I’ve been searching for a new title for my upcoming standalone abduction thriller, so I conducted some research on nursery rhymes. Â These seem to be surprisingly finite in number and variety, and are defaulted to by parents even though their topicality and meaning has long been lost. I learned, for example, that ‘Humpty-Dumpty’ was supposedly the name of a Royalists’ cannon used in the Siege of Colchester in the English Civil War.
Meanwhile, ‘Little Jack Horner’ is meant to be a representation of the steward to the Bishop of Glastonbury, sent to Henry VIII with a bribe of deeds to 12 manor estates hidden in a pie to thwart thieves – the poem first surfaced in 1725. But – pies to thwart thieves? That seems to be pushing it, although times were obviously different then.
‘Jack and Jill’ (or Gill) are apparently French. They’re said to be King Louis XVI, who was beheaded (lost his crown) followed by his Queen Marie Antoinette – Jill. Â But again, something doesn’t ring true. Some nursery rhyme derivations are very well-known. For example, the Eagle pub featured in ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’ is still there, and the lyrics printed around its walls seem plain enough too appreciate, with its tale of pawning goods to spend in pubs.
But ‘Ring-A-Ring Of Roses’ has lately caused controversy as many now say it is not to be about the plague at all, because the dates don’t match. However, it does seem to be about illness, possibly the early Black Death, because there are too many lyrics in it that feel apposite, particularlyÂ “Ashes Ashes” (the cremation of the dead).
So, how trustworthy are these readings? It seems clear that London Bridge really did fall down, and thatÂ Old Mother Hubbard was most likely meant to be Cardinal Wolsey, and ‘Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary’ may well be Mary, Queen of Scots, but was Jack from ‘Jack Be Nimble’ really a 16th century pirate? Was Mother Goose a witch? ‘Mother’ was the name for any older woman, but is also associated with witches. There’s a book, ‘The Secret History of Nursery Rhymes’, but I suspect many need to be taken with a very large pinch of salt. Over so many centuries of embroidery, they’ve largely becoming nonsense-rhymes but why does there have to be a secret meaning to each at all?
Is it just our desire to ‘Dan Brown’ everything and create conspiracies? If this is the case, why Â isn’t someone picking apart every fairy tale and ascribing it to a monarchy or a political movement? More research Â is needed on my part.