Dark Origins – Little Jack Horner, a nursery rhyme

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.

Nursery Rhymes Are Not What They Seem: The Story Behind “Little Jack Horner”  | History Daily
Picture from: https://historydaily.org/nursery-rhymes-are-not-what-they-seem-the-story-behind-little-jack-horner

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.

Picture from Wikipedia here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glastonbury_Abbey

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:

  1. The graves of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere’s tomb are purported to be in Glastonbury; and
  2. The Abbot’s Kitchen is described as “one of the best preserved medieval kitchens in Europe”
Site of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere’s purported tomb beneath the high altar. Picture from Wikipedia here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glastonbury_Abbey

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

Blog: https://wordpress.com/view/robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobertaEaton17

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/robertawrites

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Roberta-Eaton-Cheadle/e/B08RSNJQZ5

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Dark Origins – Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary is an English nursery rhyme which is believed to have religious and historical significance.

Picture from Origins – What Does History Say?

The most common modern version of this nursery rhyme is as follows:

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells, and cockle shells,

And pretty maids all in a row.

The oldest known version was first published in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book in 1744 and the lyrics were a little different.

Mistress Mary, Quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?

With Silver Bells, And Cockle Shells,

And so my garden grows.

The origins of this nursery rhyme are disputed and these are the three most popular theories.

Religous origin

One theory is that this nursery rhyme is a religious allegory of Catholicism as follows:

Mary is Mary, the mother of Jesus,

The bells are the sanctus or altar bells used to create a joyful noise to the Lord as a means of giving thanks for the miracle taking place on top of the altar,

The cockleshells are the badges of the pilgrims to the shrine of Saint James (one of the twelve Apostles of Jesus according to the New Testament) in Spain, and

Pretty maids are nuns.

Historical origins

The origin of this nursery rhyme has also been attributed to two 16th-century British queens, Mary Queen of Scots and Mary I, also known as Bloody Mary.

Mary Queen of Scots

Picture from Biography of Mary Queen of Scots where you can read more about her life

The tragic Mary Queen of Scots may have been the heroine of this nursery rhyme.

The cockle shells and silver bells were thought to have been ornaments on a dress given to her by her first husband, the Dauphin of France, who died in 1561, leaving her a widow.

The pretty maids all in a row is believed to refer to her ladies-in-waiting, the famous Four Mary’s: Mary Seton, Mary Fleming, Mary Beaton and Mary Livingston. These four young girls, all of noble and high birth, accompanied her when she travelled to France. They all had Scottish fathers and two of them had French mothers and could be relied upon to be loyal to the Scottish Queen and also to her French mother, Marie de Guise.

Mary I or Bloody Mary

Mary I was the elder daughter of King Henry VIII. Mary was a devout Catholic and upon ascending to the throne, following the death of her brother Edward VI, restored the Catholic faith to England. This, according to this theory, earned her the description Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary.

Bloody Mary was renowned for torturing Protestants and “silver bells” was a nickname for the thumbscrews. “Cockleshells” were believed to be instruments of torture attached to the genitals. Pretty maids in a row was said to represent people lined up to be executed by the Halifax Gibbet, the same as a guillotine, which was nicknamed ‘a maiden’.

“How does your garden grow?” could be a taunt about Mary I’s failure to produce an heir or it could be a reference to the cemetery and the fact that the more deaths there were, the more the cemetery flowers would grow.

What do you think about this nursery rhyme? Which theory do you think is the most likely? Let me know in the comments.

About Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Roberta Eaton Cheadle has published nine children’s books under the name of Robbie Cheadle. She has branched into writing for adults and young adults and, in order to clearly separate her children’s books from her adult books, is writing for older readers under the name Roberta Eaton Cheadle.

Her supernatural stories combine fabulous paranormal elements with fascinating historical facts.

Supernatural fantasy YA novel:
Through the Nethergate

Horror Anthologies (edited by Dan Alatorre):
Spellbound
Nightmareland
Dark Visions

Paranormal Anthologies (edited by Kaye Lynne Booth):
Spirits of the West
Whispers of the Past

Murder mystery Anthology (edited by Stephen Bentley)
Death Among Us

Find Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Blog: https://wordpress.com/view/robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobertaEaton17

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/robertawrites

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Roberta-Eaton-Cheadle/e/B08RSNJQZ5

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The joy of nursery rhymes: Twinkle, twinkle little bat

“Twinkle, twinkle, little star
How I wonder what you are
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky
Twinkle, twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are”

Do you remember the words of this nursery rhyme? It has always been one of my favourites and the first one I remember hearing as a child. There was something about it that captured my imagination. Today, the words of this nursery rhyme are imprinted on my brain and remind me of the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio, one of my favourite childhood books.

When I was 9 years old, Alice in Wonderland was my favourite book [it still is a favourite and I have a number of different copies of it]. The words of Lewis Carroll’s adaption of Twinkle twinkle little star stayed with me and is still the version I think of first.

TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE BAT: A Singable Poem with Pictures and a Play on a  Classic | Film alice in wonderland, Parody songs, Alice in wonderland

I had difficult babies. They were both real ‘howlers’. Gregory cried so much I gave all my baby stuff away when he was three months old and the promised reprieve from the endless crying didn’t happen. It turned out he was a ‘six-monther’. Terence had to work hard to convince me to have another baby and then Michael turned out to be a howler too. His health issues were even more challenging and he was in hospital numerous times during his first two years of life.

But, I digress … back to nursery rhymes. I used to recite nursery rhymes to my kids while I carried them around. They howled and I recited. It kept both of us sane.

Both of my sons have good vocabularies and literacy skills and both are musical. Reading up on the useful benefits of nursery rhymes for children, I think all the reciting I did may have helped enhance these skills.

The five major benefits of nursery rhymes are as follows:

They help develop language and literacy skills:

Vintage Nursery Rhyme Print Mary Mary Quite Contrary & Fairies... | Vintage  nursery, Nursery rhymes, Children's book illustration
Remember this one – this is how I learned the word contrary. It was applied to me a lot when I was a kid.

The help develop phonemic awareness – children hear the words said and learn to pronounce them. A lot of nursery rhymes include unusual and funny words and phrases.

Pin by Charmaine Cretin on rhymes | Hey diddle diddle, Nursery rhymes, Nursery  rhymes poems

Nursery rhymes help build word memory and articulation. They are full of rhyming words and include words and groups of sounds you don’t encounter in everyday speech.

WEE WILLIE WINKIE". OLD SCOTTISH NURSERY RHYME | Nursery rhymes, Nursery  rhymes lyrics, Childrens poems

Nursery rhymes help develop creativity in children by encouraging them to imagine the scene in their heads. Just think of this one:

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat

BY EDWARD LEAR
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
   In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
   And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
    What a beautiful Pussy you are,
         You are,
         You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”

II
Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
   How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
   But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
   To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
   With a ring at the end of his nose,
             His nose,
             His nose,
   With a ring at the end of his nose.

III
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
   Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
   By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
   Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
   They danced by the light of the moon,
             The moon,
             The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

Source: The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (1983)

Finally, nursery rhymes teach children to listen, a very important life skill.

I am finishing off this post with a video of a recital of the poem Television by Roald Dahl. It is hilarious and epitomizes my thoughts about children and the modern trend of television and video/TV games.

About Robb,ie Cheadle

IMG_9902

Hello, my name is Robbie, short for Roberta. I am an author with seven published children’s picture books in the Sir Chocolate books series for children aged 2 to 9 years old (co-authored with my son, Michael Cheadle), one published middle grade book in the Silly Willy series and one published preteen/young adult fictionalised biography about my mother’s life as a young girl growing up in an English town in Suffolk during World War II called While the Bombs Fell (co-authored with my mother, Elsie Hancy Eaton). All of my children’s book are written under Robbie Cheadle and are published by TSL Publications.

I have recently branched into adult and young adult horror and supernatural writing and, in order to clearly differential my children’s books from my adult writing, I plan to publish these books under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. My first supernatural book published in that name, Through the Nethergate, is now available.

I have participated in a number of anthologies:

  1. Two short stories in Spellbound, a collection of horror stories edited by Dan Alatorre;
  2. Two short stories in Spirits of the West, A Wordcrafter Western Paranormal Anthology edited by Kaye Lynne Booth;
  3. Two short stories in #1 Amazon bestselling anthology, Dark Visions, a collection of horror stories edited by Dan Alatorre;
  4. Three short stories in Death Among Us, an anthology of murder mystery stories, edited by Stephen Bentley;
  5. Three short stories in #1 Amazon bestselling anthology, Nightmareland, a collection of horror stories edited by Dan Alatorre; and
  6. Two short stories in Whispers of the Past, an anthology of paranormal stories, edited by Kaye Lynne Booth.

I also have a book of poetry called Open a new door, with fellow South African poet, Kim Blades.

Find Robbie Cheadle

Blog: https://bakeandwrite.co.za/

Blog: robbiesinspiration.wordpress.com

Twitter: BakeandWrite

Instagram: Robbie Cheadle – Instagram

Facebook: Sir Chocolate Books



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