It has been more than twenty years since I set eyes on this picture, so when I caught a glimpse of it on Google, all those old, 'rusty' memories came rushing back.
It was one of the books I devoured when I had just learned to read and was excited by the sight of every and any book; testing my reading ability at every turn.
I found the picture in one the children's encyclopedia clogging the bookshelf in my room. Just in case you still haven't figured out what the picture represents, here's a clue:
Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down and broke him crown
And Jill came tumbling after
Back then it was such a sweet and simple rhyme that made me think 'poor kids'. Many years later, I'm finding out there could be more to this innocent children's rhyme than meets the eye.
The French Connection
One theory traces the roots of the poem to France. Jack is said to be King Louis XVI who was beheaded (lost his crown) while Jill is the Queen, Marie Antoinette (who was beheaded after her husband). The beheadings took place in 1793 during the Reign of Terror at the beginning of the French revolution. The first publication for date for 'Jack and Jill' is 1795.
A Rhyme on Taxes
A less gruesome theory suggests 'Jack and Jill' represents cunning measures taken by Charles I - King of England, Scotland and Ireland - to raise more money from taxes. His attempt to increase taxes on liquid measures was vetoed by Parliament, so he ordered that the volume of a jack (half a pint) be reduced but the tax was to remain the same.
A jack is half a pint. A gill is quarter a pint. So, when Jack fell down, Gill came tumbling after.
Language of Lovers
William Shakespeare mentioned Jack and Jill in his play 'A Midsummer's Night Dream'. At the end of act three he wrote: "Jack shall have Jill; Nought shall go ill". He also mentioned the names in 'Love's Labour's Lost'- "Our wooing doth not end like an old play; Jack hath not Jill".
So why tuck political innuendos away in children's rhymes, you may ask? Shouldn't they be innocent and uncoloured?
Well, nursery rhymes were historically used to express opinions that could not be spoken freely. Some seemingly silly rhymes included political statements which, if they had been spoken outright, would be punishable by death. Thank God that is not the case today.