"What is truth"? asked Pontius Pilate; and did not wait for an
"He spoke the truth as if it were true" Charles Kessler on
"Truth is a war's first victim", a misquotation of Winston
"Man is born free and is everywhere in chains"
Rival protagonists in war resent and decry the propaganda of
opponents. Each claims that the other's positions represent a convenient
figment of their imaginations or flagrant distortions of the
truth. In a
civil war, the dissidents in this contest of will are at a distinct
disadvantage. Their well argued positions are either distorted and
by a government controlled press; or are subject to being
flattened by the
angry fist of the official censor. Finally there is the most dreaded
consequence of all, namely the power of punishment.
It was in order to avoid these official sanctions that many nursery
belittling their Royal rulers, were composed and broadcast. By their
simplicity, they defied suppression, by the instrument of the rhyme,
broadcast it without censure. Who could possibly suspect mothers lulling
their babies to sleep or children playfully singing nursery
Georgie Porgie, pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry
When the boys came out to play
Georgia, Porgie ran away.
Who was portrayed this as chubby, awkward , cowardly child, who kissed
girls while the boys were away, but could not face them when he went
There are two amoral villains who this rhyme was supposed to refer to.
was the Prince Regent, who later became King George IV of
1762-1830]. As the Prince Regent, he was known as Prinny, for his
numerous amorous and amoral indulgences. The children sang this rhyme in
their little high pitched voices, while their parents listened with
glee, to hear their prince so playfully insulted. The idea was to
make him cringe as they
portrayed him in this rhyme.; as a fat, sassy little boy who stole
from little girls but could not face the boys who would probably
beaten him up and sneered at him for his cowardice. A demeaning
a regal prince.
It was also supposed to refer to the second Duke of Buckingham
[1628-1687] who had a similar reputation. He was removed from Charles
II's favor at the request of Parliament on account of his scandalous
Jack and Jill
Went up the hill,
To fetch a pale of water,
Jack fell down
And broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after.
This bouncy rhyme has the largest number of origins associated with it.
old times there was a unit of measurement called the Gill [ pronounced
Jill]. A king named Jack played around with this unit of
measurement so he
could by this illegal maneuver increase his supply of gold. When he was
found out, his kingdom was lost [Jack fell down and broke his crown] and
gill as a unit of measurement was extinguished. [and gill came tumbling
after] Whether this interpretation was based on a mythical or real king
not clear but it sent the message that Kings cannot get away with it any
more than their subjects could.
The other more likely, colorful and gripping theory of its origin,
that it referred to King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette of France,,
whose unpopular and ineffective reign the French Revolution erupted..
weak, ignorant, vacillating heir to the Throne, married Marie Antoinette
1870. She played a major roll in his decision making thereafter. In
they became King & Queen of France.[ Climbed the Hill]. In order to
the growing flames of rebellion against the very high taxes on the poor;
king in a desperate but ineffective bid to pour water on these flames,
remitted some of the taxes hoping to wipe the past away the memory of
unsavory past. [to fetch a pail of water]. The French Bourgeoisie [
classes] who benefited from the taxes on the poor, objected to the Kings
reforms. This sparked the French Revolution and the King was imprisoned
Jack fell down]. In 1892, France was declared a Republic, the King was
for treason, convicted; sentenced to death; and guillotined in 1793[
broke his crown] The arrogant and disdainful Queen, who when told that
people had no bread to eat, asked "Why don't eat cake
instead"? , was
sentenced to death by a revolutionary council, and guillotined 10 months
after the king was. [and Jill came tumbling after]
The French Revolution sent spasms of concern through the Royal families
all over Europe. This joyful ditty was sung with gusto as a warning to
British Royalty of the fate that could befall them if they were not
careful. Revolutionary fever was spreading all over like the
ethnic wars, which are on the ascendant...
There are two other origins attributed to this rhyme with its prancing
rhythm, which are not of any interest to us.
Could eat no fat.
His wife could
Eat no lean,
And so, between the two of them,
They licked the platter clean
This lean and hungry verse aptly captured the plight of the people under
the joint rule of Charles I and his greedy wife Henrietta Maria.
refused to finance his extravagant and unnecessary war with Spain,
him without funds for this pointless but ambitious adventure. He
no fat as there was no fat to eat. He retaliated for this lack of funds
dissolving parliament. He and his fat wife [who could eat no lean]
illegal war tax; forced the people to house their troops in their homes;
ran the country dry while fulfilling their expensive and selfish
[And so between the two of them, they licked the platter clean]. They
not have expressed it more neatly than this, and how could the King or
suspect that they were the villains of the crisp, slim, rhyme.
Who was Mary, Mary, Quite contrary, and why was she regarded so?.
The full verse goes:
Mary Mary Quite contrary,
How does your garden grow ?
With silver bells and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row
Mary Queen of Scots was the Catholic Queen who ruled protestant England.
She was an extravagant extrovert, unfaithful in marriage and unpopular.
was hostile, stubborn and contrary, meaning unfavorable and adverse to
protestant English parliament and her protestant English subjects. The
silver bells, though a real flower, symbolized her extravagant lifestyle
.Cockle shells were an expensive shell fish which was also used to
that extravagance. It could also have referred to her being a
unfaithful to her husbands, who she killed off with callous regularity,
while indulging in her own little personal wars. The
pretty maids are the
ladies in waiting, standing like silent dummies in a row in her palace
garden. Some think the garden referred to Scotland. All in all, it was a
verse showing unconcealed contempt for this foreign ruler and her
A more compelling and gruesome version of its origin is the protestant
Englishman's well disguised disgust at being ruled by Mary, not because
her extravagance but her because of the ruthless measures she took to
out her protestant subjects. It could also have referred to Queen Mary
Tudor, "Bloody Mary", who during her short reign before
Elizabeth I, burned
and tortured protestants to endear herself to the Roman Catholic Pope
Mary, Mary quite contrary
[ The disagreeable catholic tyrant]
How does your garden grow?
[ The garden filled and fertilized with the corpses of the protestant
opposers of her oppressive regime]
With silver bells and cockle shells,
[Instruments of torture such as thumbscrews and iron masks]
And pretty maids all in a row
[instruments like the guillotine, known as maids to behead enemies]
What a powerful and appropriate method of condemning a foreign ruler who
resorted to torture to advance her religion and suppress the faith of
subjects Could we cry " J R , J R, Full of fury, How do your
Buddhists grow ? With Tamils heads and legs and arms, all stung out in a
Three blind mice, three blind mice,
See how they run! See how they run!
They all ran after the farmers wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a sight in your life
As Three blind mice.
This fast moving, racy ditty has the pace and slapstick humor of a
movie. It was a back stabbing warning to the corrupt nobility to be
their even more ruthless tyrant, Queen, Mary I of England.. These three
blind [foolish] mice, had the audacity to criticize the Queen [ They all
after the farmers wife] [ The Queen's estates included vast farmlands]
and she cut off their tales with a carving knife .Their punishment for
going against her was to be burned at the stake. The speed of the
verse sharpens the comic irony of the nobility being chased by the queen
[acting like a common farmers wife] who nips off tails with a
The last but one of my Nursery Rhymes in this two part series is 'The
Woman in a shoe". This was subject to more than one theory as to
origin was, since its actual origin was beset with uncertainty.
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,
She whipped them all soundly
And put them to bed.
Was this a tale to scare the daylights out of little children with.? Was
this like a Grimm's fairy tale, warning little children what will happen
them if they are bad ? If not, who was this cheap, cruel,
skinflint of a
One theory is that the shoe represented England [not Italy] and the old
woman represented the British Parliament which ruled over her many
in Britain and the far flung colonies of the British Empire.. How and
did she starve these children, whip them and put them to bed ? The
suggestion here is that she did so by appointing the much despised and
James I as their King. This was a sharp rebuke to Parliament for
him the King of England and its vast and prosperous empire, over which
[parliament ]seemed to have lost control.[ She had so many children, she
didn't know what to do] Today's political cartoon would very effectively
express this disdain in these modern times. The British citizens of the
however, had to disguise their contempt of Parliament and their shocking
choice of a King, in the form of a simple nursery rhyme about a wicked
woman who didn't know what to do.
Another even funnier version of its origin, is that the "Old
referred to either King George II or King George III, either of who
the fashion of wearing white powdered wigs. One or the other was
with derision as "The old Woman". The members of Parliament
children and the Shoe was England. She gave them Broth & Bread. This
have referred to two Prime Ministers the King chose for them. "And
to bed" refers to the order by which the King forced Parliament to
session of parliament against their will.. It has that smacking quality
mother [the king] forcing children [parliament] to go to bed. The old
[the King] as the mother, controlled the children [parliament] in every
respect. She chose their fathers [the Prime Ministers] and punished them
put them to bed whenever they displeased her. . It mocked Parliament for
being a mere show piece, controlled, to boot, by an effeminate king.In
modern language, the verse described them as a parliament of pawns ruled
a sissy monarch. What a cutting commentary on the peoples
who sought to wrest power from the king !
The third theory is both dull and unconvincing. It says the old woman
Queen Caroline, the wife of George II who had several children. So what?
Why would that be worth writing a nursery rhyme about ? A confused queen
who lived in a palace and starved her children ? It doesn't make sense
Goosey, goosey gander is a sharp reminder to us Tamils as what
happened to us during the race-religious riots of 58 and 83. It would
horrified the drafters of the Fourth Amendment to the United States,
prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures, except here the searches
were for people, not property This was about a search for closet
in the 16th century who refused to conform to the new revised protestant
book of "common of prayer". Here the victims were arrested,
not tortured and
burnt alive as they were in Ceylon in 58 & Sri Lanka in 83. This
should be a
revolting reminder to our Sinhalese friends of what their mobs did
and the fate we suffered, not just to evoke a "mea culpa", but
for them to
realize the urgent and serious need for constitutional reform
Goosey, Goosey gander,
Whither shall I wonder?
Upstairs and downstairs
And in my ladies 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.
Every part of the house including the very private ladies chamber was
subject to this relentless search for priest holes and priests, old man
wouldn't say his prayers, and the rest of the terror followed. There was
apparently a connection between these closet Catholics and left foot,
unfortunately escapes me at the moment.
I ended my last article with a joyous song. I end this with a verse
reflects the sad plight of the forgotten people in feudal times
Little Tom Tucker, shall sing for his supper
What shall we give him but white bread and butter
How shall he cut it, without a knife.
How shall he marry without a wife.
This cheery even paced verse reflects the callous disregard that
had for those who had the misfortune to be born orphans They had to sing
,outside homes to beg for scraps of food, [white bread and butter]
all they were given for their supper. This gave rise to the phrase
their supper" Their chances of marrying anyone other than
another orphan were bleak. . This was a scathing commentary on the
callous attitudes of a callous society toward a people afflicted by an
unfortunate fate.. This could equally well be a sharp commentary on our
own callous caste structure.
This brings me to solving the puzzle of
Hey diddle diddle,
The cat and the fiddle.
The cow jumped over the moon.
The little dog laughed
To see such sport
And the dish ran away with the spoon.
Some say this was nothing more than it sounds, a sheer nonsense verse to
delight the swirling wild imaginations of children.
A much more entertaining theory as to its origin is that that the cat
none other than the all powerful Queen Elizabeth I of England, [ the
daughter of the all powerful Henry VIII]; and the dog was Robert Dudley,
Earl of Leicester, who she scathingly referred to as her 'lap dog'
played the fiddle and called the tune, she maneuvered her ministers like
they were cows and could even command them to jump over the moon.
.Dudley was so dazzled by her ability to control her cabinet of
advisors, that he
watched in amazement and laughed at the way the others jumped like cows
her commands.. This leaves us with the last line "And the dish ran
the spoon" Does the reflect two ministers who, unlike
the rest and Dudley,
ran away to avoid being dominated by this powerful queen in her own
cocoon.? We don't know that, though that is a very likely possibility.
A second less colorful theory is that the characters represent the
constellations of the stars and the dish running away with the spoon
the stars disappearing over the horizon. If this was the origin, it has
relevance to this article. I much prefer the idea of the virgin Queen
tossing her male ministers
around like chess pawns to do her bidding...
I hope the reader has enjoyed this two part series and will use the
language to accomplish our political goals with the same colorful;
delicate; sometimes pungent; and always powerful use of metaphor.