As children we’re all taught the classic nursery rhymes that we recite or sing at the top of our lungs. They are often taught to us by our parents and in school and are carried with us throughout our lives. In most cases we teach them to our children. However, some nursery rhymes have a sinister hidden meaning and are a historical reference to events that took place.
Once you’ve learnt their actual meaning, it’s like a history lesson that will literally eradicate the warm and fuzzies-makes you wonder why we still recite these classic nursery rhymes to children?!
There’s a saying that goes something like “every story has some truth behind it” well I guess this rings true with most nursery rhymes. A classic example of this dark history is “Mary Mary Quite Contrary” we all know it and I’m sure we’ve all recited it as kids.
But the nursery rhyme we all know has roots stepped into a sinister history. Its origins stem from Mary Tudor or “Bloody Mary” the daughter of King Henry the VIII and the Queen of England from 1553-1558. The nursery rhyme refers to Mary’s staunch Catholic upbringing and the torture she inflicted on those that continued to be believers in the Protestant faith during her time as monarch.
We all know the rhyme and its famous line “how does your garden grow”. This refers to the graveyards that grew in occupants (for use of a better term) during her reign.
The rest of the lyric “With Silver bell and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row” is in reference to the torture and execution tactics used by Mary. It’s believed that “silver bells” were the thumbscrews used to crush the thumb between two hard surfaces and “cockle shells” were instruments attached to the genitals for purposes of torture.
The reference to the “maids” is a reference to an instrument called a maiden, which was used to behead people – like the guillotine.
Not so childlike now is it?
There’s more to these nursery rhymes than you may think. We’ve all heard that “Ring Around the Rosie” was supposedly about the black plague of the 17th Century with “rosie” being the term used for the rash that formed around the neck of the plagues victims. With “atishoo, atishoo we all fall down” meaning those infected all died.
Other nursery rhymes whilst not so morbid include “ Baa Baa Black Sheep” which referred to the wool tax that was imposed in the middle ages.
The history behind nursery rhymes is fascinating and once you realise what they’re really about your childhood favourites aren’t as innocent as what you may have first thought. On the flip side they may be a good way for children to learn history and possibly retain events through these rhymes.