Humpty Dumpty Was A Cannon, Not An Egg

By Adam Wears on Wednesday, January 8, 2014
164311383
“Humpty had always sat on walls, it was his way.” —Jasper Fforde, “The Big Over Easy”

In A Nutshell

You might think that the main character of the classic children’s nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty” is an egg. However, historical evidence actually suggests that Humpty Dumpty was actually a cannon used by the Royalists during the English Civil War. During a vicious battle in 1648, the cannon fell from a battlement and was unable to be recovered (i.e., put back together again). Tellingly, the lyrics of the nursery rhyme never describe Humpty Dumpty as an egg either.

The Whole Bushel

The nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty”—with its simplistic lyrics and surrealistic imagery—has been a classic among children throughout the world since 1870. It’s not a complicated story: The titular Humpty Dumpty sits on a wall and falls off, spilling his innards while “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” fail to put him back together again.

Interestingly, you’re probably picturing an egg as the main character, in spite of the fact that the lyrics don’t describe Humpty at all. For that, you can thank the 1872 novel Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll which contained illustrations of Humpty Dumpty as an egg, a portrayal which continued throughout popular culture ever since.

So, you might be asking, what was Humpy Dumpty? Well, if you believe several historians, Humpty Dumpty was actually the nickname of a cannon used during the English Civil War of 1642–1649. In 1648, the English city of Colchester was under the control of a group known as the Royalists, who wished for King Charles I to be able to rule the country without Parliament. In order to fortify the city against attack from the Parliamentarians (the group who supported Parliament and wished to oust Charles I), they erected several large cannons on the walls surrounding the city.

On June 15, 1648, the cannon referred to as “Humpty Dumpty” was positioned on the walls. By this time, the Parliamentarians had surrounded and laid siege to the city, so Humpty was used to bombard the enemy and prevent a full-scale assault. However, on July 14 or 15, a Parliamentarian cannonball blew apart the wall underneath Humpty Dumpty. This collapsed the fortification and sent Humpty Dumpty tumbling to the ground. Due to its size, none of the king’s horses and none of the king’s men were able to recover the cannon. On August 28, the city fell to the Parliamentarians, who eventually triumphed and toppled King Charles I in 1649, thus ending the war.

Show Me The Proof

Under the Surface and Beyond the Horizon, Phillip Martin Williamson, Leon Vaughn Gilchrist, and Alan H. Smith
The Secret History of Nursery Rhymes, Linda Alchin
BBC History: Choosing Sides in the English Civil War

  • Melbournemiller

    Everything you never wanted to know about Humpty Dumpty.

  • https://soundcloud.com/arjan-hut Arjan Hut

    I’d heard of this one. Love finding out the origins of nursery rhymes.

    • Jake

      of course you heard of it arjan didnt you? of course you had to tell us about it too.

      • https://soundcloud.com/arjan-hut Arjan Hut

        You’re late.

    • Lisa 39

      Hi arjan, i heard this before also, it’s weird but it makes more sense than an eggman sitting on a wall. I just had to share!

  • Andrew Pepper

    Apparently, this is quite doubtful as a derivation of the nursery rhyme; wikipedia gives a few of the competing theories (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humpty_Dumpty#Origins). There’s a small error in the text, Colchester isn’t a city – it’s the UK’s oldest recorded town.

    • Passin’ Through

      Maybe Debra Kelly will write an article on the differences between Cities and Towns. Unless someone really wants $10 and beats her to it.

      • Andrew Pepper

        I think, in law, the Queen gets to declare a town as a city – I don’t think it’s ever gone the other way. Historically, it used to be tied to the church; cities had cathedrals, towns and villages had churches. Which leads to the question; what’s the difference between a hamlet and a village? A village has a church, Hamlet’s a play by Shakespeare.

        • androphiles

          The first known use of “hamlet” to mean a small village was before the 12th century.

  • Chaos

    It’s interesting that just about all nursery rhymes have darker sinister beginnings than we would think. I would like to know if it is simply the passage of time or some kind of cultural effect or event that made so many of the true beginnings of nursery rhymes into the stories we tell our children or that Disney makes movies out of

  • Ryan

    Still doesn’t explain why the horses were employed to repair the cannon!

    • Amber

      Probably to help move it. It was too heavy even for the horses to pull.

      • Davo

        That’s what I immediately thought as well.

    • Dalton

      Really?? In the midst of a siege?? C’mon dude, the horses were probably used to rapidly get men out to the cannon and like previously mentioned haul the bigger pieces like the back blast chamber portion, heaviest part, that probably would still be in tact. N under fire it musta been too heavy to move fast enough to be safe doing it. It actually makes sense.

      • Ryan

        I think I was taking the line too literally: “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men…”.
        They’re mentioned first, as if the horses were anthropomorphic also (like the egg) and able to repair something. I see what you and the other guys are saying now…

  • Hadeskabir

    I never knew what Humpty Dumpty was, I’ve heard of it before, but until today I didn’t know it was a nursery rhyme.

    • The Ou7law

      I will read it to you before night night time ok

      • Lisa 39

        Hey, i can let you borrow my book of mother goose nursery rhymes! I’ve had it since i was a child tho so be careful, it’s old lol

        • The Ou7law

          Lol i have a mother goose nursery rhyme book as well

          • Lisa 39

            That’s awesome! I’ll bet it’s not as old as mine tho, i’d be interested in seeing the differences between the two books.

          • The Ou7law

            Here is what it looks like

          • Lisa 39

            Thank you outlaw, that’s nothing like mine. My cover is pale color’s, the pages have plain pencil drawn illustrations with few colors. Actually, mine’s technically an antique lol

          • The Ou7law

            Lol o ok

          • Lisa 39

            Hey buddy, i said the books an antique not me lol

          • The Ou7law

            Haha believe me babe, i know you never talk about a womens age and especially never say she is an antique lol i was just agreeing with you about the book.

          • Lisa 39

            I was teasing lol. I set myself up for cracks like that tho when i say i’ve had it since i was a kid then say it’s an antique. Then i made the crack, hmm, maybe i should rethink my joke making paradigm

          • The Ou7law

            Its funny how you explain things out piece by piece its like that guy you see in a store talking to someone else but then come to realize he is talking to himself out loud lol

          • Lisa 39

            It’s not so much talking to yourself, it’s more like thinking out loud. Yes, i’m the guy in the store lol at least i’ll never be on ‘the people of walmart’ lol

          • The Ou7law

            True that them peeps be nasty haha

          • Lisa 39

            I haven’t seen it yet, the kids talk about it and show me pic’s. I have this one image burned in my mind, so gross. If you weigh over 300lbs then you really shouldn’t wear daisy dukes and a belly shirt. Ugh.

          • The Ou7law

            Eww thats so foul

          • Lisa 39

            And i think it should be against the law to have princess on the ass of your pants if it’s stretched out across 2 counties. I have to throw up, please excuse me.

          • The Ou7law

            Lol hahaha yeah no kidding but you got to admit it is pretty sexy at times…..uggggghhhhhh i couldnt even say that with a straight face

          • Lisa 39

            You’re so silly, i’ve never said anything about anyone’s weight, just dress decently so you don’t make children cry, which actually did happen to my youngest at a waterpark when she was 2. Spandex shorts and a sports bra should not be worn by 300lb women in public.

          • The Ou7law

            Yeah that should be illegal

          • Lisa 39

            A t-shirt would have been awesome lol

          • The Ou7law

            Or a ginormous towel

          • Lisa 39

            I’ve never seen a towel big enough for all of that, king size sheet’s might work tho, i’m so grossed out lol

          • The Ou7law

            Lol she is so big she uses a mattress as a tampon

          • Lisa 39

            The sad part of that is it’s probably true lol

          • The Ou7law

            I bet sharks love her

          • Lisa 39

            I don’t think they’d be able to do that in one bite, that’s like a week long meal

      • Hadeskabir

        That would be nice, the last time someone told me a story before sleep time was my grandmother in 1995.

        • The Ou7law

          I have to read to my 2 year old but all he is in to is dinosaurs, the kid is crazy he is 2 and can name almost every dinosaur by there scientific name he out smarts me lol. So yeah i will read to you

          • Hadeskabir

            He sounds like a smart kid. When I was a kid I also loved dinosaurs. It would be weird for a grown man to read a bed time story to another grown man lol

  • The Ou7law

    But i thought a cannonball was made of iron, why would all the kings horses and all the kings men have to put humpy dumpy back together again? Unless it was a cannonball made from an egg bam i just stumped the stumper

  • Errkism

    I always considered it a meaningless mother goose nursery rhyme. Does anyone know if more nursery rhymes have an actual historical background like this one? Very interesting article, I had never even thought twice about him not being an egg.

    • Scott

      They pretty much all do.

    • Lisa 39

      Ring around the rosie has an historical backround. It’s really sad tho.

      • Errkism

        I am familiar with that one, it was referencing the Black Plague if I’m correct. A pocket full of posies being the supposed “cure” for the disease.

        • Lisa 39

          Wow, that’s far from what i was told, children carried posies in their pockets to represent the ashes of victim’s of the holocaust. I guess we’re off to wikipedia!

        • http://listverse.com/ Jamie Frater

          Nope – not a reference to the plague or a holocaust – just a nursery rhyme: http://listverse.com/2012/11/28/10-sinister-origins-of-nursery-rhymes/

          • Errkism

            I actually remember reading that list, guess I didn’t retain that last entry lol. Thanks for the information. Now I won’t be spreading this misconception anymore.

  • http://anotherheaven.biz/ Gaza

    This Humpty Dumpty article has been all over the web recently just redone with the explanation. of coarse ill find it on listverse all of a sudden as its one of the most viewed articles around. Just re-write it and claim it as your own idea to show the world, brilliant..

  • Pingback: emol

  • Pingback: telefonos eroticos

  • Pingback: sondage

  • Pingback: http://astore.amazon.com/beka08-20

  • Pingback: PMG

  • Pingback: new york city videographer

  • Pingback: sütyen takım

  • Pingback: muaythai-training-camp.com

  • Pingback: healthy living

  • Pingback: Hypnotherapy Adelaide

  • Pingback: gifts to hyderabad

  • Pingback: URL

  • Pingback: Vampire facelift NJ

  • Pingback: business university in malaysia

  • Pingback: Bed and Breakfast in Letlhakane

  • Pingback: Final Cut Pro X Effects

  • Pingback: DNA Wealth Blueprint

  • Pingback: auto insurance

  • Pingback: RomanyRest

  • Pingback: MuscleBuildNow.blogspot.com

  • Pingback: acompanhantes rj

  • Pingback: Trading Forecast

  • Pingback: http://flagam.com

  • Pingback: cakes delivery nellore

  • Pingback: best private university in malaysia

  • Pingback: Birthday Cakes Rajahmundry

  • Pingback: weight loss diet