When my son was a baby, I tried singing Rock-A-Bye-Baby to him in desperation to get him to sleep. As I was singing, I realised the words of this popular nursery rhyme were actually horrific.

Rock-a-bye baby
On the tree top
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock
When the bough breaks
The cradle will fall
And down will come baby
Cradle and all

It’s really not a go to bed and have sweet dreams message. This is a song about the baby falling out of a tree. Seriously? What the hell?

I looked up the history of this sweet little song and was relieved to find out it’s not actually talking about killing a baby. It’s a cryptic rhyme about royalty and ambition.

The song refers to the events before the Glorious Revolution in England. The baby in the song is the son of King James II. But… everyone at the time thought the baby was actually another man’s child and … shock horror… a Roman Catholic.

According to British History experts the wind may be the Protestant forces coming towards England from the Netherlands. The Cradle is the Royal House of Stuart – and that Royal House is going to come crashing down because the baby isn’t really the kings.

It’s still super weird to sing it to a baby.

Here’s a few other nursery rhymes that aren’t what they seem.

Baa Baa Black Sheep

Baa Baa black sheep
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, Yes sir, three bags full
One for the master
And one for the dame
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane

It seems lovely enough, the sheep is going to give his wool to the village to share. But this nursery rhyme is actually about a medieval wool tax.

King Edward I imposed the tax in the 13th century. Under his rules, one third of the cost of a sack of wool went to him, another third went to the church and one third went to the farmer. Black sheep were less profitable because farmers could not dye their fleece. In the original version NOTHING was left to the shepherd who lived down the lane.

nursery rhymes
Black sheep were not great value in olden times. Photo: BigStock

Ring a Ring o Rosie

A pocket full of posies
A tissue, a tissue
We all fall down

I remember singing this song as a kid and all falling down dead at the end. It was super fun. But, of course, it’s actually creepy.

Ring a Ring o Rosie was most likely written about the 1665 Plague of London, also known as the Black Death of the Bubonic Plague. The “Rosie” is the rash that develops on the skin of plague victims. The Plague killed 15 per cent of Britain’s population and Posies were used to conceal the smell of plague victims at the time. So when they fall down… they fall down dead.

Know any more weird nursery rhymes? Have any creeped out your kids? Tell us on our Facebook page.

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Alison Godfrey has worked as a journalist and editor for more than 20 years. She loves coffee, wine, skiing and spending time with her husband, two children and their dog. But she's still not sure about the cat. He's pretty cranky.

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