Video 3 blind mice lyrics

Origin and background

Historian and linguist Andres Ehmann wrote an essay about historical nursery rhymes that are directly or indirectly related to Kings and Queens of the Stuart and Tudor families: Rock the Kings! By means of these truly historical nursery rhymes he explains the meaning and the fascinating stories of English Kings and Queens throughout the centuries

Table of contents (chronological order) 1. Humpty Dumpty – Defeat of Charles I, King of England and Scotland 2. Georgie Porgie – Charles II defeated by Oliver Cromwell 3. Three Blind Mice – Queen Mary and the prosecution of English Protestants 4. Rock-A-Bye-Baby – From Charles II to James II 5. Jack And Jill – The French Revolution 6. Sing A Song Of Sixpence – King Henry VIII 7. Mary Mary Quite Contrary – “Bloody Mary”, Queen Mary I 8. Skye Boat Song – The escape of Charles Edward Stuart 9. Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond – The last battle of the House of Stuart

History, origin and meaning of Three Blind Mice

This nursery rhyme is often said to be about Mary I (1516 – 1558), the daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, who was made “illegitimate“ when her father married Anne Boleyn. She nevertheless became Queen of England when her half brother Edward IV, the son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, his third wife, died. If this theory is true, the song is most likely about religious persecution, specifically protestant persecution by a Catholic Queen. There are also many songs linked to the persecution of Catholics by Anglican Kings (Little Jack Horner, Goosey Goosey Gander). Religious persecution in the 16th century seems to have given rise to many songs.

Possibly there was a different version of this song, in a book edited by Thomas Ravenscroft in 1609.

Three Blinde Mice, three Blinde Mice, Dame Iulian, Dame Iulian, the Miller and his merry olde Wife, she scrapte her tripe licke thou the knife

It is hard to say which one is the original or older version. If the first version is about the persecution of Protestants, perhaps it was a good idea to change the text when the protestant Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603) ascended the throne after her half sister. The “humoristic“ tone of the song can be explained by 100 years of religious persecution in England. First the Protestants persecuted the Catholics under Henry VIII. Then the Catholics persecuted the Protestants (Anglicans / Presbyterians) under Mary I. Eventually this led to everybody persecuting each other, during the reigns of Charles I, Charles II and James I. The big difference between England and other countries, is the fact that in England this type of song has survived. For instance, in Germany, there are no songs left from the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648), although they did once exist.

If we follow the theory that the song is about the persecution of Protestants in the time of Mary I, the following historical background would apply:

Mary I (1516 – 1558) was the daughter of Henry VIII (1491 – 1547) and first wife, Catherine of Aragon (1485 – 1536). When her father Henry VIII wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry Ann Boleyn (1501 – 1536), he needed the permission of the Pope for the marriage be valid, something the Pope denied. When Anne Boleyn became pregnant in 1533, Henry made himself the Supreme Head of the Church of England, separating it from Rome, and the Pope’s approval became irrelevant. This decision had two important consequences, one of which is still important today. The Church of England became, and still is, independent from Rome. The second consequence was that Mary I became illegitimate, because the marriage between her mother, Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII was declared invalid. The formal reason put forward for the divorce, was the fact that Catherine was married to the brother of Henry VIII, Arthur, before she married Henry. The hopes of Henry VIII, that his new marriage to Anne Boleyn would give rise to a son would come to nothing. Her first baby was a girl, the later Elizabeth I and the second and third pregnancies, one of which was believed to be a boy, ended in miscarriage or stillbirth. Only the third marriage, to Jane Seymour (1508 – 1537) – Anne Boleyn had been accused of adultery and executed – brought the desired son, Edward, but Jane died two days after the birth.

Edward (1537 – 1553) became Edward VI, King of England and Ireland, in 1547, at the death of his father. Under him, celibacy was abolished and the Mass was given in English instead of Latin. (For a fifteen year old boy, he had some strange interests!) He died without an heir to the throne. His “Devise for the Succession”, an attempt to stop the country reverting to Catholicism by crowning his protestant cousin Lady Jane Grey, was not respected, and Mary I became the Queen of England. She reversed the protestant reforms of Edward, and England became catholic once more, until the Elizabethan Religious Settlement of 1559 reversed it again.

To understand the severe persecution of all kind of non-catholics it is perhaps important to know that Mary I married Phillip II of Spain (1527 – 1598) in 1554 – Phillip became King of Spain in 1556. Spain was perhaps the most catholic nation of that time. The Grand Inquisitor Tomás de Torquemada (1420 1498) had died only fifty years before. Phillip II intervened in these persecutions, although his adviser Alfonso de Castro, warned him that such unpopular actions could create an anti-Spanish feeling among the English people. Part of the following conflicts between England and Spain in the following century and the strong anti-catholic movement can be explained by these severe persecutions, so bloody that Mary I became famously known as Bloody Mary.

If we accept the theory that this is the historical background of this song (there is another – Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary) then the three blind mice were protestants who disapproved the policy of Mary I and Phillip (they all ran after the farmer’s wife.) They were subsequently destroyed, killed or limited in their possibilities (who cut off their tails with a carving knife). The verse words “farmer’ s wife” can be explained by the fact that Phillip II had a lot of arable land.

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