Mary, Mary, quite contrary


How does your garden grow?


With silver bells and cockleshells


And pretty maids all in a row.



This particular nursery rhyme has a bit of a sad, nostalgic ring to it – only increased when you realize that in some versions, ‘garden’ is replaced with ‘graveyard’. The Mary here is probably Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII and sister to Elizabeth I.



Henry VIII was initially married to Catherine of Aragon, and the couple had one child, Mary. But Henry wanted a son – and always true to the notion of killing two birds with stone, he decided to do this by getting into the pants of Anne Boleyn, one of his wife’s ladies in waiting. To cut a long story short, Henry was refused a divorce by the Pope – so he created the Anglican Church with himself at the head, thereby isolating himself from Catholic Europe. After divorcing Catherine and marrying Anne, he had one child with the latter – Elizabeth. Needless to say, that marriage didn’t work out either. Henry had Anne executed, and went through another bunch of wives in an attempt to have a son.

After his death, and the death of his only son Edward, the throne went to Mary, who promptly tried to make England Catholic again. So Mary went ‘quite contrary’ to England’s wishes – by this stage, a lot of people were happily Protestant. In the rhyme, ‘garden’ sounds a lot like Gardiner – the name of Mary’s only religious supporter. It could also be a dig at Mary’s own infertility, or if ‘garden’ is replaced by ‘graveyard’, a reference to the growing pile of dead Protestants.

Given that silver bells, cockleshells and maids are also terms for torture devices of the age, it no longer seems such a pretty little rhyme. 




  1. midwestcitylivin reblogged this from history-and-shit
  2. skaldrunner reblogged this from axhemiel
  3. shadowboxerbabyy reblogged this from ravenlucrecia
  4. ravenlucrecia reblogged this from the--false-shepard
  5. nolongerwhereifangirl reblogged this from defyingyoutube
  6. the--false-shepard reblogged this from violetmonroe118
  7. violetmonroe118 reblogged this from kukisuki
  8. von-wegen reblogged this from prospitans
  9. memesupreeme reblogged this from defyingyoutube
  10. axhemiel reblogged this from kukisuki
  11. kukisuki reblogged this from prospitans
  12. defyingyoutube reblogged this from prospitans
  13. prospitans reblogged this from history-and-shit
  14. chagak reblogged this from history-and-shit
  15. antisocial-ghost reblogged this from history-and-shit
  16. humanitiesandshit reblogged this from history-and-shit
  17. sincerely-belle reblogged this from bayoulilly
  18. iamandalwayswillbeme reblogged this from history-and-shit
  19. mayasownmenagerie reblogged this from dragwin
  20. dragwin reblogged this from history-and-shit
  21. keseral reblogged this from history-and-shit
  22. redthepuppy reblogged this from jump-in-the-pudding
  23. clairekathleenk reblogged this from lezzie-borden
  24. thetobinspiritguide reblogged this from morewillcome
  25. thisshitis2muchtohandle reblogged this from bmoboo
  26. ruthellum reblogged this from morewillcome
  27. bmoboo reblogged this from peanutdanitime
  28. morewillcome reblogged this from thingswhatareawesome
  29. anandaelora reblogged this from history-and-shit
  30. mikiko-likeaboss reblogged this from brewcha
  31. constant-consonance reblogged this from history-and-shit