Traditional nursery rhymes such as ‘Jack and Jill went up the hill’, ‘Three blind mice’, and ‘Mary Mary quite contrary’ are examples of British satire in the face of rather gruesome events. They all seem to contain some historical facts, but these have been smudged over in metaphor. Let’s take ‘Humpty Dumpty’ as an example:-
Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,
All the King’s horses and all the King’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
It is said that this originates from the English Civil War and that ‘Humpty Dumpty’ was in fact a huge cannon which was strategically positioned by the Cavaliers at the top of a church tower. Eventually the tower was taken by the Roundheads and the cannon, ‘Humpty’, fell crashing to the ground, where it lay in pieces.
These rhymes were for the amusement of adults to start with, but in later centuries they were purloined as language development aids for children, who happily learnt the words without knowing their true significance!