10 classic nursery rhymes and their incredibly creepy origins

Nursery rhymes hang around a long, long time.

Some of the rhymes sung to kids today originated back in a time when people thought leeches cured disease and everyone lived to the age of forty.

It should come as no shock that the origins of some of the classic nursery rhymes are incredibly creepy origin stories. One song is about the bubonic plague outbreak. Another is about a famous beheading. And those are the tame examples.

Check out these 10 classic nursery rhymes and their incredibly creepy origins.

Ring Around the Rosie

If you think about this one for more than a few seconds you realize it’s something much more sinister than a simple nursery rhyme.

The song actually refers to the bubonic plague outbreak in 1665. The “ring around the rosy” was a reference to the sores you’d get as a result of the sickness. “A pocket full of posies” is because the smell was so putrid that people will carry flower petals in their pocket to hold over their nose and keep from inhaling the stench.

“Ashes, ashes” refers to the amount of bodies that were cremated and burned as a result of the plague. And, of course, “we all fall down” was added in because it seemed everyone was going to die.

Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater

Apparently divorce was not an option at the time when Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater was written. The tale is about a man that found out his wife had been cheating on him so he decided the best course of action would be to murder her and hid the body in the shell of a giant pumpkin.

Jack and Jill

If you really think about the words to this one, it’s already troubling. Theduo walked up a hill, Jack fell and broke his crown, then Jill tumbled down as well? No thanks.

It’s actually the story of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Their names were changed, but the story definitely applies. King Louis was beheaded, or lost his crown, and then during the Reign of Terror Marie Antoinette “came tumbling after”, if you will.

Rub A Dub Dub

This one is just gross. The original reads like this:

Rub a dub dub
Three maids in a tub
And how do you think they got there?
The butcher, the baker and candlestick-maker
It was enough to make a man stare

So basically it was three horny dudes watching these women take a bath. In the 14th century peep shows were quite popular, so it seems as though one was in town and the guys watching decided to, uh, rub a dub dub.

Humpty Dumpty

This one isn’t as creepy as it is unexpected.

Everyone knows the story of Humpty Dumpty as a bizarre egg man that fell off a wall and was mangled beyond recognition or any hope of reassembling him. That’s creepy enough, right? The original story comes from the English Civil War.

There was a large cannon nicknamed Humpty on top of a huge wall, but during battle it was struck by enemy fire and fell off. The damage was beyond repair and so the story of Humpty Dumpty was born.

London Bridge

This one most likely came from the Vikings as a way of bragging about their alleged attack on the London Bridge in the early 1000s when it’s believed that Olaf II of Norway destroyed the bridge. Having the Vikings as a source makes sense because its popularity was so worldwide, only they could have spread a song that widespread.

Ladybird Ladybird

Even if this were just about a bird, it would be horrific. The ladybird is a reference to Catholics in England during the 16th century. You were legally obligated to attend Protestant services and if you missed you would be fined. For Catholics to practice their religion, they had to have secret services and if they were caught they would be burned at the stake for their beliefs.

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary

When you were a kid your parents probably didn’t want you playing Bloody Mary, but little did they realize this nursery rhyme was about the same lady. Mary I of England was murdering so many that opposed her, she got the nickname Bloody Mary. “How does your garden grow” is referring to the cemeteries that she continually filled with Protestants. The rest of the rhyme is just references to different devices of torture she used to mangle, behead, and murder.

Three Blind Mice

Here’s another tale of the antics of Bloody Mary. There were three priests that attempted to overthrow the queen and, as a result were burned at the stake. The reason they were referred to as blind mice was because they were considered blind because of their religious beliefs. It really makes the characters on Shrek depressing, doesn’t it?

Old Mother Hubbard

The interpretations vary, but the general consensus is that the poem isn’t about a woman at all. It’s actually about Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and his fall from politics. King Henry VIII had asked for a divorce so he could marry Anne Boleyn, but Wolsey refused. This, obviously, did not settle well with King Henry VIII and was the beginning of the end for Wolsey.

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