The Real Meaning of Mary, Mary Quite Contrary

by ghostwriter

Such a beautiful poem, evoking pretty images of a bright colorful garden. Sadly the true story behind Mary, Mary Quite Contrary is horrific.

The true story behind Mary, Mary Quite Contrary

Mary Mary quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.

Such a beautiful nursery rhyme, evoking pretty images of a bright colorful garden where one might want to just sit and relax, leaving your troubles behind.

Sadly the true story behind Mary, Mary Quite Contrary is that of blood, gore and horror.

Posters on Mary Mary Quite Contrary

A fantasty rane of nursery pictures, framed or unframed
Mary, Mary, Quite ContraryMary, Mary, Quite ContraryMary Mary Quite Contrary How Does Your Garden Grow?

Who was Mary, why contrary?

Mary is in fact Queen Mary or Bloody Mary as she was also known and daughter of King Henry VIII. Her nickname 'Bloody Mary' was derived because she wouldn't think twice about ending the life of an individual and all too often executed people in a wholesale fashion, mass executions, almost like a production line.


It is interesting that her father, Henry VIII fell out with the Catholic Church over rules relating to divorce and indeed embarked upon a destruction campaign, demolishing properties owned by the Catholic Church, plundering their gold and silver, stealing land etc., yet his daughter was a staunch catholic and infamous for such incredible bloody executions on those who open and continually declared their Protestant faith.

Where was Mary's garden?

So, the first line; “Mary, Mary Quite Contrary” could relate to the contrary aspect of her chosen religion. (contrary to her father's).


How does your garden grow? - let's dismiss the beautiful flowers in a cultivated garden, forget that haven designated for peace and relaxation; this garden was a cemetery like mass of land with ever extending rows of graves occupied by murdered, headless protestant martyrs.

Those beautiful scented flowers growing from the soil were nothing but simple grave markers noting yet another person tortured because of their faith; same God, same history, different church and that was Mary's reason to murder those people.

Silver bells and cockle shells?

Nothing but instruments of torture; the silver bells were extremely nasty thumbscrews, placed securely onto both thumbs and gradually turned, screwed to the point of crushing the victims bones, consequently extracting a confession and admission of their protestant faith or indeed and what many would see as a cowardly act, the denial of their faith, but at least they might live. When would a confession was extracted is was presented as evidence against them, leading to a horrible execution. So, those silver bells were indeed nasty devises.


What were the 'cockleshells'.

Think of a cockleshell, like a clam shell but in a mechanical form with vice-like grips that were attached to the protestants private parts and gradually tightened and squeezed, administering excruciating pain that was more than sufficient to inducing a solid confession thus providing evidence against that would lead to their bloody death

'Maids all in a row"?

The original guillotine was named 'The Maiden", Mary didn't use one or two, but rows and rows of them during mass executions, placed in a row and used to dispatch the protestant martyrs in a fast but bloody manner.


It is difficult now to recite that beautiful, quaint nursery rhyme without thinking of those horrific scenes of torture and executions. Crowds of people including friends and families of the martyrs, watching each and every one being despatched in a cold and heartless manner under the authority of 'Bloody Mary'.

Updated: 06/22/2011, ghostwriter
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Carole on 02/25/2017

I don't think she was the horrible person she has been made out to be.The source of the "Bloody Mary" legend is a book by a rabid anti-Catholic, Foxe's _Book of Martyrs_ There were those who tried to keep her off the throne and plotted against her once she came to the throne....a capital offense called treason. Of the 273 people who Foxe in his book said were "martyred" by Mary for their religious beliefs, careful study shows that 169 of the persons in it are listed only by name which were probably mostly criminals who would have been executed no matter who was ruling. That leaves 104 who were executed by Mary for a religion-related reason.....probably treason as suggested . Her father , Henry, executed 150 people after the Pilgrimage of Grace alone, afterwards his total number was 649. Her sister Elizabeth martyred 189 in England and was responsible for the deaths of many more in Ireland as well. Mary suffered much before ever coming to the throne ( and that was for only 5 years.) One must not jump too fast to conclusions about people and things that happened many years ago. We tend to forget even the more recent history we have ourselves gone through, much less remember things quite a few years past

Newtgirl411 on 10/29/2016

I saw them making a Halloween cake on this and had to look it up because I didn't remember the rhyme completely

Veronica on 08/04/2016

The more usual form of execution in England at that time was the axe for beheading although Anne Boleyn was entitled to be beheaded by a sword because she was a queen.

I was always under the impression that Mary Mary referred to Mary Queen of Scots, not Mary Tudor, the "garden" being Scotland of which she had been queen, the silver bells being the Catholic church bells, the cockle shells being the feuding lords and the pretty maids being her husband's mistresses.

Evan on 08/04/2016

The guillotine was invented and came info use several hundred years later during the French Revolution. The earliest reference to this nursery rhyme is a century after Mary. That doesn't mean that the lines weren't competed in relation to tales about her. But some of the information is perhaps factually inaccurate and no original sources are cited. Start with wiki and branch out from there for original references if you want to find the source

kadence on 05/05/2015

Wow That Crazy I Never Queen Mary Was Bloody Mary And I Always Wanted To Play That Bloody Mary Game In A Restroom No More Games Like That For Me

Kelsie on 04/23/2014

I have to look up parodies of nursery rhymes for school and I had to do this one. So I was looking and then I wanted to see what this was about. I already knew that Mary was catholic and burned people at the stake if they are not. But I had no idea about this poem!!!!! Oh my gosh I wonder if my Language Arts teacher knows :O :O

Rose on 03/04/2014

I think it was an adult satirical poem that somehow became a nursery rhyme - how that happened is anyone's guess.

madis123 on 02/28/2014 a little scared

phoebe on 11/23/2013

thanks for the help on my history homework. Was a bit shocking but ok.

Victoria on 08/07/2013

What's awful is how this crap is brainwashed into every generation. Something so seemingly innocent & pleasant & safe is infact violence & destruction, the very things we wouldn't want to teach or encourage. Sickening & sad.

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