Learn a Rhyme

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Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

This rhyme was first published around 1745

It is thought to refer to either Mary Queen of Scots or Mary I

Mary Queen of Scots is said to have been presented with a dress by her husband, the dauphin of France, that was decorated with silver bells and cockle shells. The pretty maids were here handmaidens.

Mary I was the daughter of Henry VIII, a devout Catholic who came to the throne in 1553 and sought to return the country to Catholicism following her father's break with the Catholic Church. The silver bells and cockle shells were instruments of torture used to persuade Protestants to return to Catholicism. The maiden was a beheading machine for those who could not be persuaded.