Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary


Version 1

Mary Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With Silver Bells,
And Cockleshells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

(Mother Goose Club Version)

Version 2

Mistress Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With cockleshells,
And silver bells,
And fair maids all in a row.

Source: Elliott, Nursery Rhymes and Nursery Songs (1870)


Version 3

Mistress Mary, Quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With Silver Bells, And Cockle Shells,
And so my garden grows.

Source: Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book (1744)



Historical Background

The origins and historical implications of “Mary Mary Quite Contrary” have been debated. One theory claims that the rhyme refers to Mary Tudor, nicknamed Bloody Mary, the daughter of King Henry VIII. A devout Catholic, Mary Tudor terrorized and persecuted Protestants for going against the traditional Catholic faith. The “silver bells” and “cockle shells” are presumed to be colloquialisms for instruments of torture. Another interpretation relates the rhyme to Mary I of Scotland, also known as Mary, Queen of Scots. “How does your garden grow” presumably refers to her reign, “silver bells” alludes to Catholic cathedral bells, the use of “cockle shells” imply that her husband was unfaithful (cuckolded), and her ladies-in-waiting were “pretty maids all in a row.”

Download the sheet music of this rhyme
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