You think you know your nursery rhymes – you’ve realised that Humpty Dumpty is never described as an egg, and obviously “Ring Around The Rosie” is about the plague, right?

Well here are a few secrets about some classic nursery rhymes that will make you think twice...

 

Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush

This one sounds like a fairly harmless tune, right? It’s not particularly morbid in reality, but it does refer to the exercise regime of the female prisoners as HMP Wakefield – a Mulberry sprig was planted in the yard and grew into a fully matured Mulberry tree around which prisoners exercised at dawn.

 

 

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep

While many people are concerned that this particular rhyme has racist connotations, the original meaning had nothing to do with race. This rhyme most likely refers to taxes! That’s right…  Imposed by King Edward I in the 13th Century, a tax was placed on sheep farmers meaning that the King and the Church took 2/3 of the earnings of the farmer, leaving him with barely any money for his troubles. (Still awake?  We promise the next one won’t be so snore-worthy).

 

 

Interests

Three Blind Mice

This one’s a little juicier, though it did require a quick history lesson on our part. It’s most commonly theorised that this one refers to Queen Mary I (yup, that’s Bloody Mary) and her treatment of the Oxford Martyrs back in 1555. These three Anglican Bishops, Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer, were burnt at the stake for their religious practices – though the rhyme may have referred to them as being blinded since it was written by Catholics, and the Bishops were Protestant.

 

Interests

Goosey Goosey Gander

Also a little morbid, and with more religious connotations, this rhyme is supposedly the tale of Catholic priests hiding in order to recite Latin-based prayers. Reciting these prayers and practising Catholicism became slowly more and more outlawed during the reign of Elizabeth I, and if you were not practising Protestantism you were figuratively “thrown down the stairs” as this nursery rhyme suggests - though punishments in real life weren't nearly as harsh as that.

 

Interests

Humpty Dumpty

Last but not least, everyone’s favourite, Humpty Dumpty. You’ve probably only ever heard one verse, but you’ve realised that nowhere is he described as an egg. There’s no definitive answer to this rhyme, though some theories suggest that the the rhyme may be referring, derogatively, to a disabled person, or that it refers to King Richard III. It has also been speculated that two other verses of the rhyme reveal Humpty’s true nature…

In sixteen hundred and forty-eight
When England suffered pains of state

The Roundheads laid siege to Colchester town

Where the King’s men still fought for the crown.

There one-eyed Thompson stood on the wall
A gunner with the deadliest aim of all

From St Mary’s tower the cannon he fired

Humpty Dumpty was his name.

However, these verses were discredited as they don’t fit the seventeenth-century style of the original rhyme.

 

Nursery rhymes don't have to be all doom and gloom - as long as you know which ones to pick.

If you'd still like to enjoy them, our finger-puppet nursery rhyme books can be found here.

 

Alex

Disclaimer: These are not definitive origins - these concepts have evolved from years of research by historians, and most still continue to be speculated about today.