Semi-Opaque Windows into History

How many of you had a book of Nursery Rhymes in your house as you grew up? For many of us, they were a part of our childhood as silly rhymes with catchy tunes. Some of us even jumped rope to these little ditties. But do you know that they are also a semi-opaque window into history?

Sometimes nursery rhymes were metaphors of historical events. Sometimes they were a way for parents to share how cute their kids are before the age of Facebook. For instance:

annie-spratt-unsplash copy
photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

The author of this rhyme was the father of five children—2 boys and 3 girls. It will come as no surprise to parents that there was constant bickering in his house. The sons wanted to play soldiers, and the girls wanted to play house (and tell their brothers all the rules of the game). The rhyme was born out of the ingenious idea of the sisters to get rid of their pesty brothers.

When the brothers’ teasing got to be too much for the sisters, the girls would set up a table for a tea party. “Polly” would put their little kettle on the play stove. The boys disappeared—it was better than magic.

As soon as the boys were gone, the sister would sing out to their sister Susan, “Sukey, take it off again!”

The amused father set the sisters’ ploy to words and music, and it was published in 1797.

 

Sometime historians, like archaeologists, make educated guesses as to the origins of what they have uncovered. For instance:

Old-king-cole

One things everyone agrees on: this nursery rhyme had its origin in the ancient Britons, including the times of the Celts, Romans, Saxons, and King Arthur. King Henry VII claimed to descend from Old King Cole’s royal lineage to further legitimize the  Tudor house’s claim to the English throne. The three possible contenders from the 3rd century were Celtic Kings of Britain, all who share the name Coel (which is the Celtic spelling for the English name Cole): Coel Godhebog (Cole the Magnificent – b.220 Decurion of Rome), Coel Hen ( Coel the Old c.350 – c.420 ), and St. Ceneu ap Coel ( Born c382 ).

For those of you who enjoy “The Rest of the Story” (remembering Paul Harvey!), check out this fun website: http://www.rhymes.org.uk

 

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