All Women's Talk

7 Nursery Rhyme Origins You Won't Expect ...

By Holly

Chances are, you don’t think about nursery rhyme origins when you recite them. Once you know the origins, however, you’ll never be able to think about your favourite nursery rhyme the same way again! Most of these simple rhymes come from over a hundred years ago and therefore talk about issues that we rarely experience anymore, but that just makes these nursery rhyme origins all the more intriguing!

1 Goosey Goosey Gander

The origin of this nursery rhyme comes from back long ago, when Catholic priests were punished for reciting their Latin prayers. They were not even allowed to perform their prayers in their own homes, and if they were caught they were dealt with very swiftly! Hence why the ‘old man’ that the narrator comes across is taken by the left leg and thrown down the stairs! But the strange nursery rhyme origins don’t end there…

2 Mary Mary Quite Contrary

This is one nursery rhyme with seriously creepy origins! The ‘Mary’ referred to in this rhyme is English Queen Mary I, known for her brutal and violent nature. The ‘silver bells and cockleshells’ talked about are not flowers at all, but rather torture devices used in the time of Queen Mary. The ‘pretty maids all in a row’ refer to ‘maidens’ - a slang term for beheading devices. How charming!

3 Rock-a-Bye Baby

This rhyme was inspired by a young American boy who came across a group of Native American women who hung their babies up in trees. They did this so that when the wind blew, the babies would be rocked to sleep. If the ‘bough breaks,’ however, then the babies would fall to the ground, ‘cradle and all.’ Ouch!

4 Little Miss Muffet

Believe it or not, there was an actual Little Miss Muffet! Her real first name was Patience, and this nursery rhyme was written for her by her stepfather, Dr. Thomas Muffet (who died in 1604). Dr. Muffet was an English entomologist, studying insects. Isn’t this a sweet present to give to a loved one - a poem written just for them!

5 Three Blind Mice

It is thought that the nursery rhyme of Three Blind Mice is once again about that awful Queen Mary I of England. Many people believe that the Three Blind Mice are actually Protestant Noblemen who plotted an attack on the Queen. When the Queen heard of these plans, she didn’t ‘cut off their tails with a carving knife’ - instead she burned them alive at the stake!

6 Jack Be Nimble

Long ago there was an English tradition which required people at weddings to jump over a candlestick. If, while jumping over it, you blew the flame out, then it was thought that you were in for a year’s worth of bad luck. If the flame stayed alight, then you were to have good luck for a year. Hence why Jack had to be nimble and quick - to keep the flame burning.

7 Doctor Foster

Doctor Foster is thought to be a true story about Kind Edward I of England, who visited the town of Gloucester in the 13th century and fell off his horse into a huge puddle. It is said that the King was so embarrassed about his fall that he turned around and ‘never went there again’! Even though King Edward I was supposed to be a tall, strong, powerful man, something as simple as falling into a puddle was enough to humiliate him so much that he felt he could no longer show his face where it had occurred. Whoops!

Nursery rhymes have many origins you don’t expect, although there are many rumours and speculation as to which interpretation is correct. The origins in this article are backed up by evidence from history, so they are the most likely to be true. What is your favourite nursery rhyme? Do you know its origins?

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