Little jack horner story

The Hidden History of Nursery Rhymes

Many of the nursery rhymes that we have read to our children have their origins in British history. Rhymes were written for many different reasons. Some rhymes were written to honor a particular local event that has since been forgotten, while others were written to express feelings of love. Rhymes were also used to hide real meanings, such as when someone wanted to express displeasure toward the government or the sovereign without being executed! Another reason for rhymes is that they’re easy to remember, and therefore could be spread by word-of-mouth—an essential feature for a large population of people who could not read or write. Here are some common nursery rhymes that have interesting interpretations regarding figures and events in British history. But be warned, they are not for the faint-hearted!

Download Article

Old Mother Hubbard - The Old Mother Hubbard rhyme allegedly refers to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and his unsuccessful attempt to get an annulment for King Henry VIII. Old Mother Hubbard is Cardinal Wolsey. The cupboard is the Catholic Church. The doggie is Henry VIII. The bone is the annulment Henry wanted in order to end his marriage to Katherine of Aragon.

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary “Mary” is referring to Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII. The Catholic queen received quite a bad reputation during her short reign for executing Protestant loyalists.  The garden in the rhyme is referring to the growth of a graveyard. Silver bells and cockleshells are believed to be euphemisms for instruments of torture. The “maids” is slang for a beheading instrument called “The Maiden” that came into common use before the guillotine.

Three Blind Mice - The first written variation of Three Blind Mice dates from 1609. The three blind mice were three Protestant loyalists who were accused of plotting against Queen Mary I. The farmer’s wife refers to the queen who with her husband, King Philip of Spain, owned large estates. The three men were burned at the stake.

Ring Around A Rosy - Ring Around A Rosy is said to refer to the Great Plague of 1665. The plague caused a high fever and a rash in the form of a ring hence the name, Ring Around A Rosy. Putting herbs and spices in the pocket of an ailing person in an attempt to freshen up the stale air was a common practice, thus the “pocket full of posies”. “Ashes, Ashes” is an American variation of the English version which is “A-tishoo, A-tishoo” or someone sneezing. Plague sufferers had a fit of sneezing before they passed away or when “we all fall down”.

Little Jack Horner - The story behind this rhyme is that “Jack” is actually Thomas Horner, a steward to the abbot of Glastonbury. The abbot sent Horner to London with a Christmas pie for King Henry VIII. The deeds to twelve manor houses were hidden in the pie.  The abbot did this in an attempt to ingratiate himself with the king during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. On his trip to London, Horner put his finger in the pie and pulled out the deed to Mells Manor. Shortly thereafter, Horner moved into the manor. His descendants have lived in the manor house for generations. Horner’s descendants dispute this story and claim that Horner fairly purchased the property from the king.

London Bridge - London Bridge hasa rich history and can be traced back to 1659. In fact, London Bridge is so well known that many countries have their own version Bro, Bro, Brille in Denmark, Die Magdeburger Brucke in Germany, Le Pont-Levis in France, and Le porte in Italy.

While the alleged meanings of some of these rhymes may or may not be true, it sure is a fun way to remember events in British history.  It may also be used as a jumping off point to study other nursery rhymes that may contain old words that give away their British origins.  For more information on the origins of nursery rhymes, you can check out these reference books, The Annotated Mother Goose and The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes.

Next Article: Why Teach History?

'Little Jack Horner' : NPR

Reason Behind the Rhyme: 'Little Jack Horner' Host Debbie Elliott and Chris Roberts dissect the meaning of the nursery rhyme "Little Jack Horner." It's about a real estate swindle in 16th-century England. Roberts is the author of Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme.

Heard on All Things Considered

Reason Behind the Rhyme: 'Little Jack Horner'

Host Debbie Elliott and Chris Roberts dissect the meaning of the nursery rhyme "Little Jack Horner." It's about a real estate swindle in 16th-century England. Roberts is the author of Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

You think the real estate market is treacherous today, try England in the late 1530s. That's what the nursery rhyme "Little Jack Horner" is really all about.

(Soundbite of music)

ELLIOTT: Here to explain is our London librarian Chris Roberts. He's the author of "Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme," and he's at our London bureau.

Hello again, Chris.

Mr. CHRIS ROBERTS (Author, "Heavy Words Lightly Thrown"): Hello. Hi, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: So who was Little Jack Horner?

Mr. ROBERTS: Little Jack Horner was actually Thomas Horner. The name Jack comes up in nursery rhymes a lot, usually to reflect a slightly knavish character, a bit of a ne'er-do-well. So I suspect that's why they changed his name to Jack from Thomas.

(Reading) `Little Jack Horner sat in a corner eating his Christmas pie. He stuck in a thumb and pulled out a plum and said, "What a good boy am I. "'

Where to begin with this? This is talking about the dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII taking property from the Catholic Church. Jack, as we know, is actually called Thomas Horner. Now he was a steward to the Abbot of Glastonbury during the reign of Henry VIII. This is how the story goes: He was entrusted to take some title deeds of properties to Henry VIII as a bribe so the abbot could keep the main monastery, but was prepared to give away some of the lesser properties.

Now the title deeds were held and sealed in a pie, and Jack's off to London. But instead of delivering the bribe to Henry VIII, he helps himself to the pie, puts his hand in, pulls out a plum piece of real estate--in this case, a place called Mells Manor--and thinks he's very clever for doing this. That's one version of it, that Jack is a thief and he's stealing the bribe that's intended for the king. And he...

ELLIOTT: So was this common? Is there historical evidence to support the theory that bribes were often delivered in pies?

Mr. ROBERTS: It comes up bewilderingly often in nursery rhyme. And it's--I think the pie is used as a metaphor. I think it's not necessarily what we would think of as a pie. It's just referring to a means of concealing a document, concealing anything. It could be jewels in some cases. Now the Horner family, who incidentally lived in Mells Manor until the 20th century, are quite outraged at this slander of their ancestor and understandably so.

And there are actually two rhymes that mention Mr. Horner. The first one that mentions him is: `Hopton(ph), Horner, Smith and Finn, when the abbots went out, they came in.' And a much more likely reading of what happened is that Thomas Horner, along with the other people mentioned in the previous rhyme--Hopton and Smith and Finn--were up-and-coming gentry. They were Protestant, they were local merchants doing quite well for themselves in the area around Glastonbury, and that they bought the property. You could see it as an early example of gentrification. They bought the property at the time admittedly at a knockdown rate, and admittedly the land had been stolen from the Catholic Church by Henry VIII. This seems to be what happened after the dissolution of the monasteries. The king didn't keep all the land for himself; he distributed it amongst his supporters so he then could rely on their loyalty should anything occur in the future, should there be a rebellion in the future. I suspect, though I can't prove this, that the popular `Little Jack Horner sat in a corner, eating his Christmas pie' version is actually the Catholic take on proceedings there.

ELLIOTT: Chris Roberts is the author of "Heavy Words Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme," and he's a librarian at Lambeth College in South London.

Thank you, Chris.

Mr. ROBERTS: Thank you, Debbie.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sponsor Message

Become an NPR sponsor

90,000 One-third of dinosaur species are described erroneously?

Paleontologists, like biologists who study modern animals, operate in terms of biological taxonomy, such as species, genus, family. Having found the fossilized bones of the next dinosaur, they record it in an existing species or allocate a new one if the discovered dinosaur is not similar to known specimens. But, unlike biologists, paleontologists cannot observe those they study. Often they do not know what the dinosaur they found was like in his youth, or, conversely, what the found cub would have become if he had time to grow up. It is not always even possible to determine the age and gender of a found individual from fossilized bones. nine0003

After studying many descriptions of various dinosaurs, paleontologist Jack Horner (Jack Horner) from the University of Montana (Montana State University) and his colleagues came to the conclusion that at least a third of the species described erroneously. As an example, in a publication on the portal, Horner cites the genus Nanotyrannus (Nanotyrannus) from the tyrannosaurid family. According to Horner and his colleagues, nanotyrannus is not a separate genus of tyrannosaurids, but just a young Tyrannosaurus rex. The first specimen of Nanotyrannus had 17 teeth on each side of the lower jaw, while the adult tyrannosaurus had only 12. Despite the great similarity in all other parameters, it was because of these teeth that the small tyrannosaurid was described as a separate genus and species. But now scientists have found a nanotyrannus skull with 14 teeth on each side of the lower jaw. It became clear that the number of teeth in a tyrannosaurus decreased with age and nanotyrannus really is a tyrannosaurus rex - a teenager. nine0003

Paleontologists cite the Triceratops dinosaurs as another example. These four-legged herbivorous dinosaurs, whose head was decorated with powerful horns, lived in the territory of modern North America in the Cretaceous period. There are quite a few skeletons of Triceratops that died at different ages. In young lizards of this species, the horns curved back towards the neck, and in adults, forward, towards the end of the muzzle. Initially, all these forms were described as different types. nine0003

Based on these and other examples, Horner concludes that at least a third of the dinosaurs now described never existed as separate species, but were juveniles of other species or their skeletons were simply so poorly preserved that they could not be properly identified.

This is not the first time Jack Horner has addressed the issue of erroneous descriptions of juvenile dinosaurs as new species. "" two years ago talked about Horner's article in Science magazine, in which he argued that three representatives of the pachycephalosaurid family (Pachycephalosauridae) - Pachycephalosaurus wyomingensishas, ​​Stygimoloch spinifer and Dracorex hogwartsia (named, by the way, in honor of the Hogwarts school from Harry Potter") are in fact individuals of the same species of different ages. nine0003

Not all paleontologists fully agreed with Horner's assessments in his new work. Thus, Hans-Dieter Sues of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC agrees that many individual dinosaur species may, in fact, be cubs and juveniles of others. known species. But Seuss does not agree that there are at least a third of such species, in his opinion, this estimate may be overestimated. nine0003

However, some paleontologists believe that there are actually even more erroneously named dinosaurs. So, last year, scientists from the UK analyzed descriptions of all types of dinosaurs discovered from 1824 to 2004. As a result, it was found that 16% of the names are duplicates, that is, they belong to dinosaurs that had previously been given other names. In another 32 percent of cases, names of new species were given on the basis of finds of extremely unsatisfactory quality. nine0003

In fact, the problem of correctly determining whether the found fossils belong to one or another extinct biological species concerns not only dinosaurs, but also, to a greater extent, various invertebrates - brachiopods, ammonites, etc. Here, not only males and females or juveniles and adults of the same species can fall into different "species", but also representatives of the seasonal groupings existing in some invertebrates (for example, squids of the same species born in spring or autumn can differ markedly). So with the accumulation of paleontological information and the discovery of new fossils, many of the species described to date will in fact never exist and have been erroneously identified. nine0017

"Ammonit. ru"

The photo shows the skull of a young tyrannosaurus, which was considered a member of the genus Nanotyrannus.
Photo from

October 14, 2009

Other news

Previous news >>>

Tags: paleontology, dinosaurs, tyrannosaurs, Nanotyrannus, Tyrannosaurus, Tyrannosauridae

Add to favorites

Permanent link:
Permanent link:

HTML-link to the news:
HTML-link to this page:

One third of dinosaur species described in error?

If you want to leave a comment,
you need to register (or log in if you are already registered)

Not on purpose, but the brain plays an amusing game - for anything...

Not on purpose, but the brain plays an amusing game - for every new event, it seeks out a connection with the past. Like, something vaguely reminds me of

Indo-Pakistani incident

Let's say a carrier pigeon brought us a collection of English rhymes and songs from a centuries-old children's repertoire, and it's impossible to read just like that! Take, for example, the famous Humpty Dumpty. Just drag on about "humpty-dumpty" as 9 appears before your eyes0003 plate of semolina porridge, halved with raspberry jam

mug of exquisite 17th century drink - brandy warmed with ale, which was called ... humpty-dumpty. True, some historians say that a military weapon used by the royalists in 1648 in the defense of Colchester from Cromwell's troops was called in such a playful way. Say, when the parliament hit the wall with the people's fist, all the humpty-dumpty fell down with a roar. And all the king's cavalry and all the king's men...

Read on:

Ring-a-ring of roses,
A pocketful of positions,
Attischo, Attischo,
We all fall down.

"Pink circle-circle,
A bunch in the pockets of bouquets,
Apchi, apchi,
We all fell down." echo of the London plague of 1665, and its decoding is as follows:
- the first line hints at the main symptom of the bubonic plague - a pink round spot that grows and turns into a bump
- the second line talks about the main way to fight the infection - strong and pungent odors in general and fragrant herbs in particular. Flowers and herbs were worn in pockets, hair, hats, hands. They were chewed and burned, driving away the disease.
- Sneezing - came at the last stage of the disease and preceded
- death.

This is such a sweet little song. Singing it, the players join hands, whirl and sneeze, and fall on the last words.

And here is the story of little Jack Horner

Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said 'What a good boy am I
He put his finger inside,
He grabbed a plum
And said: "What a nice boy I am!"

So why is little Jack so good? But listen to one legend. It was still under Henry VIII and before the dissolution of the Catholic monasteries. The last Abbot of the Abbey of Glastonb(u/e)ri Richard Whiting served a certain Jack (and according to some sources Thomas) Horner. Once this Jack Thomas was asked to deliver to the king a huge Christmas cake, in which documents for a dozen estates were hidden. During the trip, Horner opened the pie and took out documents for the right to own the Mells estate, in Somerset, which included lead mines in its economy. Lead, as you know, is called plumbum, and if plum is abbreviated - plum. nine0076 Really a good boy? By the way, the Horners really owned the estate from the 16th to the 18th century.

And now, having properly felt the connection of times in the folklore text, let's look soberly - hehe - at the following verse:

Over the water, and over the lea,
And over the water to Charley;

Charley loves good ale and wine,
And Charley loves good brandy,
And Charley loves a pretty girl
As sweet as sugar candy.

Over the water and over the sea,
And over the water to Charley;

I'll have none of your nasty beef,
Nor I'll have none of your barley.
But I'll have some of your very best flour
To make a white cake for my Charley.

Over the waves, over the fields
And over the rivers to Charlie;

Charlie likes good beer and wine,
Charlie likes the best brandy,
Charlie likes a pretty girl
Like a sweet pretzel.

Over the waves, over the fields
And along the rivers to Charlie;

I won't have nasty meat
I won't have a barley grain in gauze
But there's some fine flour,
To bake Charlie's white shortcakes.

And what, one wonders, could this song be about? I give 90 out of 100 that the masses put it into the mouth of the Portuguese princess Katrina Braganza, who plied the seas towards the cheerful King Charlie. What do you think?
And while we're out of control here, I'll hang Alexia Sinclair for the kitsch Charlie interior.

Learn more


North Coast Community Services
710 Fraser Street, Prince Rupert, BC V8J 1P9
Ph: 250.627.7166 | Fx: 250.627.7482

© All Rights Reserved | powered by ExpressionEngine