All of us have grown up on nursery rhymes. But have we ever tried to find out the history behind these innocuous little ditties? Many nursery rhymes have pretty strange (and in some cases, morbid) histories although there are skeptics! True or not, the historical explanation makes for very interesting reading. Here are some examples:
* Ring, a ring o’ roses,
A pocket full o’posies-
We all fall down.
This nursery rhyme is associated with the Great Plague which happened in England in 1665. A rosy rash was a symptom of the plague, pockets were filled with sweet smelling herbs (posies) as protection to ward off the smell of the disease. Sneezing or coughing was a final fatal symptom, and we all can understand what ‘all fall down’ means.
* 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 is portrayed as a large egg, usually dressed like a little boy. However, the real story behind the rhyme dates back to the English Civil War (1642 – 1651) between the Parliamentarians (Roundheads) and the Royalists (Cavaliers). Humpty was a huge cannon mounted atop a high wall-like church tower. During the Siege of Colchester (June 13, 1648 – August 27, 1648), the tower was hit by enemy cannon fire and Humpty suffered a great fall. There was no fixing the cannon or the tower, and the Humpty Dumpty rhyme was born.
* Mary Mary quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row
This rhyme is a reference to Bloody Mary. The garden refers to growing cemeteries, as Queen Mary, step sister of Elizabeth I and a devout Catholic, filled them with the bodies of Protestants. Silver bells and cockle shells were instruments of torture and the maiden was a guillotine to behead people.
* 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.
This rhyme originated in France. The characters refer to King Louis XVI, Jack, and his Queen Marie Antoinette, Jill. Jack was beheaded (lost his crown) first, then Jill came tumbling after during the Reign of Terror in 1793. There are some writers who even claim that the nursery rhyme has sexual connotations (losing one’s virginity).
Visual Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/35168673@N03/