I recently found a copy of Ladybirds nursery rhymes for daughter. This is ideal, because she likes anything gruesome, dead-ish and messy. This book was published in the years of full glory, when nursery rhymes were still violent, crazed, misogynist, and fun. As an ex-history teacher (although please let me back one day, please), I love how so many of them are basically a history story.
Take "Mary Mary". Poor Mary Stuart. Piggy eyed, despised by her dad, her mum shucked off like a cloak for some strumpet, and so, so desperate for an heir and baby she went through false pregnancies. Took her mind off burning people. I do feel for her though, shut up with an ostracised mother for her youth, only allowed back to court on the understanding that she accept her fathers rule and attitude to her mother. Brave, in many ways, to stick to her Catholocism. But not, by any measure, popular once she DID get the throne by dint of Edward dying. So the rhyme shows us: Mary Mary quite Contrary (Mary, why the flip are you burning everyone, leave it out!) How does your garden grow? (And anyway, what's wrong with you? Pop one out you barren cow) With Silver Bells and Cockleshells (Spend less time at Catholic church (silver bells) and sort your husband (Philip of Spain) out, he's cockleshelling all over the place but not on you) OR (silver bells was a nickname for thumbscrews, and cockle shells was a nick name for...er....something else screws), and Pretty maids all in a row (reference to many miscarriages she went through). So, when I hear it, I feel sort of sorry for her, even though she was quite clearly a crazy woman. This illustration makes it clear it's about her.
And h0w about this. This charming illustration, showing a woman with a machine (!) for whipping her kids' bums. How amazing. Can you imagine this being in a book today? I love it. I like to think of that woman going "go on! Hurry up! Get the soup down yer, whup, and into bed, so I can have me wine!" Originally, this was about Queen Caroline/ King George, who had 8 children. George began the fashion of white wigs and was often referred to as the "old woman". The notion of whipping may be pointed too: the children referred to in the rhyme were the Members of Parliament, who needed to be "whipped" (not least because they were trying to dethrone him half the time), and we still have whips today to keep politicians on the party line.
And look at this for extreme violence for kids. This poor old soul being thrown head first over the bannisters.This dates from the Civil War, where "left footers" (Catholics) were prosecuted by the Cromwellian rule, and refers to sniffing out Catholics from their priest holes and dragging them off to justice, or, just throwing them down the stairs.
Finally, did you know that "Mary had a little lamb" was the first thing Edison said over his phone? They're deep in there, those rhymes. And the Grills bit? Husband had his first day out catering at the Skylark Showground. It went very well, you can see some photos on my Flickr stream. Another event booked for September, soon we will be barbecue millionaires.