Tuesday, November 11, 2008
by Christine Wells
I'm often asked why I chose to write historical romances and why I set them in England.
English history has fascinated me ever since I can remember. I suspect it's something to do with the glamour of royalty, the political power struggle between kings and subjects and the fun of discovering the origin of so many traditions and expressions that endure throughout the English-speaking world today.
It was my father who first introduced me to this wonderfully rich world of history. When I was very young, he would tell me enthralling tales about English kings and queens, great battles and epic struggles for the crown. He had a way of making history come alive that I can only strive to emulate in my novels.
I'll never forget the way he disillusioned me about some of the innocent-seeming nursery rhymes I grew up with!
Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.
Sounds delightful, doesn't it? But there's quite a bloody history to that little verse. It referred to the reign of Queen Mary, Henry VIII's daughter, during which she put many Protestants to torture and death. Silver bells were thumbscrews, cockle shells were instruments attached to the genitals. (Ouch!) Pretty maids referred to the Maiden, a forerunner of the guillotine, used for more efficient beheading. It seems the plain old executioner's axe didn't do the job in one go a lot of the time. Yikes!
Baa Baa Black Sheep was a protest about wool taxes. Pop Goes the Weasel is thought to be about many a poor man's habit of pawning his Sunday coat to pay for his pleasures, then redeeming it in time for church on Sunday. "Weasel and stoat" was Cockney rhyming slang for coat, and to "pop" was to pawn.
Old Mother Hubbard is actually about Cardinal Wolsey's failure to secure Henry VIII a divorce from Katherine of Aragon. It's interesting that so many rhymes seem to come from Tudor times.
And for a more obscure reference, did you know that Little Miss Muffet actually existed? Her name was Patience and her stepfather was a famous entomologist who wrote the first catalogue of British insects. One of his spiders escaped while poor Patience was eating her breakfast, and so the nursery rhyme came about.
What was your favourite nursery rhyme as a child? Do you know any nursery rhymes with interesting backgrounds? If you're a reader of historicals, what attracts you to that era? One lucky reader will win a signed copy of THE DANGEROUS DUKE!