Mother Goose's Mary Contrary


MARY, of the Mother Goose rhyme, was probably Mary, Queen of Scots, described in our history books as a frivolous young woman. It's said Mary was moody and fickle, so maybe that's where the ``contrary'' comes from. In spite of this, Mary was also known as charming, very beautiful, and often surrounded by worshiping admirers. Of course, we know ``silver bells'' didn't grow in her garden; I discovered this refers to her sparkling jewels, and the ``cockle shells'' were actually pretty shells Mary had sewn on her dresses. The lovely queen grew used to rich, luxurious living at the French court, so she brought all the latest games and social customs to her residence in Scotland. The Highland winters were harsh, and cold was an accepted part of life, but spring was celebrated with maypole dancing on the green and twining flowers into crowns.

The long halls at Holyrod Palace were ideal for all the entertainments of the day, and Mary especially loved the music of the tabor, lute, and fiddles.

Mary, Queen of Scots, had sev-eral royal maids of honor, or ladies in waiting (called ``pretty maids all in a row'' in the rhyme), and their names were all Mary! Mary Beaton, Mary Seaton, Mary Fleming, and Mary Livingston had a grand time dancing, ``showing off'' in their Paris gowns, and strolling about the Scottish countryside and gardens of Holyrod.

Do you suppose there was a day when Mary called out to one of the ladies in waiting, and her giggling ``Marys'' collided on a rose tree path? I wonder.

``Mary, Mary Quite Contrary'' may have been thought up by Mrs. Elizabeth Goose of Boston, or possibly written by a French Mother Goose who lived even before Mrs. Elizabeth Goose. Perhaps one of these women and her grandchildren spent an afternoon at gardening, and then gathered all together for a story session. It sounds like a good time to me.

As you may know, Mother Goose-type rhymes are often based on historical figures, and Queen Elizabeth I also made her way into many Mother Goose rhymes. The great English monarch was called ``the cow that jumped over the moon'' (well, that doesn't sound too flattering!), and also ``the cat'' of ``The Cat and the Fiddle.'' This was nearly all symbolic, and told of the politics of the time.

There are numerous royals found in Mother Goose collections: ``Georgie Porgie'' was either King George I or Charles II. A ``King Cole'' ruled in the third century and ``Wee Willie Winkie'' was King William III.

Whether or not she was ``contrary,'' there isn't a more romantic or elegant (or politically controversial) character in Mother Goose lore than ``Mistress Mary,'' or Mary, Queen of Scots.

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