Did you know that the nursery rhymes you love singing to your children has an interesting, and rather gloomy history?
We liked hearing them sung as little children, and now parents like singing them to their own children. More than their catchy melodies, their simple and repetitive structure makes these children’s poetry infinitely fun to sing.
But did you know that most of them have such dark themes and origins? Because they could be traced back as early as the medieval ages, most of them are influenced by the time period—and the past is not known to be a period filled with rainbows and butterflies.
Here are 8 popular nursery rhymes with dark origins.
1. Baa Baa Black Sheep
A song about the Great Custom (a tax on wool that was introduced in 1275), scholars believe that the rhyme’s usage of the color black as well as the word “master” hints at the racial issue of slavery. In fact, schools banned the song from being sung in classroom during the late 20th century, when the issue of racism was put front and center in the consciousness of the world.
2. Jack and Jill
A popular theory believes that this rhyme concerns France’s Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, who were both found guilty of treason and subsequently beheaded. But those events occurred nearly 30 years after “Jack and Jill” was first written; a more plausible origin would be the account of King Charles I’s rejected tax reform on liquid measures—the alternative to which was reducing the volume on half- and quarter-pints, known as jacks and gills.
3. London Bridge is Falling Down
It is widely believed that “London Bridge is Falling Down” alludes to the destruction of London Bridge at the hands of Olaf II of Norway some time in the early 1000s. It is also believed that the song’s popularity was the Vikings’ doing, bringing the song to the places they traveled.
There’s also a theory that says the bridge must be built on a foundation of human sacrifice in order to keep it upright, and those humans—most of which were children—would he watch over the bridge. Which we’re pretty sure isn’t a practice they teach you in architecture school.
On the next page, find out the scary foundation under the London Bridge