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The Truth Behind Mother Goose

The simple and seemingly innocent nursery rhymes we grew up reciting; hide a twisted and dark history. Mother Goose's ulterior social and political agendas are cleverly masked in the guise of playful nursery rhymes. Pick up a copy of The Real Mother Goose (see "Further Reading" free download links below), and reread the familiar childhood stories with eyes wide open. Let's examine five of the most popular and creepy rhymes with some historical context: Three Blind Mice, Mary Mary, Quite Contrary, Humpty Dumpty, Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, There Was an Old Women; found in, The Real Mother Goose illustrated by Blanche Fisher Wright.



Three blind mice! See how they run! They all ran after the farmer's wife, Who cut off their tails with a carving knife. Did you ever see such a thing in your life, As three blind mice?

Meaning & Origin

The farmer's wife, Queen Mary I of England a.k.a. Bloody Mary, beheaded three mice, representing noblemen, who plotted against her aggressive efforts to spread Catholicism throughout England in the 1500s.



Mary, Mary, quite contrary, How does your garden grow? Silver bells and cockle-shells, And pretty maids all of a row.

Meaning & Origin

Three theories of "Mary's" identity include: Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary the Queen of Scots, and Queen Mary I of England. Since the earliest account of this tale come from England, Mary the Queen of England or Bloody Mary; rises as the most likely theory. The garden is Mary's graveyard full of maidens; decapitated by the maiden or guillotine. Her silver bells and cockleshells can also be traced back to 16th-century torture devices.



Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the King's horses, and all the King's men
Cannot put Humpty Dumpty together again.

Meaning & Origin

Humpty Dumpty, through depicted as an egg in many books and illustrations; actually represents a mortar during the siege of Colchester that fell from a wall next to St. Mary's Church. After the mortar fell from the wall the King's Horses, the calvary, and all the King's men, the soldiers, couldn't put the mortar back together thus ultimately resulting in losing the war.



Baa, baa, black sheep, Have you any wool? Yes, marry, have I, Three bags full;
One for my master, One for my dame, But none for the little boy, Who cries in the lane.

Meaning & Origin

The Real Personages of Mother Goose (1930) suggests that the heavy taxation on wool inspired this rhyme in the thirteenth century. With the medieval English wool tax of 1275 perspective, the bags of wool represent taxes paid to the Master (King/State) and Dame (Church).



Goosey, goosey, gander, Whither dost thou wander? Upstairs and downstairs And in my lady's chamber, There I met an old man Who wouldn't say his prayers; I took him by the left leg, And threw him down the stairs.

Meaning & Origin

Popular interpretations suggest that lady's chambers represent priest holes or hiding places for Catholic priests during the persecutions under King Henry VIII in the sixteenth century.



There was an old woman who lived in a shoe. She had so many children she didn't know what to do. She gave them some broth without any bread. She whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

Meaning & Origin

Debates continue over the historical figure with a large family described in this rhyme. Most common interpretations reference King George II (and Queen Caroline) as the main subject claiming that King George II was nicknamed the "old woman," because it was widely believed that Queen Caroline was the real power behind the throne. The old woman is unable to control the children (members of Parliament) and puts them to bed (the House of Commons) where they met daily.



Further Reading

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