Guest Author - Nicola Jane Soen
One of the most well known and loved nursery rhymes could have a very ominous meaning. It concerned the infamous Mary Tudor or Bloody Mary.
Mary was the daughter of Henry the Eight. Born on the 18th February 1516 to Katherine of Aragon and Henry VIII, she was his eldest daughter. Never did a monarch come to the throne with so much rejoicing from the people and die such a hated and feared ruler.
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells and
all in a row.
Is this rhyme, first documented in the 18th century meant to mock the much maligned monarch? Some sources say yes. That the How does your garden grow? Line possibly means the empty womb. Mary was so desperate to have a child, she had a phantom pregnancy. The pretty maids all in a row could mean all the martyrs that Mary had sent to the stake. These were at first pardoned if they recanted and confessed Catholicism, but by the time of her death Mary refused to give such mercy as she felt they were not ‘genuine confessions’ but only made to avoid burning at the stake. However although this sounds as though it fits the description of the rhyme, there is not proof that it did actually mean Mary Tudor.
It could also have meant Mary Queen of Scots, also a most desperate and doomed woman. Mary claimed the throne was rightfully hers, even though Elizabeth Tudor was firmly on it! She had for handmaidens, also all called Mary. (Mary Fleming, Mary Seton, Mary Beaton and Mary Livingstone) Were these the pretty maids all in a row? Some think the silver bells related to the Catholic Church. Mary of course was a staunch Catholic, desiring to bring back England to the Mother Faith. (Elizabeth was a Protestant, and was very easy going. She did not persecute different branches of Christianity. Her own words were ‘There is but one Jesus Christ; the rest is mere frivolities’)
Were the cockle shells indicators of Mary’s husband, Darnley being unfaithful? Some scholars think so.
The silver bells were thought to have some kind of medieval torture instruments. (And knowing some of those it’s very possible!!) As was the Maids, Some scholars believe this to mean ‘The Maid’ or guillotine, a version of beheading preferred by the French; whereas the English had used the axe of the executioner. This was extremely barbaric and often took many strokes before death. It was the reason the guillotine was invented.
As you can see, there are many suppositions and ideologies around just this one nursery rhyme. It is easy to believe either version from looking at the reasons. I wonder what the real version actually did mean. I guess we can only surmise. What do you think?
Thanks to Wikipedia, www.nwlink.com/scotlass/thefour.htm,www.rhymes.org.uk for all their helpful information which I used when researching this article.