Who could have imagined that the harmless, nonsensical nursery rhymes generations of children have grown up innocently singing, as they turned the pages of their colourful picture books, could possibly hold anything as unthinkable as sinister dark origins? But according to studies, that is exactly what the majority of them do!
For example, “Ring around the Rosie” is a song describing the grim signs of the Black Death; the “rosies” being the rash, and the “pocketful of poses” the herbs carried as (ineffectual) air fresheners, when after the double “atishoo”, we “all fall down”!
“Jack and Jill” refers to the gruesome beheading of the last king and queen of France during the French Revolution.
“Humpty Dumpty” comes from the English Civil War in the 17th century, when the royalists’ cannon mounted upon a wall during the siege of Colchester, England, came crashing down (a great fall) caused by the parliamentarians shooting the wall beneath it with their own cannon; this resulted in the surrender of the royalists, who could not “put it together again”.
“London Bridge”, perhaps the oldest nursery rhyme of all, was composed in memory of the Viking attacks, when their war ships sailed up the river Thames and burned down London’s wooden bridge.
Most disturbing of all for Catholics, are the various nursery rhymes that originated at the time of the English Reformation when Henry VIII broke with Rome and declared himself the head of the church.
Here are just three examples, with a H/T to our commentator johnkonnor who drew our attention to them.
Fly away home,
Your house is on fire,
And your children all gone,
All except one,
And that’s little Anne,
For she crept under the frying pan.
The Ladybird in question is the Virgin Mary. During the Protestant persecution of Catholics in the 16th century when Henry VIII broke from Rome, devotion towards the Blessed Virgin became discouraged, until it was gradually rooted out altogether.
The first line of the rhyme signifies the feeling of Protestants against Catholics, as they desired the Catholic faith to flee back “home” to Rome ‘from where it had come’.
Line two refers to the recusants or the priests and faithful who were put to tortuous deaths, and symbolised in the burning down of the spiritual body as well as the temporal body of the Catholic Church. There was an implied gloat too, of the many who were complying with Protestantism to save their skins, and were therefore “gone” from the Catholic faith…. Except for ‘Anne’, who is in hiding…. But they know where, and will duly hunt her out!
Goosey, Goosey Gander,
Whither shall I wander?
In my lady’s chamber.
There I met an old man
Who would not say his prayers;
I took him by the left leg,
And threw him down the stairs.
Goosey Goosey gander is a Protestant rhyme referring to the persecution of priests in England during the 16th century. A goose was slang for a prostitute, and so a “goosey gander” was a man who frequented prostitutes.
The “lady’s chamber” was a woman’s bedroom. Since during that time men and women did not share bedrooms, it was common practice that some pious Catholic ladies would hide priests in priest holes accessible from their “chambers” in the hope that they would be safe from searches there. The Protestant insinuations are that they hid them there for other purposes.
After the priest had been discovered, the method of execution was often tying him up by the legs and throwing him down a flight of stairs (thus the last line in the rhyme). Unless he would begin to “say his prayers” in English rather than Latin…. or so they said.
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” sounds like a harmless poem about a girl in a pretty English garden. In fact, it is a poem against Queen Mary Tudor, who was known as “Bloody Mary” by the Protestants by the end of her short reign, for the 283 Protestants who were burned at the stake. The ‘silver bells’ and ‘cockle shells’ are metaphors for the supposed tortures they were subjected to.
After looking into the origins of some of our best loved nursery rhymes, we might think twice before singing or reciting these seemingly whimsical poems to our little ones.