History Of Nursery Rhyme “Goosey Goosey Gander”.

“Goosey goosey gander, whither shall I wander?
Upstairs and downstairs and in my lady’s chamber.
There I met an old man who wouldn’t say his prayers,
So I took him by his left leg and threw him down the stairs.
The stairs went crack; he nearly broke his back.
And all the little ducks went, quack, quack, quack.”

The rhyme, in its original form, is rarely, if ever, taught nowadays to young children, given its rather violent and therefore unsuitable content.

It is believed that this rhyme refers to Priest Holes. Strong anti-Catholic sentiment in England had forced practising Catholic families to hide their wayfaring Catholic priests, thus avoiding having them persecuted under the reigns of King Henry VIII; his descendent Edward VI; Queen Elizabeth I, and later under Oliver Cromwell; the latter a senior commander in the Parliamentarian army and thereafter a politician.
Once discovered these wandering priests would be forcibly removed from their place of refuge and in many cases thrown down the stairs, before being further badly treated; hence “all the little ducks went, quack, quack, quack.”

During the reign of Edward VI, “Can’t say his prayers” possibly referred to the banning of prayers in Latin and the insistence on the use of the Church of England’s “Book of Common Prayer”, preached in the English language; sanctioned in the reign of Henry VIII.

Later on, “left leg” became a slang term for members of the Catholic Church during the reign of Edward VI.
Readers in Ireland will be familiar with the term, he/she “kicks with the right foot/leg”, latter referring to members of the Protestant community.


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