version

Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full!
One for the master, one for the dame
But none for the little boy who cries down the lane.

The poem actually dates back to medieval times (1275) when there was a harsh tax on wool in England. One-third would be taken for the king and nobility, and one-third for the church, leaving little for the farmers.

 

  1. Jack and Jill

Jack and Jill went up the hill,
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down,
And broke his crown;
And Jill came tumbling after.

Three theories are there.

  1. It refers to the beheading of France’s Louis XVI (Jack) and Marie Antoinette (Jill), with the French royalty gaining status “up the hill” first and later their execution as Jack breaks his crown and Jill tumbles after.
  2. It refers to the reform of taxes on liquids put into place by King Charles I. It is said that “Jack” was the nickname for a half-pint (1 cup) and “Jill” was a quarter-pint (1/2 cup).
  3. The small village of Kilmersdon in north Somerset claims to be the home of the Jack and Jill rhyme. Local legend says that in the late 15th century, a young unmarried couple regularly climbed a nearby hill in order to bunga bunga in private. Long story short, Jill fell pregnant, but just before the baby was born Jack was killed by a rock that had fallen from their ‘special’ hill. A few days later, Jill died whilst giving birth to their love child.

 

  1. Mary Mary

Mary Mary quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row

The Mary here is Mary Stewart – Mary Queen of Scots. She was a strict Catholic and during her reign from 1553-1558 her garden (a graveyard) grew as many protestants were executed for not converting to Catholicism. “Silver bells” and “cockle shells” may have been the nicknames of torture devices (thumbscrews and instruments attached to the genitals). The “maids” may have been referring to the iron Maiden, another torture device.

 

  1. Three Blind Mice

Three blind mice, Three blind mice,

See how they run, See how they run!

They all ran after, The farmer’s wife,

She cut off their tails, With a carving knife,

Did you ever see, Such a sight in your life,

As three blind mice?

Mary again!

The three blind mice refer to three Protestant noblemen during the reign of Mary I. They were convicted against plotting against the queen, who is represented by the farmer€™s wife, and burnt at the stake.

 

  1. Goosey Goosey Gander (1784)

Goosey, goosey, gander,
Whither dost thou wander?
Upstairs and downstairs
And in my lady’s chamber.

There I met an old man
Who wouldn’t say his prayers;
I took him by the left leg,
And threw him down the stairs

This also refers to the Catholic persecution in the 16th century. At the time “priest holes” became popular as Catholics set up small hidden rooms in their homes to pray. If zealous Protestants found a Catholic praying in Latin, than they would arrest and execute the whole family.

 

  1. Eeny Meeny, Miny, Mo

In its present incarnation, not offensive (though should come with parental advisory about not catching tiger’s toe).

Originally, however, it wasn’t tiger – it was the n word. Nuff said

 

  1. Little Jack Horner

Little Jack Horner sat in a corner
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said “What a good boy am I”

During the 1530s, Henry VIII (the fatty with the many wives) banned Catholicism and passed an order of Dissolution of the Monasteries. Jack Horner was steward to Richard Whiting, the last of the Abbots of Glastonbury. It is said that the Abbot, hoping to placate King Henry, sent His Majesty an enormous Christmas pie containing the deeds of 12 manors. Horner was given the task of taking the ‘pie’ to London. During the journey he managed to open the pie and extract the deeds of the Manor of Mells in Somerset, presumably the ‘plum’ referred to in the rhyme.

 

  1. Pop Goes the Weasel

Up and down the city road,
In and out the Eagle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop goes the weasel.

To “pop” is a London slang word for pawn. Weasel can be traced to the cockney rhyming slang of “weasel and stoat”, or coat. Even a very poor Victorian Londoner would have had a Sunday best coat or suit that could be pawned when times got hard. The Eagle above refers to the Eagle Tavern, a pub located on the corner of City Road and Shepherdness Walk, in the north London district of Hackney.

An alternative theory has its origins from the packed sweatshops of Shoreditch and Spitalfields that provided Londoners with their clothing. In the textile industry, a spinner’s weasel is device that is used for measuring out a length of yarn; the mechanism makes a popping sound when the correct length has been reached. No doubt during this highly repetitive and boring work, the spinner’s mind would wander to the more mundane, only to be brought back to harsh reality when the weasel went pop.

 

  1. Georgie Porgie

Georgie Porgie,

Pudding and pie,

Kissed the girls and made them cry;

When the boys came out to play,

Georgie Porgie ran away.

It is thought that the ‘Georgie Porgie’ in question was actually the Prince Regent, later George IV. George weighed in at around 110 kgs with a waist of 50 inches (that’s like me), and naturally was a constant source of ridicule (like me).

He was also a ladies man (unlike me) and had several mistresses leaving a string of illegitimate children. When he was 23 he fell in love with the beautiful Maria Anne Fitzherbert and married her secretly (since she was a Roman Catholic) George later went on to marry Catherine of Brunswick, whom he despised so much that he even had her banned her from his coronation. And so George had made both the women in his life miserable (kissed the girls and made them cry).

George was a great fan of bare-knuckle boxing. During one of the illegal prize-fights that George attended, a boxer was knocked to floor and subsequently died of his injuries. Frightened of being implicated, the prince made a very quick exit from the scene (when the boys came out to play, Georgie Porgie ran away).

 

  1. Old Mother Hubbard

Old Mother Hubbard

Went to the cupboard

To get her poor doggie a bone,

When she got there

The cupboard was bare

So the poor little doggie had none

or alternatively:

Old Mother Hubbard

Went to the cupboard

To get her poor daughter a dress.

But when she got there

The cupboard was bare

And so was her daughter, I guess!

This rhyme is reputedly about Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Wolsey refused to facilitate a divorce from Queen Katherine of Aragon for King Henry VIII. The King wanted a divorce so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. The doggie and the bone in the rhyme refer to the divorce, the cupboard is a reference to the Catholic Church and Wolsey is Old Mother Hubbard. The divorce was later arranged by Thomas Cramner and resulted in the break with Rome and the formation of the English Protestant church.

 

  1. London Bridge

London Bridge bridge is falling down,

Falling down, falling down, down
London Bridge bridge is falling down,

My fair lady.

Take a key and lock padlock her up,
Lock padlock her up, lock padlock her up,
Take a key and lock padlock her up,
My fair lady.

This nursery rhyme refers to the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII of England. Boleyn was accused of adultery and incest and was ultimately executed for treason.

 

And finally, of course we have Ringa Ringa Rosey, widely thought of as referring to the goddamn bubonic plague.

 

 

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