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A-Z Blogging Challenge: M is for...Mary.

'Mary, Mary, quite contrary, 
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.'

Mary, Queen of Scots
Once again, there are two very different interpretations of the meaning of this nursery rhyme.

The first states that Mary was Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587).

'How does your garden grow?' is referring to her reign over the realm. The 'silver bells' are a reference to the sanctus bells and Mary's Catholicism, 'cockle shells' implies that her husband had been unfaithful and the 'pretty maids all in a row' are her ladies in waiting - The Four Maries.

The second interpretation is much more gruesome.

Bloody Mary Tudor

This time Mary is alleged to be Mary Tudor (1516-1558) or Bloody Mary, daughter of King Henry VIII. 

Queen Mary was a staunch Catholic and spent much of her time ordering the execution of those who followed the Protestant faith. The 'garden' is believed to be a reference to the graveyards which grew bigger every day with the number of people that she had executed. 'Silver Bells' and 'Cockle Shells' were colloquialisms for two instruments of torture used around that time and the 'Pretty Maids' referred to a beheading instrument called the Maiden which was a predecessor of the guillotine.

Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing which Mary the rhyme refers to. Some historians and folklorists believe it isn't linked to either of them as the rhyme wasn't published until the 17th century and the above events were much earlier but others are sure that it is linked and are still looking to prove it.

What do you think - Mary, Queen of Scots or Bloody Mary Tudor?


I had no idea there was such a gruesome background to this nursery rhyme. A great A to Z post.
Sharkbytes said…
I'm guessing Bloody Mary. Great theme! I'm trying to visit all the A-Z Challenge Blogs this month. You can see mine at
Anonymous said…
To me it seems more likely that it is Mary Tudor. The story seems more believable to me.
Sylvia Ney said…
I'm gonna go with "not linked".

New follower here. I’m enjoying reading my fellow “A to Z”ers. I look forward to visiting again.

Tina said…
EEEwww...I have heard that these early nursery rhymes represented real events, but I've never heard either of these stories. I guess I'll go with Bloody Mary since it's a favorite drink ;-)
Tina @ Life is Good
Co-Host of the April A to Z Challenge
Twitter: @AprilA2Z #atozchallenge
Denise said…
Pauleen - thanks. It's amazing how many seemingly innocent nursery rhymes do have gruesome roots and yes, this one in particular!

Hi Sharkbytes and thanks for stopping by. I would go with that one too.

Hope you're enjoying the challenge.

Krissyranae - that's the one I would go with too!

Sylvia - thanks for following. It's a marathon in itself trying to get round all the blogs.

Hope you're enjoying the challenge.

Tina - that's a good enough reason for me to go with Bloody Mary too!

Thoroughly enjoying the challenge and hope you are too!

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