A classic nursery rhyme.

Little boy blue, come blow your horn,
The sheep's in the meadow, the cow's in the corn;
Where's the little boy that looks after the sheep?
He's under the haycock, fast asleep.
Will you wake him? No, not I;
For if I do, he'll be sure to cry.

--The Nursery Rhymes of England,
Collected by James Orchard Halliwell, Esq., 1845


These days you usually only hear the first four lines; crying is frowned upon in our nursery rhymes, so we amputate the sad (is it?) ending. We usually also change haycock to haystack.

No one really knows where this came from, or when it originated, but if you're one of those that believe that nursery rhymes were often written with political messages in mind, we do have a theory you might like. Little boy blue may be Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (1475-1530). He obtained his degree from Oxford University at the young age of fifteen (hence 'little boy'), and his scarlet cardinal robes had his Blazon of Arms, which included four blue leopards' faces (hence 'blue'). 'Blowing one's own horn' means to brag and show off, and Wolsey did show off, turning an old manor into the splendiferous Hampton Court Palace, giving rise to the witticism among his detractors, "Come ye to court?" "Which Court? The King's Court or Hampton Court?" This may have had a double meaning, as Wolsey had done an excellent job sucking up to King Henry VIII, and was a primary advisor in all things political. 'Looking after the sheep' might refer to Wolsey's part in pissing off Charles V (the Holy Roman Emperor) by organizing the League of Cognac; this caused the countries under Charles' command to stop buying wool from England, causing the market to crash.

It is also speculated that Old Mother Hubbard may be about Wolsey refusing to grant Henry VIII's divorce from Queen Catherine of Aragon, although the logic behind this seems even more tenuous than the Little Boy Blue argument.


2006-10-11 The Debutante says re Little Boy Blue: I like! I was also wondering, is it possible that 'the little boy who looks aftter the sheep?' refers to his neglected pastoral duties as a cardinal?

This sounds likely to me. E2ers are pretty darn smart.


References:
http://www.presscom.co.uk/nursery/nurs4th.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Boy_Blue
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Cardinal_Wolsey
http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/wolseybio.htm

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