Nursery Rhymes’ True Meaning

When I think about my childhood, I think about one particular book that I still have. I remember my mother reading the book to my sister and I.

It’s a book full of various Grime Brother’s fairy tales and nursery rhymes.

The Grime Brother’s tales are a little dark for a young child, so I naturally connected to the nursery rhymes and the songs that are tied to them.

The thing about the seemly innocent nursery rhyme songs is that there is a dark meaning to most of them.

Mary Mary Quite Contrary


Mary Mary quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.

(Courtesy: Mary Mary Quite Contrary)

This nursery rhyme is about Bloody Mary. Yes, Bloody Mary, or Mary Tudor, was the daughter of King Henry the eighth and was the Queen of England from 1553-1558.

Queen Mary was a devote Catholic and wanted her subjects to follow the religion.

Queen Mary is known for torturing and executing over 300 of England’s citizens who were Protestants, people who follow a Christian faith that was against the Roman Catholic Church.

From the nursery rhyme, Silver Bells and Cockle Shells are torture devices that Queen Mary was known to use on her victims.

Silver Bells

Silver Bells

Cockle Shells

Cockle Shells

Ring Around the Rosey


Ring around the rosy
A pocketful of posies
“Ashes, Ashes”
We all fall down

(Courtesy: Ring Around the Rosey)

This nursery rhyme is about the Great Plague of London from the 1300’s to 1665, which is also known as the Bubonic Plague or the Black Death.

Rats were the ones that caused the spread of the disease because the rodents had access to the water supply. Symptom of the plague is a red rash that is shaped like a ring on the skin and violent sneezing.

Over 60 percent of people were killed from the plague, so “Ashes Ashes” is a reference to the dead being cremated.

The only reason the Great Plague was wiped out was because of the Great Fire of London in 1666, which killed most of the rats that carried the disease.

To learn more about the fire, you can read it here.

Plague Doctor

1500’s Plague Doctor in “Bird mask”

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.

(Courtesy: Jack and Jill)

This is not about a boy named Jack and a girl named Jill falling down a hill.

Jack is a reference to King Louis the eighth when he got beheaded. The beheading happened during the Reign of Terror in 1793, which was during the French Revolution.

Jill is a reference to Queen Marie Antoinette, who was beheaded after King Louis. She was on trial and found guilty in the involvement of the Diamond Necklace Affair and sexually abusing her son, the dauphin.

Diamond Necklace Affair

Diamond Necklace


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