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Origins: Humpty Dumpty

Tenniel's Humpty Dumpty

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.

Commonly depicted as an egg, for which we can blame John Tenniel, the illustrator of Lewis Carrol’s Through The Looking Glass (see right), the titular Humpty Dumpty is in fact a cannon, which is made clear by the two verses preceding the famous one:

In sixteen-hundred and forty-eight,
When England suffered the pains of state,
The Roundheads laid siege to Colchester town
Where the king’s men still fought for the crown.
There One-Eyed Thompson stood on the wall,
A gunner of deadliest aim of all.
From St Mary’s Tower his cannon he fired,
Humpty Dumpty was his name.

Now. *waves hands mystically* Let me take you back in time to 14 July 1648 and the siege of Colchester.  The Civil War is six years old, and Royalist forces (the King’s men) have taken the strategically important town of Colchester, only to be besieged by supporters of Charles I .

There is One-Eyed Thompson, atop the tower of St Mary-at-the-Walls with his oddly named cannon, has done a smashing job, managing to hold off the opposing forces for eleven weeks.  Tonight his luck has run out. St Mary’s is hit and Humpty Dumpty crashes down into the marshlands below. A great fall indeed; following the damage to St. Mary’s, Colchester was lost to the Parliamentarians.

Unfortunately, though any member of the East Anglia Tourist Board will swear to you this story is true – and it’s certainly widely told – I can’t find any definitive answer. Though I think it unlikely that the words of Humpty Dumpty have been mistakenly attached to the siege of Colchester, it does remain a possibility.

2 responses »

  1. I had never heard of the preceding two verses!

    Reply
    • Until I started researching for this post, neither had I. It turns out its quite common for us to cherry-pick the best bits of nursery rhymes and forget the rest (thus ensuring they never properly make sense again). The one I’m putting up next week has sixteen additional verses.

      Reply

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