By indexer
168 days ago

There Was An Old Woman Who Lived In a Shoe: what does it mean?

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There was an old woman who lived in a shoe,
She had so many children she didn’t know what to do;
So she gave them some broth without any bread,
And she whipped them all soundly and sent them to bed.

This may just sound like a nonsense rhyme but it does have a real meaning behind it. Like many so-called nursery rhymes it was political in origin, dating from the reign of King George II of Great Britain (reigned 1727-60).

George was the second king of the Hanoverian dynasty (from which the current royal family are descended), coming to the throne in 1727, but he was not very popular with the British public. He had been born abroad and found the English language difficult. He also found the business of governing not to his liking and tended to leave the major decisions to his much more able wife, Queen Caroline. He therefore acquired the nickname of “the old woman”.

He also found that the leading minister of the day, Sir Robert Walpole, was able to control Parliament and that he had very little influence over what the members of parliament did. They were therefore the unruly children of the rhyme.

Many people in the country had been ruined by the bursting of the South Sea Bubble in 1721, and King George was keen to involve Britain in foreign wars, notably the series of struggles that became known as the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-8). This meant that there was very little money in the public purse (“broth without any bread”).

The king demanded that Parliament should remain in constant session and that its members should attend every day to vote the way he wanted them to, although, as mentioned above, it was Walpole who really controlled matters. A demand that MPs vote in a certain way is referred to as a “whip”, which derives from the “whipper-in” on the hunting field who kept the hounds in line.

The “children” were therefore soundly whipped and sent to “bed”, namely the House of Commons.

The shoe in the rhyme could also be a reference to marital fertility, as symbolised by the throwing of shoes as the bride and groom left for their honeymoon. George and Caroline were certainly fertile, having eight surviving children.

The “old woman” rhyme was therefore a way of poking fun at the inadequacies of an unpopular king, with its meanings hidden in such a way that anyone reciting it could not be accused of directly insulting King George.
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Lucia5 Nice article!
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soncee Great artwork
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indexer @soncee I just choose it - I take no responsibility for producing it! I think it comes from a 19th century collection of nursery rhymes - I agree, it is a very good image.
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carmen3521 Good to know
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Justin
👍👍👍👍👍
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