Terrifying, Thoughtful, and Absurd
Rhymes for Children
 In more repressed times, people were not always allowed to express
themselves freely, for fear of persecution. Gossiping, criticizing the
government or even talking about current events was often punishable
by death. In order to communicate at will, clever rhymes were
constructed and passed around to parody public figures and events.
 The first nursery rhymes can be traced back to the fourteenth century.
 Under the guise of children’s entertainment, many
rhymes that were encoded with secret messages
throughout history have endured the test of time
and are still with us today.
Why were rhymes with historical
meaning created?
• To remember history . . .
• Not everyone could read and
•This was their way to
remember history,
•Or to teach their children.
• The best way to remember is
a rhyme.
Terrifying, Thoughtful, and Absurd
Rhymes for Children
 Other nursery rhymes don’t seem to carry a particular
message at all, but convey a gruesome sense of humor.
 They have been so ingrained in us since childhood that
we hardly notice that babies are falling from trees,
women are held captive, or live animals are being
 It is only when you stop and absorb the actual words of these catchy,
sing-song rhymes that the darkness and absurdity is realized.
 A handful do not reference historical events at all, but instead seem
to convey warnings or common sense wisdom.
What are Nursery Rhymes?
 Most rhyme
 Some are trivial.
 Some are poetical.
 Often some are put to
Nursery rhymes set to music
Mary Had a
Little Lamb
Baa Baa
Who are the authors?
It is thought that William Shakespeare was
the author of Hey Diddle Diddle or at least it
was written by someone around that time.
No one knows
who the authors
are of most of the
nursery rhymes.
Who was Mother Goose?
Some believe her to be a
Mother Goose a WITCH?!?!?!
These are
some things
that people
in the
with a witch.
She could fly!
She had a goose
which is a witch’s familiar.
A “familiar” is a pet that
can do magical things.
She lived alone!
With this evidence against her.
She must be a ….
Who was Mother Goose?
Was she . . .
 An 8th century noblewoman by
the name of Bertranda II
Countess of Leon?
 The wife of Pepin the Short?
 The mother of Charlemagne?
 A patroness of children
nicknamed Queen Goosefoot?
History of Mother Goose
 Mother Goose began as folk stories told to
 French peasants had created the mythical
Mother Goose, who told charming stories to
 The first collection to bear the name “Mother
Goose,” was brought out by Charles Perrault
A little history . . .
Rhymes were a means
used by the locals to
gossip about politics in
general and the royals
in particular.
Did You Know?
 Humpty Dumpty is King Richard III.
 The farmer’s wife in the Three Blind Mice is Queen Mary I.
 Baa Baa Black Sheep refers to the tax laws in Britain.
 Jack Sprat is none other than King Charles I.
 The old woman who lived in a shoe was the mighty British
Empire. Her many children were the umpteen colonies.
Do You Find Any Similarities?
Humpty Dumpty
 Humpty Dumpty was a powerful
cannon used in the Siege of
Colchester during the English Civil
 It was mounted on top of the St Mary’s
at the Wall Church in Colchester
defending the city against siege in the
summer of 1648.
 Although Colchester was a royalist
stronghold, it was besieged by the
Roundheads for 11 weeks before
finally falling.
Humpty Dumpty
 The church tower was hit by
enemy cannon fire and the top
of the tower was blown off,
sending "Humpty" tumbling to
the ground.
 Naturally all the king’s horses
and all the king’s men tried to
mend "him" but in vain.
 Other reports suggest Humpty
Dumpty refers to a sniper
nicknamed One-Eyed
Thompson, who occupied the
same church tower.
Jack and Jill
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.
Up got Jack, and home did trot
As fast as he could caper
He went to bed and bound his head
With vinegar and brown paper.
Jack and Jill
Did you know that this is
about the fall of the
French Monarchy?
Jack was Louis XVI.
He was beheaded.
Jill was his wife, Marie
Antoinette. She was
beheaded after her
Did You Know?
Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.
This is a protestant condemnation of Mary Queen of Scots.
Protestants could not speak openly against the Queen without
retribution so they spoke in more or less a code of wit.
Mary, Mary . . .
Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
Mary is a disagreeable Catholic tyrant.
How does your garden grow?
The garden referred to is filled with the graves of protestant martyrs/opponents of the
Queen and the growing number of such victims under her oppressive rule.
With silver bells and cockle shells
Instruments of torture such as thumbscrews and iron masks
And pretty maids all in a row.
Instruments like the guillotine known as “maids” to behead
Little Jack Horner
Little Jack Horner sat in the corner
Eating his Christmas pie,
He put in his thumb and pulled out a
And said "What a good boy am I!"
Little Jack Horner
The history of this rhyme dates
back to the 16th century.
 Richard Whiting was the last
abbot of Glastonbury during the
dissolution of the monasteries
by King Henry VIII of England.
 Prior to the destruction of
Whiting’s monastery, he sent a
steward named “Horner” with a
large pie to bribe the king.
Little Jack Horner
 Bishop Whiting hid deeds to twelve
large manors in a pie.
 The manor properties included lead
mines, hence “He pulled out a plum”
– from Latin plumbum, for lead.
 During Horner’s journey to the king,
it is believed that he took the deed to
the largest property called the Manor
of Mells, which was the “plum” of
all the deeds.
 He delivered the pie to the king with
only eleven deeds.
Little Jack Horner
 The old Bishop was convicted of
treason for remaining loyal to
 The jury included his
treacherous steward Horner
who found Bishop Whiting guilty
and sent the old man to a
terrible death of being hung,
drawn and quartered, and the
Abbey was destroyed.
Ring around the Rosie
Ring around the rosy
A pocketful of posies
"Ashes, Ashes"
We all fall down!
Ring around the Rosie
•Linked to the Bubonic Plague
• A “ring of rose” colored
rings appeared on the skin.
• People kept posies with
them because they thought the
plague was spread by bad
• “Ashes, Ashes, We all fall
down” is from burning the
bodies after the people died.
Pop Goes the Weasel
Half a pound of tuppenny rice,
Half a pound of treacle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.
Up and down the city road,
In and out the Eagle,
That’s the way the money goes,
Pop! goes the weasel.
Pop goes the weasel means that people traded in their
coats for money.
The word “pop” means to pawn and the word “weasel”
comes from “weasel and stoat” which means a coat.
Even the poor people owned a suit that they wore as
their “Sunday Best.”
Pop Goes the Weasel
When the people had a lack of
income, they would pawn their suit,
or coat, on Monday and then buy it
back before Sunday so they could
wear it to church.
“In and out of the Eagle” referred to
going in and out of a pub.
The Eagle Tavern was a pub in
Baa, Baa Black Sheep
Baa, baa black sheep
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full.
One for the master,
One for the dame,
One for the little boy
Who cries down the lane
This nursery rhyme is over 200 years old.
It is seen as a criticism of the oppressed
common people, the “little boy who
lives down the lane,”
• against the King, “my master,” who
took their wool and
• against the oppressively wealthy
nobility, “my Dame.”
Baa Baa Black Sheep
In medieval England, the wool trade was
big business.
Everyone who had land raised sheep.
After returning from the crusades in 1272,
Edward I imposed new taxes on the wool
trade in order to pay for his military
This wool tax forms the background to the
Three Blind Mice
This rhyme was published around the time of
Queen Mary I, the daughter of Henry VIII in
Queen Mary I was a very devout Catholic.
She was known for holding large estates with
her husband King Philip of Spain.
Three Blind Mice
Queen Mary I was also known for her
violent punishment of Protestants which
earned her the nickname “Bloody Mary.”
The rhyme is indicative of one of those
times when she persecuted Protestants.
Three blind mice refers to three Protestant
loyalists that were burned at the stake by
Queen Mary I.
She never actually “cut” or blinded the
Protestant loyalists, but she did burn them
at the stake for plotting against her.
Georgie Porgie
This rhyme’s historical period was
around 1592-1628.
It refers to the courier George
Villiers, the first Duke of
King James I took Villiers as his
favorite and possibly his lover.
Villiers also had good looks that
appealed to the ladies.
He seemed to have had an
amoral affair with the Queen of
Georgie Porgie
Villier’s dubious moral character
was much in question.
This, however, was overlooked due
to his friendship with King Charles
II until the parliament stopped the
King intervening on his behalf.
At this point, all of the jealous
husbands vowed to wreak their
revenge causing Georgie Porgie to
“run away.”
London Bridge Is Broken Down
The origins of this nursery rhyme have roots in the extraordinary events
surrounding King Henry VIII of England (1491-1547) and his second,
tragic, wife Anne Boleyn.
The “Lady Lee” is Lady Margaret Wyatt, the sister of Thomas Wyatt,
the poet.
She married Sir Anthony Lee of Quarrendon and thus became Lady
The Wyatts were neighbors of the Boleyn family and Anne and
Margaret were childhood friends.
London Bridge Is Broken Down
As Anne Boleyn rose in power, Margaret
accompanied her and became a trusted lady-inwaiting.
When Anne was accused of bigamy, Thomas
Wyatt was accused with her, but he was later
Margaret (Lady Lee) stayed with Anne Boleyn
until her execution and attended the ill-fated
queen on the scaffold.
The words of the rhyme are believed to
describe the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn (the
gay ladye).
London Bridge Is Broken Down
Anne Boleyn was hated by the common people of
England due to her haughty manner and the
common folk’s strong allegiance to Henry VIII’s first
wife, Katherine of Aragon.
Open criticism of Anne was approved and
encouraged during the reigns of Henry VIII and his
eldest daughter Mary (Bloody Mary – Henry and
Katherine’s daughter).
But when Queen Elizabeth I ascended to the throne, all
such approval and criticism stopped; the new Queen was
the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.
Not all nursery rhymes
have historical meanings.
Some are used to teach.
Mary had a little lamb…
Mary had a little lamb its fleece was white as snow;
And everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go.
It followed her to school one day, which was against the rule;
It made the children laugh and play, to see a lamb at school.
And so the teacher turned it out, but still it lingered near,
And waited patiently about till Mary did appear.
"Why does the lamb love Mary so?" the eager children cry;
"Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know" the teacher did reply.
Mary had a little lamb…
 Written by Sarah Hale
living in Boston in 1830.
 This rhyme shows that
love is given and
 It also introduces children
to similes.
Hickory Dickory Dock
Hickory dickory dock
The mouse ran up the
The clock struck one
The mouse ran down
Hickory dickory dock
Hickory Dickory Dock
• This rhyme is a
good way to teach
children to tell time.
• It was also fun for
the word play.
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe!
One two buckle my shoe
Three, four, knock at the door
Five, six, pick up sticks
Seven, eight, lay them straight
Nine, ten, a big fat hen
Eleven, twelve, dig and delve
Thirteen, fourteen, maids acourting
Fifteen, sixteen, maids in the
Seventeen, eighteen, maids in
Nineteen, twenty, my plate's
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe!
•Used to help
children count
•Made it fun to
•Easy to
Some nursery rhymes are just
But most are to help teach,
remember history,
or even to make fun of royalty.
The Hidden Meaning Behind
Nursery Rhymes