Dark Origins – Old Mother Hubbard

Old Mother Hubbard is a popular nursery rhyme but the words are not very child friendly. It is rather long so I am only sharing the first three verses here:

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,
To give the poor dog a bone:
When she came there,
The cupboard was bare,
And so the poor dog had none.

She went to the baker’s
To buy him some bread;
When she came back
The dog was dead!

She went to the undertaker’s
To buy him a coffin;
When she came back
The dog was laughing.

As with most nursery rhymes, it is not possible to peg down its exact origins but I am going to share with you two quite different proposed origins, one being much darker than the other.

Old Mother Hubbard is purported to refer to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and his failure to obtain an annulment from the Pope of King Henry VIII of England’s first marriage to Catherine of Aragon. The cupboard represents the Catholic Church, the dog represents King Henry VIII, and the bone, the coveted annulment.

Thomas Wolsey (1475 to 1530) was a cardinal and a statesman, Henry VIII’s lord chancellor and one of the last clergymen to play a dominant role in English political life.

Henry was desperate for a male heir and Catherine produced a daughter, Mary. He argued that his marriage to Catherine was not lawful and requested that Wolsey use his influence in Rome to get a papal annulment so that he could remarry.

However, Catherine’s nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, dominated the Pope at the time and Wolsey failed in his mission. This failure led to him being arrested in November 1530 and accused of treason. He died on 29 November 1530 on his way south to face trial.

Thomas Wolsey at Tudor court
Thomas Wolsey significantly enhanced Henry’s already strong sense of his sovereignty. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

The other popular belief is that Old Mother Hubbard from the nursery rhyme was a retired housekeeper called Miss Sarah Catherine Martin. Miss Martin wrote and illustrated the poem in 1804, but whether or not it was about her own life is unknown. She worked as a housekeeper at Kitley House, the estate of Sir Henry Bastard in Yealmpton, and when she retired she occupied a lovely thatched stone and cob cottage nearby. The area abounds with legends about Sarah and Prince William Henry, a friend of Sir Bastard and a visitor to his estate.

Old Mother Hubbard's Cottage in Yealmpton, Devon
Picture Credit: Old Mother Hubbard’s Cottage which is now a Chinese restaurant in Yealmpton. https://www.picturesofengland.com/England/Devon/Yealmpton/Old_Mother_Hubbard’s_Cottage

About Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Roberta Eaton Cheadle is a South African writer and poet specialising in historical, paranormal, and horror novels and short stories. She is an avid reader in these genres and her writing has been influenced by famous authors including Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe, Amor Towles, Stephen Crane, Enrich Maria Remarque, George Orwell, Stephen King, and Colleen McCullough.

Roberta has short stories and poems in several anthologies and has 2 published novels, Through the Nethergate, a historical supernatural fantasy, and A Ghost and His Gold, a historical paranormal novel set in South Africa.

Roberta has 9 children’s books published under the name Robbie Cheadle.

Roberta was educated at the University of South Africa where she achieved a Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1996 and a Honours Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1997. She was admitted as a member of The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants in 2000.

Roberta has worked in corporate finance from 2001 until the present date and has written 7 publications relating to investing in Africa. She has won several awards over her 20-year career in the category of Transactional Support Services.

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


Want to be sure not to miss any of Robbie’s “Dark Origins” segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress. If you found it interesting or entertaining, please share.