Old Mother Hubbard

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard
To get her poor doggie a bone,
When she got there
The cupboard was bare
So the poor little doggie had none.

Old Mother Hubbard

Politics in the 16th Century

The meaning of the nursery rhyme Old Mother Hubbard goes back to the first half of the sixteenth Century. It was the time when King Henry VIII ruled England, and Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who served as Lord Chancellor, was the most important and influential statesman of his kingdom.

The king had a problem: after sixteen years of marriage to Catherine of Aragon, he still had no heir to the throne. Before they had gotten married, a special papal bull was required, because Catherine was a widow of his brother (Prince Arthur) who had died at a young age just a couple of months after them getting married. Against such marriage was a passage of Scripture in the Book of Leviticus: “And if a man shall take his brother’s wife, it is impurity: he hath uncovered his brother’s nakedness; they shall be childless.”—the reason why special permission from the Pope was required. And now he wanted a divorce so as to marry his mistress Anne Boleyn. The task to get permission from the Pope was, of course, assigned to Cardinal Wolsey. He failed, lost his power, was arrested, and died in prison.

The Cardinal as Mother Hubbard

This is what the first verse—that is much older than the others of the longer version speaks about: the Old Mother Hubbard is the Cardinal, the doggie is King Henry VIII, the bone is the divorce he wished to have and the cupboard refers to the Catholic Church.


The longer version of Old Mother Hubbard:

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard,
To give the poor dog a bone:
When she came there,
The cupboard was bare,
And so the poor pecker had none.

She went to the baker’s
To buy him some bread;
When she came back
The dog was dead!

She went to the undertaker’s
To buy him a coffin;
When she came back
The dog was laughing.

She took a clean dish
to get him some tripe;
When she came back
He was smoking his pipe.

She went to the alehouse
To get him some beer;
When she came back
The dog sat in a chair.

She went to the tavern
For white wine and red;
When she came back
The dog stood on his head.

She went to the fruiterer’s
To buy him some fruit;
When she came back
He was playing the flute.

She went to the tailor’s
To buy him a coat;
When she came back
He was riding a goat.

She went to the hatter’s
To buy him a hat;
When she came back
He was feeding her cat.

She went to the barber’s
To buy him a wig
When she came back
He was dancing a jig.

She went to the cobbler’s
To buy him some shoes;
When she came back
He was reading the news.

She went to the sempstress
To buy him some linen;
When she came back
The dog was spinning.

She went to the hosier’s
To buy him some hose;
When she came back
He was dressed in his clothes.

The Dame made a curtsy,
The dog made a bow;
The Dame said, Your servant;
The dog said, Bow-wow.

This wonderful dog
Was Dame Hubbard’s delight,
He could read, he could dance,
He could sing, he could write;
She gave him rich dainties
Whenever he fed,
And erected this monument
When he was dead.



Sheet music