Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
The nursery rhyme above is known all over the world. However, like many nursery rhymes, the origins have been mostly lost in time. Pictured on the left is a version where it is a riddle, and the answer is an egg. However, this may not be the original meaning of the riddle. While at the time of writing the author would most likely have been inspired by an event or a person, only the rhyme survives, not the author’s notes. Also, the actual rhyme appears to have undergone some re-writes over the centuries.
One theory (there are several) is that Humpty Dumpty was a powerful cannon that sat on Colchester’s fortified walls. The cannon was knocked off the wall in 1648 when Parliamentary forces (the Roundheads) attacked the Royalist (Cavaliers) stronghold during the English Civil War (1642–1651).
In the attack the Roundheads destroyed the wall which supported the cannon. The Cavaliers (with the help of all the king’s horses and all the king’s men) attempted to move the cannon to another part of the wall, and failed. The end result was that the city fell to the Roundheads when Colchester surrendered on 27th August 1648.
While this is only a theory, for Essex, it is a good one, and one that we support. So next time a child asks what the rhyme means you can tell them the story of the English civil war and the battle at Colchester.
This image comes from the Project Gutenberg archives.