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An illustration of the nursery rhyme, Jack and Jill

A hilarious rhyme that children often chant cheerily while jumping around, Jack and Jill is another example of the dark history covered up in light-hearted rhyme. Instead of England though, this is a rhyme that sheds light on the history of France.

Unlike other rhymes, the rhyme is part fiction and part history, since only the first two lines can be taken as an allusion to the past.

"Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water,

Jack fell down and broke his crown,

And Jill came tumbling after."

King Louis XIV ruled over France in the late 18th century and was called out for treason. He had failed to uphold the economy of France. His spouse Marie Antoinette was an equally powerful influence in the monarchy but could not do anything when her husband was convicted.

King Louis XIV of France Image source: wikimedia commons

The French are famous for the guillotine, and Louis XIV was beheaded on this device. This act of executing a monarch is why the rhyme has the line "Jack fell down and broke his crown". The guillotine, at this point in history, was kept outside the city, and the journey to it was long and tedious. It was ideally located on a hill, so that the entire city of Paris could witness the execution of the accused.

Louise XIV is believed to have been dressed and taken on the long journey up to the guillotine, where his hair was cut off and he had to renounce his authority. He bid farewell to his friends and was followed up the hill by a crowd holding pikes and bayonets, to prevent his escape. He was then executed as the last monarch of France.

Death by guillotine was the most terrifying way to execute a criminal Image source: wikimedia commons

A few months later, when the hue and cry of Louis XIV's death has died down a little, but the political situation of France was no better, his wife, Marie Antoinette was also executed at the guillotine for her role in the fall of France. And this event alludes to the line, "Jill came tumbling after".

The rest of the rhyme is a fictional account of a moralistic idea for children, as a way to tell them to be careful of where they engage in play. Since a large part of the rhyme seems like a story of two children who have had an accident in play, that is how the rhyme has survived and the history behind it, has been forgotten.

Keywords: Marie Antoinette, Louise XIV, Guillotine, France, Nursery Rhymes, Monarchy


Photo by Chelson Tamares on Unsplash

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