domingo, 7 de agosto de 2016


Some well-known Anglophone nursery tales are actually Tudor-era Reformation and Counter-Reformation propaganda. And here are the gory stories behind those ostensibly innocent rhymes.


  • This song was Catholic Mary Tudor-era propaganda.
  • So, the initial "four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie" may have been 24 Dominicans or other black friars who, during the Reformation, were wiped out of the picture at one fell swoop.
  • At the same time, a piecrust filled with live blackbirds or frogs, that popped up as a surprise once the pie was cut (somewhat like Joffrey's and Margaery's live dove pie), was typical Tudor courtly entertainment at the end of feasts.
  • The blackbirds begin to "sing," either Latin Gregorian chants or confessions under torture.
  • Isn't it "a dainty dish to set before the king?" Yes, for Henry VIII after he's cut ties with the Papacy. Catholic priests and ascetics were then executed en masse.
  • The king, Henry VIII, is counting out the money he's getting by cashing in the Catholic Church's treasures and property.
  • The queen in the parlour eating bread and honey is his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, whom he has just divorced.
  • The maid in the garden is Henry's second queen, Catherine's handmaid Anne Boleyn. 
  • The blackbird that snaps off this maid's nose is the executioner, covered in a black cowl, who chopped off Anne's whole head.
  • An alternate final verse says the blackbird snapped off "a rose" (instead of "her nose"), referring to the Tudor rose. Anne is described as having the complexion of an English rose. Do the maths.


  • A "gander" is a male goose. Any time ganders are mating, they become more aggressive: some of them even become REALLY aggressive when in heat. In my theory, the first stanza refers to Henry VIII during his younger years, and the second stanza to his decadence. This song was Catholic Mary Tudor-era propa-gander. 
  • "Goosey Goosey Gander" is the sexy and womanizing, active (in bed as on the tennis court and when jousting) younger Henry VIII. 
  • Henry VIII was renowned and notorious for being a womanizer, hence "upstairs and downstairs, and in my lady's chamber!"
  • "Harry Harry Long-Legs" in stanza II is the older, Protestant, grumpy, hefty Henry VIII. He "couldn't say his prayers" because he's become Anglican and rejected Catholic rituals.
  • The final verse describes Henry VIII's demise rather succinctly: from painful, suppurating chronic ulcers that first appeared on his left thigh when he was 36 and, for nearly two decades, shortened his temper, expanded his waistline, and gradually pushed him towards the grave. "Catch/Seize him by the left leg and throw him downstairs." The incurable and expanding injury that would cover his whole left leg, from a riding accident, never healed... it gave a Copernican turn to the Tudor ruler's personality and reign, and sealed his fate forever.


  • This one's Elizabethan Anglican propaganda. 
  • There are three suspects, three Catholic Marys "quite contrary" to the Reformation, who may have inspired the song: Mary of Nazareth, Mary Stuart (Queen of Scots), and Mary Tudor. 
  • "Silver bells" refer obviously to ornate Catholic church bells; and "cockleshells," to pilgrimages to St. James/Santiago de Compostela. 
  • "Pretty maids all in a row" refers to court ladies in the entourage of either queen, or to nuns if the song is referring to Mary of Nazareth.
  • "How does your garden grow?" is a rhetorical question concealing a reproductive metaphor. In the case of Mary of Nazareth, it would refer to the fact that she had a child while still being a virgin. Mary Tudor was childless throughout her life (which led to her half-sister Elizabeth being her successor), while Mary Stuart only had one child, a son called... yes, James (And he would convert to Anglicanism and attain the English throne after Elizabeth's childless death).


Here we've got another piece of Elizabethan Anglican propaganda.
The "mice" in this song were three Protestant bishops, who, as heretics, were "blind" to the "one true" Catholic faith; and the "farmer's wife" was Mary Tudor, who did not "cut off their tails," but rather burn them at the stake, the penalty for heresy in the olden days.

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