Monday, November 12, 2012

Behind common words and nursery rhymes

All may not be what it might seem
Milk often masquerades as cream

Behind common words there is often deeper meaning. Never is this more evident in the origin and meaning behind some of the most common nursery rhymes.

Consider Mary, Mary ..

The following text was taken from the Internet Site …

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row
The Mary in this verse, the scholarly books read, refers to Mary Tudor: Queen Mary I of England (b 1516). For those not completely up to speed on their Tudor history, Mary was the only surviving child born to Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Henry, ever the SNAG, became impatient with his lack of male heir and decided that he’d like the marriage annulled so that he could try and produce the next King with another woman (he, of course, had his eye on Anne Boleyn).

At that time, England was a Catholic country and required the permission of the Pope for any marriage to be deemed invalid. Pope Julius II – by all reports, a rather fearsome bloke – denied Henry this request, which royally upset the King and set in place the events that would lead to England breaking away from Rome, and the formation of the Church of England.

Henry VIII died in 1547, and the monarchy was passed to Mary (after a brief stint with her rather sickly half-brother, Edward VII, who died when he was 15). Mary, no doubt a little miffed at Henry’s treatment of her mother, remained loyal to Catholicism throughout her years in exile, and was intent on restoring England to this faith. But the clergy and nobleman weren’t too pleased with yet another change, and proclaimed that Protestantism (Church of England) was the rightful religion of England, and that Mary could go jump in a lake.

Mary got mad – indeed, she got very mad – and passed legislation that would punish anyone judged guilty of heresy against the Catholic faith in the most grisly of ways (Hint: her nickname was Bloody Mary).

It is at this gruesome point that we go back to the nursery rhyme. The garden refers not to a lovely England cottage overcome with bloom, but rather to the cemeteries that were becomingly increasingly full of Mary’s victims. The silver bells and cockle shells refer to her  favoured instruments of torture – the former being thumb screws, and the latter being screws that are places on…umm…other parts of the male anatomy. Finally, the ‘maids all in a row’ is a short-hand reference to the guillotine (nicknamed ‘The Maiden’), which Mary also didn’t seem to mind using on her enemies.

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