*© 2010 RC deWinter ~ All Rights Reserved
Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.
One of my favorite nursery rhymes, Mary Mary always fired my imagination – silver bells, cockle shells – those words held magic for me.
Come too late, I discovered – when studying the history of English literature – that this pretty little rhyme is a rather gruesome allusion to Mary Tudor, or Bloody Mary, as she came to be known.
The garden actually refers to England and the growth in cemetery plots, thanks to Mary’s penchant for killing Protestants.
Silver bells is a nod to the thumbscrews with which unrepentant heretics were tortured; the thumbscrew was tightened in increments until the thumb was crushed.
Cockleshells – ah, there’s a particularly painful thought, especially for men. This dandy little device was a kind of double thumbscrew for a man’s scrotum, and the result was very similar.
Now, what possible evil can we construe from the maids?
Well, it’s a reference to the first practical guillotine – generally called the Maiden. There were many of these primitive versions of the guillotine set up across England to separate heretics from their heads. A beheading with the Maiden was often a long and horrific ordeal. Depending on the condition of the blade, the skill of the executioner and the thickness and position of the neck, it sometimes took repeated blows to completely sever the head.
This having been said, rest assured that my Pretty Maids are simply abstract, stylized flowers and foliage in bud vases,
painted in digital oils and finished with a light cracked-wood texture.*