Dark Origins – Little Jack Horner, a nursery rhymePosted: March 24, 2021
When I was a girl I loved nursery rhymes. I had a beautiful Mother Goose book which I used to read often. Over the years that book disintegrated from frequent use and it was eventually disposed of. When my oldest son was born, I replaced it with a few new nursery rhyme books, all of which are beautifully illustrated.
One of my favourite nursery rhymes is Little Jack Horner. The modern version goes like this:
Little Jack Horner.
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out plum,
And said “What a good boy am I.”
The text of the original nursery rhyme is somewhat different and is believed to have originated in 1538 during the English Reformation. During the years 1536 to 1541, King Henry VIII set about an administrative and legal process whereby he disbanded monasteries, priories, convents, and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland. The incomes previously earned by the monasteries were expropriated by the crown and their assets were seized.
It is speculated that the Jack from this nursery rhyme is Thomas Horner who was a steward to the last abbot of Glastonbury, Richard Whiting. According to the story, Horner was sent to London with a Christmas pie for King Henry VIII. Inside the pie the deeds to twelve manor houses were hidden. These were intended to be a gift to the king and a last effort by Richard Whiting to prevent the nationalisation of church lands and the destruction of Glastonbury Abbey.
On the way to London, Horner discovered the deeds hidden in the pie and took for himself the deeds of the manor of Mells in Summerset. Shortly afterward, Horner moved into the manor and his descendants have lived in the manor house for generations. They dispute the claim that the deeds were stolen by Horner.
The origin of this nursery rhyme fascinates me so much I have incorporated it into my writing. In my supernatural novel, Through the Nethergate, it is mentioned by one of the main supporting characters, the Monk.
Extract from Through the Nethergate relating to Little Jack Horner
Here is an short extract from Through the Nethergate that details the original wording of this nursery rhyme and a peek into its history:
“Margaret continued to watch him. She wasn’t sure where this outpouring of information was going.
I’m talking to a ghost, she thought. Someone who says he was born in 1483. Bewilderment and fear fluttered in her stomach.
The monk seemed to pull himself together and continued to speak:
“In 1536, King Henry VIII set about the dissolution of the monasteries. Monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland were disbanded and their income and assets appropriated by the Crown.”
The monk’s eyes seemed to glisten in the dim light.
“In the run up to Christmas 1538, Richard Whiting sent a gift to the king in a last effort to prevent the nationalisation of church lands and the destruction of the abbey. The gift was a huge Christmas pie with the deeds to a dozen manor houses hidden inside it. The abbot chose two trusted men to deliver the gift; one was his steward, Thomas Horner, and the other was me.”
A smile suddenly lit up the monk’s face.
“Do you know the nursery rhyme, Little Jack Horner?”
Margaret nodded again. A little taken aback at this sudden change of direction to the conversation.
Now he sings of Jackey Horner,
Sitting in the Chimney-Corner,
Eating of a Christmas pye,
Putting in his thumb, Oh fie!
Putting in, Oh fie, his Thumb,
Pulling out, Oh strange! A Plum.
“That nursery rhyme was written about Thomas Horner. During the journey, he opened the pie and took out the deeds of the manor of Mells in Somerset, which he kept for himself.”
“What about you?” Margaret asked. “What happened to you?”
The monk looked at Margaret, his smile slowly fading.
“I was killed, of course. Stabbed through the heart by that treacherous and thieving Thomas Horner.”
The monk’s shoulders slumped dejectedly and his mouth turned downwards.”
The story of the Monk’s death is included as a short story in a murder mystery anthology, Death Among Us.
I was planning to visit the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey last year, but sadly Covid-19 put paid to that trip.
There are two interesting features of Glastonbury Abbey that make it very interesting to me:
- The graves of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere’s tomb are purported to be in Glastonbury; and
- The Abbot’s Kitchen is described as “one of the best preserved medieval kitchens in Europe”
About Roberta Eaton Cheadle
I am a South African writer specialising in historical, paranormal and horror novels and short stories. I am an avid reader in these genres and my writing has been influenced by famous authors including Bram Stoker, the Bronte sisters, Amor Towles, Stephen Crane, Enrich Maria Remarque, George Orwell, Stephen King, and Colleen McCullough.
I was educated at the University of South Africa where I achieved a Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1996 and a Honours Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1997. I was admitted as a member of The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants in 2000.
I have worked in corporate finance from 2001 until the present date and have written seven publications relating to investing in Africa. I have won several awards over my twenty year career in the category of Transactional Support Services.
I have been published a number of anthologies and have two published YA books, While the Bombs Fell and Through the Nethergate. I have recently published my first adult novel called A Ghost and His Gold which is partly set in South Africa during the Second Anglo Boer War.
Find Roberta Eaton Cheadle
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