We often open a book of nursery rhymes or fairy tales to put our children off to sleep. Infact, it may be one of the most childlike innocent thing to entertain a baby just to see that sweet smile on their face while reciting rhymes from Mother Goose. But did we ever know the horrifying twisted history behind the origin of these non-sensical rhymes and fairy tales? I am sure the answer to this is ‘No’. So let’s read through the disturbing history of each of these rhymes and fairy tales.
The Poem – 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.
The origin – The origin of this rhyme can be traced back to the times of the English Civil War. A huge cannon was mounted on a church tower which suffered a great fall when the enemy cannon ball hit the cannon of the tower during the siege of Colchester. And just like Humpty, the cannon couldn’t be fixed again.
BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP
The poem– Baa baa black sheep. Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.
One for the master, one for the dame
And one for the little boy who lives down the lane.
The origin – During the reign of King Edward I of England, an export tax was levied on wool .This nursery rhyme has taken its origin from this source. As a result of the new taxes, one third of the price of a sack of wool went to the King, one third went to the church and the last to the farmer. Nothing was left for the shepherds. Moreover black sheep also refers to bad luck as their fleece cannot be dyed.
THREE BLIND MICE
The poem– 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 origin – Here, the three blind mice are being referred to the Protestant Bishops named Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Radley and Thomas Crammer. They all wanted to overthrow the queen, Mary I of England, as she was a staunch Catholic. For this, she was given the name ‘Bloody Mary’. The three bishops were burnt for their lese-majesty.
The poem – Goosey Goosey Gander, whither shall I wander?
Upstairs and downstairs in my Lady’s chamber.
There I met an old man who wouldn’t say his prayers,
So I took him by his left leg and threw him down the stairs,
The origin – In the 16th century, Europe had become famous for fighting plagues and killing Catholics. There was always a reward for a Protestant who was able to find and kill a Catholic. Unless the Catholic would say his prayers in English rather than in Latin, he was tied by his legs and thrown down the stairs.
The poem – Ladybird ladybird fly away home
Your house is on fire and your children are gone
All except one called Anne
For she has crept under the frying pan.
The origin – The lady bird here is being referred to the Catholics of the 16th century Protestant England. The Catholics were not allowed to profess their religion and were forced to attend Protestant services, violation of which meant payment of hefty fines. The fire here may refer to the Catholic priests who were burned for their firm belief in their religion.
The poem– Georgie Porgie pudding and pie
Kissed the girls and made them cry
When the boys came out to play
Georgie Porgie ran away
The origin– Here, Georgie Porgie could be referred to either George Villiers (16-17 century) or Prince Regent George (late 18th century) George Villiers was a regular visitor in the court of King James I and had an intense attachment towards him. King James was also fond of him and rewarded him often with money and titles. But there is no proof of a homosexual relationship existing between them. George was even fond of ladies and is rumored to be fond of seducing the noblemen’s wives even without their consent.
Another reference has been made to Prince Regent George who was a fat man and was always after the ladies but they always ran away from him. The last couplet might refer to an incident when George attended a boxing match leaving a contestant dead. He ran away and hid himself to avoid any scandal.
JACK AND JILL
The poem – 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 origin – this poem has its origin in France. Here Jack refers to King Louis XVI and Jill refers to his wife Queen Mary Antoinette. During the French Revolution, the king was decapitated (broke his crown) and his queen also suffered the same fate (Jill came tumbling after).
LONDON BRIDGE IS FALLING DOWN
The poem – London bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down
London Bridge is falling down
My fair lady.
The origin – Though there are many theories behind this rhyme, the chief among them is that in some cultures human sacrifice is believed to be above everything. So in order to let a foundation sustain, human life needs to be lost if needed for doing so. Such a person’s spirit would watch over the well being of that foundation as in the case of London bridge.
Hansel and Gretel
The origin – This story has its origin in the famine of Europe which struck the continent during 1315-1317. During that time, some desperate parents deserted their children in the woods to decide their own fate. The witch in the story is referred by some to the famous baker named Katharina Schraderin who was well known for her ginger cookies. This made her male competitor jealous who accused her of being a witch. She was driven away from her town by the town people but was later brought back and burned her in her own oven.
The origin – This story is about a Greek woman named Rhodophis which means rosy-cheeked. When she was young she was captured from Thrace and brought to Egypt. She was so beautiful that her master often gifted her with costly presents one of them being a pair of golden shoes. Both the shoes and Rhodophis were noticed by the Pharoah Ahmose II, who made her his wife. But as she was not of royal blood, she was only there in his palace for providing the Pharoah sexual gratification.
PIED PIPER of HAMELIN
The origin – When the village of Hamelin was heavily infested with rats, a pied piper offered to get rid of the rats in exchange of a significant amount of money. After doing so, when he asked for his price from the villagers, they refused to pay him. The pied piper lured the children of the village to follow him and never returned. It is said that he led the children to the Mediterranean to join the Children Crusade. They hoped that the Mediterranean would provide them a passage to Jerusalem. But actually the sea never did anything as such for them and they starved to death.
I think very few among us know about these dark histories of these nursery rhymes and fairy tales. But still we take fun in reciting these to children just for their rhyming tunes and happy endings of the fairy tales.