Little Jack Horner, Old Mother Hubbard, the "Mary Mary quite contrary" one (I don't know if that's the name of it)are some of the ones from that time.
'Ring a ring a roses/pocket full of posies' nursery rhyme, I believe is related to the Great Plague of 1666. It originated shortly after the plague occurred. One of the first symptoms of the plague was sneezing which is noted in the last lines of the rhyme. Many of the rich moved to the countryside believing they would escape the horrible diseased conditions of the towns (where the plague most rapidly spread). So the roses and posies mentioned might be a reference to the desire for fresh surroundings to avoid the illness.
nasim is right: the "ring around the roses" was for the red boils that one got, the "pocket full of posies" was to aid in the smell of the dead, and the last line is refering to the sneezing and of course the "all fall down" is for the death, lovely song for children to sing, dont you think?
Deceased plague victims were burned together in piles due to a commonly held belief that burning the diseased bodies would prevent the spread of the disease. this explains the "Ashes, ashes" part of the rhyme.
I understand that "ring o'ring o'roses" (or around the roses) may date even earlier, to the Black Death in late Medieval times, as one of the first signs of the bubonic plague was the large, rosey-red pustules which formed, especially on the chest, underarm and groin. They certainly formed huge red rings. It is also thought by some that the "pocket full of posies" refers to tussie-mussies and the like; certainly the people believed that the plague was spread by breathing bad or foul air; and tussie mussies and other forms of sweet-smelling herbs were carried to sweeten the air and ward off the disease. The illustrations that you sometimes see of the doctors with birds-head masks on, with very long beaks are (I have been told)the doctor's attempt to stay healthy, as they packed the beak end with herbs!The other rhyme that may date from this time is "Sing a song of sixpence.." - apparently about this time pies were baked, and then a larger pie crust was baked separately. The dish was tehn assembled, with the main pie to eat on the serving dish, and the larger pie crust placed over the top. The space between would be filled with small live songbirds - finches, thrushes, blackbirds etc. When the larger pie crust was broken, the live birds flew out, and then the main "real" pie would be eaten!
Probably an urban myth - this was referred to by Stephen Fry on QI as quite a recent song - the plague explanation has been added later!
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