Truth or Myth? Was Humpty Dumpty An Egg?

The popular nursery rhyme never describes Humpty Dumpty as an egg, so what was he?

By Elle Monah

Claim: Humpty Dumpty was an egg. 

It's False. Humpty Dumpty was the name of a cannon used by English Royalists in the English Civil War of 1642-1649. During the war, Royalists placed several cannons on walls surrounding the city of Colchester. In 1648, while under siege, an enemy's cannonball blew apart the wall upon which Humpty Dumpty sat, sending it tumbling to the ground. The cannon, a formidable weapon, was beyond repair. So how did we come to know Humpty Dumpty as an egg? Apparently on a whim, a 19th-century illustrator in Lewis Caroll's "Through the Looking Glass" depicted Humpty Dumpty as an egg. The three-stanza Humpty Dumpty poem was also shortened to one stanza, and thus went from a story to a riddle for which an egg seemed the most plausible answer. Thanks to the popularity of the book and its pop culture adaptation, we now know Humpty Dumpty as an egg. 

Humpty Dumpty is not the only nursery rhyme linked to a historical event. 

"Jack and Jill," a nonsensical rhyme about children rolling down a hill, originated in France in reference to King Louis XVI (Jack) and Queen Marie Antoinette (Jill). Louis XVI was beheaded on January 21, 1793, effectively losing his crown (pun intended) and Queen Marie Antoinette suffered the same fate nine months later. 

"Mary, Mary Quite Contrary" isn't about an older woman's interest in flowers. It's rumored that Mary Tudor I, known best for her bloody reign, inspired this nursery rhyme. "How does your garden grow?" refers to Bloody Mary's growing graveyard of executed Protestants. The silver bells are instruments of torture that crushed the thumb with the tightening of a screw, and cockleshells were torture devices attached to one's genitals. 

"Georgie Porgie" is said to satirize George Villiers, the 1st Duke of Buckingham. A scandalous playboy in his day, George was said to play both fields, first consorting with King James I then many ladies of the court, including Anne of Austria, the Queen Consort of France. He then left Anne of Austria for King Charles I, who knighted George as a Gentleman of the Bedchamber. The last line of the nursery rhyme "When the boys came out to play, Georgie Porgie ran away" refers to George's many avoidances from prosecution.

Comments

I remember these plus "Ring Around the Rosie." That was due to the plaque. People wore posies to "hide" the smell of the dead.

I personally like to know the background of most things, especially nursery rhymes. It was the coolest way to tell the truth and keep your head.

The other comments I read (not very many) need to get off the "stupid" wagon and realize this article does not insist that you tell your grandchildren the truth about the beginnings of the rhymes. It's really sad that no matter what is written, someone ALWAYS has to point out the obvious for example: "You'd NOT NEED to tell [your] child or grandchild the truth..." (comment on 2014-12-23 o6:35:35) I thoroughly agree with this person. But then again this commenter had to point out the obvious to those that were "horrified" by the truth on an ADULT website. Unless they are like a parent on a widow's site I used to belong; she would allow her daughter to sit beside her and read the posts. Then was offended when an off-color joke was made. DUH, the obvious (that word again) is DON'T LET YOUR CHILD READ AN ADULT WEBPAGE; just because these are not porn does not mean it is appropriate for children to read over their grandparents' shoulder.

uarew@rocketmail.com on 2014-12-30 12:48:55

As an ADULT, I think the truth behind nursery rhymes are interesting. You'd NOT NEED to tell you child or grandchild the truth behind these. Keep in mind - Santa, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny. Age appropriateness. : )

kaymeeks@yahoo.com on 2014-12-23 06:35:35

Way to ruin childhood memories. :-(

moondaughter72@hotmail.com on 2014-12-22 12:32:30

Why would we want to know these things? Especially the "Mary, Mary Quite Contrary"????????

sblank@defcity.org on 2014-12-22 09:31:59

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