# Goosey Goosey Gander

year 1784 origin England

# Lyrics

Goosey goosey gander,
Whither shall I wander?
Upstairs and downstairs
And in my lady's chamber.
There I met an old man
Who wouldn't say his prayers,
So I took him by his left leg
And threw him down the stairs.

# History and Meaning

Goosey Goosey Gander is a nursery rhyme with a dark and somewhat gruesome origin. The rhyme is believed to date back to the English Civil War in the mid-17th century, during the rule of Oliver Cromwell. At this time, Catholicism was strictly forbidden in England, and when practitioners were caught, they often faced execution.

Cromwell's soldiers, known for marching in "goose-step" (hence the term "Goosey, goosey, gander"), searched for Catholic priests hidden in the houses of Catholic nobility and other upper-class families. In the event of a surprise visit, priests were often concealed in specific priest holes, usually near the family's chapel behind a wooden wall panel, but sometimes in more private areas of the house, such as a lady's chamber.

The "old man" mentioned in the rhyme is thought to be a priest who wouldn't recite the prayers according to the Anglican Prayer Book in English. The reference to the "left leg" is significant, as even today, Catholics in Northern Ireland and Scotland are called "left-footers." This term originated from the tradition that Irish Catholic workers dug with their left foot, while Protestant workers used their right foot.

Goosey Goosey Gander is considered a satirical rhyme about Oliver Cromwell's Puritans, a group of English Protestants from the late 16th and 17th centuries who sought to simplify and regulate forms of worship, viewing the Reformation of the Church under Elizabeth I as incomplete. They held strict moral beliefs, particularly regarding self-indulgence and sex, and imposed these beliefs on others. As a result, many inns, theatres, and sports were banned, making the Puritans very unpopular.

The rhyme's first line refers to the goose step march of Cromwell's New Model Army, identifying the subject as a Puritan soldier searching a Royalist house during the English Civil War. At that time, "goose" also meant "whore," so "gander" might imply "whoremonger" or a lecher.

The Puritan soldier enters the lady's bed chamber, where he finds the "old man," a Catholic priest. The priest can't say his prayers, as Catholic priests prayed in Latin, which had been banned by Henry VIII. The Puritan then takes the priest by his "left leg" and throws him down the stairs, presumably killing him. This act of murder satirises the Puritan as a hypocrite, as committing murder is a sin.

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