The Origin Of…

Have you ever really paid attention to words in the nursery rhymes and fairy tales we tell our children? Try reading them as if you were from another planet and had never heard them before. Some of them are pretty damn scary. A lot of nursery rhymes have their origins in history though. “Ring a ring a rosies” for example, is from the bubonic plague in London (1665). The plague symptoms were a raised rash- “ring of roses”, and violent sneezing, hence “atishoo, atishoo”. The “pocket full of posies” comes from their belief at the time that illness was carried by bad smells. The great fire of 1666 put a stop to the plague when it killed the rats that were the actual carriers. “We all fall down” suddenly makes horrible sense now hey? “Jack & Jill” is about Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the words were just made a little “friendlier” over time. Even “Humpty Dumpty” has its origins in British history. It was actually a term used to poke fun at fat people, and refers to a huge canon mounted on the wall of St Mary’s Wall Church in Colchester. It was supposed to protect this Royalist stronghold in the English civil war of 1642 to 1649. But a Parliamentary canon succeeded in damaging the wall beneath it and it fell to the ground. Colchester then fell to the Parliamentarians after an eleven week siege. And you know the one about “The Grand Old Duke Of York”, who had ten thousand men? Yup, also based on history. It refers mockingly to the defeat of the Duke Of York in the War Of The Roses between the House of Lancaster (whose symbol was a red rose) and the House of York (a white rose). Even “London Bridge”, the great stalwart of musical baby toys, is about the times London Bridge was destroyed and rebuilt from the time of the Romans. The song actually has twelve verses! “Oranges and Lemons” is about executions and tortures. “Georgie Pordgie Pudding and Pie” is about a bisexual English courtier named George Villiers, the first Duke Of Buckingham (1592-1628). He was lover to King James I and romantic aspects of his affair with the Queen of France- Anne of Austria- were featured in Alexander Dumas novel “The Three Musketeers”. How about “Doctor Foster went to Gloucester”? It dates back to the 13th century when King Edward I (nicknamed Longshanks coz he was over six feet tall) was thought to have visited Gloucestershire and fallen from his horse into a big mud puddle. He was apparently so humiliated he never went there again. The rhymes “Little Boy Blue” and “Old Mother Hubbard” are possibly based on Cardinal Thomas Wolsley. The “bone” in “Old Mother Hubbard” refers to the divorce that Henry VIII wanted from Queen Katherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. The “cupboard” is the catholic church. Cardinal Wolsley was apparently a rich, arrogant, self-made man. But because he was a braggart he had many enemies and was unpopular in England. He was supposed to “look after the sheep” as the Cardinal but he was more interested in lining his own coffers.
As for fairy tales, now there’s a whole ‘nother kettle of bananas. Murder, attempted murder, child abuse, house breaking, neglect, depression, even just general cruelty. You name it, it all features somewhere in the fairy tales we read to our children. Just look at stories by The Brothers Grimm… their name suits their stories if you ask me! More on that later.

2 thoughts on “The Origin Of…

  1. Have you seen that new movie? I haven’t read anything about it yet, but I figure in order to see Matt Damon and Heath Ledger together, I can handle a little fright and/or gore.

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