Who Were Jack & Jill? You Might Be Surprised!!

Just who were Jack and Jill?

Were they just a cute twosome who were also the subjects of the popular nursery rhyme?

Or was this a poem about astronomy? Or war? Or government? Or money? Or is it about whiskey?

First, take a look at all of the verses:

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 Jack got and home did trot
As fast as he could caper;
And went to bed to mend his head
With vinegar and brown paper.

Jill came in and she did grin
To see his paper plaster;
Mother vexed did whip her next
For causing Jack's disaster.

Now Jack did laugh and Jill did cry
But her tears did soon abate;
Then Jill did say that they should play
At see-saw across the gate.

There have also been several variations of the second verse, at least, and perhaps of the others as well.

ASTRONOMY and SCANDINAVIA: (from http://www.madison.k12.wi.us/)

Some folklorists have traced the origin of the Jack and Jill nursery rhyme to a Scandinavian story about two children who were kidnapped by Mani, the moon. Their names were Hjuki (pronounced "juk-ee") and Bil.

Changing cultures, Hjuki became Jack, and Bil was changed to Jill. At first, this connection may seem like a stretch, but linguists have determined that Hjuki (a.k.a. Jack) might have been derived from the Swedish verb “jakka”, which means assemble, or increase. And Bil (a.k.a Jill) might have come from "bila", which means to breakup, dissolve, or decrease.

Just like the constellations of stars in the sky, people have also looked at the dark spots on the moon (maria) and have imagined many things, including Jack and Jill.

If we imagine Jack on the right half, and Jill on the left half, this matches nicely with the monthly cycle of the moon phases.

While the moon is “waxing” (astronomy term) from New Moon to Full Moon, the illuminated (lighted) portion of the side of the moon we see is increasing, and Jack is the first to appear, and remains the whole time. While the moon is "waning" from Full Moon back to New Moon, the illuminated portion is decreasing, and Jill is the last to disappear.

So while the moon is waxing, Jack is the one that is visible the most, and when the moon is waning, Jill is the one that is visible the most.

And the nursery rhyme itself fits the order of the phases even better. Starting at a New Moon phase, Jack appears first, followed by Jill, so they are then visible on “the hill” together when the moon is full. Then Jack disappears, or “falls” first, and Jill “comes tumbling after,” and you are back to a New Moon again. It takes about a month for the moon to go from a New Moon phase back to a New Moon phase again.”

Another site, http://www.rooneydesign.com/, supports the Scandinavian heritage:

The earliest illustrations of this rhyme showed not a boy and a girl, but two boys climbing a hill — Jack and Gill! The rhyme comes from an ancient Scandinavian myth about the markings on the moon. The moon god Mani captured two Norse children, Hjuki and Bil, while they were drawing water from a well. When the moon was full, the children could be seen with a bucket on a pole between them. This story, with the names changed to Jack and Jill, has evolved into our tale of heads over tails.

Another account - this about Scotland - is shared on the same site:

It was actually a true story about a couple in Scotland by the name of Jack and Jill. Jack went up a hill to get a pail of water he slipped and fell and was killed, Jill so broken hearted died not too long after. The site where this event occurred still exists and every year the villagers of that town like to reenact the story.

Is There a French Connection? Here's the background from http://www.rhymes.org.uk/:

The roots of the story, or poem, of Jack and Jill are in France. Jack and Jill referred to are said to be King Louis XVI - Jack -who was beheaded (lost his crown) followed by his Queen Marie Antoinette - Jill - (who came tumbling after). The words and lyrics to the Jack and Jill poem were made more acceptable as a story for children by providing a happy ending!

The actual beheadings occurred in during the Reign of Terror in 1793. The first publication date for the lyrics of Jack and Jill rhyme is 1795 - which ties-in with the history and origins.

The Jack and Jill poem is also known as Jack and Gill - the mis-spelling of Gill is not uncommon in nursery rhymes as they are usually passed from generation to generation by word of mouth.

Here's a reference to France and the Holy Roman Empire from http://www.zelo.com/

It is widely thought the rhyme represents two boys "Jack" and "Gill". There is no historical record of a girl. When Western Europe split into two sectors, The Holy Roman Empire and France. Wolsey and Tarbes attempted negotiation and peace. When they failed a full-scale war erupted. This rhyme is thought to parody Wolsey's uphill battle for peace and his eventual failure.

On-line source Wikipedia relates several versions, ranging from alcohol to history to taxes and money:

  • Jack is the 15th or 16th century Cardinal Wolsey and Gill is Bishop Tarbes who attempted to arrange the marriage of Mary Tudor to the French king. Their failure to negotiate this peace with France led to tax raises and thus the Jack and Jill protest song.

  • In the 17th century,King Charles I tried to reform the taxes on liquid measures. He was blocked by Parliament, so subsequently ordered that the volume of a Jack (1/2 pint) be reduced, but the tax remained the same. This meant that he still received more tax, despite Parliament's veto. Hence "Jack fell down and broke his crown" (many pint glasses in the UK still have a line marking the 1/2 pint level with a crown above it) "and Jill came tumbling after". The reference to "Jill", (actually a "gill", or 1/4 pint) is an indication that the gill dropped in volume as a consequence. A variant of this is that liquids (specifically alcoholic beverages) were watered down, hence, "fetch a pail of water."

  • Jack and Jill signify the 18th century Louis XVI of France, who was deposed and beheaded (lost his crown), and his Queen, Marie Antoinette (who came tumbling after). The words and lyrics were made more palatable for the nursery by giving it a happy ending.

  • Jack and Jill were forms of currency referring to dollars and cents, respectively. The rising value of Jacks and Jill caused them to "go up a hill" until a plague caused a lack of water, causing a drop in the values of this currency (falling down and breaking his crown).

By the way, just in case you were wondering: 2 jiggers = 1 jack, 2 jacks = 1 jill, and 2 jills = 1 cup.

Finally (if anyone is still reading all of this), even Shakespeare wrote about Jack and Jill:

And the country proverb known,

that every man should take his own,

In your waking shall be shown:

Jack shall have Jill;

Naught shall go ill;

The man shall have his mere again, and all shall be well.

Actually, there is more. One source gives the meaning of EACH line of the poem! I won't go into all of that. Who knew such cute little nursery rhymes could be so complicated!!

{See yesterday's post for the history of Humpty Dumpty.}


Sandee said...

I didn't know this either. Another fine history lesson.

Have a terrific day and weekend. :)

Margaret Hall said...

It is always a unique experience to come visit at your blog, Sherry, as you find these interesting facts and figures and are keen to share~! Seems most nursery rhymes had a hidden message~!

kayerj said...

that was very interesting. I thought maybe you meant Jack and Jill adventures that I follow every Saturday on Photo Hunt posted by Alice Audrey of Alice's Restaurant :)

Personalized Sketches and Sentiments said...

Wow! They all are great & interesting stories of jack & Jill's origin! And it is so true that often fairy tales and nursery rhymes had very "Grimm" background beginnings.

Love your research!!!!

Blessings & Aloha!

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