Medieval Times

Nursery Rhymes




Nursery Rhymes :

Ring  Around the Rosy:

All children still sing the nursery rhyme, "Ring around the Rosy", and older kids played it when they were younger. These days, "Ring around the Rosy" goes as follows:

"Ring around the Rosy,

A pocket full of posies,

Ashes, ashes,

We all fall down."

However, do you know how it originally went? Read ahead to find out.


A pocket full of posies,

Ah-tishoo, ah-tishoo, (imitation of sneezing)

We all fall down."


What we never knew, was that this popular rhyme originated in Medieval Times. "Ring around the Rosy" was based on the horrible, deadly illness, a plague, otherwise known as the Black Death. A "rosy" was a red rash on your skin that was a sign of your oncoming death. Pockets and pouches were filled with sweet-smelling herbs called "posies". They were thought to be a cure to the plague. Others thought that the sickness was caused by bad smells, and the flower would heal it/ stop it from spreading. "Ah-tishoo, ah-tishoo" is thought to be violent sneezing, a symptom of the Black Death. As for "Ashes, ashes", the modern version of the song, it is said to refer to the cremation of dead bodies.




What nursery rhymes (apart from "Ring around the Rosy") originated in Medieval Times, and what did they really mean?


There are many nursery rhymes sung today that have hidden meanings and were first made in the Middle Ages. Some rhymes that historians believe originated at that time, are:

    ~ Jack and Jill

    ~ Pop Goes the Weasel

    ~ Humpty Dumpty

    ~ Sing a Song of Sixpence

    ~ Baa, Baa Black Sheep

    ~ Little Jack Horner

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.


Did you know that this popular nursery rhyme was originally about two boys, Jack and Gill? They were really Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and Bishop Tarbes. They served King Henry VІІ of England. When they failed to settle a feud between France and the Roman Empire, a war broke out. When the two men raised the taxes to pay for the war, people were mad and made the rhyme, to make fun of them.


Humpty Dumpty:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,

All the kings horses an all the kings men,

Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Guess what was special about Humpty Dumpty, you know, the CANNON?!?! It sat atop Saint Mary’s at the Wall Church in Colchester. When enemies hit the church tower, Humpty was sent to the ground. The king’s men actually did try to put it together again, but to no avail.


Sing a song of sixpence:


Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye;
Four and twenty blackbirds
Baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened
The birds began to sing;
Was not that a dainty dish
To set before the King?

The King was in his counting house
Counting out his money;
The Queen was in the parlour

Eating bread and honey.

The maid was in the garden
Hanging out the clothes;
There came a little blackbird;
And pecked off her nose.

Can you imagine having a delicious pie set in front of you, cutting into it the pie crust, and have live blackbirds fly out at you? This was actually done in Medieval Times, and people think that this nursery rhyme refers to this absurd practice at banquets of cooking live birds in a pie crust. Blackbirds were also eaten at banquets as delicacies.

It is possible that the "pocket full of rye" referred to the time of day, but others believe the rye was mentioned because that was bought to feed the birds. and the counting house was actually the office where the monetary part of a business was carried out. It makes sense that the rhyme ends with the blackbird pecking of the maid’s nose, since the blackbird would naturally be wanting vengeance for being baked. It is also amusing how the poem mentions the Queen being in the parlour "eating bread and honey", since that was what most common people suspected that the King and Queen spent their time doing.

As one lady said, "During the Medieval times, there were occasions when the cook in the house of a wealthy knight did indeed put live birds... inside a huge pastry crust, on his own initiative. This was seen as a great joke and the cook would usually have a real pie waiting to bring in when the birds had been released."


Baa Baa Black Sheep:

Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full!
One for the master, one for the dame,
And one for the little boy who lives down the lane.

Can you think of any reasons why this nursery rhyme would be made? The wool industry was very important to the country's economy starting in the Middle Ages and going up to the 19th century. For that reason, it is not surprising that the topic is spoken about in the Baa Baa Black Sheep nursery rhyme. Another historical connection it that the poem is actually about King Richard III (the Master) and the export tax that he imposed in Britain, in which the English Customs Statute allowed the king to collect a tax on all exports of wool in every port in the country.


Some others that are said to originate in Medieval Times include:

Little Jack Horner

Little Jack Horner
Sat in a corner,
Eating a Christmas pie.
He stuck in his thumb
And pulled out a plum,
And said, "What a good boy am I!"

This song, originally sung, "Eating a mincemeat pie," was yet another rhyme first sung in the Middle Ages.


Pop Goes the Weasel

All around the mulberry bush
The monkey chased the weasel.
The monkey thought 'twas all in fun.
Pop! Goes the weasel.

A penny for a spool of thread,
A penny for a needle.
That's the way the money goes.
Pop! goes the weasel.

Up and down the City Road,
In and out of the Eagle,
That's the way the money goes.
Pop! goes the weasel.

Half a pound of tuppenney rice,
Half a pound of treacle,
Mix it up and make it nice,
Pop! goes the weasel.

This poem is said to have been sung in taverns and pubs in England. You can imagine how the money would be going around in a bar full of drunk, swaying people.


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By Nupur and Danielle

Dedicated to Ms. Jacobs