Hey Diddle Diddle,
The Cat and the Fiddle,
The Cow jumped over the moon,
The little Dog laughed, to see such fun,
And the Dish ran away with the Spoon.
This is an old nursery rhyme, even older than London is Burning or Ring a’ ring a Roses. It was written during the reign of Elizabeth I. It is actually a very tongue in cheek piece, written by the Ballard men of the day; and of very dry wit. So typical of the English!
The rhyme is based on one of the most notorious love triangles in English history. One that, had it come to fruition could have brought down the crown. As it was, the dark and criminal perception of the matter; by those in power and the public; was so serious that whether innocent or not; it had the ramification that Elizabeth I could never ever marry the man she really loved.
It is based on the love triangle of Robert Earl of Essex (24th June 1532-4th September 1588) and Lettice Knollys (1543-1634), the cousin of the Queen, as well as Elizabeth herself (7th Sept 1533-24 March 1603). Lettice Knollys grandmother was the sister of Anne Boleyn. Mary Boleyn had been the mistress of Henry VIII long before her sisters ominous marriage; which led to her own be heading. The Knollys family had lived in Germany during the tempestuous reign Mary I. They returned to claim their rights on the ascension of their cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth was very loyal to those she loved and family and gave much honour to the Knollys family. Lettice she made a lady of the bedchamber, or a maid – in –waiting. Lettice Knollys was very beautiful. Elizabeth always had problems with those more handsome than herself.
Robert Dudley, later to be made the Earl of Essex came from a line of traitors. Both his father and grandfather had fallen foul of Tudor wrath and been beheaded for treason. Robert, himself in the tower was a little different. This was because Elizabeth herself was also in the tower and both felt a powerful attraction to one another. So, when Elizabeth ascended to the throne on 17th November 1558; she has him made her Master of the Horse.
Even though he was married to Amy Robsart they flirted and ‘loved’ and the Queen was well known to be completely infatuated with Robert, allowing him licence to behave as no one else would have dared. But as fortune or maybe misfortune would have it, when his own wife was found with her neck broken at the bottom of the staircase in Cumnor Place on Sunday the 8th September 1560; it took away any chance of marriage to Elizabeth.The shadow of murder grew large; suspicion on both Elizabeth and Robert caused major concern. This was due to not only Robert's reputation, which was scandalous to say the least, but also to Elizabeth’s indiscretions which shocked her most trusted minister; Robert Cecil.
Time did not remove the stain of suspected guilt as the years went by. Elizabeth had more favourites, though she loved Robert. Robert grew more and more despondent as it became clear Elizabeth would never marry him.
Finally Robert, with a little encouragement grew enamoured of Lettice herself. Lettice was charming and seductive and fervently desired to be married to the Charming Robert Dudley, now Earl of Lester. After much time and more than a little intrigue, Robert secretly wed Lettice. Secretly; because of Elizabeth’s wrath, she hated her favourites marrying, and her most favourite was Robert.
But Roberts pride and attitude was not favoured by the Queen’s men and he was betrayed by the French ambassador, who told Elizabeth.
Elizabeth’s fury knew no bounds, threatening them both with the tower; it was only the wisdom of Robert Cecil, her advisor that stopped a catastrophe. Elizabeth made herself ill with her rage, banishing Robert for a time and completely refusing to ever see Lettice again (until the execution of Lettice’s son by her first marriage to Walter Devereux) He was also called Robert (Devereux); Earl of Essex (1566-1601) and was another favourite of Elizabeth; but with disastrous consequences. She called Lettice a She-Wolf and hated her with a passion.
The nursery rhyme was coined in fun during this period. The Dish and the spoon were possibly Lettice and Robert, The Cow being Elizabeth. The little Dog was possibly Robert Cecil who would have been vastly satisfied that Robert had shot himself in the foot, on the suspicious death of his wife Amy. Today such a rhyme, originally written because of such passion and intrigue; just delights dribbling babies!
Thankyou to Victoria Holt for the excellent history of Lettice Knollys. The source was very valuable. Also thankyou to www.famousquotes.me and www.rhymes.org.uk for their information, which was useful to me in writing this article.