The Nursery Rhymes Collections 1-4 contain a total of 277 children's songs. Each double CD album showcases the highest quality children's music ever recorded with a total playing time in excess of 10 hours!
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,
Wasn't that a dainty dish
To set before a 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
When down came a blackbird
And pecked off her nose!
Words & Music: Traditional
Arrangement: Ian J Watts/Mike Wilbury
Historian and linguist Andres Ehmann wrote an essay about historical nursery rhymes that are directly or indirectly related to Kings and Queens of the Stuart and Tudor families: Rock the Kings!
By means of these truly historical nursery rhymes he explains the meaning and the fascinating stories of English Kings and Queens throughout the centuries
There are many stories people read and hear everyday that they take for facts, although they are nothing but fiction and many, many interpretations that you can find on the internet and elsewhere about nursery rhymes that have only a very loose relationship to concrete facts. But on the other side, what would be the alternative? Say that the texts are just nonsense, that they are nonsense now and they have always been nonsense. Is that really more plausible than saying that there was a meaning initially but that meaning got lost in the course of history? And if one thinks that this is more plausible, how do you explain why these absurdities survived? Normally absurdities get eliminated quickly.
As well as in other nursery rhymes there are many interpretations of this song. Possibly there is a relationship to the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. In this case the black birds would be the monks or priests, usually dressed in black, who started to sing (a scornful way to say that they cried) when the cake, the monasteries, are opened and consumed (became part of the property of the king). If we inteprete it that way, the last sentence would be very true. Wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king? This song of sixpence, not a large amount, would be in this case a pocket full of rye, but what argumentes can be adduced for this interpretation? The most convincing one would be the fact, that there are a lot of songs about the dissolution and destruction of the monasteries under Henry VIII, some of them : Goosey Goosey Gander, Little Jack Horner, Little Boy Blue, all of them included in this collection. The idea of something hidden in a cake is also used in the song Little Jack Horner.
Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner
Eating his Christmas pie,
He stuck in his thumb
And pulled out a plum
In this case the plum pulled out was the document of title of The Manor of Mells, one of the biggest catholic monasteries. If we have two different songs, and in one of these songs there is a strong evidence that there is a relationship to the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, alongside the pictured use of a cake with something hidden in it, it is not completely implausible that the other song with similar imagery deals with the same topic.
That people used the picture of something hidden in a cake is plausible for another reason. Actually there are recipes dating from this time with a description of how to hide birds in a scooped cake. There exists even a description from the marriage between Marie de Medici and Henry IV of France where some birds were hidden in a cake and flew away when the cake was cut into pieces.
We don’t say that our argument is something similar to what a professional historian would call a proof, but the argument adduced by wikipedia to dismiss this idea is not very convincing either. It might be that there is another version of the song.
Sing a Song of Sixpence,
A bag full of Rye,
Four and twenty Naughty Boys,
Baked in a Pye
But this affirmation is nevertheless incorrect.
No corroborative evidence has been found to support these theories and given that the earliest version has only one verse and mentions "naughty boys" and not blackbirds, they can only be applicable if it is assumed that more recently printed versions accurately preserve an older tradition.
The substitution of Four and twenty blackbirds to Four and twenty Naughty Boys doesn’ t change anything. By the time of the dissolution of the catholic monasteries and the persecution of catholics in general, it is well possible that the monks were naughty boys. The general feelings towards catholics, at least in some part of society, were negative, feelings clearly expressed in the song Goosey Goosey Gander.
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 (When down came a blackbird)
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!
That Henry VIII was in his counting house counting out his money can be taken for sure. He declared himself head of the Church of England not only because he wanted to marry Anne Boleyn and divorce Catherine of Aragon, but also because he wanted to resolve his financial problems by expropriating the catholic church’s assets.After having done that it is very likely that he counted the money “earned“. The Queen, Catherine of Aragon, could eat bread and honey and have a good life, because without the consent of the pope, Anne Boleyn, who actually was Catherine’s maid of honour could not marry Henry. Indeed, the first tentative steps of Henry VIII to marry Anne Boleyn failed, because one blackbird, the pope, didn’t agree.