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As many of you can see, I've been a pretty terrible blogger lately! What can I say...Life.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Day Four of the Truth Behind the Nursery Rhyme: Jack and Jill/ Old Mother Hubbard/ Little Boy Blue/ Three Blind Mice

All these nursery rhymes are based off of famous and powerful people in European History!

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.

The roots of the story, or poem, of Jack and Jill  are in France. Jack and Jill referred to are said to be King Louis XVI - Jack -who was beheaded (lost his crown) followed by his Queen Marie Antoinette - Jill - (who came tumbling after). The words and lyrics to the Jack and Jill  poem were made more acceptable as a story for children by providing a happy ending! The actual beheadings occurred in during the Reign of Terror in 1793. The first publication date for the lyrics of Jack and Jill rhyme is 1795 - which ties-in with the history and origins. The Jack and Jill poem is also known as Jack and Gill - the misspelling of Gill is not uncommon in nursery rhymes as they are usually passed from generation to generation by word of mouth.

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard
To get her poor doggie a bone,
When she got there
The cupboard was bare
So the poor little doggie had none

or alternatively:

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard
To get her poor daughter a dress.
But when she got there
The cupboard was bare
And so was her daughter, I guess!

This rhyme is reputedly about Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Wolsey refused to facilitate a divorce from Queen Katherine of Aragon for King Henry VIII. The King wanted a divorce so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. The doggie and the bone in the rhyme refer to the divorce, the cupboard is a reference to the Catholic Church and Wolsey is Old Mother Hubbard. The divorce was later arranged by Thomas Cramner and resulted in the break with Rome and the formation of the English Protestant church. (To see another nursery rhyme based off of the Tudor Hostory, see  the end of London Bridge is Falling Down.)

Little Boy Blue come blow your horn,
The sheep's in the meadow the cow's in the corn.
But where's the boy who looks after the sheep?
He's under a haystack fast asleep.
Will you wake him? No, not I - for if I do, he's sure to cry

Little Boy Blue may refer to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (1475-1530). Wolsey was an arrogant and wealthy self-made man and had many enemies in England. After obtaining his degree from Oxford at the age of fifteen, he was dubbed the "Boy Bachelor." The words "come blow your horn" likely refer to his incessant bragging. (To see another nursery rhyme based off of the Tudor Hostory, see  the end of London Bridge is Falling Down.)

Three blind mice. Three blind mice.
See how they run. See how they run.
They all ran after the farmer's wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a sight in your life,
As three blind mice

The vicious farmer's wife in this rhyme is believed to refer to Queen Mary I, the daughter of King Henry VIII. Mary, a staunch Catholic, was so well known for her persecution of Protestants that she was given the nickname "Bloody Mary." When three Protestant bishops were convicted of plotting against Mary, she had them burnt at the stake. However, it was mistakenly believed that she had them blinded and dismembered, as is inferred in the rhyme. (For another nursery rhyme inspired by Bloody Mary, see Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary.)
Original information and images can be found at...


  1. UNBELIEVABLE! This info is excellent! Who knew Nursery Rhymes could be so vicious and horrific.

  2. I knew a few of these. They give a fascinating insight into a savage history. Our anscestors - esp royalty, were pretty barbaric!
    Sorry I've been away over the past few days, I've thrown myself back into writing my novel (which I put on the back-burner for too long) as my hubs is working away for a few days which gives me more time without distractions. I've also been planning the blog activities to take place in my absence as I fly off to UK 7th-11th. As you know - looking forward to you post. :) Shah. X

  3. To think we read these things to children!

  4. this is fantastic! i already knew some of this but not all of it; honestly, i don't think i ever had a desire to remeber it forever. thank you so much for sharing it and refreshing my memory. it's a great idea to write it/have it all in one place.

  5. dtwilight...I know just how you feel.

    Shah...I think that is awesome. I want to throw myself into my novel too!!! I'm working on it a bit because i am using it for my creative writing class, but I have yet to sit down and write 20 pages like I used to. Whenever I sit down to write, I keep thinking of all the other homework that I should be finishing. :( School has its downsides.

    Patrick...My thoughts exactly.

    Mira...They have been interesting little tid bits and there were just so many of them that I ahd to dedicate an entire week for them. :)

  6. I love reading these Nursery rhymes posts. I remember singing 3 blind mice to my now oldest daughter when I had a single friend over. After hearing the nursery rhyme she commented that it was pretty awful to be singing that to my child. At the time I just laughed now I shudder:)

  7. The Adventurer...Shudder is an excellent word for this! I had absolutely no lue how horrible most of the meanings were behind these rhymes until I started researching a few days ago. Absolutely blew my mind away.

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