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Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes - not as nonsensical and innocent as you think

Early illustration of Mother Goose.

Early illustration of Mother Goose.

"Humpty Dumpty," probably one of our most favorite and well known of the nursery rhymes read to us as children.

"Humpty Dumpty," probably one of our most favorite and well known of the nursery rhymes read to us as children.

Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes

For much of our childhoods we were read and learned our first rhymes from Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes. We identified with "Georgie Porgie, " "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary," "Humpty Dumpty," and "Jack and Jill," just to name a few.

I remember my sister and I sitting on my Dad's lap as he read these nursery rhymes to us over and over again. We never tired over them and both wanted the Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes book when we left home. My sister won the coin toss and so the book went with here. Good thing, because she had three children who enjoyed the same rhymes when their grandpa read to them.

But, when did Mother Goose emerge as the traditional image of children's nursery rhymes? Who invented her? And, what is the true meaning of those simple nonsensical rhymes? As children, we accepted Mother Goose rhymes for face value. But, today, we know they were not just nonsensical ditties but political statements of the time.

In the days when one could literally loose one's head for talking against the crown or monarchy, the clever and creative people of the 17th and 18th centuries, made up these rhymes they could say aloud and in public without the subjects of the rhymes knowing they were about them and in protest about something in political life.

What we consider nonsensical rhymes for children today, were actually strong statements, parodies and satires of the times. Rhymes were easy to remember and pass down by word of mouth from generation to generation and those who were illiterate had a way of being part of the discourse even though they could not write or read the political pamphlets of the day.

Therefore, Mother Goose Rhymes are more important than originally thought today.

And, today, no one knows for sure who Mother Goose was or was originated after, or when she arrived, or where she was from.

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The Origin of Mother Goose

Old Mother Goose
When she wanted to wander
Would fly through the air
On a very fine gander.

Mother Goose had a house;
It stood in the wood
Where an owl at the door
As sentinel stood.

This is the only rhyme in which Mother Goose herself is a character out of all the Mother Goose rhymes created and written in the 17th and 18th centuries. Her figure is an imaginary author of a collection of fairy tales and nursery rhymes.

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Most of the time, she is depicted in literature and book illustrations as an elderly country woman in a tall hat and shawl that was a costume identical to the peasant costume worn in Wales in the early 20th century.

Sometimes she is depicted as a goose and usually wearing a bonnet. Mother Goose is given the name of the archetypal country woman.

English readers were already familiar with Mother Hubbard, a stock figure or character that Edmund Spenser created in 1590, for his satire, Mother Hubbard's Tale.

So, Mother Goose is credited with the Mother Goose stories and rhymes; yet no specific writer has ever been identified with such a name or being the originator of the character.

By 1650, the term Mother Goose was already familiar as a household term and name. Frenchman Jean Loret's La Muse Historique mentions comme un conte de la Mere Oye, which means "like a Mother Goose story". Other references to mere l'oye or mere oye occur in earlier French writings.

In Les satyres de Sainte-Regnier (1626), a compilation of satires does mention un conte d'Urgande et de ma mere l'Oye.

And, Guy de la Brosse (1628) in his writing, De la nature, vertu et utilite de plantes, also mentions contes de la mere oye.

These are just a few among others that allude to Mother Goose in their writings. As seen here, the first mentions of Mother Goose come from the French and Frenchmen Charles Perrault, who introduced the fairy tale genre to western literature and who also makes mention to her in his fairy tale collection.

The first known collection of Nursery Rhymes was Tommy Thumb's Song Book published in 1744 in England. John Carnan published the first book of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes (1780) in England.

It seems though that everyone wants to take credit for originating Mother Goose and that includes America. Despite evidence to the contrary, America has claimed to have invented the original Mother Goose.

Boston, Massachusetts, claims Mother Goose as her own creation, and includes her in their tourist sights and scenes. It is said that the original Mother Goose was a Bostonian wife of an Issac Goose, either named Elizabeth Foster Goose (1665-1758) of Mary Goose (d. 1690 age 42) who is buried at the Granary Burying Ground on Tremont Street and shown to tourists today.

These reports, however are doubtful according to historians. But, Eleanor Early, a Boston travel and history writer of the 1930's and 40's, claims the original Mother Goose was a real person who lived in Boston in the 1660's. She was reportedly the second wife of Issac Goose who brought six children of her own to ad to Issac's ten children.

After Issac's death, Elizabeth lived with her daughter who's husband, Thomas Fleet, was a publisher who lived on Pudding Lane (now Devonshire Street) According to Early, "Mother Goose" (Elizabeth) used to sing songs and ditties to her grandchildren all day and to other children who gathered to hear them.

Finally, Thomas, her son-in-law, gathered together her songs, rhymes and jingles and published them.

Writer, Katherine Elwes Thomas, author of The Real Personages of Mother Goose (1930) has said the Mother Goose images may be based on the ancient legends of the wife of King Robert II of France.

In concordance with Thomas, the character in Berthe la fileuse (Bertha the Spinner) or Berthe pied d'oie (Goose-Foot Bertha) is often referred to in French legends as spinning incredible tales that engaged and enchanted children.

Iona Opie, considered the authority on the Mother Goose tradition, does not give credence to either Elwes, Thomas nor the Boston suppositions. Instead she looks at Charles Perrault, father of the literary fair tale genre, who published in 1695, Contes de ma mere l'Oye or Tales of My Mother Goose. According to Opie his publication marked the first authenticated starting point for Mother Goose stories.

Interesting, the first public appearance of Mother Goose stories and rhymes in America was in Worchester, Massachusetts where Isaiah Thomas reprinted Histories of Tales of Past Times, Told by Mother Goose (Robert Sambels-1729) and published them in 1786.

John Newbery, also, was once believed to have published a compilation of English nursery rhymes entitled Mother Goose's Melody some time in the 1760's, but the first edition was probably published in 1780 or '81 by Thomas Carnan, one of Newbery's successors. Therefore, the name "Mother Goose" has been associated in the English speaking world, with children's poetry ever since.

One of the Christmas traditions of England is the pantomime performance of Mother Goose rhymes each year. The first pantomime of Mother Goose was at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London in December 1806.

In 1837, John Bellenden Ker Gawler published a book deriving the origin of the Mother Goose rhymes from Flemish (Dutch) puns.

It seems to me that Mother Goose anonymously originated in France, and has delighted and entertained children from Europe and America for many years. Mother Goose is such a delightful character that many want to take credit for her. I can't blame them, because I was always entertained and enchanted by these rhymes.

But, while I took the rhymes at face value, the rhymes really did have a message to convey back in the day they were originally created and written. Who knew that these funny little rhymes could carry the impact of a political statement or satire on a particular situation? See the rhymes below to understand the true meaning of these rhymes we know so well.


Ba Ba 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.[1]

Ba Ba Black Sheep (1731) is an English nursery rhyme and is really about the Great Custom, a tax on wool introduced in Britain in 1275. The use of the word "black" and the word "masters" have led some to wonder whether there was a racial message at its core.

In the latter part of the 20th century, some schools banned it from being read and/or repeated in the classroom because of its perceived racial message.

In 2011, reported on the use of Ba Ba Rainbow Sheep as an alternative to be repeated. Another case of political correctness run amok.


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.

Jack and Jill (1765) is one of the most popular nursery rhymes, and it too had a double meaning. Most common of the theories surrounding the rhyme's origin is that it was about France's Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette. Both were found guilty of treason and subsequently beheaded.

The only problem with this version is that these events took place nearly 30 years after Jack and Jill and was first written.

Another possibility is that it was an account of King Charles I and his attempt to reform the tax on liquid measure. When Parliament rejected his suggestion, he instead made sure that the liquid volume was reduced on half and quarter pints, known as jacks and gills.

Original medieval wood carving.

Original medieval wood carving.

London Bridge is Falling Down

London Bridge is falling down,

Falling down, falling down.

London Bridge is falling down,

My fair lady.[1]

It is believed this rhyme is about a 1014 Viking attack on London and child sacrifice. or it could be the normal deterioration of the bridge. The most popular theory is the first one about the Viking attack on the bridge,

It is alleged that the destruction of London Bridge was done by Olaff II of Norway some time in the 1000's. Today, historians are not even sure if the attack took place and it just might be legend about which this rhyme is known.

Here is the much darker theory - it is about child sacrifice used to build London Bridge. There is no archaeological evidence to support this theory, but builders believed London Bridge was built on a foundation of human sacrifice. Children were sacrificed and used as the foundation for the bridge and those children that were sacrificed would keep watch over the bridge and maintain its sturdiness.

This is more like the horror of a Stephen King novel.


Mary Mary Quite Contrary

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells, and cockle shells,

And pretty maids all in a row.[1]

This rhyme was originally published in Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book (1744. The word contrary was one way to describe a murderous psychopath. Although it reads like gardening advice, it really is a recounting of the homicidal nature of Queen Mary I of England also known as Bloody Mary.

Mary was a staunch Catholic who during her short reign as queen (1553 - 1558) executed hundreds of Protestants.

"Silver Bells and cockle shells" were torture devices, not garden flowers or accouterments, as used in this rhyme.


Three 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?[2]

Three Blind Mice (1805) is a nursery rhyme and a musical round as well. This is another rhyme about Bloody Mary's reign. The trio (three blind mice) are believed to be a group of Protestant bishops - Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Radley, and Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury.

All three men unsuccessfully conspired to overthrow Queen Mary and were burned at the stake for treason and heresy.

The blindness in the title refers to their Protestant religious beliefs.


Ring Around the Rosie

Ring around the rosie

Pocket full of posies

Ashes, Ashes,

We all fall down.

This is the one nursery rhyme (1881) that I did know the true meaning of over the years. In a sing-songy verse and holding hands with others and moving in a circle, this rhyme refers to the 1665 Black Plague of London.

"Rosie" is the rash that covered the bodies of those afflicted with the plague. "A pocket full of posies" were needed to cover up the smell/stench of disease and dead bodies all over London.

"Ashes, ashes, we all fall down" refers to nearly 15% of the London population that was killed by the black plague.


The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe

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;

Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

This rhyme (1797) is really a story of naughty children who go around murdering the elderly. At first glance, it looks like a poverty-stricken woman is trying to provide food and discipline to her children.

When the lights go out, the next stanzas take a creepy turn and tell of the children's revenge on the old woman by killing her. Thus, the children are free of the old woman and her harsh discipline.

Does this resonate in times today when there are many children who murder their parents for various reasons, sometimes the reason being the harsh treatment they receive from their parents?

In Closing

The secret history of nursery rhymes reflect actual events in history and over the years the secret meanings have been lost. As the reader can see, the nursery rhyme was used to parody the royal and political events and people of the day.

The humble rhyme was used as an innocent vehicle to quickly spread subversive messages that if spoken plainly out loud would be cause for treason and ultimately death. The rhyme allowed free speech in a day when any remark against a monarchy would mean losing one's head.

A rhyme is short, sing-songy and easy to remember and easy to verbally pass down from generation to generation. And, thank heavens for that, because today we have the rhymes to read and sing to the children of today.

Not every single rhyme we know today had a secret meaning. But, these are just a few examples of nursery rhymes that do have double meanings.

Note: Watch the video below made by Disney Studios that explains more nursery rhymes and their secret meaning.



The Truth About Mother Goose - Disney Studios


Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 17, 2014:

MsDora: Thank you so much and I am glad you enjoyed reading this. The nursery rhymes certainly are so much more interesting when we know the double meanings of them. Thanks for your visit and interest. Much appreciated.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on October 17, 2014:

I thoroughly appreciate this article. I had heard that there were double meanings to these nursery rhymes, but never had such informative interpretations. Thanks a bunch!

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 04, 2014:

Mekenzie: I am so glad you enjoyed reading this and how cool to share this with your granddaughter. I was surprised at the number of nursery rhymes that have double meanings. Many more than I realized. It is kind of ingenious of the people of those times to be clever enough to think up these subversive rhymes and then just say - oh, it's a nonsense rhyme for the kiddies. Pretty astute.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on October 04, 2014:

rdsparrowriter: Thanks so much and I am glad you enjoyed it. I knew some nursery rhymes had some double meanings but I didn't know just how many do. That was a surprise to me too. Nearly every nursery rhyme has a double meaning. I only gave a few examples here, but there are many more. It is really surprising and interesting.

Susan Ream from Michigan on October 02, 2014:

suzette, thanks for a trip down memory lane but with eyes wide open to hidden messages. This was the coolest read. I had fun watching the Mother Goose video you posted with my granddaughter.

Great pictures and well written!


Rochelle Ann De Zoysa from Moratuwa, Sri Lanka on September 28, 2014:

Wow! What a great article :) Learnt a lot which I had no idea about it before ... :)

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on September 27, 2014:

ris8994: Aren't these rhymes a hoot? Especially when we learn of their true meanings. I am so pleased that you enjoyed reading this and there are many more rhymes with a double meaning. I didn't have room to do all of them as these are just a few examples. Thanks so much for your comments.

rls8994 from Mississippi on September 21, 2014:

Oh my, those bad childred of "The Woman Who Lived In A Shoe!" Never knew these supposedly "sweet" little nursey rhymes had other meanings lol. This was so interesting to read and you did such a great job explaining each one! :)

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on September 14, 2014:

Hi Kim: I am busy downsizing and getting ready to move and haven't been on HP very regularly lately. How are you? Thanks so much for reading this. It was such fun to write. I love you comment and I wish I had your poetic rhythm and rhyme. I am so pleased you enjoyed this. Thanks for stopping by!

ocfireflies from North Carolina on September 10, 2014:


As always a hub done just right

with info and pics for all a delight

Hope you are well and have thought of you often. Thumbs Way up and Sharing all around.


Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on September 05, 2014:

Chitrangada: Thank you so much for your visit and I do agree with you. The rhyming and gestures as you say were important to children's development. I think the other meanings from the medieval times and the plague are interesting to know about today as we can really appreciate the freedom of speech it provided for people back then. That really amazes me.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on September 05, 2014:

DealForALiving: Thank you so much for your comments. I did know about Ring Around the Rosie from studying medieval times and the plague, but the other rhymes and their secret meanings were a surprise to me. I am so pleased you enjoyed reading this and thanks for your visit.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on September 05, 2014:

Thank you Audrey. I am so pleased you enjoyed reading this and have passed it on. I appreciate your visit!

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on September 05, 2014:

Hi Maria: Yes, this hub became fascinating to me too as I realized the secret meanings to so many of these rhymes. There are many more with other meanings than what we figured as children. Thanks so much for your votes and share. I appreciate your input.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on September 05, 2014:

Dianna: Thank you so much for your insightful comments. Who knew about the other meanings to these rhymes when we recited them as a child? The only one I knew that had a double meaning was Ring Around the Rosie. But, the others were a surprise to me when I started researching this. There are many more rhymes with a secret meaning but I couldn't include them all or the hub would have gone on forever! LOL! Thanks so much for your visit and comments Most appreciated.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on September 02, 2014:

This hub is a sweet reminder of my childhood days and when my kids were young. I enjoyed singing along with my kids as much as they did, without caring about the meaning. It was the rhyme and the rhythm and the gestures by the children that was important.

So nice of you to write a well researched article on these nursery rhymes. I learnt so much from your hub. Voted up!

Nick Deal from Earth on September 01, 2014:

Oh my goodness this was an eye opener! Who knew about ring around the rosie?

Audrey Howitt from California on September 01, 2014:

This was fascinating! Sending it around!!

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on September 01, 2014:

Hi Suzette,

Glad I am learning these fascinating, but darker, double meanings behind favorite childhood nursery rhymes at this age!

As I look at the illustrations you have provided in this excellent and well-researched piece, the characters look so menacing and nefarious... I had never tuned into that before your eye-opening work.

Voted UP and UABI and sharing. Hugs, Maria

Dianna Mendez on August 31, 2014:

I have heard of some of the stories behind these rhymes. I remember saying them as a child at school and home. It is the sing-song tune that brings a sense of wonder to the poetry, without delving into the meaning behind the verse. I'm sure there are a few I would not have repeated had I known this information back then. However, we have to appreciate the history behind them and value the people who creatively disguised it within the lines. Your post is challenging and one that I enjoyed reading.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 30, 2014:

Ally: Yes, you are so right. I think it probably was the easiest thing to portray as falling apart and being so fragile. I think whoever thought that one up was brilliant and I wonder of he/she ever thought we would be reciting Humpty Dumpty in the 21st century? Thanks so much for your input and insight.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 30, 2014:

heidithorne: Thanks so much for your visit and interest. To think children back then recited these but probably never knew of the secret meanings. The parents must of had quite a laugh to know their children were repeating subversive and dark meanings. Even so, these rhymes are so creative and they were fun to learn as children. Thanks so much for your comments.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 30, 2014:

rebecca: Well, I was surprised to find out how many had hidden meanings. I knew about Ring Around the Rosie, but that was all. These other rhymes completely surprised me. But, how clever of people back then to do this. It does make me laugh when I realize what they really mean; that is all except London Bridge. That one is frightening and quite a horror. Thanks so much for your visit. Most appreciated.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 30, 2014:

CMHypno: You are so right! What a clever way of maintaining their freedom of speech. A silly child's rhyme that could give a political punch. I found this so interesting myself as I researched it. Here I thought I would be writing about some simple but entertaining rhymes and had no idea what meaning I would really find. It was as much a surprise to me as all of you. Thanks so much for your visit and your comments. Most appreciated.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 30, 2014:

Leslie: Thank you so much and I am honored that you would pin this to your Teacher's Page. I found this article particularly interesting and had no idea so many of these rhymes had a double meaning. Thanks so much for your visit and comments. Most appreciated.

Ally Lewis on August 28, 2014:

So cute! I think it's interesting that we think of Humpty Dumpty as an egg, when the nursery rhyme doesn't even say that he's something other than human. And that association just stuck. But great information!

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on August 27, 2014:

I knew that many tales and rhymes were satirical or dark in nature, but now it appears much darker than I had expected. And it's curious that they would be recited to and by children. Yikes! Interesting stuff. Voted up and interesting!

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on August 27, 2014:

Interesting! I've never heard that Mother Goose rhymes had hidden meanings. I learned something here!

CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on August 27, 2014:

Fascinating stuff Suzette. It really is interesting that no matter how dangerous we humans can find a way to communicate our beliefs and say how we feel.

Leslie A. Shields from Georgia on August 26, 2014:

Thanks for the in-depth information... pinning it to my Teacher's Page

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 26, 2014:

Timetraveler2: Yep! Pretty intelligent to find a way to have freedom of speech and at the same time keep their heads. LOL! Who knew what these really meant when we were reciting them as kids.

Sondra Rochelle from USA on August 26, 2014:

Pretty clever of them to do things that way, methinks!

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 26, 2014:

Timetraveler2: Yes, some of the rhymes I found were sexual in nature but I did not include them here on HP. I had not heard that about "one, two buckle my shoe," but it doesn't surprise me in the least. One rhyme, the name escapes me now, was actually about a gay scandal that happened in English Charles I reign and royal court. So, this was another way to talk about the scandal and keep your head at the same time. LOL! Thanks so much for you astute input and for reading this.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 26, 2014:

Susanna: I think you are right in your assessment there. I, too, believe that is the representation of the black sheep. Thanks so much for your astute input on these rhymes.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 26, 2014:

Kaili: It was surprising to me too. I knew the history behind Ring Around the Rosie, but the other ones surprised me. But, I have to admire the people back then for finding a way to state their opinions and have freedom of speech through these double meaning rhymes. It does make Mother Goose so interesting.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on August 25, 2014:

Great revelations here and if only one had known that in early childhood. You have done a perfect research and so much to think about here.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 25, 2014:

ecogranny: I am glad to hear all is well with you. The news reports are showing a lot of damage in downtown Napa. Roads nearby are cracked and buckled and we have seen burning homes. I guess it was fortunate it came in the middle if the night. What a way to wake up. LOL. I did experience an earthquake in Ohio many years ago but it was quite mild. Yes, there is a fault line in NE Ohio and a felt the earth shake and the house swayed back and forth but here was not any damage. I hope the wine survives the earthquake. LOL! Thanks so much for letting me know you are doing well!

Sondra Rochelle from USA on August 25, 2014:

I have also heard that some of these children's rhymes are sexual in nature. One that comes to mind is "one, two buckle your shoe," etc. which some have construed as meaning take your shoes off, shut the door, have intercourse and finally get pregnant (the big fat hen). Makes sense, but I am not sure now if that is true.

Susanna Duffy from Melbourne Australia on August 25, 2014:

The black sheep is a scab.

Kaili Bisson from Canada on August 25, 2014:

Fascinating suzette. I had heard the background on a couple of these previously, but most were new to me. Wow...not so innocent at all!

Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on August 25, 2014:

suzettenaples, you're welcome, and you are so kind to ask. Here in San Francisco, the earthquake woke us up and, had anyone seen us, we undoubtedly looked like deer in the headlights for the duration, but neither we nor any family members or friends were injured. I am waiting to hear about any property damage from family and friends with homes in the Napa area who were out of town over the weekend. My heart and prayers are with the hundreds coping with injuries and/or loss of their homes and possessions. We all feel such gratitude, too, that it happened at night, for Napa was expecting thousands in its hard-hit downtown for a big festival yesterday.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 25, 2014:

MelRootsNWrites: Thank you so much for your visit and comments. Ring Around the Rosie is the only one I knew that had a double meaning too. I was quite surprised to find out many of the rhymes, although not all, had double meanings. Of course, as children we just took them at face value. It is interesting now, to know the truth behind some of these. I am so pleased you enjoyed reading this.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 25, 2014:

ecogranny: First and foremost, how are you? We have news of the earthquake that happened yesterday and I hope you and yours are all okay and not experiencing much damage to your home. Those are scary things! Thank you so much for reading this and I appreciate your input. These rhymes are amazing and until I did the research I didn't realize so many of them had more than one meaning. I am so pleased you enjoyed reading this and thank you for your visit.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 25, 2014:

John: Thanks so much for your insightful comments. I would love to know how Mother Goose really got started but I think it is a mystery of which we will never know the answer. I was surprised when I did the research and found out that these rhymes had more than one meaning. I always, of course, took them at face value. Thanks so much for reading this and I am so pleased you enjoyed it.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 25, 2014:

tirelesstraveler: That is a great suggestion as to how the Mother Goose rhymes came about. I find it interesting that Mother Goose started in France, but so many of the rhymes were English and were about English politics. I also find it interesting that America, especially Boston, try to take credit for Mother Goose, again when most of the rhymes are from England. Anyway, Mother Goose is probably one of those mysteries for which we will never have an answer.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 25, 2014:

travmaj: LOL! You are a hoot! I love your comments and you certainly did know more about these rhymes than I did when I started writing this hub. I, of course, just took these rhymes at face value. I felt sorry for Jack and Jill who fell down the hill and bumped their noggins. Humpty Dumpty is an interesting story also. I just accepted the fact that cows jumped over moons in fairy tale and nursery rhyme worlds. What did I know? Thanks so much for your insightful comments and so well told.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 25, 2014:

Lizzy: You were smarter and more aware than the rest of us. LOL! I commend you for not reading these to your children. Good question - which came first the goose or the egg? LOL! And what you say about Mother Goose upon the gander . . . well, I'll leave that to everyone's imagination. Thanks so much for your insightful comments and I'm glad you enjoyed this.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 25, 2014:

Well, Nell, that was not my intention as I was just as surprised about the true meaning of some of these rhymes. I am especially horrified of the rhyme, "London Bridge." To suggest child human sacrifice to build the foundation of the bridge is just about beyond my acceptance. The only rhyme I knew the true meaning was "Ring around the Rosie." The rest of these were a surprise to me even Mary, Mary Quite Contrary. I never would have thought to associate that with Bloody Mary although I was quite aware of her reign and her hatred of Protestants. And Three Blind Mice also being about Queen Mary was a surprise to me to. So, when I researched Mother Goose I was just as surprised as the rest of you! LOL! Sorry to burst your bubble! And, so many of these rhymes were English.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 25, 2014:

Linda: some of these are shocking especially "London Bridge." I can't even image suggesting a child human sacrifice to build the foundation of the bridge. How gruesome! Thanks so much for reading and for your comments.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 25, 2014:

Brite-Ideas: I think your analogy to the telephone game is a good one. I think as these were passed down they were changed a bit because there are several versions for some of these rhymes. I included the versions I knew and recited as a child. Thanks so much for you visit and your insight.

Melody Lassalle from California on August 25, 2014:

I've always felt some of the classic poems, rhymes, and songs were a bit harsh. I taught them to my nieces and nephew none-the-less. I hadn't thought of them having double meanings though.

I did know about the origin of Ring Around the Rosie. We thought it was so much fun. Now that I know the story it seems like a sad song to be laughing to. A bit macabre.

Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on August 25, 2014:

Thank you for sharing this history of the Mother Goose rhymes. I too read them to my children over and over when they were little. My grandchildren, however, have never been interested in the stories. They opt every time, since babes in arms, for other books.

About the old woman who lived in the shoe, I have often thought this was a story of poverty and possibly of abuse. As a child, although I thought murder extreme, I understood why the children wanted to get away from her and her nightly beatings. My mom offered a more charitable explanation of the old woman's reasoning, but it always remained, as so many of the rhymes did, a rather scary story to contemplate.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on August 25, 2014:

Another wonderful hub about the history of nursery rhymes Suzette. I often wondered where Mother Goose originated and though still not sure, it seems like Boston is as good a possibility, if only because of the name "Goose". I knew most nursery rhymes were political commentary at the time, but the actual real stories are quite shocking.

Thanks for sharing, voted up.

Judy Specht from California on August 24, 2014:

Could Mother Goose have been, like Carolyn Keen, a series of writers all writing under the same name? Excellent article.

travmaj from australia on August 24, 2014:

Fascinating - yes I was aware of many of the Mother Goose origins, Ring a Rosie, Mary Mary, etc... However, I didn't know as a child when they were so much a part of my life. Still love the rhyme and rhythm - stunning really they resonate still. And unlikely I'll ever to forget the words.

Looking back when I accepted them on face value I wasn't at all fazed by the reality of blind mice having tails so chopped off, so cruel. Of Jack breaking his head and poor old Jill on the way down too. And children being whipped soundly - we chanted and skipped and sang and never had nightmares.

Poor old Humpty Dumpty too - Seems he may have been a cannon in Colchester during the civil war. Or he was Richard the third –who fell of his horse in battle and got hacked to pieces. Whatever, poor old Humpty, I adored him. He's always portrayed smiling. Even when he can't be put back together.

Thank you for this most absorbing, piece. so informative and also bringing back so many memories.

Not long ago I found one of those saucy postcards that portrayed the old women and the shoe - The message read - 'There was an old woman who lived in a shoe. She had so many children she didn't know what to do. Apparently!' Whoops, a modern interpretation.

Oh dear, I'm supposed to be packing a suitcase and now I'm suddenly concerned about the cow jumping over the moon - better look later. Thanks again - Maj

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on August 24, 2014:

I've known for some time that these rhymes were not all that innocent. I didn't really read them to my kids.

Let me see...the 'black sheep' .. I've heard a variation ending, "...and none for the naughty boy who lives down the lane."

Jills/Gills.. hmm... perhaps, then, "..broke his crown," might refer to an uprising against the crown (king) .. a breakage in value of the crown (monetary unit).

As for the one rhyme featuring "Ms. Goose" herself "...upon the gander,"...that might almost be construed as "R" rated, for after all, the Gander is the male Goose!

LOL--so, it's a matter of, "which came first, the Goose or the egg?" ;-)

Voted up and interesting.

Nell Rose from England on August 24, 2014:

lol! you know how to ruin our childhood memories don't you? no, honestly this is great! I did know about a few of them especially ring around the rosie, but not mary mary! yes Queen mary was evil, there were bonfires all over london when she was burning Catholics, then Protestants and so on, great read and fantastic hub Suzette! voted up and shared, nell

LindaSmith1 from USA on August 24, 2014:

oh yes suzettenaples! Truly shocking!

Barbara Tremblay Cipak from Toronto, Canada on August 24, 2014:

The nursery rhymes became like a game of telephone - it starts as one thing then morphs into something completely different - (I shouldn't laugh of course, but it struck me funny a bit!)

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 24, 2014:

Faith: Isn't this an eye opener? I had no idea so many of the rhymes had rather dark meanings behind them. If kids knew what these rhymes really meant, they would be scared to death. These are real horror stories. Not all the rhymes have such a dark side to them and how clever of those living in the 17th century to think up these double meaning rhymes.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on August 24, 2014:

Hi Suzzette,

I knew nursery rhymes had double meanings, but not to so much of the dark side! Yikes on the London Bridges and The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe ... I would like to look up the second verse just to see about them murdering her.

It is a fascinating history here as to the political side. Now, I have something to ponder when I am reciting or reading nursery rhymes to my grands.

Hope you are having a lovely Sunday.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 24, 2014:

Paula: LOL! Who knew we were being subversive by reciting these silly rhymes. Yes, what were our parents teaching us by reading Mother Goose to us. It is a wonder we are not forever scarred by these stories.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 24, 2014:

Jaye, you and me both were in for a surprise. I was surprised to find this out too. Nursery rhymes are so sweet, funny, and sing-songy that it is hard to believe they had such dark meanings. Mother Goose has taken on a whole new meaning for me now. Thanks for your input.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 24, 2014:

Kevin: Thanks for reading and for your comments. I, too, was surprised by all the nursery rhymes that have a nefarious meaning to them. Who knew when we were reciting these we were really being subversive? LOL! Although, the creators of these nursery rhymes were quite clever and creative in pursuing and keeping their freedom of speech. You have to admire them, but yikes, they could be gruesome!

Suzie from Carson City on August 24, 2014:

Ahhhh...."No thanks, Mom, I'll skip the Mother Goose tonight. Maybe I'll just watch an episode of CRIMINAL MINDS."

Jaye Denman from Deep South, USA on August 24, 2014:

What an interesting article, with thorough research and a great presentation. I didn't realize that the innocent-seeming Mother Goose rhymes are actually on a level with the nightmarish Grimm fairy tales!

Voted Up++


The Examiner-1 on August 24, 2014:

Wow. It is amazing what we have in our minds which we do not know. That was very, very interesting Suzette, thank you. I voted it up, shared and pinned it.


Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 24, 2014:

Paula, I know, as children if we had known what some of these nursery really meant we would have been having nightmares not sweet dreams. I am so glad you enjoyed this.

Suzie from Carson City on August 24, 2014:

suzette.....Once again you have turned out an excellent hub via in-depth research....all very fascinating information.

I shall never look at these Nursery Rhymes in the same way again....."Bedtime Stories?" LOL. The stuff nightmares are made of! Up+++ pinned.

Suzette Walker (author) from Taos, NM on August 24, 2014:

Thanks Jackie. Surprising what this rhyme really means. Who knew? Puts a whole new meaning to a simple rhyme we thought truly was about just children named Jack and Jill. Thanks for reading this.

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on August 24, 2014:

Ah! So that Jill came tumbling after; probably meant Marie's head huh? Shee we never had an inkling what we were singing and dancing to! Great article to enlighten us!

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