Some More Nursery Rhyme Origins…

Here’s a scary one- remember Mary Mary Quite Contrary…
mARY mARY QUITE CONTRARY,
hOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW?
wITH SILVER BELLS AND COCKLE SHELLS
aND PRETTY MAIDS ALL IN A ROW.

The origins are steeped in the history of the one and only… Bloody Mary! Mary Tudor, or Bloody Mary, who was the daughter of King Henry VIII. Queen Mary was a staunch Catholic and the garden referred to is an allusion to graveyards which were increasing in size with those who dared to continue to adhere to the Protestant faith – Protestant martyrs. The silver bells and cockle shells were colloquialisms for instruments of torture. The ‘silver bells’ were thumbscrews which crushed of the thumb between two hard surfaces by the tightening a screw. The ‘cockleshells’ were believed to be instruments of torture which were attached to the genitals! The ‘maids’ refer to a device used to behead people called “The Maiden”. Beheading a victim was fraught with problems. It could take up to 11 blows to actually sever the head, the victim often resisted and had to be chased around the scaffold. Margaret Pole (1473 – 1541), Countess of Salisbury did not go willingly to her death and had to be chased and hacked at by the Executioner. These problems led to the invention of a mechanical instrument (now known as the guillotine) called the Maiden – shortened to Maids in the Mary Mary Nursery Rhyme. The Maiden had long been in use in England before Lord Morton, regent of Scotland during the minority of James VI, had a copy constructed from the Maiden which had been used in Halifax in Yorkshire. Ironically, Lord Morton fell from favour and was the first to experience the Maiden in Scotland! What about There was an Old Woman,
tHERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN WHO LIVED IN A SHOE,
sHE HAD SO MANY CHILDREN SHE DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TO DO!
sO SHE GAVE THEM SOME BROTH WITHOUT ANY BREAD,
aND SHE WHIPPED THEM ALL SOUNDLY AND SENT THEM TO BED!

at first glance the words to “There was an old woman” would appear to be nonsense but in fact it is believed to have origins in English history! There are two choices of origin! The first relates to Queen Caroline (There was an old woman) wife of King George II who had eight children. The second version refers to King George who began the men’s fashion for wearing white powdered wigs. He was consequently referred to as the old woman! The children were the members of parliament and the bed was the Houses of Parliament – even today the term ‘whip’ is used in the English Parliament to describe a member of Parliament who is tasked to ensure that all members ‘toe the party line’. As a point of historical interest the wigs worn by women of the period were so large and unhygienic that it became necessary to include mousetraps in their construction! And then there’s one I remember from when I was tiny, it was always one of my favourites: There was a Crooked Man
tHERE WAS A CROOKED MAN AND HE WALKED A CROOKED MILE,
hE FOUND A CROOKED SIXPENCE UPON A CROOKED STILE.
hE BOUGHT A CROOKED CAT, WHICH CAUGHT A CROOKED MOUSE.
aND THEY ALL LIVED TOGETHER IN A LITTLE CROOKED HOUSE.

The content of “There was a crooked man” poem have a basis in history. The origin of this poem originates from the English Stuart history of King Charles 1. The crooked man is reputed to be the Scottish General Sir Alexander Leslie. The General signed a Covenant securing religious and political freedom for Scotland. The ‘crooked stile’ referred to in “There was a crooked man” being the border between England and Scotland. ‘They all lived together in a little crooked house’ refers to the fact that the English and Scots had at last come to an agreement. The words reflect the times when there was great animosity between the English and the Scots. The word crooked is pronounced as ‘crookED’ the emphasis being placed upon the ‘ED’ in the word. This was common in olde England and many references can be found in this type of pronunciation in the works of William Shakespeare (1564-1616).
Check out http://www.rhymes.org.uk/ if you are curious about some more rhymes and their origins!

About Angel

Wife, mom, cake artist, Guide Dog puppy raiser, ADHD champion, wedding planner, and tattooed cat slave.
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One Response to Some More Nursery Rhyme Origins…

  1. cmhl says:

    very interesting.. it is amazing how so many nursery rhymes are actaully “dark”…