J - Jacks


Think of all the Jacks we know
from nursery rhyme and myth.
Were all boy children Jack then,
No Ed?  No Paul?  No Smyth?

There’s Jack, Jill’s younger brother,
he of cracked crown fame.
And Jack, that nimble laddie,
jumping over flame.

Jack Sprat he couldn’t manage
to eat of any fat,
although his wife ate plenty.
What do you think of that?

Jack Horner was a pie fan,
he ate it with his hand.
Which does explain the corner,
from the table he was banned!

There’s a Jack who built a house,
the story starting there.
Through rat, and cat, and farmer,
and the hunter’s trumpet blare.

So, Jacks were many, Cedrics not,
For all those hundred years.
It seems to me that all those Jacks
Have earned a dozen cheers!

There is actually a reason so many rhymes and tales feature a boy or man named Jack.  Jack was, and still is, used as a metaphor for the common man, the Everyman hero.
Many nursery rhymes are fictionalized tales inspired by historical figures, or based on actual events.
In the early 1600’s the first Jack Sprat versions were recited.  An extraordinarily small person was called a “Jack Sprat” in those days.  Some believe Jack was none other than King Charles I.  His war with Spain cost his kingdom dearly, so their finances were “lean.”  His wife, on the other hand, Henrietta Maria, managed to “fatten” them up with a war tax.
Jack Horner is thought to be the story of a church steward, Thomas Horner, who lived way back in the 1500s.  Property deeds were hidden in pie (apparently the location for travelers to hide their valuables at the time!), and were to be used for bribes.  It’s a long story, but the steward is said to have kept the deed to the “plum” property for himself.  He later served on the jury to convict his former employer!  Whether the steward indeed stole the deed, received it as a “reward” for his testimony, or purchased it outright (as his ancestors insist) is not known, but the Horner family did live in the home until the 20th century!  Personally, I think it would be quite the story to be a Horner and the legend true!
Jack be Nimble jumped over candlesticks.  Why?  Jumping candles was a form of fortune telling, and the jumper would have good luck if the flame stayed lit.
First in print in 1755, “This is the House that Jack Built,” may be much older.  Local tradition hold that Cherrington Manor, in England, is the house that Jack built.  That must be a profitable tale for tourism!
“Jack and Jill” has several suggested origins.  These two both seem reasonable.  One, a later telling of a Norse myth where siblings are taken by the moon, as they were fetching water.  Another, matching more of the current rhyme’s details, tells of King Charles I (perhaps Jack Sprat!), who attempted to raise taxes on liquid measurement.  When his attempt was blocked by Parliament, he ordered the 1/8th pint measurement (called a “Jack”) to be reduced, with the tax the same.  “Jack fell down and broke his crown,” would refer to the ½ pint marking on pink glasses, which had a crown above it.  A “Gill” (a spelling in early Jack and Jill) is ¼ pint.  This sounds like the most logical explanation to me!
A special "Thanks" to CBN for providing the Jacks in the photographs.

©2019 Lisa Smith Nelson. All Rights Reserved


  1. I love Jack tales. Appalachian Jack tales, specifically. There (transported from England and Ireland), he is the archetypal Trickster figure :)

    The Multicolored Diary

    1. I am not familiar with Appalachian Jack. I'll be spending some time today reading about him! I already read that some think he's a relative of Br'er Rabbit. I was just having a discussion with my son about Uncle Remus just yesterday. (The library purchased a bootleg Song of the South, which has never, ever been released in any form!)
      I absolutely LOVE trickster tales!

  2. Great history lesson! Love learning the origin of words. That last card is wonderful. Where is that from? I'm drawn to unusual playing card imagery.

    1. I enjoy the background of words too. And holidays. That last Jack is from the Bicycle playing cards called Sideshow Freaks. My youngest son collects card decks. I find him a new one or two each Christmas.

  3. Excellent post! Jack of all trades fits in. Good use with the playing cards, too.
    ~Operation Awesome. Our A to Z 2019 theme is the writing journey.

    1. Yes! Jack of all trades is the perfect example of the Everyman Jack.

  4. You know, I never gave any of this much serious thought...

    John @ The Sound Of One Hand Typing

    1. Well, you ought to! Well, it doesn't have to be "serious" thought.
      I find it fascinating how so many nursery rhymes for children really aren't for children at all! Humpty Dumpty. Baa Baa Black Sheep. Lots of them.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog



Only a Fruit