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Sex, death and cruelty. Who knew? And "Sing a Song of Sixpence"? London librarian Chris Roberts was moonlighting as a walking tour guide when he discovered that nursery rhymes had juicy histories. Now he's compiled those tales into a book. Here it is. Who put her in? Little Johnny Flynn. And as we all know, cats can't swim.
Some are more blatantly cruel, and others are more coded in their meanings. It's to do with words in English changing the meaning over time. It's to do with changing assumptions of what we think of as childhood. Childhood is a relatively recent phenomena, certainly over the last couple of hundred years, that children are seen as very separate from adults.
So there would be no reason in the past not to have what would now be considered adult themes in rhymes that children could hear and sing. Upstairs and downstairs and in my lady's chamber. There I met an old man who wouldn't say his prayers, so I took him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs. A key--this is a very good example of a word that has changed its meaning over the centuries. And this rhyme's quite interesting.
There's a number of theories about this rhyme. There were two prongs to Henry's attack. One was he took the land; the other was a propaganda offensive, and this rhyme becomes part of that. And so there you have the rhyme linking the Catholic Church to immoral acts. So, yeah. Yes, sir. Yes, sir, three bags full. One for the master and one for the dame and one for the little boy who lives down the lane. I guess I can see that this would have something to do with paying taxes, but not really.
And the wealth of England was very much based on wool. The lord chancellor still sits on a wool sack in the House of Commons to remind everyone about that. And "Baa, Baa Black Sheep" was a lament from the farmers of England who in the rhyme are represented by the little boy. The other two figures in the rhyme, the master and the dame, are--the master is the king or the king's representatives; the local nobility would collect revenue on behalf of the king--and the dame is the church.