There is a sweet scene in my latest Jane Austen Fan Fiction tale between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s daughter, and it involves the nursery rhyme of “Humpty Dumpty.” Therefore, I thought a piece on the meaning of the nursery rhyme might be of interest to others.
The most common version is Humpty Dumpty is a representation of King Richard III of England, who was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. The “egg” shape refers to King Richard supposedly being a “humpback,” as is portrayed in Shakespeare’s play. “Shakespeare called Richard III a ‘hunchback’, which means that he was hunching forward while walking. Richard III’s skeleton actually shows a sideways displacement of the spine, a heavy scoliosis, which made the king walk obliquely. So there is a certain match between the two: something unusual about the body.” (British Council) The “wall” falling is the loss of his reign as king. The king’s horses and men are the army who failed to defeat their enemy.
Others relate the story of a cannon used during the English Civil War, which was supposedly nicknamed “Humpty Dumpty” for the difficulty of moving it about on the battle field. Anyway, according to the legend, a gunner named Thompson managed to drag Humpty Dumpty to the top of the tower of St Mary at the Walls church. The “at the walls” name may cause some confusion until one understands the church stands immediately beside the old Roman town wall of Colchester.
According to Britain Express, “Colchester was held for the king during the Civil War. Parliament besieged the town in 1648, an attack that lasted 12 weeks. During the siege, a one-eyed gunner named Thompson hauled his ‘saker’ (a small cannon) to the top of the tower of St Mary’s church. The vantage point allowed him to direct damaging fire onto the besieging troops under the command of Lord Fairfax. The Parliamentary gunners concentrated their fire on St Mary’s tower and eventually hit the unfortunate Thompson and sent the gunner and his weapon falling to the ground. A later twist on the tale of Thompson the one-eyed gunner is the idea the story was the origin of the nursery rhyme about Humpty Dumpty. There does not seem to be any truth to the tale that Thompson was the ‘egg’ who ‘had a great fall’, but it makes a nice story.”
Meanwhile, CLASSIC fM Radio tells us, “A professor David Daube once had a fourth theory to add. In 1956, he posited that ‘Humpty Dumpty’ might have been reference to an armoured siege engine that was deployed unsuccessfully in the 1643 Siege of Gloucester during the English Civil War. This one was soon dismissed as a bit of a spoof by academics – but not before English composer Richard Rodney Bennett took the plot and ran with it for his children’s opera, All the King’s Men.“
As a point of reference, I must also mention Francis Grose‘s definition, for he was, in truth, my 6th Great-Uncle. CLASSIC fM says, “Interestingly, Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue from 1785 – we’re totally imagining this as the Urban Dictionary of its time – defines ‘Humpty Dumpty’ as ‘a short clumsy person of either sex; also ale boiled with brandy,’ so the rhyme could have derived from either meaning.”
Humpty Dumpty – oldest known lyrics (1797)
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
Four-score Men and Four-score more,
Could not make Humpty Dumpty where he was before.
Amending the Shades of Pemberley: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary
“You have willfully misunderstood me, Miss Bennet. You have no worry of my releasing you, for I do not wish you to perform as a governess to my daughter, but rather as my wife and the mistress of my hereditary estate.”
Elizabeth Bennet had thought the stranger quite handsome; yet, she had ignored those first tendrils of interest, for she was in no position for the gentleman to pursue her. She and her sister Mary were all who remained of their family. Moreover, Longbourn and its furnishings were to be sold. They were destitute, and, if fortunate, headed for service in some stranger’s household.
Fitzwilliam Darcy’s proposal of marriage would save both Mary and her, for her sister had agreed to assist with the gentleman’s young daughter. But what of the man’s tale of having corresponded with her father and of Mr. Bennet having purported a marriage between this stranger and her? Elizabeth knew nothing of the arrangement nor of the man’s existence. Though their marriage would solve all her troubles, what if the man’s tale was not completely truthful? Would Mr. Darcy become her enemy or a man she could learn to love?
Just as I did on each of the last five posts, I have 2 eBook copies of Amending the Shades of Pemberley available to those who comment below. The book is available for purchase at these links:
Also Available to Read on Kindle Unlimited
Excerpt from Chapter 3. Enjoy!!
“I told her of you,” he said.
“Of me?” she gasped. “What have you to say of me?”
“Only that I have extended my hand to you, and I believe the two of you might go on well together,” he explained. An awkward pause hung between them before he said, “If I am not being too presumptuous, might I bring my daughter inside? She is most desirous to know the lady whose house I visited earlier this week.”
“Please tell me you did not promise the child I was to be her stepmother,” Elizabeth begged. “I have not presented you my response, sir.”
“I simply described you as the daughter of a friend,” he assured. “I would not use my child as a pawn to have my way. If you agree to marry me, I pray you do so because you believe a future together is in our grasp.”
“If all is as you described it, I would be pleased to greet the child,” she said with the slightest hesitation.
“Pardon me a moment.” With a quick bow, he disappeared while Elizabeth claimed the interruption to pat her hair in place. Yet, before she was thoroughly prepared, the gentleman reappeared. He looked quite awkward as he bent to hold the child’s hand. He was tall, and the child appeared to be so very small, though, in reality, she had the build of Jane, when Jane was a child.
“Who do we have here, Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth asked with a smile. The child looked down, and Elizabeth instinctively knelt before her—not bending over, but going down on one knee to be at the child’s eye level. “How very beautiful you are.” The girl gazed shyly at her as she and her father came to stand before Elizabeth. Mr. Darcy knelt also.
“Miss Elizabeth,” he said formally while watching his daughter, “may I present Miss Alice Darcy?”
The child frowned. “Biss Alice Faith Anne Darcy, Papa,” the child said precociously.
“I stand corrected, my love,” he responded dutifully. “Miss Alice Faith Anne Darcy.”
Elizabeth noted the faint violet shadows under the child’s eyes, belying her liveliness. “Your father told me what a wonderful daughter you are.”
The child looked up to Mr. Darcy. “He says I’m his fav-or-right girl.”
Elizabeth, too, looked to the gentleman. “I can understand his preference, and may I also have the acquaintance of your doll?” The child clutched a fine china doll with a head of blonde hair and blue glass for eyes.
“This is Biss Cass Andra Darcy,” the child proudly pronounced.
Elizabeth took the doll’s porcelain hand and shook it. “I am honored by the acquaintance, Miss Cassandra.”
Before the child could respond, a few notes of music could be heard from the adjoining room.
“What that?” the girl asked.
Elizabeth assured, “Such is my sister Mary practicing her music. Would you like to greet her also?”
The child looked to her father. “I likes music, Papa.”
Mr. Darcy’s features softened. “I know you do, love.” He nodded his permission for Elizabeth to escort his child into the other room, stood, and reached down a hand for Elizabeth to assist her to stand. Like it or not, Elizabeth enjoyed the warmth of his hand as it encircled hers. It was the first time she had felt safe in many months.
The child released her father’s hand and claimed Elizabeth’s free one, which, like it or not, had Elizabeth yearning for her own children. By the time she had led Alice into the small parlor, Elizabeth realized although he had risen, Mr. Darcy had not followed her. “Good day, Mary,” she said as the child slowed her pace. “We have a visitor.”
Mary stopped her efforts to address the child. “My, I do not think I have ever had such a delightful audience. Do you like music?”
The child nodded her agreement, but did not step closer. Elizabeth knelt again. “Should we ask Mary to play for us again?”
“Peas,” the child said softly.
Mary nodded her agreement and set her fingers to playing a children’s chant. When she finished with a flourish, the child begged, “Again.”
“I mean to please,” Mary responded and set about playing the tune once more.
“Again,” the child ordered with a smile, which immediately melted Elizabeth’s heart.
“Only if you ask Elizabeth to sing,” Mary countered.
“Peas, Biss Lizbet,” the girl pleaded.
Elizabeth asked, “Do you not know the rhyme?”
The child shook her head in the negative.
“Then might I teach you?”
“Very well. Listen first, and then we shall sing it together.” She looked to her sister. “The first phrase, if you would, Mary.” Elizabeth waited for Mary to finish playing before she sang, “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.”
“Again,” the child ordered.
“Humpty. Dumpty. Sat. On. A. Wall,” Elizabeth said slowly. “Will you try it with me?” The child nodded unsurely. Elizabeth began again, saying each word slowly. A third and a fourth time had the child mumbling some words while managing others. “Let us add line two. I shall permit you time to repeat each line until you are assured of yourself.”
The child smiled weakly, but she did not look away. Elizabeth sang the first line, and the child repeated the words she knew.
“Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.” Elizabeth enunciated each word slowly just as she had done with the opening line.
Alice’s eyes widened. “I fells down once, but Papa not mad I torn my dress.”
“I am pleased to hear it. My father never was angry when I tore my good dress,” Elizabeth shared.
“Mama was,” Mary remarked before she realized what she said.
“I no have a mama,” the child explained innocently.
“Then we three are all alike,” Elizabeth assured. “Mary and I no longer have a mother either.”
“Are you bonely?” the girl asked.
“Sometimes,” Elizabeth admitted. “You are fortunate to have your Papa.” After an awkward moment, she sang the whole rhyme. “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the King’s horses and all the King’s men could not put Humpty together again.”
“Why Umpty break?” the child asked in concern.
“Most people consider him to be an egg,” Elizabeth said as she looked to Mary who shrugged her response. “An egg would surely break if it fell from a wall.”
The child giggled. “Spat.”
Elizabeth bit her lip to keep from correcting the girl. “Shall we sing the lines again?”
Alice nodded her agreement and began the song herself. “Umpty, dumpty sat on a . . . wall. Umpty, dumpty, have a gre. . . at fall.” Unexpectedly, the child plopped down on the floor, but when she realized she still held her doll, she jumped up to carry the doll to her father. It was only then Elizabeth realized Mr. Darcy was standing in the open doorway. “Did you see me spat, Papa?”
Mr. Darcy’s smile widened. “I did, sweetheart.”
“Biss Lizbet say she fell when she a little girl like me,” the child announced.
Elizabeth noted how tears misted Mr. Darcy’s eyes. Therefore, she said, “Perhaps we might convince Mary to teach you the notes on the pianoforte while I speak to your father for a moment.” She shot a pleading glance to Mary, but Elizabeth need not worry, for Mary had already stood to move the bench closer.
With Mary’s assistance, the girl climbed readily onto the bench.
“I will be near, Alice,” Mr. Darcy told the child.
“Leave Biss Cassie,” the child instructed without looking to her father.
Elizabeth whispered her gratitude to Mary, but her sister was already leaning over the child to take the girl’s finger to play the first note.
You are always a wealth of knowledge. Love the excerpt. Looking forward to reading.
I spend lots of hours on the computer, Becky, and not all are in writing. Lots of research.
What a novel an interesting premise! I really hope to get lucky!
Thank you for joining me, Teresita.
I never knew that about Humpty Dumpty, thank you. I do know Ring a ring of roses is linked to the plague and refers to the spots, the herbs, the sneezing and falling down dead! Fortunately I didn’t know it when I sang it as a child or to my children!
Darcy has made a perfect choice with Elizabeth and Mary, let’s hope Elizabeth accepts.
You might find this post of interest, Glynis: 10 Disturbing Nursery Rhyme Origins https://bookriot.com/nursery-rhyme-origin-stories/
I believe I heard the one theory about Richard III but not the others. Thanks for sharing!
Yes, I had heard that one also before I started composing this post. Thanks for joining me on my journey to a new book.
Very interesting post. Your research always intrigues me. I adore the way you worked it into your new book–can’t wait to read it. Congrats on publishing a new book.
Coming up with a scenario and then researching it to make certain it will fit the time period is one of the best parts of writing historicals. BTW, “scenario” is a “modern” word (after 1950 in usage). I learned that in writing one of my first Austen titles. LOL!
Thanks for all the info about Humpty Dumpty. I’m looking forward to the book.
Only 48 more hours, Lois.
Thanks for the enlightening piece on Humpty Dumpty, Regina. This is the first time I am reading about the historical aspects behind the popular nursery rhyme. And it ties in nicely with the lovely excerpt that you shared.