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

Nursery rhymes are one of the most lasting forms of passed-down lore. While seemingly fun and innocent, many nursery rhymes actually have deep political, religious, and/or satirical roots. Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary is just such a nursery rhyme.

While many nursery rhymes having historical roots can be correlated to only one thing, Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary can be related to two historical figures in several different contexts.

The most popular interpretation concerns Queen Mary I of England, also referred to as 'Bloody Mary' and Mary Tudor (Mary, Mary). After King Henry VIII died, she set about trying to regain England's Catholic status. She was quite brutal in her efforts to quash Protestantism (quite contrary). She had many people killed, resulting in many graves (How does your garden grow?). She also had many Protestants tortured with various devices (With silver bells). She was a devoted Catholic who was supportive of pilgrimages. Many pilgrims wore shells around their necks to identify themselves as such (and cockleshells). Mary had many of the people she persecuted burned at the stake or killed with the maid (And pretty maids all in a row). The 'pretty maids all in a row' could also refer to the return of Roman Catholic nuns.

The second interpretation is about Mary, Queen of Scots, also known as Mary Stuart (Mary, Mary). She arrived from France with 'French ways' and was very different from her people (quite contrary). Known for her romantic indescretions (How does your garden grow?), she was rumored to have received many gifts from many of her different suitors, most notably a beautiful dress encrusted with decorations (With silver bells and cockleshells). Mary, Queen of Scots was accompanied by her four ladies in waiting, Mary Beaton, Mary Seaton, Mary Fleming and Mary Livingstone (And pretty maids all in a row).

Yet a third interpretation is also about Mary Stuart. She was heavily influenced during her reign by her uncles (How does your garden grow?). One of her uncle's family crests bore silver bells, while the other's bore cockleshells (With silver bells and cockleshells).

Due to the fact that most nursery rhymes were probably around much longer than they have been in print, it is truly impossible to discern which of these explanations, if any, are correct. But take these theories as you will.


Scribe says Is it wrong that when I saw the title my mind automatically finished with "trim that p***y it's too hairy" from the Andrew Dice Clay routine???

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.