Nursery Rhymes – Their History and Origins - Fabula Toys

Nursery Rhymes – Their History and Origins

Nursery Rhymes – Their History and Origins

An integral part of most childhoods, nursery rhymes are simple songs or poems that can be  told or sung to young children. Interestingly, the majority of these verses are anonymous as most of them cannot be traced back in time. Nursery rhymes, or Mother Goose rhymes as they are often called, vary in style, tone, and theme. Indicatively, some of them feature counting, finger-play, games and riddles that are great for some early learning, and even some non-sensical verses perfect for a good laugh!

Given that all fabula products are built on nursery rhymes, we thought it might be a good idea to explore the history and origins of nursery rhymes.

Which Was the First Recorded Nursery Rhyme?

The first nursery rhymes in Britain were most likely lullabies. In fact, the oldest lullaby was published in the Book of Aneirin in the late 13th century, even though it is widely believed to be a copy from a 9th-century original.

Nevertheless, the majority of the nursery rhymes known today originate from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Some of the oldest nursery rhymes can be found in British theatrical plays from the mid-16th century, like “Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man” from Thomas d’Urfey’s play “The Campaigners” that dates from 1698.

Yet, the first British collection of nursery rhymes was published in London in 1744. ‘Tommy Thumb’s Song Book’ and its sequel, ‘Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book’, feature some of the most well-known nursery rhymes.

The Origin of Nursery Rhymes

It is no secret that nursery rhymes were influenced by the events and popular historical figures at the time of their appearance. For this reason, many of them are argued to have hidden meanings, often even not suitable for children. Let’s examine our top 4 rhymes and the urban legends of their origins:

#1 London Bridge is Falling Down (published in 1659)

The most popular opinion about the meaning of ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ is that it refers to Viking attacks. This particular nursery rhyme is also found in various countries, suggesting that the theory might be correct.

#2 Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary (published in 1744)

‘Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary’ talks about Queen Mary I of England, or Bloody Mary, which was a firm believer in Catholicism. The queen reigned from 1553 to 1558 and in those years, she was responsible for the execution of hundreds of Protestants.

#3 Jack and Jill (published in 1765)

One common origin story for this nursery rhyme is that it refers to Louis XVI of France and Marie Antoinette. However, the poem predates the events of the French Revolution. It was likely a satire towards King Charles I, who tried to reduce the volume of the Jack (1/8 pint) and the Gill (1/4 pint).

#4 Who Killed Cock Robin? (published in 1744)

This nursery rhyme holds many similarities with the story ‘Phyllyp Sparowe’, which was written by John Skelton in 1508. For this, it is believed that it is much older than its recorded date. Some believe that the rhyme was inspired by Norse mythology, while others argue that it comes from the Celtic tradition.

There are many, many more rhymes with a lot more historical references and key learnings  – but we’re going to keep them for our next blog! After all, nursery rhymes have been a steady companion for children from all around the world and they definitely warrant more of our love. Until then, tell us about your favourite rhymes, their origins, what other rhymes you want us to focus on and stay fabula/s!