You would be hard-pressed to find a child that couldn’t finish the sentence ‘Jack and Jill went up the hill…’ from the wildly popular English nursery rhyme. While the rhyme seems benign enough, there is much speculation in regards to its real origin and meaning behind the poem.
That being said, many plausible origins aren’t particularly child-friendly! Here, we’ll take a look at some of the speculated origins of Jack and Jill, as well as their associated metaphorical meanings. But first, let’s take a look at the most common version of the poem.
Jack and Jill Full Lyrics
Jack and Jill
Went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down
And broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.
Up got Jack, and home did trot
As fast as he could caper
He went to bed and bound his head
With vinegar and brown paper.
When Jill came in
How she did grin
To see Jack’s paper plaster;
Did whip her next
For causing Jack’s disaster.
Got it? Now, let’s look at the possible inspirations for this text.
Jack and Jill Origins
Hjuki and Bill
In this Old Norse Myth, the moon, referred to as Mâni, steals two children, Hjuki and Bill, from Earth. The kidnapping happens as the two children are collecting water from a well. It is believed that the story was told to young children to try and prevent them from going out alone after dark. It is hypothesized that, over time and many reiderations of the tale, Hjuki became Jack and Bill became Jill.
While this is one possible origin of the nursery rhyme, it doesn’t account for the verse in which the children come tumbling down. Furthermore, others hypothesize that the old Norse myth actually refers to the waxing and waning cycles of the moon and its impact on the tides.
Are you a nursery rhyme expert? Test your knowledge with this fun quiz!
King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette
One popular interpretation of the rhyme is that it tells the story of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution. King Louis XVI was beheaded (lost his crown) during the Reign of Terror. Shortly after, Marie Antoinette was also beheaded (came tumbling after). Although the story seems to fit quite well, some have pointed out that the earliest known printing of the rhyme actually predates the events of the Reign of Terror, casting doubt on this interpretation.
In a small town in Somerset called Kilmersdon, there is an actual hill, now called “Jack and Jill Hill,” that locals believe inspired the nursery rhyme. Their story involves a young couple–Jill, a local spinster, and Jack, her mysterious lover.
In this version of events, Jill becomes pregnant by Jack and the couple is overjoyed. But when Jack goes up the hill to collect some water, he is tragically killed by a dislodged boulder. Jill then dies of a broken heart shortly after, and the small town of Kilmersdon banned together to raise Jack and Jill’s son together. Today, there are six stone markers that line the hill, each with one verse from the poem. At the top of the hill, there is a well and a plaque dedicated to Jack and Jill as well as two tombstones.
Jack and Jill Actual Meaning
It is clear from the many possible interpretations that no one knows for sure what the origins of the famous nursery rhyme truly are. And thus, we may never know where the story of Jack and Jill originates.
However, one thing appears certain: the seemingly benign and cheerful nursery rhyme seems to refer to events that are quite a bit darker then you would expect for a children’s story. This may be fitting as it is believed that nursery rhymes were a way for adults to keep their children informed and aware of some of the darker realities of the world in a way that they could easily digest. So, perhaps Jack & Jill was a cautionary tale meant to teach young children an important lesson. However, exactly what lesson remains a mystery to this day.
If you love finding out the (sometimes strange!) origins of these childhood nursery rhymes, you might want to check out these articles:
- What Is the Real Meaning Behind Ring Around the Rosie?
- The Story Behind London Bridge Is Falling Down
- What Is the Real Meaning Behind Humpty Dumpty?
- The Story Behind Mary Had a Little Lamb
- What Is the Real Meaning Behind Baa, Baa, Black Sheep?