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Bob parodies "Sing a Song of Sixpence," no. 13191 in the Roud Folk Song Index: 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 the 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 And pecked off her nose.Although William Shakespeare, in the early 17th century, may have been familiar with some version (in "Twelfth Night" Sir Toby Belch told a clown, "Come on; there is sixpence for you: let's have a song") the opening verse (as "Sing a Song of Sixpence, / A bag full of Rye, / Four and twenty Naughty Boys, / Baked in a Pye") did not appear in print until "Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song-Book," the 1st anthology of English nursery rhymes (1744). Its next appearance was not until 1780, with 2 verses. in its present form it did not appear until "Gammer Gurton's Garland or The Nursery Parnassus" (1784). It has been suggested that the queen was Henry VIII's 1st wife Catherine of Aragon, who was displaced by her maid-in-waiting Anne Boleyn, whom Henry subsequently beheaded. The marital drama was part of Henry's break with the Catholic Church after it refused to annul his 1st marriage. (The blackbirds were ambitious churchmen such as archbishop Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury who masterminded the plot which led to Anne’s execution).
The events of the English Reformation seem to have inspired other popular nursery rhymes as well. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry's lord chancellor, had failed to obtain the annulment; his nursery rhyme identity was transmogrified into that of an an old lady ("Old Mother Hubbard / Went to the cupboard, / To get her poor doggie a bone; / But when she got there, / The cupboard was bare, / And so the poor doggie had none.") Another nursery rhyme indicted his boastfulness and self-centeredness while alleging his failure was due to his inattention and laziness ("Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn, / The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn. / But where is the boy who looks after the sheep? / He’s under a haystack fast asleep.") Wolsey's coat of arms included the faces of 4 blue leopards. Henry had him executed. Henry had 6 wives. He divorced Catherine, beheaded Anne, then married Jane Seymour, who died in childbirth; he divorced Anne of Cleves, and had Catherine Howard executed for adultery; he was survived by his last wife, Catherine Parr ("Divorced beheaded died / Divorced beheaded survived.") When Henry was plotting to dissolve the English monasteries, the abbot of Glastonbury sent his stewart Thomas Horner to him with the deeds to several manors hidden in a Christmas pie as a bribe, but Horner stole the deeds for Mells in Somerset (which included lead mines in the Mendip Hills); thus, "Little Jack Horner sat in the corner / Eating his Christmas pie. / He stuck in his thumb and pulled out a plumb / And said “What a good boy am I!” (The plum is a pun on the Latin "plumbum," lead.) The abbot was hanged, drawn, and quartered for treason, but Horner's family retained Mells. Mary I, the Catholic daughter of Henry and Catherine, persecuted Protestants and attempted to reverse her father's religious policy. ("Mary, Mary, quite contrary, / How does your garden grow? / With silver bells, and cockle shells, / And pretty maids all in a row.") Silver bells, cockle shells, and "iron maidens" were euphemisms for instruments of torture and execution, and Mary's garden was a graveyard. Among her most prominent victims were the Oxford Martyrs (bishops Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley and archbishop Cranmer), who were burnt at the stake. ("Three blind mice, three blind mice, / See how they run, see how they run, / They all ran after the farmer’s wife, / She cut off their tails with a carving knife. / Did you ever see such a sight in your life, / As three blind mice?") Because of the vast estates of Mary's husband Felipe II of Spain, she was disparagingly referred to as a "farmer’s wife.” After his wife's death Felipe tried to depose the daughter of Henry and Anne, but Elizabeth I's reign was saved by bad weather in the English Channel which sank and scattered the Spanish Armada. ("Rain rain go away, / Come again another day. / Little Johnny wants to play; / Rain, rain, go to Spain, / Never show your face again!")
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