6 Nursery Rhymes With Sinister Origins

Pied piperPhoto: sophiea

Most of us read nursery rhymes to our kids when they are little. It is a simple pastime we don’t put much thought into. However, if we did some research and looked up the original meanings of those classic nursery rhymes, we might be alarmed as to what inspired the authors to write such lyrics.

6. Goosey, Goosey Gander
mother goosePhoto: danorth1

In the Goosey,Goosey Gander rhyme, the ‘lady’s chamber’ was a room that once upon a time a highborn lady would have – her own bedroom that is. Men and women didn’t share their rooms even after marriage.

The rhyme’s origins lie in the fact that Catholic priests were being persecuted for practicing their faith and were not permitted to say their Latin-based prayers, even in the privacy of their own homes. Thus, they had to seclude themselves in tiny closet-like rooms where they would secretly say these ritualistic prayers for fear that Protestants would surely execute them.

5. Hark, Hark, The Dogs Do Bark
dogsPhoto: Tambako the Jaguar

This rhyme dates back to the 13th century. Beggars, or ‘scops’, once made their living telling stories and traveling the countryside entertaining the crowds for money. A lot of times, the scops would integrate subliminal messages into these stories to encourage people to revolt against politicians, clergymen and the like. When the Bubonic Plague broke out, the scops were seen as strangers possibly carrying the deadly disease. They were deemed even more menacing and unwanted than before the outbreak. Thus, the Saxon England folks would buy vicious dogs to guard the town and alert them these unwanted outsiders.

4. Jack and Jill
Jack and JillPhoto: perpetualplum

This nursery rhyme originally comes from France. It referred to King Louis XVI (Jack) and Queen Marie Antoinette (Jill). A horribly graphic and dark tale, it beautifully details the commonly occurring beheadings of 1793, aptly named the Reign of Terror.

Amazingly, the dismembered head survives at least eight seconds after being removed from the body. During the brief time that it takes for oxygen to cease being pumped into the head, the person still remains conscious and can see. The executioner would hold up the head to the crowds not only to gross out the people and place fear into their hearts, but also to let the head know it was detached from the body.

3. Three Blind Mice
mousePhoto: Ernst Vikne

This rhyme goes back to the English royalty in England in a similar way that Jack and Jill goes back the French. The daughter of King Henry VIII, Queen Mary I was the ‘farmer’s wife’ referred in the tale. She was a prudent Catholic who had a vengeful temper. This gave her the nickname ‘Bloody Mary.’ She owned many lavish estates in Spain alongside King Philip. The three noblemen who were of Protestant faith (but were not blind!) were accused of plotting to kill the Queen because of her different faith. She had the last say on that, though, not beheading them but burning them at the stake. Sweet dreams kids!

2. Mary, Mary Quite Contrary
Mary,Mary quite contraryPhoto: Le Petit Poulailler

This traditional English tale also features Mary Tudor with her fierce and volatile temper. A Catholic, she persecuted and exterminated all those who adhered to the Protestant faith. The gardens in the tale were actually graveyards. Silver bells and cockle shells were actually instruments of torture (much like those used to lash Jesus during the Crucifixion). They would crush the victim against a hard surface by screwing the silver bells into their fingers. Then, they would get the cockle shells and attach them to the victim’s genitals.

The ‘maids’ was a shortened name for maidens, a beheading device fraught with issues. It often took many, many whacks of the large blade to behead the victim. In the meantime, the victim would try to run off, bleeding profusely from their injuries.

Margaret Pole (1473 – 1541) was the most notable person who fought her execution. As she ran around the courtyard, the executioner continued to hack at her with the blade. Later, a better beheading instrument, using mechanical gears, was brought forth from Yorkshire that brought tens of thousands of Protestants to their quick death.

1. Sing a Song of Sixpence
blackbirdPhoto: Vera Buhl

It was thought that all the royalty ever did was eat and count their money – in a counting room in those days (as Swiss bank accounts were not invented yet!). Thus, the common people came up with a satirical nursery rhyme involving a blackbird pie with living birds inside that would frighten the poor king as he dug into his feast. The phrase in the rhyme, ‘when down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!’, is thought to be derived from a revengeful bird who didn’t want to be eaten alive.