Political Nursery Rhymes

In 13 History on 2011/04/19 at 6:34 PM

Many nursery rhymes have secret or hidden meanings that allude to people and events in history.  When oral criticism meant death, it was wiser to use cunning.

1.Plantagenet king Richard the Lion-Hearted went on the Third Crusade and while he was gone, his brother, John Lack-land had to give in to the nobles and sign Magna Carta, losing the absolute right of the king, which Richard was never able to recover.

  • 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!

2. During the days of England’s first civil war, the War of the Roses (Red Rose of Lancaster vs White Rose of York), the aspirant to the throne failed in his campaign.

  • The Noble Duke of York he had ten thousand men
  • He marched them up to the top of the hill
  • And he marched them down again.
  • When they were up, they were up
  • And when they were down, they were down
  • And when they were only halfway up
  • They were neither up nor down.
3. (In the days of Tudor King Henry VIII, see the rhyme: “Sing a Song of Sixpence” which is in this same category on this blog.)
4. London Bridge was on the verge of collapse from the hundreds that Henry VIII had executed.  The most common method of execution was to be hung, drawn and quartered.  The heads were impaled on the two spikes at each end of the bridge.  Hands and feet were sent to neighboring towns as a frightening warning sign.
  • London Bridge is falling down,
  • Falling down, Falling down.
  • London Bridge is falling down,
  • My fair lady.
  • Take a key and lock her up,
  • Lock her up, Lock her up.
  • Take a key and lock her up,
  • My fair lady.
  • How will we build it up,
  • Build it up, Build it up?
  • How will we build it up,
  • My fair lady?

5.Mary Tudor  (only surviving child of Henry and Catherine of Aragon)

  • Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
  • How does your garden grow?
  • with silver bells and cockleshells,
  • and pretty maids all in a row.

During the reign of Mary’s half-brother, Edward VI, his uncle Seymour and Archbishop Cranmer introduced Calvinist ideas to the Catholic Church of England as termed so by Henry VIII, who died a professing Catholic and left his treasury for Masses to be said for his soul.  It is during this period that the Book of Common Prayer became the new format for the new religion: Anglicanism.

When Mary Tudor became Queen of England, she and her husband, Philip II of Spain, re-instated the English Catholic Church by putting it into communion with the Rome.

The silver bells refer to the bells rung at the Consecration of the Mass to call the attention of the congregation to the Transubstantiation taking place which Cranmer had deemed repugnant. (Article XXVIII Book of Common Prayer).

The pretty maids in a row refers to the fact that consecrated religious women wore the same habits.

6. The Cat and the Fiddle refers to Queen Elizabeth who was nicknamed ‘The Cat’ because of the way she played or fiddled with her cabinet members, much like a cat  plays with mice.

  • Hey, diddle, diddle!
  • The cat and the fiddle,
  • The cow jumped over the moon;
  • The little dog laughed
  • To see such sport.
  • And the dish ran off with the spoon. 

The dish represents Elizabeth’s serving lady,  and the spoon alludes to the royal taster. These two servants fell in love and secretly eloped,  running away from the court. When they were captured, Elizabeth had them thrown into the Tower of London.

7.  King James VI of Scotland inherited the throne after Elizabeth.  The Stuart Kings of Scotland did not have the personal charm of the Tudors, lacked money, and their parliament was composed of Tudor Kings’ men, and so were always in financial trouble.

(Lean = $);  (Fat = tax)  so Jack Sprat (a person of low stature) dissolved Parliament

  • Jack Sprat could eat no fat
  • His wife could eat no lean
  • And so betwixt the two of them
  • They licked the platter clean
  • Jack ate all the lean,
  • Joan ate all the fat.
  • The bone they picked it clean,
  • Then gave it to the cat
  • Jack Sprat was wheeling,
  • His wife by the ditch.
  • The barrow turned over,
  • And in she did pitch.

8. Jack be nimble applies to the failure of  Stuart monarchs to keep the throne.

  • “Jack, be nimble, Jack, be quick,
  • Jack, jump over the candlestick.Jack jumped high,
  • Jack jumped low,
  • Jack jumped over and burned his toe.”

9.  With the closing of the monasteries and the granting of lands by the Tudors to make King’s Men, much of the arable land was enclosed (Enclosure Movement)  and turned into grazing land for sheep.  Former farmers now became wool carders, spinners and weavers, living in decrepit cottages outside the fenced areas.

  • Baa, baa, black sheep,
  • Have you any wool?
  • Yes sir, yes sir,
  • Three bags full;
  • One for the master,
  • And one for the dame,
  • And one for the little boy
  • Who lives down the lane.

10.  With no monasteries to take care of the poor, the poor houses filled (Bedlam was one such) or many went to the colonies as indentured servants.

  • There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
  • She had so many children, she didn’t know what to do.
  • She gave them some broth,
  • Without any bread,
  • Whipped them all soundly, and sent them to bed.

11. After the Stuarts came the Hanoverian kings who were Germans.  George I never learned English, and his son barely could utter a few words.  Both left the governing to Parliament.  However, George III decided he would be an absolute king like the French Louis .  He tried it on the girls (colonies) and lost.

  • Georgie Porgie, puddin’ and pie,
  • Kissed the girls and made them cry.
  • When the boys came out to play,
  • Georgie Porgie ran away.
So, now you know  that what you thought were cute rhymes to entertain children, were really the ancestors of e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc………
  1. What a fantastic post..I love this being a massive fan of history ..I did’nt know some of the references made..so thank you ..Eliza Keating

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