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,
He went to bed to mend his head (or and bound his head)
With vinegar and brown paper.

Alternative second verse:

Up Jack got, and home did trot,
As fast as he could caper,
To old Dame Dob, who patched his nob
With vinegar and brown paper.

Are these lyrics based on true events? Or is it a simple nonsense poem for children?

1 Answer 1


I found several different possibilities. Here are the four I found most helpful.

  1. It is nonsense and should not be taken so seriously

    The rhyme has traditionally been seen as a nonsense verse, particularly as the couple go up a hill to find water, which is often thought to be found at the bottom of hills. Vinegar and brown paper were a home cure used as a method to draw out bruises on the body

    I bolded the last sentence which covers the added verse you gave.

  2. It is based off King Louis XVI (this is my favorite)

    Jack and Jill represent Louis XVI of France, who was deposed and beheaded in 1793 (lost his crown), and his Queen Marie Antoinette (who came tumbling after)

    Unfortunately for me, the article debunks that theory:

    a theory made difficult by the fact that the earliest printing of the rhyme pre-dates those events.

  3. It is taken from a Norse mythological story

    A man named S. Barring-Gold came to the conclusion that it was taken from an old Norse mythological story.

    Baring-Gould stated that Hjúki and Bil, brother and sister respectively in Norse mythology, were taken up from the earth by the moon (personified as the god Máni) as they were fetching water from the well called Byrgir, bearing on their shoulders the cask called Saegr and the pole called Simul

  4. It was about King Charles I of France

    Another favorite of mine, this theory states that the story comes from King Charles's attempts to raise taxes. According to the story, when he was blocked by parliament, he simply lowered each volume. The song made use of several (bolded) uses of wordplay.

    the attempt by King Charles I 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 said to reflect that the gill dropped in volume as a consequence

    Judging by what I have gathered, the one concern I have (which I am sure you have) would be the second line. I believe it is very possible that the second line was added later on in the history of the rhyme.

All information from Wikipedia.

  • The Norse mythological story is discussed in The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer, which everyone who likes fantasy should read.
    – CHEESE
    Feb 13, 2017 at 19:51
  • +1 I also really like the Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette possibility. I have heard that one and the King Charles one before. It's interesting how so many nursery ryhmes have a bizarre and sometimes morbid background story to them. Feb 13, 2017 at 21:11

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