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Who Killed the Robin?
Nursery Rhymes
& their roots in history
Would it surprise you that
many rhymes are allegedly
about death, torture,
prostitution, religion or taxes?
The case for those links
can sometimes be very
compelling
But even if they could
never be fully proven,
this is a fun way to look at
periods in our history
First, SOME BACKGROUND
• ‘Nursery Rhymes’ refer to songs
& poems for young children
• Some of the oldest ones are
lullabie...
First, SOME BACKGROUND
• In North America often called ‘Mother
Goose Rhymes’
• 1st British collection: ‘Tommy Thumb’s
song...
The top 10
most irritating
Nursery Rhymes
The top 10
favourite
Nursery Rhymes
Still
making
news
In 2013 a national
survey ...
...you’re likely to be exhausted!
And if you’re called Jack…
He went up a hill to fetch a pail of water with Jill,
yet sti...
3 BLIND MICE
Three blind mice. Three blind mice.
See how they run. See how they run.
They all ran after the farmer's wife,...
3 BLIND MICE
Three blind mice. Three blind mice.
See how they run. See how they run.
They all ran after the farmer's wife,...
JACK & JILL
Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tum...
JACK & JILL
Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tum...
OR…JACK & GILL
• Another theory is about King Charles I and his tax reform on beer…
• He ordered that the volume of a ‘Jac...
Jack & Jill – a modern version!
Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water;
Jack fell down and broke his crow...
LITTLE BO PEEP
Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep,
And can't tell where to find them;
Leave them alone, And they'll come ho...
LITTLE BO PEEPLittle Bo-Peep has lost her sheep,
And can't tell where to find them;
Leave them alone, And they'll come hom...
SING A SONG OF SIXPENCE
Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.
When th...
SING A SONG OF SIXPENCESing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.
When the...
HUMPTY DUMPTY
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Co...
HUMPTY DUMPTYHumpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Cou...
LITTLE JACK HORNER
Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plu...
LITTLE JACK HORNERLittle Jack Horner
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum...
Oh, The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them do...
Oh, The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them do...
DR FOSTER
Doctor Foster went to Gloucester,
In a shower of rain;
He stepped in a puddle,
Right up to his middle,
And never...
DR FOSTERDoctor Foster went to Gloucester,
In a shower of rain;
He stepped in a puddle,
Right up to his middle,
And never ...
BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP
Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes, sir, yes, sir,
Three bags full;
One for the master,
And...
BAA BAA BLACK SHEEPBaa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes, sir, yes, sir,
Three bags full;
One for the master,
And ...
THERE WAS A CROOKED MAN
There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence against a crook...
THERE WAS A CROOKED MANThere was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence against a crooke...
WHO KILLED COCK ROBIN?
Who killed Cock Robin?
I, said the Sparrow,
with my bow and arrow,
I killed Cock Robin.
Who saw him...
WHO KILLED COCK ROBIN?Who killed Cock Robin?
I, said the Sparrow,
with my bow and arrow,
I killed Cock Robin.
Who saw him ...
MARY MARY
Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids al...
MARY MARY
Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids al...
LUCY LOCKET
Lucy Locket lost her pocket,
Kitty Fisher found it;
Not a penny was there in it,
Only ribbon round it
LUCY LOCKET
• Kitty Fisher was a famous British courtesan (d 1767)
• Subject of a number of portraits by Joshua Reynolds &...
RING A RING A ROSES
Ring-a-ring o' roses,
A pocket full of posies,
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all fall down
RING A RING A ROSES
Ring-a-ring o' roses,
A pocket full of posies,
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all fall down
• First appeared i...
ROCK-A-BYE BABY
Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop,
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks, the cra...
ROCK-A-BYE BABY
• One theory: this was the 1st English poem written in America when a pilgrim from the
Mayflower (1620) sa...
London Bridge
London Bridge is broken down,
Broken down, broken down.
London Bridge is broken down,
My fair lady.
Take a k...
London Bridge
• First published 1744
• An ‘arch’ rhyme & game – with similar
rhymes across Europe
• Could refer to a suppo...
Finally….
Today Child Psychologist’s promote the use of Nursery Rhymes:
1. They’re good for the brain, they teach children...
8 is the magic number
But….they are under threat
The survival of Nursery Rhymes is in your hands!
A survey in 2007 found:
• 40% of parents under...
THANK YOU!
IJBanks
Who killed the Robin? Nursery Rhymes & their roots in history
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Who killed the Robin? Nursery Rhymes & their roots in history

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The background to some of our most popular British Nursery Rhymes. Apart from enjoying the Rhymes again, the historical detail adds a new dimension for many who wouldn't normally volunteer for a history lesson! I've presented this to mainly older audiences. It's a great way to think back to when they first heard the rhymes and when they shared them with their own children and grandchildren. You often find someone in the group who loves reading historical dramas and will add extra detail. With thanks to: Iona & Peter Opie's The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book; Albert Jack's Pop Goes the Weasel; Roger Lancelyn Green Myths of the Norsemen; Felix Dennis's Nursery Rhymes for Modern Times and wikipedia. One of a series of decks given in Lancashire, UK and first presented in 2013. NB: There's more text shown on the slides than I'd actually use in practice but it gives you an idea of the voiceover.

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Who killed the Robin? Nursery Rhymes & their roots in history

  1. 1. Who Killed the Robin? Nursery Rhymes & their roots in history
  2. 2. Would it surprise you that many rhymes are allegedly about death, torture, prostitution, religion or taxes?
  3. 3. The case for those links can sometimes be very compelling
  4. 4. But even if they could never be fully proven, this is a fun way to look at periods in our history
  5. 5. First, SOME BACKGROUND • ‘Nursery Rhymes’ refer to songs & poems for young children • Some of the oldest ones are lullabies • But many started as popular songs about political events of the time
  6. 6. First, SOME BACKGROUND • In North America often called ‘Mother Goose Rhymes’ • 1st British collection: ‘Tommy Thumb’s song book’ in 1744 • Many of those we know now can be found in the 1765 ‘Mother Goose’s Melody’
  7. 7. The top 10 most irritating Nursery Rhymes The top 10 favourite Nursery Rhymes Still making news In 2013 a national survey of 1000 parents hit the press revealing:
  8. 8. ...you’re likely to be exhausted! And if you’re called Jack… He went up a hill to fetch a pail of water with Jill, yet still found time to jump over a candlestick & sit in a corner, eating pie. Later on, he ditched Jill and married a woman as fat as he was lean – before climbing a beanstalk. And then there was the house that he built…
  9. 9. 3 BLIND MICE Three blind mice. Three blind mice. See how they run. 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 sight in your life, As three blind mice?
  10. 10. 3 BLIND MICE Three blind mice. Three blind mice. See how they run. 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 sight in your life, As three blind mice? • Version 1st published 1609 • Thought to be written earlier about Queen Mary 1st (1553-58) • Her mother was Catherine of Aragon • The 3 mice are protestant bishops that she tortured & executed • Ridley, Latimer & Cranmer – the Oxford Martyrs • They had all supported Henry’s son, Edward VI
  11. 11. JACK & 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. Up Jack got and home did trot, As fast as he could caper; And went to bed & bound his head With vinegar and brown paper.
  12. 12. JACK & 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. Up Jack got and home did trot, As fast as he could caper; And went to bed & bound his head With vinegar and brown paper. • Version 1st published 1765 • Usually thought to be a ‘nonsense’ rhyme • ‘Jack & Jill’ just meant ‘Boy & Girl’ • Midsummer Night’s Dream & Love’s Labour’s Lost • However, could be based on ‘Hjuki & Bil’, a Norse myth about a brother & sister taken up from the earth by the moon…
  13. 13. OR…JACK & GILL • Another theory is about King Charles I and his tax reform on beer… • He ordered that the volume of a ‘Jack’ (1/2 pint) be reduced but tax stayed the same • The ½ pint line on a pint glass often has a crown above it • The ‘Gill’ (1/4 pint) consequently reduced as well • Earliest illustration has 2 boys: Gill not Jill • One theory is they are Cardinal Wolsey & Louis D’Orleans who negotiated the intended marriage of Mary Tudor & King of France
  14. 14. Jack & Jill – a modern version! 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. Jill sued Jack and Jack sued back, The judge is going to fine her; Now the pail’s been sent to jail For abandoning a minor. We’ll sue Jack and he’ll sue Jill, The hill is suing for scandal; The water says he’ll sue the press – And everyone’s suing the handle.
  15. 15. LITTLE BO PEEP Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep, And can't tell where to find them; Leave them alone, And they'll come home, Wagging their tails behind them
  16. 16. LITTLE BO PEEPLittle Bo-Peep has lost her sheep, And can't tell where to find them; Leave them alone, And they'll come home, Wagging their tails behind them • This could be just a cautionary tale about responsibility • Or, it could be about King Charles I (1625-1649) whose love of taxation led to a lot of smuggling • ‘Bo Peep’ was slang for Customs men, ‘Sheep’ were the smugglers – and the ‘tails’ were the drink, grain & meat that they were smuggling
  17. 17. SING A SONG OF SIXPENCE Sing a song of sixpence, A pocket full of rye. Four and twenty blackbirds, Baked in a pie. When the pie was opened, The birds began to sing; Wasn't that a dainty dish, To set before the king? The king was in his counting house, Counting out his money; The queen was in the parlor, Eating bread and honey. The maid was in the garden, Hanging out the clothes, When down came a blackbird And pecked off her nose.
  18. 18. SING A SONG OF SIXPENCESing a song of sixpence, A pocket full of rye. Four and twenty blackbirds, Baked in a pie. When the pie was opened, The birds began to sing; Wasn't that a dainty dish, To set before the king? The king was in his counting house, Counting out his money; The queen was in the parlor, Eating bread and honey. The maid was in the garden, Hanging out the clothes, When down came a blackbird And pecked off her nose. • One theory has the King as Henry VIII, the Queen as Catherine of Aragon and the maid as Anne Boleyn • Blackbirds were churchmen eager to impress the king for reward and status • The last blackbird was Thomas Cromwell who fabricated the plot which led to Anne’s beheading.
  19. 19. HUMPTY DUMPTY Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses and all the king's men Couldn't put Humpty together again
  20. 20. HUMPTY DUMPTYHumpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the king's horses and all the king's men Couldn't put Humpty together again • Humpty Dumpty was a powerful cannon used by the Royalists in the Civil War • They captured Colchester in early 1648 & held on for 3 months against overwhelming odds from the Parliamentarians thanks to their cannon • Eventually the church tower on which it was placed was blown down • Humpty Dumpty crashed to the ground & couldn’t be retrieved by the Kings men before the Royalists were overrun
  21. 21. LITTLE JACK HORNER Little Jack Horner Sat in the corner, Eating a Christmas pie; He put in his thumb, And pulled out a plum, And said 'What a good boy am I!'
  22. 22. LITTLE JACK HORNERLittle Jack Horner Sat in the corner, Eating a Christmas pie; He put in his thumb, And pulled out a plum, And said 'What a good boy am I!' • Thomas Horner, was steward to the last abbot of Glastonbury, before the dissolution of the monasteries • The abbot sent Horner to London with a huge Christmas pie within which was hidden the deeds to a number of manors – meant to dissuade the king from dissolving Glastonbury • Horner extracted the deeds to a property in Somerset & took ownership of it! • The King dissolved Glastonbury anyway… had the Abbot hung, drawn & quartered after a trial for treason… & one of the jurors was Horner!
  23. 23. Oh, The grand old Duke of York, He had ten thousand men; He marched them up to the top of the hill, And he marched them down again. And when they were up, they were up, And when they were down, they were down, And when they were only half-way up, They were neither up nor down. THE GRAND OLD DUKE OF YORK
  24. 24. Oh, The grand old Duke of York, He had ten thousand men; He marched them up to the top of the hill, And he marched them down again. And when they were up, they were up, And when they were down, they were down, And when they were only half-way up, They were neither up nor down. • The prime candidate is Frederick, 2nd son of ‘mad’ George III • He was appointed Field Marshall & told to invade France • His men were slaughtered in a battle at Mount Casell & he was dismissed • 5 years later he was appointed Commander in Chief & told to invade Holland • His inexperience showed & he endured a humiliating withdrawal • He did reform training & structure – paving the way for Nelson & Wellington THE GRAND OLD DUKE OF YORK
  25. 25. DR FOSTER Doctor Foster went to Gloucester, In a shower of rain; He stepped in a puddle, Right up to his middle, And never went there again
  26. 26. DR FOSTERDoctor Foster went to Gloucester, In a shower of rain; He stepped in a puddle, Right up to his middle, And never went there again • Possibly dates back to Edward I (1239-1307) • His nickname was ‘Longshanks’, the ‘Lawgiver’ or the ‘Doctor’ • It’s said he went to Gloucester, the most inland port in England (and subject to flooding) since it was of strategic importance against the Welsh • He rode into what looked like a puddle, which turned out to be a ditch • He and his horse got stuck – & he vowed never to return
  27. 27. BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP Baa, baa, black sheep, Have you any wool? Yes, sir, yes, sir, Three bags full; One for the master, And one for the dame, And one for the little boy Who lives down the lane
  28. 28. BAA BAA BLACK SHEEPBaa, baa, black sheep, Have you any wool? Yes, sir, yes, sir, Three bags full; One for the master, And one for the dame, And one for the little boy Who lives down the lane • Sheep were an extremely important part of our economy • The Italians and Flemish were better at turning this into cloth than the English were & it became a key export • Edward I imposed new taxes to fund his military campaigns – it largely paid for The Hundred Years War • So the King was the ‘master’ & the ‘dame’ was the church who owned most of the land • The original had ‘two for the dame & none for the little boy..’
  29. 29. THERE WAS A CROOKED MAN There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile. He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile. He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse, And they all lived together in a little crooked house
  30. 30. THERE WAS A CROOKED MANThere was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile. He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile. He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse, And they all lived together in a little crooked house • Supposedly about General Sir Alexander Leslie (1580-1661) • Leslie first fought for the Dutch & then the Swedes • He then returned to Scotland and seized Edinburgh castle • He next went south into England (the crooked mile) and won a victory for the Scots, taking control of Newcastle • This cut off coal to London and forced Charles I to do a deal with the Scots • Charles gave Leslie titles and land & he switched allegiance to England • But 3 years later he fought for the Scots at the Battle of Marston Moor • Charles eventually surrendered to Leslie thinking he was safe – but he turned him over to the Parliamentarians & eventual execution.
  31. 31. WHO KILLED COCK ROBIN? Who killed Cock Robin? I, said the Sparrow, with my bow and arrow, I killed Cock Robin. Who saw him die? I, said the Fly, with my little eye, I saw him die. Who caught his blood? I, said the Fish, with my little dish, I caught his blood….
  32. 32. WHO KILLED COCK ROBIN?Who killed Cock Robin? I, said the Sparrow, with my bow and arrow, I killed Cock Robin. Who saw him die? I, said the Fly, with my little eye, I saw him die. Who caught his blood? I, said the Fish, with my little dish, I caught his blood…. • Evidence that this is very old • Similar to a story Phyllyp Sparrowe written in 1508 • Possibly Norse mythology & the death of the god Balder • Or a reference to death of King William Rufus, killed by an arrow in the New Forest in 1100 • Later re-used in connection with the fall of Robert Walpole’s government in 1742 • But may refer to the medieval belief that the Robin got its red breast from trying to wipe the blood from the face of Jesus & that the Robin itself became a symbol of Christ
  33. 33. MARY MARY Mary, Mary, quite contrary, How does your garden grow? With silver bells, and cockle shells, And pretty maids all in a row
  34. 34. MARY MARY Mary, Mary, quite contrary, How does your garden grow? With silver bells, and cockle shells, And pretty maids all in a row • Or, it’s Mary Queen of Scots who sought refuge in England with Elizabeth 1st • She was put under house arrest & constant scrutiny (How does your garden grow) • The silver bells & cockleshells referred to symbols of Catholicism • Pretty maids were nuns… • Possibly Queen Mary 1st, daughter of Henry VIII, who set about reversing all that her father & half-brother Edward VI had done and re-introduced Catholicism • Silver bells & cockle shells were torture devices, maids were guillotines • The garden reference was a taunt that she had failed to produce an heir
  35. 35. LUCY LOCKET Lucy Locket lost her pocket, Kitty Fisher found it; Not a penny was there in it, Only ribbon round it
  36. 36. LUCY LOCKET • Kitty Fisher was a famous British courtesan (d 1767) • Subject of a number of portraits by Joshua Reynolds & others • Lucy Locket was another courtesan, she appears in the Beggar’s Opera • Her ‘pocket’ was her lover • According to the rhyme Kitty stole Lucy’s penniless lover • Common prostitutes were said to keep their money in a purse attached to their thigh by a ribbon – so it was also an insult to Lucy Lucy Locket lost her pocket, Kitty Fisher found it; Not a penny was there in it, Only ribbon round it
  37. 37. RING A RING A ROSES Ring-a-ring o' roses, A pocket full of posies, A-tishoo! A-tishoo! We all fall down
  38. 38. RING A RING A ROSES Ring-a-ring o' roses, A pocket full of posies, A-tishoo! A-tishoo! We all fall down • First appeared in print in 1881 • Now quite often associated with the Black Death (1348) or Great Plague (1665) • Theory is that there was a rosy rash, that a posy of herbs were carried to ward off the smell • That sneezing was a final fatal symptom before dropping down dead • However, it seems no-one interpreted it like that before the 1950’s • And it doesn’t seem to fit well with the symptoms of the Plague • An earlier version appears in print from 1790… Ring a ring a Rosie, A bottle full of posie, All the girls in our town Ring for little Josie
  39. 39. ROCK-A-BYE BABY Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop, When the wind blows, the cradle will rock, When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, And down will come baby, cradle and all.
  40. 40. ROCK-A-BYE BABY • One theory: this was the 1st English poem written in America when a pilgrim from the Mayflower (1620) saw native American women rocking their babies in bark cradles suspended from the branches of trees. Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop, When the wind blows, the cradle will rock, When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, And down will come baby, cradle and all. • Another is that this refers to the baby of James II (1688) widely believed to be someone else’s child smuggled into the birthing room to provide a Roman Catholic heir • The ‘wind’ is the Protestant force blowing from the Netherlands • The ‘cradle’ is the House of Stuart • James II was eventually deposed by William of Orange, his nephew
  41. 41. London Bridge London Bridge is broken down, Broken down, broken down. London Bridge is broken down, My fair lady. Take a key and lock her up, Lock her up, lock her up; Take a key and lock her up, My fair lady. How will we build it up, Build it up, Build it up; How will we build it up, My fair lady.
  42. 42. London Bridge • First published 1744 • An ‘arch’ rhyme & game – with similar rhymes across Europe • Could refer to a supposed destruction of the bridge by Vikings in 1014 • Or the perpetual rebuilding of the bridge through the years – (until the 18th century it was the only crossing of the Thames in London) • Could even refer to pagan belief that burying someone in the foundations of a building gave it protection… London Bridge is broken down, Broken down, broken down. London Bridge is broken down, My fair lady. Take a key and lock her up, Lock her up, lock her up; Take a key and lock her up, My fair lady. How will we build it up, Build it up, Build it up; How will we build it up, My fair lady.
  43. 43. Finally…. Today Child Psychologist’s promote the use of Nursery Rhymes: 1. They’re good for the brain, they teach children how language & rhyme works, they improve memory skills 2. They preserve a shared culture that is a long tradition spanning generations 3. They are a great group activity allowing children to grow in confidence about singing, dancing and performing 4. They’re fun to say… regardless of knowing any original meaning
  44. 44. 8 is the magic number
  45. 45. But….they are under threat The survival of Nursery Rhymes is in your hands! A survey in 2007 found: • 40% of parents under 30 couldn’t remember a single rhyme completely • 37% of parents admit they rarely sing to their young children • 87% of adults over 65 could remember at least one complete rhyme • So if you’re at the older end of the spectrum the future rests with you!
  46. 46. THANK YOU! IJBanks

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