Hey Did­dle Did­dle!

Evergreen - - Contents - Charles Mered­ith

The al­ter­na­tive ver­sion of this nurs­ery rhyme is “Rock- a- bye baby on the tree top” which is be­lieved to have re­placed the orig­i­nal lyrics in the mid- 19th cen­tury, pos­si­bly in Amer­ica where many peo­ple be­lieve it to have be­gun as a Na­tive Amer­i­can lul­laby. We know they placed ba­bies in the branches of a tree and al­lowed the wind to rock the in­fant to sleep be­cause the Pil­grim Fa­thers noted their birch bark cra­dles when they first crossed the At­lantic, but is there more to it than that?

Al­most cer­tainly and one sug­ges­tion is French in ori­gin, re­lat­ing to a fa­ble about a nurse warn­ing about the baby fall­ing into the clutches of a wolf wait­ing be­low the tree. An­other sug­gests a link to the Saxon word “boh” which was pro­nounced “bock”, the first line read­ing “on the green boh” to rhyme with “rock”. Pure fan­tasy? Who can tell.

The most popular the­ory, how­ever, is highly po­lit­i­cal and in­volves King James II of Eng­land. In 1688 there was a strong ru­mour that the son from his sec­ond mar­riage was not his at all, but had been smug­gled into the royal bed­cham­ber in a warm­ing pan, thus en­sur­ing an­other Ro­man Catholic monarch on the Bri­tish throne. In this ver­sion the cra­dle stood for the Stu­arts but the wind was the Protes­tant storm of change, which even­tu­ally re­placed the in­com­pe­tent and un­pop­u­lar James with Wil­liam and Mary as­cend­ing to the throne in his stead. The baby it­self was, of course, Eng­land.

The tune is closely con­nected to the song “Lil­liburlero” and a sec­ond, but al­most to­tally for­got­ten, verse was added by Wil­liam Sten­house in in the mid- 19th cen­tury:

Hush- a- bye baby on the tree top, When the wind blows the cra­dle will

rock, When the bough breaks the cra­dle

will fall, Down will come baby, cra­dle and all.

The Pil­grim Fa­thers sailed to Amer­ica in the Mayflower and noted how Na­tive Amer­i­cans placed their ba­bies in birch bark cra­dles and al­lowed the wind to rock them to sleep in a tree.

James II of Eng­land was im­pli­cated in this rhyme via an al­leged plot to il­le­gally al­low a Ro­man Catholic suc­ces­sor to the throne.

Rock- a- bye baby, thy cra­dle is green, Fa­ther’s a no­ble­man, mother’s a

queen. Betty’s a lady and wears a gold ring, Johnny’s a drum­mer and drums for

the king.

A tiled ac­count of the rhyme cre­ated for the former chil­dren’s ward in Bed­ford Hos­pi­tal, to cel­e­brate Queen Vic­to­ria’s Di­a­mond Ju­bilee in 1897.

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