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Nursery Rhymes Lyrics and Origins

Mary Mary Quite Contrary

Nursery Rhyme Origins & History

 

The origins are steeped in history... Bloody Mary!
The Mary alluded to in this traditional English nursery rhyme is reputed to be Mary Tudor, or Bloody Mary, who was the daughter of King Henry VIII. Queen Mary was a staunch Catholic and the garden referred to is an allusion to graveyards which were increasing in size with those who dared to continue to adhere to the Protestant faith - Protestant martyrs.

Instruments of Torture!
The silver bells and cockle shells referred to in the Nursery Rhyme were colloquialisms for instruments of torture. The 'silver bells' were thumbscrews which crushed the thumb between two hard surfaces by the tightening of a screw. The 'cockleshells' were believed to be instruments of torture which were attached to the genitals!

The "Maids" or Maiden was the original guillotine!
The 'maids' were a device to behead people called the Maiden. Beheading a victim was fraught with problems. It could take up to 11 blows to actually sever the head, the victim often resisted and had to be chased around the scaffold.

 
 

 Margaret Pole (1473 - 1541), Countess of Salisbury did not go willingly to her death and had to be chased and hacked at by the Executioner. These problems led to the invention of a mechanical instrument (now known as the guillotine) called the Maiden - shortened to Maids in the Mary Mary Nursery Rhyme. The Maiden had long been in use in England before Lord Morton, regent of Scotland during the minority of James VI, had a copy constructed from the Maiden which had been used in Halifax in Yorkshire. Ironically, Lord Morton fell from favour and was the first to experience the Maiden in Scotland!

 
 
 

Executions!
Another form of execution during Mary's reign was being burnt at the stake - a terrible punishment much used during the Spanish Inquisition. The English hated the Spanish and dreaded the idea of an English Inquisition. The executions during the reign of Bloody Mary were therefore viewed with a greater fear of the Spanish than the executions themselves - it is interesting to note that executions during her reign totalled less than 300 an insignificant amount compared to the executions ordered by her father King Henry VIII which are believed to have numbered tens of thousands! We recommend the following site for more facts and information about Bloody Mary

 

 
mary mary quite contrary by Shona Penny
 

This imaginative drawing was created by the talented Scottish artist Shona Penny and used
with her kind permission.

It was inspired by the origins of the 'Mary, Mary Quite Contrary' Nursery Rhyme and has been submitted to the Bifrost fantasy project.

 
 
 

Mary Mary Quite Contrary: Origins and History

Mary Mary quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.

Mary Mary Quite Contrary: Origins and History

 

Note: A Rhymes lyrics and the perceived origins of some Nursery Rhymes vary according to location

 

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Written By Linda Alchin