I am an historian and genealogist and am writing an historical crime anthology based on real life genealogical stories I have unearthed.
One of the things I most love finding out is the origins to words, phrases and other things and recently was looking at the origins to some of our well known nursery rhymes.
Did you know, for example, that Mary Mary Quite Contrary refers to Mary 1 of England who was a firm believer in Catholicism and persecuted protestants. The ‘silver bells and cockleshells’ apparently refer to implements of torture!
Baa Baa Black Sheep – refers to a tax on wool in the middle ages.
Ring A Ring O Rosies – some people think it relates to the plague (eg, the line ‘attishoo attishoo we all fall down’).
Who Killed Cock Robin? – could relate to the death of that famous person from folklore, Robin Hood.
London Bridge is Falling Down may be down to the burning of wooden bridges by the Vikings.
Remember Remember the Fifth of November (an English rhyme) – refers to Guy Fawkes attempt to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605.
Jack & Jill might be about King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette and when they tumbled down the hill it was them losing the throne and being beheaded.
Dr Foster Went to Gloucester – could well refer to Edward 1 who is said to have visited Gloucester but fell off his horse into a big puddle and declared he would never go there again!
Little Tommy Tucker who sings for his supper is because ‘little tommy tucker’ was a colloquial name for orphans reduced to begging for food.
And my favourite Oranges and Lemons may be to do with prisons of London, eg, the bells of Old Bailey is where Newgate prison used to be and ‘when will you pay me’ referring to debtors.
Of course, this is all speculation – but the explanations sound good!