Truth behind the Nursery Rhymes we grew up with.
Of all the dark meaning of children’s nursery rhymes, one of the worst must be ‘ Mary Mary quite contrary.’
This rhyme is usually said to be about Bloody Mary, daughter of King Henry VIII and concerns the torture and murder of Protestants. Queen Mary was a staunch Catholic and her “garden” here is an allusion to the graveyards which were filling with Protestant martyrs.The ‘silver bells’ were a type of thumbscrew and the ‘cockle shells’ were also instruments of torture, used on Protestant martyrs to ‘persuade’ them to change faith. The ‘maiden’ was an instrument used to behead people (a little like the later French guillotine) and the line ‘pretty maids all in a row’ is taken to refer to the mass execution of Protestants during Mary’s reign.
Not really a children’s happy poem is it? As is the case with many nursery rhymes!