Sing a Song of Sixpence…


Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye

Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.

When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing,

Oh wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the King!

The King was in his counting house,

Counting out his money,

The Queen was in the parlour

Eating bread and honey;

The maid was in the garden

Hanging out the clothes

When down came a blackbird and

Pecked off her nose!

There was such a commotion

That little Jenny wren

Flew down into the garden and

Put it on again!

This slightly morbid but catchy nursery rhyme has been around at least since the eighteenth century. Often I find myself humming it under my breath while sketching or making a sandwich. It drives my sister crazy, but this only gives me more incentive to sing it.

The origins of it are interesting. Many think it refers to Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon, and Anne Boleyn. The king ‘in his counting house’ referring the dissolution of the monasteries, while Queen Catherine was ‘eating bread and honey’ like a good little wife. The maid — Anne — was ‘hanging out the clothes’ in service to the Queen when her nose was pecked off! This could be in reference to Henry swooping down and taking her love, marrying her, and eventually taking her virginity. Of course, with poor Catherine shoved aside and the public’s dislike of Anne, as well as his eventual gal pal Jane Seymour*, Henry and his man Thomas Cromwell were forced to put Anne away. Putting the ‘nose’ back on was, I guess, divorcing her, bastardizing her daughter, and chopping her head off.

I wonder what big toughie Cromwell would think of being immortalized in a children’s rhyme as ‘little Jenny wren’?

Also, some cooks did put live birds in their pies as a surprise, so when it was opened they would fly away. Odd, but interesting.

*Later this week I’ll do a quick telling of the story of The Six Wives, just so no one is completely lost!


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