Nursery Crimes


As kids we loved and grew up on a slew of our favorite nursery rhymes (Humpty Dumpty,  Baa Baa Black Sheep, etc). Some we gleefully still remember as happy memories and some forced to remember as we teach the next generation for academic interests. Those rhymes stuck on our lips in repeat as we were made to put up a performance for friends and relatives (showcasing our intellect) or at times just humming while playing (we obviously had limited access to soundtracks and latest singles back in the day unlike the millennials). 

It's time to change a bit of perspective about these nursery rhymes and maybe even ruin some beautiful childhood memories. 

Have you ever wondered about the origins of these nursery rhymes?  Where they started or what was the inspiration or story behind them? 

Most of you I guess would have replied no to those questions. Here's some details about some seemingly innocent rhymes actually having stemmed for deep roots in violence,  death and misery. No need to read that again, go ahead and find out. 


Humpty Dumpty
Visualizing the cute, colourful, dressed up overweight egg that fell of the wall? And the heartbreaks and 'aww's that the poor egg was broken forever. 

The real story which inspired this rhymes comes from the times of the English Civil War.  Mounted on top of a bell tower was a huge and deadly cannon named 'Humpty' (sat on a wall). During the Siege of Colchester, the tower where Humpty was mounted collapsed bringing down Humpty (had a great fall) and smashing it beyond repair (couldn't put Humpty back again). The rhyme was born out of here. 


Baa Baa Black Sheep
The innocent sounding rhyme well loved by kids even today turns out is not actually so innocent after all.

In the 13th Century, King Edward I levied a harsh wool tax on the farmers in feudal England. 1/3rd portion of the wool was taken by the King (one for the master), another 1/3rd was taken by the Church (one for the dame) and remaining 1/3rd left for the farmer (one for the little boy). This rhyme was a way of showing the oppression the farmers faced. In fact some of the older versions ended with 

But None for the Little Boy
     Who cries down the Lane... 


London Bridge Is Falling Down
The most famous one not only because is put the image of the bridge in our fantasy as the main reason to go visit London,  but also for the fact that all images used for the poem actually show the wrong bridge (Tower Bridge)  as London Bridge.  There are many theories about the origin of this rhyme,  but the top 3 happen to be

a.  The destruction of the bridge by Vikings in 1014, who created the rhyme to spread their victory stories. They traveled a lot and passed the rhyme to many places making it globally famous. It was a trophy about the destruction London's most iconic bridge. 

b.  The is an alleged myth that the well-being of the bridge required a child sacrifice annually else it would fall cutting off the route and current trade. Later when the child sacrifices we're stopped the bridge was crumbling and would eventually fall. 

c.  The last one and maybe the simplest theory was that the bridge was actually very old and crumbling due to bad maintenance and the passers-by made up the rhyme to mock the rulers about the state of the bridge


Jack and Jill
This would possibly the darkest rooted rhyme out there and with good interests at heart,  it would be advised to not tell children.  

Jack and Jill is reality refer to Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette from France.  During the French Revolution, they were both arrested and convicted of treason. As punishment,  they were both beheaded. Jack (Louis XVI)  lost his crown (his head and his throne) and Jill (Marie) came tumbling after (her head rolled off the guillotine next). The rhyme was built to tell this story. 


Ring Around the Rosie
Remember 'Ringa Rings Roses' from your childhood. Well first to shatter your memories it's actually 'Ring Around the Rosie' and not 'Ringa Ringa Roses' and second it actually talks about the 1665 Great Plague from London.  

It is believed that the plague caused a rosy red ring shaped rash on the body (Ring Around the Rosie) and caused bad smells possibly due to the infection,  because of which people carried fresh herbs or posies in their pockets to get over the smell (Pocket full of posies). 

The next line which we thought was 'Hasha Husha',  is actually 'Ashes Ashes' referring to the ashes of the dead (they were burnt not buried to kill the disease). 'We all fall down',  finally accepting that we will all die of it eventually. 


Three Blind Mice
The famous three blind mice even seen is some animated movies like Shrek,  actually refers to an incident in real life.  

The farmer's wife that dismembers them is actually King Henry VIII's daughter Queen Mary I. She was a staunch Catholic and a well-known persecutor of the Protestants,  which earned her the name 'Bloody Mary' (of the horror and the alcoholic beverage fame). 

The three blind mice referred to here were three Protestant bishops who were convicted of plotting against Queen Mary and eventually burnt at the stake. It was wrongly believed for years that they were blinded and dismembered before being burnt and hence the rhyme was built as such and despite the ages persisted. 


Round the Mulberry Bush
How we smile when we see tiny kids holding hands and going round singing 'Round and round the Mulberry bush'?  The rhyme paint happy images of fresh free air and landscapes with happy moments being celebrated by people in your head. The real picture is actually a grim one. 

About 400 years ago, at the Wakefield prison in England,  the female inmates we're made to exercise by walking around the Mulberry bushes every day. This rhyme stemmed from that activity forcing the inmates to keep moving around these Mulberry bushes. 


Rock-A-Bye Baby
The one song almost every mother knows, putting their beloved child to sleep unbeknownst to what the song actually means. 

One legend has it that the baby was the son of James VII from the House of Stuart (cradle) and that the baby was secretly swapped at birth by Protestants to keep the line alive and to bring down the Catholics (down will come baby). 

Another legend talks about a ritual from the ritual from the 17th century,  where mothers would hang babies that died at childbirth in a basket from a tree branch and sing this song as a prayer hoping to bring their dead child back to life. 

There is another legend which is not so morbid was that a British explorer in his travels noticed that young American working mothers left their babies in a cradle tied to tree branches and as the wind blew it would rock the cradle putting them to sleep and finally when they took their child down it referred to 'down will come baby'


The pictures painted in your head by the above facts are going to remain for a while with you and change how you feel about these rhymes drastically. To some extent proving that we are not always ready for the truth. 

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