Monday, March 22, 2010

Nursery Rhymes: Not Such a Nice Thing

Most in America have heard that the song that goes with the America children’s game, “Ring Around the Rosie,” is really about bubonic plague, the terrifying disease that killed about a third of England’s population beginning in the 1300s.

Ring around the rosie [referring to a bulls-eye rash on the skin of plague victims, looking like a ring around a rose]

A pocket full of posies [referring to the flowers and herbs frequently carried to try to keep the plague away, by smell]

Ashes, ashes [“Achoo! Achoo!” -- the plague victim sneases, because he is getting sick!]

We all fall down! [Everyone dies of plague]

We all fall down!

It just so happens that many British and American nursery rhymes for children are actually hidden references to horrible, bloody events in history.

Every American child knows this song…

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.

It’s not such a happy little rhyming song when we insert the interpretation…

Jack and Jill [French king Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette]

Went up the hill […walked up the steps of the neck-chopping guillotine.]

To fetch a pail of water. [Referring to the pail which caught the heads chopped-off by the guillotine.]

Jack fell down
And broke his crown [Referring to King Louis XVI’s head being chopped-off so that it fell into the pail]
Jack fell down and broke his crown!

And Jill came tumbling after. [Then, Marie Antoinette’s head was chopped-off].

Another very well known nursery rhyme is even bloodier…

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

How could such a nursery rhyme possibly be a reference to bloody events in world history?

Mary Tudor was the only surviving child of Henry VIII of England, when he was still Catholic, and of his Catholic wife from Spain, Queen Catherine of Aragon.

After her Protestant half-brother Edward VI of England died in 1553, Mary Tudor took her seat as Queen of England, and ruled for five years, untill 1558.

Because Protestant leaders despised Mary, they overlooked the tens of thousands murdered by her Protestant father King Henry VIII, and the thousands of Catholics killed by Edward VI, and enormously exaggerated the religion-based murder of a few hundred as Mary Tudor struggled to end the killing. As a consequence, the nursery rhyme growing out of the Protestant hatred seems to mean the following…

Mary, Mary, quite contrary, [“contrary” in the sense that she tried to reverse England’s drift to Protestantism]

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells [a nickname for thumb screws, used for torture by slowly crushing fingertips], and cockle shells [devices for torture applied to certain important parts of a man’s privates],
Silver bells

And pretty maids [the nickname for a type of neck-chopping guillotine] all in a row.

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