Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Plagues, murder, human sacrifice - this is  hardly the stuff of children's literature...or  

  • is it? Once you hear the dark messages behind  nursery rhymes that you thought you knew,  

  • you'll have to agree that Mother Goose  has earned a place alongside the world's  

  • greatest horror writers like Edgar Allen  Poe, Bram Stoker, and Stephen King.

  • Nursery rhymes may seem harmless or downright  cute to us today, but when you learn about the  

  • dark history behind some of the most famous and  enduring nursery rhymes, they sound less like  

  • adorable children's songs and more like gruesome  horror stories. From evil monarchs to public  

  • executions, deadly plagues to brutal murdersnursery rhymes are more than just background  

  • music for fun children's games - they are a living  record of some of the darkest moments in history.

  • Ring around the rosie A pocketful of posies 

  • Ashes, ashes We all fall down!

  • This catchy nursery rhyme from 1881 brings to  mind images of adorable children holding hands,  

  • singing and dancing in a circle until theyall  fall down”. It may seem like a harmless game,  

  • but this fun children's song actually  has a very dark story behind it.

  • The memorable rhyme is actually about  the great plague that hit London in 1665  

  • and killed up to 15% of the entire population  of the city. The rosie refers to the painful  

  • and highly visible rash that was the hallmark  symptom of the plague. Death and disease were so  

  • rampant in the crowded city that citizens took to  filling their pockets with sweet-smelling flowers,  

  • like posies, to cover up the stench of death  that was everywhere. And the mention of ashes  

  • is a reference to the thousands of bodies of  plague victims that were unceremoniously burned  

  • in an attempt to prevent the spread of the  disease and to clear the city of the piles of  

  • bodies of victims. There's definitely more to this  children's song and game than it first appears!

  • The often brutal reality of life in London  has inspired more than one dark poem,  

  • and it's not just plagues that  provided dark foder for nursery rhymes.

  • London Bridge is falling down, Falling down, falling down

  • London Bridge is falling down, My fair lady.

  • Don't let the catchy tune of this classic  nursery rhyme fool you - there's an incredibly  

  • dark history behind London Bridge's sweet melodyThe rhyme was penned in 1744, and was allegedly  

  • written about a Viking attack on London in  the early 1000s. According to legend, a group  

  • of Vikings under King Olaf the Second of Norway  stormed the city and destroyed the iconic bridge,  

  • but there is much debate among scholars over  whether this attack ever actually happened.  

  • Even if the story of a violent Viking  attack turns out to be nothing but legend,  

  • there is more darkness behind London Bridge that  might be even more brutal than a Viking invasion.  

  • The real dark message behind the London Bridge  nursery rhyme is actually one of human sacrifice.  

  • At the time of the bridge's construction, it  was widely believed that burying bodies in  

  • the foundations of buildings was a surefire way  to keep the structure standing. The bodies were  

  • thought to add strength to the structure, and  the spirits of the dead would also watch over  

  • the bridge in death. Even worse, the sacrificed  people - many of them children - were rumoured  

  • to have been immured in the walls, meaning they  were entombed within the foundations while they  

  • were alive, and slowly died from lack of food  and water after the walls had been bricked up.  

  • This brings a whole new level of darkness to the  children's game that often accompanies the rhyme.  

  • 2 children will form an arch with  their arms to represent the bridge,  

  • while others will take turns walking  under the bridge - when the song ends,  

  • the bridge falls and the children drop their arms  - the last person to walk under the bridge finds  

  • themselves trapped within the walls, just  like the human sacrifices of the legend.

  • Human sacrifice is certainly  dark, but one family had so  

  • much darkness in their history that they  inspired multiple dark nursery rhymes.

  • Mary, Mary, quite contrary How does your garden grow

  • With silver bells and cockleshells And pretty maids all in a row.

  • This sweet and harmless sounding rhyme from 1744  is actually about a very dark subject - Mary the  

  • First of England, also known to history as Bloody  Mary. She was the first woman to rule England in  

  • her own right, and though her reign was short, it  was brutal and bloody. Mary's father, King Henry  

  • the 8th, had split with the Catholic church over  the Church's refusal to grant him a divorce from  

  • Mary's mother, Catherine - the first of his  eventual 6 wives. A staunch Catholic herself,  

  • when Mary took the throne she set about  reversing her father's religious reforms,  

  • and exacting her revenge for his horrific  treatment of her mother. During her short reign,  

  • Mary made it illegal to practice a different  religion than the monarch, and brutally tortured  

  • anyone who refused to convert to CatholicismUnder Mary's rule, hundreds of heretics were  

  • burned alive at the stake for their religious  beliefs. The silver bells and cockleshells in the  

  • rhyme may sound like beautiful flowers or harmless  gardening instruments, but in reality they were  

  • actually medieval torture devices rumored to  have been used on heretics under Mary's orders.

  • Bloody Mary's reign was so brutal that it  inspired more than one dark nursery rhyme,  

  • including this one from 1805:

  • 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 thing in your life, As three blind mice?

  • The 3 mice in the rhyme were thought to beprominent Protestant bishops - Hugh Latimer,  

  • Nicholas Radley and the Archbishop of Canterbury  Thomas Cranmer. These formerly powerful men  

  • not only refused to convert to Catholicism under  Mary's brutal rule, but they also actively plotted  

  • to overthrow her. Their plot was discovered and  the 3 religious men were charged with treason  

  • and burned alive at the stake. Their executions  were some of the most high-profile of the many,  

  • many brutal executions doled out during Mary's  reign. For years after their killings, rumours  

  • swirled that Mary had also had the men dismembered  and blinded before death, and though that was  

  • later proven to be false, the legend stuck and the  men would be forever known as the 3 blind mice.

  • If you thought Mary was bad, you only have to look  at her family tree to see where she got it from.  

  • Another popular nursery rhyme from 1805 was  based on the dark deeds of Mary's own father's.

  • Old Mother Hubbard Went to the cupboard 

  • To get her poor doggie a bone, When she got there 

  • The cupboard was bare So the poor little doggie had none.

  • This rhyme may seem benign and wholesome, but it's  actually a potent example of the terrible wrath  

  • of King Henry the 8th. Apparently, Old Mother  Hubbard wasn't a woman at all - the character  

  • was actually a mockery of Cardinal Thomas Wolseythe Catholic priest who refused to help King Henry  

  • get an annulment from his first wife, Mary's  mother, so that he could marry his mistress,  

  • Anne Boleyn. Wolsey's refusal to help Henry get  the annulment he so desperately wanted led to  

  • Wolsey's political downfall and Henry's eventual  split from the Catholic church, forever changing  

  • religious life in England and around the worldThe story is especially dark when you realize  

  • that Henry went to all this trouble only to have  his marriage to Anne last for a mere 3 years  

  • before he had her beheaded for treason so  that he could marry the 3rd of his 6 wives.

  • Mary's brutal persecution  of heretics is legendary,  

  • but here too she took a page out of her  father's books. This 1784 rhyme paints a  

  • disturbing picture of how Catholics were treated  under her father, King Henry. There's no denying  

  • that Mary certainly learned a thing or two from  him in her later persecution of Protestants.

  • 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

  • Henry's rage over the Catholic church's refusal  to grant him a divorce played out in a brutal,  

  • bloody war on the devout Catholics still living  in England at the time of its split from the  

  • Catholic church. With persecution of Catholics at  an all-time high, many devout Catholics took to  

  • creatingpriest's holesin their homes, small  hidden rooms no bigger than a closet where they  

  • could hide to have their priests perform  Catholic mass and say their Latin prayers.  

  • If caught, they could face torture or even  death for their heresy. The narrator in the  

  • poem meets an old man who won't say his  prayers, which is probably a reference to  

  • discovering a hidden Catholic priest who  refused to pray in English. The narrator  

  • brags about throwing the man down the stairs, a  colloquial term for having someone put to death.

  • Henry and Mary are far from the only  monarchs to have inspired nursery rhymes  

  • with their lurid and sometimes dark deeds.

  • Georgie Porgie pudding and pie, Kissed the girls and made them cry 

  • When the boys came out to play, Georgie Porgie ran away.

  • The Georgie from this silly-sounding rhyme  from 1841 is thought to be a reference to  

  • George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham  and a beloved friend of King James the 1st.  

  • The two men were so close, in fact, that Villiers  was rumored to actually be James' long-time lover.  

  • While there's no hard proof of their romantic  relationship, it was certainly no secret  

  • that James favored Villiers, and showered him  with land, titles and money during his reign.  

  • This, combined with Villers' reputation asladies man who had frequent dalliances with  

  • married women - sometimes against their willearned him the hatred of the other men at court,  

  • and eventually led to him being  stabbed to death in a local pub.

  • Naughty royals certainly make good fodder  for dark nursery rhymes, but sometimes the  

  • real story behind a gruesome rhyme is actually  less dark than the rumours that surround it.

  • 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.

  • This rhyme has long been rumored to be about  France's King Louis the 16th and his wife  

  • Marie Antoinette, who lost their crowns - and  their heads - in the French Revolution of 1793.  

  • But the rhyme, written in 1765, actually  predates their executions by a good 30 years.  

  • Scholars agree that it's more likely about King  Charles the 1st's attempt to reform the tax on  

  • liquids. When Parliament rejected his proposal, he  retaliated by reducing the volume of half pints,  

  • known as Jacks, and quarter  pints, commonly called Gills.

  • In yet another royal-inspired nursery rhyme,  

  • lurid rumors about 2 English monarchs have  been passed on from generation to generation.

  • Rock-a-bye baby, in the tree top. When the wind blows, the cradle will rock

  • When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall. And down will come Baby, cradle and all.

  • This sweet song is no wholesome lullaby. It's  actually rumored to be about King James the 2nd of  

  • England and his wife, Mary of Modena. In 1630,  they announced the long-awaited birth of their son  

  • Charles. After years of difficult pregnancies and  the death of at least 5 of their infant children,  

  • England at last had a Catholic heir  to the throne. The trouble was,  

  • it was widely believed that the boy  was not actually their son at all.  

  • Rumors spread far and wide that the boy who  was now a Prince had not been born of James and  

  • his wife, but had actually been snuck into the  birthing room and passed off as their own son.  

  • Whatever the truth of his birth, Charles went on  to become one of England's most popular kings,  

  • earning himself the nickname of the Merry  Monarch for his lively and indulgent court life.

  • Many nursery rhymes are not what they seem,  

  • but the story of the origin of this  rhyme will certainly come as a surprise.

  • Here we go round the mulberry bush

  • The mulberry bush, The mulberry bush

  • Here we go round the mulberry bush So early in the morning.

  • This simple rhyme is often part  of an amusing game for children,  

  • but it actually has dark, sinister rootsAccording to a former governor of England's  

  • notorious 420 year old Wakefield prison, the song  should not be credited to Mother Goose - rather,  

  • it was created by the prison's female prisoners  in the 1840s. The prisoners took their daily  

  • exercise outside under strict supervisionwalking round and round a mulberry tree  

  • in the prison yard, and they invented the  song to liven up their monotonous routine.

  • Nursery rhymes are truly more than  just child's play - now that you know  

  • the dark messages behind nursery rhymesthese merry songs will never be the same!

  • If you thought this video was fascinatingbe sure and check out our other videos,  

  • like this one calledHow Disney Sanitized Fairy  Tales That Were Originally Horror Stories”,  

  • or perhaps you'll like this other video instead.

Plagues, murder, human sacrifice - this is  hardly the stuff of children's literature...or  

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B2 rhyme nursery dark catholic henry brutal

Actual Dark Messages Behind Nursery Rhymes

  • 21 3
    Summer posted on 2021/05/12
Video vocabulary