Goosey, goosey, gander,
Where shall I wander?
And in my lady’s chamber.
There I met an old man,
Who wouldn’t say his prayers;
Take him by the left leg,
And throw him down the stairs.
The origin of ‘Goosey, Goosey Gander’ is quite horrible. The most common explanation claims this nursery rhyme to date back to the English Civil War, in the middle of the seventeenth cetury. At the time when Oliver Cromwell ruled, Catholicism was strictly forbidden in England. When practitioners of Catholicism were caught, they were executed.
Cromwell’s soldiers used to march in “goose-step” (Goosey, goosey, gander). They searched for Catholic priests, hidden in the houses of Catholic nobilty and other upper class families. In the case of a surprise visit, the priests were hidden in special priest holes. Priest holes where usually near the family’s private chapel, located behind a wooden wall panel, but sometimes also in other more private parts of the house. Lady’s chamber—her own private room, is one such place.
The “old man” is supposedly a priest, who wouldn’t say the (right) prayers—that is, according to the Anglican Prayer Book in English.
Why “left leg”? Even today, in Northern Ireland and Scotland, Catholics are called left-footers. The term comes from a tradition that Irish Catholic workers dug with the left foot, while Protestant workers used their right foot.