“Goosey, Goosey Gander” is a traditional English nursery rhyme from the late 18th century. The more I read of nursery rhymes, the more cruel they seem to become!
Although there is no exact evidence of this, it is believed that the origins of Goosey, Goosey Gander date back earlier to the 16th century, during King Henry VII’s reign, and it was used as propaganda of the Protestants against the Catholic Church.
The title and first line of the song might also refer to the march of Cromwell’s soldiers in “goose-step”, in the mid 17th century, after the Civil War.
The most popular interpretation of this nursery rhyme is that it’s a reference to religious persecution. Specifically, anti-Catholic sentiment in England that forced Catholic families to hide their priests (the “old man” of the rhyme) in their houses in special rooms called priest hides. Priest hides were specially disguised within a house to baffle search parties.