Nursery Rhymes are Historical Fiction

There’s more to nursery rhymes that fun little ditties to sing while you jump rope.  They are our history in disguise. For example:

ac-be-NimbleThe origin for this rhyme that most historicans agree on is: Nimble Jack is actually Black Jack, an English pirate who was notorious for escaping from the authorities in the late 16th century.

As to candlestick jumping: children often worked as slave labor in lace-making schools in Wendover, England. A tradition of lace-makers dancing around a candlestick eventually led to jumping over the candlestick. Great  human example of someone daring someone else to try this crazy trick…

There were times and places in history where it was dangerous to protest. But discontent is also a strong human trait, so some of these complaints came out as funny little bar songs that expressed the unfairness of royal decrees in vague language. For example:


In Medieval days, little ditties like this were sung in taverns and in villages, but it was important to make the meaning so unclear that the powers-that-be could ignore them.

This short tune protested a 13th century wool tax issued by King Edward. The tax on the income from one bag of wool was: 1/3 for the king, 1/3 for the church, 1/3 for the farmer.
This left little or nothing for the shepherd boy because it wasn’t enough to feed the farmer. Also, the wool from black sheep was less valuable because it couldn’t be dyed.

So teach your grandkids nursery rhymes.

You’re sharing bits of history.

For those of you who enjoy “The Rest of the Story” (remembering Paul Harvey!), check out this fun website:



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