Goosey, Goosey, Gander

Goosey, goosey, gander,
Where shall I wander?
Upstairs, downstairs,
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.

Goosey, Goosey Gander Upstears

Horrific Background

The origin of ‘Goosey, Goosey Gander’ is somewhat horrible. The most common explanation asserts this nursery rhyme to date back to the English Civil War, which took place in the middle of the seventeenth century. At the time when England was ruled by Oliver Cromwell, Catholicism was strictly forbidden there. When practitioners of Catholicism were caught, they were usually executed.


Cromwell’s Soldiers

Cromwell’s soldiers used to march in “goose-step” (Goosey, goosey, gander), searching for Catholic priests, hidden in the houses of Catholic nobility and other upper-class families. In the case of a surprise visit, the priests were hidden in specific priest holes. Priest holes where usually near the family’s own 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.

Left Leg

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.

Sheet music