Traditional Nursery Rhyme
"Ladybug, ladybug" is chanted by children when a ladybug insect lands on their person. If the ladybug doesn't fly away of its own accord the child would gently blow it away chanting "Ladybug Ladybug fly away home". This insect is found every summer in the gardens of Britain - the most common colour is red with black spots, less common are the yellow variety. In Britain ladybugs are referred to as 'ladybirds'.
Ladybird History Connection - Gunpowder Plot Conspirators?
Farmers knew of the Ladybird's value in reducing the level of pests in their crops and it was traditional for them to cry out the rhyme before they burnt their fields following harvests (this reduced the level of insects and pests) in deference to the helpful ladybird:
"Ladybird, ladybird fly away home,
Your house in on fire and your children are gone"
The English word ladybird is a derivative of the Catholic term " Our Lady". The tradition of calling this rhyme was believed to have been used as a seemingly innocent warning cry to Catholic (recusants) who refused to attend Protestant services as required by the Act of Uniformity (1559 & 1662). This law forbade priests to say Mass and forbade communicants to attend it. Consequently Mass was held secretly in the open fields. Laymen were subject to jail and heavy fines and priests to execution. Many priests were executed by the terrible death of being burnt alive at the stake or, even worse, being hung, drawn and quartered. The most famous English recusants were Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot Conspirators.
The American Version of the Lyrics
It is possible that the word Ladybird was exchanged for Ladybug, in the American version of the nursery rhyme, due the word association with Firebug meaning an arsonist or pyromaniac. The first publication date was 1865 and the word ladybird was used as opposed to ladybug. There has been some speculation that this Nursery Rhyme originates from the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666.