Nursery Rhymes with Dark Histories
Written By: Karla Cortes
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
The words that come out of a child’s mouth are not always as innocent as they seem to be. Although children’s rhymes nowadays are not as popular as they were when they first originated, they still linger in classrooms and nurseries in today’s world. But where people hear most of these rhymes are within horror films. Horror films incorporate these songs not to add an eerie tone to the scene, but to touch on the fact that these rhymes aren’t as lovely and sweet as we think. Here are our top picks of Nursery Rhymes with Dark Histories and have a far darker meaning than the surface-level children’s song.
Mary Mary Quite Contrary
The woman referred to in this rhyme is Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon. Due to Henry VIII wanting to desperately divorce Katherine in order to marry Anne Boleyn but being unable to do so due to the Catholic Church, he reverted to creating the Anglican Church. As a result, England was divided between Catholics and Protestants during Mary’s reign. When she came to the throne, Mary forced England to convert back to Catholicism “contrary” to the country’s desires.
Her five-year reign was remembered as being one of the deadliest time periods for Protestants with thousands being executed for their belief and practices. The “silver bells” and “cockshells” mentioned in the song refer to torture devices from this time period used on Protestants. The “pretty maids all in a row” refer to the hundreds of Protestant women burned alive at the stake.
Three Blind Mice
Yet another rhyme dedicated to Mary I and her reign, Three Blind Mice refers to the three Protestant bishops who conspired to overthrow Mary. Hugh Latimer, Thomas Cranmer, and Nicholas Radley were found out and burned at the stake for their nonconformity. Suggesting that the work “blind” within the title and rhyme refers to their Protestant beliefs.
London Bridge is Falling Down
Although the origins of this rhyme date back to the middle ages, written records show that it became popular in the mid-18th century. The mid-18th century also harbored turbulent times that included torturous imprisonments. Although there are a few theories that circulate the meaning of the rhyme, the most unsettling one is the Immurement Theory. Immurement is known as being a form of imprisonment where a person is placed in an enclosed space that is usually left there to die from dehydration and starvation.
The reason as to why this form of imprisonment surface was on a belief that bridges and buildings would be more stable if a person was entombed in it’s foundation. The idea within the rhyme is that the London Bridge would come down unless a person was left behind in its structure. Makes more sense once one examines the game that goes along with the song. But who is “My Fair Lady”? Theorist believe her true identity to be that of Matilda of Scotland, Elanor of Provence, A member of the Leigh family of Stoneleigh Park, or The River Lea herself.
Tell Tale Tit
A threat commonly used on the playground, the Tell Tale Tit rhyme used to be sung by children as a threat to other kids. It was used to terrify other children out of tattling on them for their mischief. The lyric “your tongue shall be slit” was probably what did the trick.
Ring Around the Rosie
Being one of the most infamous nursery rhymes, Ring Around the Rosie harbors one of the darkest hidden meanings out of all the rhymes. Although it’s lyrics have changed and slightly evolved from the original song, it is no doubt that the lyrics refer to the 1665 Great Plague of London. “The rosie” refers to the reddish pink rash that would cover the bodies of the afflicted. The smell used to be so foul that people would attempt to cover it up by filling their pockets with posies. Hence the lyric “a pocket full of posies”. Since the plague killed almost 15 percent of England’s population, the lyrics “Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down” commemorates that downfall.
As of recently however, Snopes has deemed this interpretation of the rhyme as false. The more likely suggestion that Snopes implores is that the origins of the rhyme comes from the religious ban on dancing amongst Protestants in Britain and North America in the 19th century. As a way of bending the rules, “play-parties” where ring games that were the same as square dances without music were created. Due to their popularity, children picked up on these play-parties and acted on the rhymes.
Jack and Jill
With the many different changes to the lyrics made for the personal enjoyment of children and adolescents, the original lyrics to Jack and Jill still stand for a dark moment in history. The treasons of France’s Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette unlimited lead to the couple’s death by decapitation. Hence the lyric “Jack lost his crown” and “Jill came tumbling after” Although this is the most popular theory behind the rhyme, it is not the correct theory. Historians point out that the treason event was committed 30 years after the rhyme. It is believed that the rhyme is based on an account of King Charles I’s reformation of taxes on liquid measures. When Parliament rejected this notion, he reduced the volume to half- and quarter- pints also known as jacks and gills.
Georgie Porgie Pudding and Pie
There is no doubt that this rhyme has a negative connotation tied to it. The entire rhyme describes a boy kissing girls without their consent, but to what the lyrics are referencing is far worse than just a kiss. Georgie Porgie stands as a nickname for the English Duke of Buckingham George Villiers. Along with his good looks, Villiers’ strong love for women was well documented.
What was also documented was the fact that Villiers had sex with many married women to which not all of them gave consent to the act. In turn, this caused many men, specifically the husbands of these women, to come after Villiers hence why Georgie Porgie ran away when the “boys came out to play”.
Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater
Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater is deemed as having one of the darkest origins out of the rhymes listed. The rhyme was a lesson for the American women of the 1800s on what happens to an unfaithful wife. Peter’s wife is supposedly a prostitute to which Peter “couldn’t keep her” from committing her acts. This leads Peter to murder her and hide her body in a pumpkin. Historians say that the rhyme could very much so be referring to the 13th century English King John who is known for bricking a disloyal wife of a noble into a wall alive.
Ladybug Ladybug Fly Away Home
The supposed rhyme to be said when a little ladybug lands on you is far from being cute. Dating back to at least 1774, theorists believe that the rhyme might be about Catholics in that time period being burned at the stake for practicing Mass. Other theorists believe that the rhyme is about how it is bad luck if one kills a ladybug. Either way, the lyrics “your house is on fire and your children are gone” is enough to ensue an unsettling feeling.
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