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Humpty Dumpty – Not an Egg

Children, we've all been one. Thinking back through the fog of adulthood you might recall singing, or hearing, simple little rhymes. These rhymes, commonly referred to as Nursery Rhymes, are usually inane ditties. Some of these tunes hold the secrets of history.

That seems to be exactly the case for Humpty Dumpty. Everyone knows that Humpty Dumpty was an egg with terrible balance. The name alone conjures up images of a well-dressed egg atop a wall, soon to fall.

Have you ever wondered why the rhyme itself never describes old Humpty Dumpty as an egg? That's because it wasn't one. It was something altogether more violent.

It's Time for a Rhyme

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;

All the King's horses

And all the King's men,

Couldn't put Humpty together again.

The modern version of the rhyme has been around since the mid 20th century. Scholars have long wondered what the rhyme refers to. Some believe it to be a riddle, the solution to which is an egg.

Samuel Arnold wrote the earliest known version of the rhyme in his 1797 book, Juvenile Amusements. Several other versions appeared before the modern one was published in 'Yale Songs: A Collection of Songs in Use by the Glee Club and Students of Yale College' in 1882.

Humpty Dumpty has appeared in media throughout history. Most famously in Lewis Carroll's 'Through the Looking Glass'. This was also the first time that the character was illustrated as being an egg.


The term Humpty Dumpty seems to be older than the rhyme. In 1785, Francis Grose documented the word term in his book, 'A Vulgar Tongue: A dictionary of filthy words'. He claimed that it was a derogatory term for short, clumsy people, or a type of boiled brandy drink.

Another theory, proposed in the 1930s by Katherine Elwes Thomas, held that Humpty Dumpty's tale was a reference to King Richard III of England. This was due to his being depicted as a hunchback by Shakespeare and Tudor historians. The rationale being that having a hunch makes one somewhat egg-shaped.

The best, and most rational, theory is that Humpty Dumpty was the name of a cannon used during the English Civil War 1642-1651. Proponents of this theory include military historians and the town of Colchester itself.

According to this theory, Humpty Dumpty was the nickname of a great cannon used to defend the walled town. Positioned atop the wall near St. Mary-at-the-wall church, it served as a formidable deterrent to the Parliamentarian forces. That is until one of the attackers' cannons smashed the wall beneath Humpty Dumpty. The cannon fell amid the rubble, breaking under its own weight.

The Royalists, king's men, tried repairing the cannon, but were unable to put it back together again.



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