10 Sinister Nursery Rhymes With Meanings You Won’t Believe

Ring Around the Rosey

Ring around the rosy

A pocketful of posies

“Ashes, Ashes”

We all fall down

“Ring Around the Rosy” dates back to when the Bubonic Plague hit England in 1665. “Ring around the rosy” refers to the typical plague symptoms, the circular (ring) shape of a red (rosey) rash on the skin. It was a common belief during that time that diseases were transmitted through bad smells, so people often held little pouches that contained herbs or flowers (posies) to their nose and avoided inhaling the bad air. “Ashes, Ashes” refers to the remains of cremated victims or possibly those who burned in the Great Fire of London in 1666. Of course we know why they “all fall down!”

Mary Mary Quite Contrary

Mary Mary Quite Contrary

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells and cockle shells

And pretty maids all in a row

Mary Tudor, daughter of King Henry VIII, is the subject of this nursery rhyme, and they didn’t call her “Bloody Mary” for no reason. A devoted Catholic, Mary was quite contrary with Protestants and would have them beheaded for being a threat to the Catholic church. Her ‘garden’ (graveyards) grew with dead bodies after the ‘silverbells’ and ‘cockleshells’ (torture devices) were used. A guillotine was once called the “maiden,” hence the “pretty maids all in a row.” Not the sweet English garden the nursery rhyme brought to mind in childhood!