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Stories of the Stuarts: Ring-a-ring of Roses

It is one of the most popular nursery rhymes in this country though not many people know the true origins of Ring-a-ring of Roses. The rhyme was first sung during the Great Plague of 1665 and perfectly summed up the symptoms of this devastating disease.

“Ring-a-ring of Roses,

A pocketful of posies,

Attischo, Attischo,

We all fall down.”

Now lets dissect this nursery rhyme line by line.

Ring-a-ring of Roses became a popular nursery rhyme in England.

Ring-a-ring of Roses became a popular nursery rhyme in England.

The first line is in reference to the red circular blotches that were found on the skin of those who had contracted the plague. The blotches could later develop in to large pus filled sacs that were commonly found under the armpit and in the groin and were extremely painful to the sufferer.

The second line refers to a popular belief that the plague was spread by a cloud of colourless poisonous gas. Known as a miasma, it was believed that it could only be stopped by carrying flowers around with you, which would overpower the germs carried by the miasma. The scent of the flowers would also cover up the unpleasant smell from the sufferers breath, as the plague got worse so too did the smell of the victims breath.

The last two lines of the rhyme refer to a sneezing fit that was promptly followed by death. While some did, many victims did not get as far as the sneezing fit, as their lives were so poor that their bodies were even less able to cope with the disease. For the majority, a swift death was merciful.

So there we have it, the true meaning of Ring-a-ring of Roses. The next time you read aloud this nursery rhyme be sure to remember how the rhyme came about and all those who perished during the Great Plague of 1665.

Photo Credit: By Myles Birket Foster (1825–1899) (Bonhams) , via Wikimedia Commons

Featured Photo Credit: By Thomas Webster (1800 – 1886) (British) via Wikimedia Commons