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The True Stories and Meanings Behind Nursery Rhymes and Lullabies

Ashley is a mother of 3 wonderful children, 2 Boston Terriers, 8 seamonkeys, and a hermit crab that likes to escape.

The true meaning and story behind those old nursery rhymes and lullabies.

The true meaning and story behind those old nursery rhymes and lullabies.

The Origin of Lullabies

Did you know...

"Lullaby" is a derivative from Jewish folklore meaning "Lilith abi" which, when translated to the English tongue, simply means "Lilith, go away." Lilith, a she-demon, was said to have been Adam's first wife (before Eve), so the term "lullaby" was coined in order to protect children from her.

Throughout history, lullabies and nursery rhymes have been used as educational tools to teach children about morality, history, and proper behavior. Over time, the term "lullaby" stuck, and we now think of it as a soothing song used to calm children.

However, history shows us that some lullabies are anything but soothing and are, in fact, horrifying if you understand their origin and know how to read between the lines.

What does "Three Blind Mice" really mean?

What does "Three Blind Mice" really mean?

"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 thing in your life

As three blind mice.

The "farmer's wife" refers to Queen Mary I, otherwise known as Bloody Mary, the one who burned hundreds of Protestant "heretics" in Tudor England. The "three blind mice" were three noblemen who were convicted of plotting against her and who, as a result, she had burned alive at the stake.

"Ring Around the Rosie"

Ring around the rosie

Pocket full of posies,

Ashes, ashes,

We all fall down!

This nursery rhyme references The Black Death in Europe, a bubonic plague pandemic that lasted from 1346 to 1352. The plague would appear as black sores on the bodies of the afflicted. People stuffed "posies," a type of flower, into their pockets so they couldn't smell the dead bodies that were piling up everywhere.

The ashes fell after they burned the bodies to prevent the spread of infection. Although not everyone "fell down," The Black Death wiped out a significant 20% of the world's population.

What does "London Bridge Is Falling Down" really mean?

What does "London Bridge Is Falling Down" really mean?

"London Bridge (Is Falling Down)"

London Bridge is falling down,

Falling down, falling down.

London Bridge is falling down,

My fair lady.

There are several theories and stories about the meaning and origins of this very popular nursery rhyme.

  • One has it referring to the Vikings' attack on the bridge in 1009.
  • Another fable is that the bridge's foundation was made of human children's remains, and the only way to keep the bridge standing was to offer another child as a sacrifice to it. (There is no proof that anyone was buried within the bridge).
  • Another says it deals with the degradation of the old bridge over time (and a call to repair it!).
  • Walt Disney created a cartoon version in which the bridge was brought down by age and fire destruction.

There are also several theories about whom the "my fair lady" refers to:

  • Eleanor of Provence, who owned the bridge from 1269–1281.
  • Matilda of Scotland, who built the first covered bridge and consorted with Henry I, the king responsible for the crossing of the bridge
  • The Leigh Family, who carried on the legend that human sacrifices were carried out under the structure.

While none of these theories have been proven, they do make for great stories.

"Humpty Dumpty"

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the king's horses and all the king's men

Couldn't put Humpty together again.

There is no evidence as to where history places this simple little quatrain, but there are a number of theories. The version we know today was first published in 1810. Some believe it refers to the average village drunkard and others believe it's a reference to King Richard III of England, who was often portrayed with a humpback. The story is that King Richard III went to war at the Battle of Bosworth, where he fell off of his horse and was chopped into pieces by his rivals.

What "Rock-a-Bye Baby" really means.

What "Rock-a-Bye Baby" really means.

"Rock-a-Bye Baby"

Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop,

When the wind blows, the cradle will rock.

When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,

And down will come baby, cradle and all.

If you listen to the words of the version we know today, you can easily assume it depicts a horrific setting for a child. One popular story is that the child in the rhyme is the son of James VII, who some believed was smuggled into the birthing chamber in order to give James a Catholic heir. The wind is thought to refer to James's family members coming in to overthrow the child, and the cradle is a reference to the royal house.

When the original was first printed, it had a footnote that read, "This may serve as a warning to the Proud and Ambitious, who climb so high that they generally fall at last." Some interpret this as a threat, but others view it as plain mockery.

"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.

People often question the validity of this nursery rhyme since water is typically found at the bottom of a hill instead of at the top. However, other theories suggest that it has a much deeper meaning than originally thought.

Jack and Jill are assumed to represent France's King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, a couple that was said to be greedy, carelessly wasting money on finery, although some point out the dates don't necessarily correlate. King Louis XVI was beheaded (lost his crown) in 1793, and Marie Antoinette was beheaded (came tumbling after) around 10 months later.

"Baa Baa 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.

Although it was first published in 1731, many believe that this fun little nursery rhyme was in reference to the heavy taxes that were placed on wool in 1275. However, many others say that it was in connection with the slave trade of the Americas. There has been controversy over the words "black" and "master" in the rhyme, some interpreting these as racially offensive analogies.

Also known as "Bloody Mary" due to the number of executions she ordered during her reign.

Also known as "Bloody Mary" due to the number of executions she ordered during her reign.

"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.

This is said to be a reference to Queen Mary I of England (also known as Bloody Mary), written to heckle her time on the throne. "Contrary" describes her style of leadership, and "How does your garden grow" mocks her inability to produce living children.

Mary I, a Catholic, was widely known for her persecution of over 300 Protestants during her reign, so "silver bells and cockle shells" is a euphemism for her torture devices. "Pretty maids all in a row" referenced both her numerous miscarriages and the many dead bodies that accumulated over her 5-year reign.

"Little Boy Blue"

Little boy blue

Come blow your horn.

The sheep's in the meadow,

The cow's in the corn.

Where is that boy

Who looks after the sheep?

Under the haystack

Fast asleep.

Will you wake him?

Oh no, not I.

For if I do

He will surely cry.

One interpretation is that Little Boy Blue was in reference to Cardinal Wolsey, who was the son of a butcher and was also a hayward. In the 18th century, cows eating ("in the corn") and sheep eating large amounts was believed to have made the animals extremely sick, thus a foul idea may be portrayed in this nursery rhyme.

Regardless of what you choose to believe, you have to admit that the stories behind these dainty rhymes can be rather chilling.

© 2014 Ash Ryan


idk on August 20, 2020:

como estan

Alex Ruiz on July 18, 2020:

Corona virus is the new ring around the Rosey

Fox Queen on July 18, 2020:

lol i like how in nursery rhyme videos, Humpty Dumpty, they depict Humpty as an e g g. Humpty was one of the cannons in the war. The cannon was placed on a wall and fell. it took many, MANY ppls.. but it could not be fixed sooooooo that was the end of Humpty i guesss -o-. cya yo :))))

Dark Minded on June 30, 2020:

This is all true. They should teach us this stuff at school, instead of telling us lies.

Angle of darkness on June 30, 2020:

All this is true. We should be taught this stuff at school.

Lolololololol on June 22, 2020:

These are all fake and I know it and I am below 10 years old

nema on June 11, 2020:


a person on June 11, 2020:

that breaks my heart im an early teen

Grace on May 25, 2020:

This is why I’m a murder now it’s all my moms fault

elizabeth car on May 10, 2020:

there a adult meaning to all nursery rhymes , we created the nursery rhymes to keep children mind down on a level they can understand when adults it meaning is to show us the way in life to unravel the real reason for our being, there a reason 4 those nursery rhymes, as well as the old times saying , check out this book it explains how it can be done in fairness to all mankind and cultures , from day we born we reap what we sow , ever words we speak has a wisdom words with rhyme nor reason to them and help balance out the weather patters,little did we know that the nuresery rhymes would play such big place in our live later on in life the reason 4 our being and more to our live meets the eye , its so exciting trying to unravel this jig saw puzzle of our lives,

A dark-ish person on May 08, 2020:

Reading these made me realize how possible it is for any of these to be true! I doubt that I would ever forget these. My friend stood next to me and read these with me. After we finished, they said, "welp, there goes my childhood."

That kinda made me laugh (my childhood was ruined a long time ago).

Anonymous on April 23, 2020:

I actually knew about some of these like the ring around the Rosie one and the 3 blind mice and Jacks and Jill

a student on April 19, 2020:

I don't think I'll EVER forget this... D:

Juilet on April 19, 2020:

I am 9 and just read these. I'm very depressed.

IDK on April 10, 2020:

In the nursery rhyme "Humpty Dumpty" it wasn't a king it was a cannon that fell off a castle wall in the English Civil War and they couldn't put it back together therefor the rhyme "Humpty Dumpty"

Darkness smile friend on March 15, 2020:

I like this kind of stuff

... on January 31, 2020:

Ring around the Rosie is probably the worse one but it might not be Black Death it could be the one that happened in 1665 the great plague

Georgia on December 13, 2019:

IN surprised that they didn’t add ‘Lizzie burdens skip rope rhyme’ that one has a dark meaning behind it.

Terry on November 17, 2019:

I learned of many nursery rhymes in school, when reading A Tale of Two Cities. Many rhymes were used during the French Revolution as secret codes to inform deeds done or about to be done. Baa Baa Black Sheep is about taxes, not racially motivated as many would like to twist it!!

Boi on October 23, 2019:

I knew there was something wrong with ring around the Rosie and mulberry bush and rock a bye baby

#Jeff on October 21, 2019:


Zkrk on October 14, 2019:

I’m 10 too and am into the meanings of stuff

Ps how can l tell this to my kids l’m a kid

Cj on July 12, 2019:

In a video I’d watched about Humpty Dumpty, it was said to simply be a rhyme kids would say to each other on the playground. It was later in a book where you had to guess what Humpty Dumpty was, but the answer wasn’t given, because at the time, everyone already knew.

I’d never heard your version though. Sounds interesting.

Angeline on June 30, 2019:

I have more England history of English literature rhymes

Helen Burks on June 12, 2019:

I heard that "Rocka by baby" was about a baby bird in a nest in the tree.

Eliana Thomas on May 20, 2019:

This helped me for my last elementary school project. THANK YOU!!!!!

Grace on May 18, 2019:

I’m ten and am just into controversy theories. This is cool.

wes on May 16, 2019:

are there more like this

Jon on April 30, 2019:

Jk my name is Johnathan

... on April 30, 2019:

Do you know who i am

DJ on February 19, 2019:

I read somewhere that Jack and Jill referred to the Scandinavian idea of seeing a boy and a girl holding a pail of water between them in the "face" of the moon … they didn't see a face but saw the two children and the rhyme describes the phases of the moon.

a person on November 23, 2018:

thats interesting because i love ring around the rosie so that kind of ruined it for me but I don't really care

Mike on November 18, 2018:

Why do people think these are 'creepy' its history,so what.

Ryan on September 21, 2018:

All these comments about not reading or saying these to kids. What does it matter? They won't ever know if you don't tell them what they supposedly mean. Jack and Jill was mentioned somewhere else and it said that it was the king raising taxes on alcohol and eventually the king fell as did the tax on "jack and gill". But considering that these have been around for years and NOW (like everything else in the world) it offends everyone everywhere. I will continue to tell these to my kids. I grew up listening to them and even though I have I read what they SUPPOSEDLY mean, I am not offended and really don't care.

Unknown on September 08, 2018:

I like these....

Joyce Johnson on July 31, 2018:

In the early 1960's, I attended an English class at the Univ. of Houston in which our text book dealt with these nursery rhymes and their meanings. Now I wish I had that book to reread those rhymes and lullabys because I was so fascinated with them. Do you know of a

book with these in it? Thanks for this presentation!

Hot Booty Mama on Da Blok on July 26, 2018:

OMG OMG OMG I learnt so much, I am never EVER gonna let my let baby angels to EVEN hear these like #traumatised. Honestly thank ASH RYAN #love #you'remyqueen #queen #saviour #hailthequeen #longlivethequeen #biggestfan #hitler


Dont Forget To Like and Subscribe and Leave a Comment Down Below!!!!1

Gabriella post on July 02, 2018:

im 11 this is creepy

vicki duffey on April 23, 2018:

we used to sing atishoo atishoo in ring a ring of roses and were taught the meanings in primary school a long long time ago when we used to maypole dance as a school lesson

JoAnn Jackson on February 27, 2018:

I think it’s very educational to know where things originate from because Everything has a beginning……

Arianna on February 18, 2018:

I showed this to my mom and she was like what!!! and i remember always singing ba ba black sheep i cant believe i didnt know what it really meant master and all creepy!

DeQuavis Smith on February 06, 2018:

You like fried chicken?

yeet on December 14, 2017:

I dont plan on singing non of these songs!!!

Sarah on December 13, 2017:

Very creepy. But at least I know now.

logan paul on December 06, 2017:

thanks these are creepy but interesting

Ash Ryan (author) from Red Dirt Country on October 19, 2014:

Thank you!

HK from London on October 19, 2014:

Wow... Such an interesting Hub..