# Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.
# History and Meaning
As with many English nursery rhymes, it is thought the named character refers to a King or Queen - in this case perhaps Mary I (Bloody Mary) or Mary Queen of Scots.
# The Bloody Mary Theory
Queen Mary I of England lived in a period of huge religious upheaval and conflict in Europe. After centuries of widespread Catholicism across Europe there was a movement of 'Protestantism' and Christian denominations opposing the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church had taken hold. In general in Europe, the head of state would decide the religious denomination and the common people would be forced to follow. England had a difficult path as the preference would vary from Monarch to Monarch, and the fate of the nation's religion would lie in the health of the King or Queen and their (lack of an) heir to the throne.
As you can guess from the name, 'Bloody Mary' was particularly ruthless in her enforcement of her religious preference - in this case Catholicism. In short, she was worried that if she did not move strongly enough her Protestant sister Elizabeth would take the throne and remove all traces of Catholic faith in England.
It is suggested that the phrase 'how does your garden grow' refers to Mary's difficulties having a child - a potentially Catholic heir to carry on her legacy.
'Quite contrary' could refer to her attempts to reverse the religious changes made by her Protestant brother (Edward VI) and father (Henry VIII)
'Pretty maids all in a row' could refer to gossip of miscarriages, or even executions.
See also the nursery rhyme 'Three Blind Mice' for another song attributed by some to Queen Mary In
# Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots lived in the 1500's. James V of Scotland was her father, and path to the claim to the Scottish throne. In this theory:
- 'How does your garden grow' means how is she managing to control her land
- 'Silver Bells' are Catholic Cathedral bells
- 'Pretty maids all in a row' are her ladies in waiting: Mary Beaton, Mary Seton, Mary Fleming, and Mary Livingston. 'The Four Marys' as they were sometimes known would accompany the Queen for her own safety.
# Mary, Mother of Jesus
Could Mary be the 'Virgin Mary'? In this theory:
- Mary is the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. Though, not sure why in this case she would be described as 'contrary'.
- 'Cockle shells' are the shells used by pilgrims on the traditional Camino de Santiago de Compostela, a journey to the famous Cathedral in North West Spain that Catholics in Medieval Europe would do, often on foot. The Cathedral was believed to be the final resting place of the Apostle Saint James 'Santiago'.
- 'Pretty Maids all in a row' could be Nuns