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Nursery rhymes played a large role in everyone’s childhood. We all know the classics; baa baa blacksheep, three blind mice etc. But some of our most beloved childhood songs have dark and disturbing origins.

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1. Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With cockle-shells and silver-bells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

This popular English nursery rhyme appears as if someone is admiring a ladys garden. However, this childrens song actually depicts Queen Mary I, a fiercely Catholic woman with a homicidal nature. (Also known as Bloody Mary.) Queen Mary’s reign, 1553 – 1558, is known for executions of hundreds of Protestants. Silver-bells and cockle-shells are actually known torture devices, not delicate garden ornaments.

2. Ring Around The Rosie
Ring around the rosie,
A pocket full of posies,
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all fall down.

This simple verse refers to the Great Plague of London of 1665.“The rosie” is the rash that covered the infected, which they attempted to cover up with “a pocket full of posies.” The great plague killed approximately 15% of the country’s population. “Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down” refers to the massive death toll that the country had experienced.


3. London Bridge is Falling Down
London Bridge is falling down,
Falling down, falling down.
London Bridge is falling down,
My fair lady.
Set a man to watch all night,
Watch all night, watch all night,
Set a man to watch all night,
My fair lady.
Suppose the man should fall asleep,
Fall asleep, fall asleep,
Suppose the man should fall asleep?
My fair lady.

There are many theories that surround the origin of this rhyme, however the most disturbing belief is that the song is about human sacrifice. Immurement is the “practice of entombing someone within a structure, where they slowly die from lack of food and water.” I hear you asking, why is this related to a nursery rhyme? Well many believed that the bridge’s structure would collapse unless a human sacrifice was buried within it’s foundations. Sounds far-fetched, right? However, think about the game that accompanies this song. Two children form an arch with their arms, while other children run underneath while they all sing. Whoever was under the children’s arms at the end of the song, would be trapped within the man-made arch. It’s pretty creepy now, huh?

4. Jack and 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.

The origin of this poem depicts the political downfall and public murder of France’s Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette. The two royals were convicted of treason during the French Revolution. As punishment, Louis XVI was beheaded (he lost his ‘crown’ ie, his throne and his head.) Shortly after, like Jill, Marie Antoinette’s head soon came tumbling after.


5. Georgie Porgie Pudding and Pie
Georgie Porgie pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry
When the boys came out to play,
Georgie Porgie ran away

George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, was a man of wealth. Villiers’ good looks have been well documented throughout history, along with his love for women. It is believed that Villiers would rape women, explaining why he made girls cry in the nursery rhyme. The husbands of these women had immense hatred and ill-will towards Villers. (Understandably) So we can see why Georgie Porgie ran away when the boys came out to play.

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