Children's nursery rhymes reveal very sinister origins

Ring a ring o' rosies is apparently based on the Black Plague.
Ring a ring o' rosies is apparently based on the Black Plague.

Ever wondered what inspired your favourite nursery rhymes?

It's rumoured that a lot of our childhood jingles have been derived from certain sinister events of the past.


Typically thought to be about children dancing and singing around a rose bush, this nursery rhyme purportedly originates in the 1790s and is about the 'Black Death' or the 'Black Plague' of Europe.

Although there are varying versions of the rhyme, it's widely thought to reference the symptoms of the plague that claimed up to 200 million lives in the 1300s.

The "rosies" apparently refers to the red rash that was one of the symptoms of the plague, while the "posies" were small bouquets of flora that were kept in the pockets of the victims of the plague to keep the stench of the disease away.

Another symptom of the plague was sneezing, which is where the line "Atishoo, Atishoo" is thought to come from.

And of course "we all fall down" is quite self-explanatory.


This nursery rhyme is reportedly one of the grimmest.

The "Mary" in this children's story is said to be Mary Tudor, who was also known as 'Bloody Mary'.

As a devout Catholic, Queen Mary ordered the death of Protestants during her reign and her growing "garden" apparently refers to a growing graveyard.

The "silver bells and cockleshells" are also suspiciously the nicknames of torture devices of the time.


Coincidentally, this nursery rhyme also features former leading lady Bloody Mary.

Similar to "Mary Mary quite contrary," this tale also depicts her execution of Protestants during her time as queen.

This rhyme reportedly refers to three noblemen who were convicted of plotting against the ruler.

However, the rhyme got something wrong.

The "farmer's wife," referring to Mary, "cut off their tales with a carving knife," were in fact the three men were burnt at the stake. Same thing though, right?


Kilmersdon, a small village in England, claims to house the "hill" that Jack and Jill went to "fetch a pail of water" from.

According to this little village, the trivial legend of Jack and Jill, an unmarried couple, claims the pair went up the hill to have sex, with Jill falling pregnant at some point.

One day, Jack, the likely father of Jill's baby, was hit by a boulder and "broke his crown" (i.e. the rock hit his head and he died).

"And Jill came tumbling after," apparently depicts the theory that Jill died shortly after giving birth.

If you visit the village today, they've even got a path running up "the hill" with several stones quoting the rhyme to commemorate the supposed lovers.


This one may be a little obvious.

We all know what is meant by the term "black sheep".

Although scholars believe it refers to the wool tax of 1275, the use of the word "master" and the possible racial connotations have led some to ponder on whether this particular children's rhyme has some colonialist messages.

Other theories suggests the popular rhyme outlines class divisions, "one for the master, one for the dame, one for the little boy crying down the lane," referring to the upper class, the noble class and the poor.

The possible racist innuendo in "black sheep" has led to Victorian childcare centres changing the lyric to "Baa baa rainbow sheep" instead.


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