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The English Civil War lasted from 1642 until 1651 and was a series of three armed conflicts between the Royalists, called Cavaliers, and the Parliamentarians, called Roundheads. A few of many consequences of the wars were the executions of King Charles I and his son, Charles II and the establishment of the Protestant Ascendency, which opposed the Church of England, in Ireland.



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The Anthropomorphic Egg and the English Civil War

english civil war

An•thro•po•mor•phic adjective \ˌan(t)-thrə-pə-ˈmȯr-fik\

1:  Described or thought of as having a human form or human attributes <anthropomorphic deities>
2:  Ascribing human characteristics to nonhuman things <anthropomorphic supernaturalism>

My interest in the topic of Humpty Dumpty and his place in world history was, believe it or not, begun when my daughter asked where the idea that the star of this children's rhyme was an egg came from. In fact, her exact words were: "Why is Humpty Dumpty depicted as an egg? No where in the rhyme does it tell us that he is some weird Egg-Man."

So, I ended up at the website for the town of Colchester, England, which played a part in the Second English Civil War in 1648.

Since this was the town involved, I take it to be the most historically correct, or at least the most accepted.

The original rhyme was a political story written during the English Civil War. The "egg" in the rhyme was a personification -- or really, an eggification, I guess -- of a huge cannon which was on top of a church which was set there to defend Colchester against invasion in 1648.

According to the site, the cannon was called -- for whatever reason -- "Humpty Dumpty" by the townspeople.

The city was occupied by the royalists and twelve weeks into the occupation, the tower was hit and the whole top of the tower crumbled, taking the cannon with it. The occupying royalists -- both the cavalry and the infantry, which would be the king's horses and the king's men -- could not fix the cannon.

According to the story, the original rhyme was this:

Humpty dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty dumpty had a great fall.;
Threescore men and threescore more,
Could not place Humpty as he was before.

"So," I wrote to my daughter, "if we fast-forward to the 1970s, you might remember sitting on my lap night after night while I lovingly read you "Alice Through the Looking Glass."

"Or probably, you read it yourself.

"But in that book, Alice meets Humpty Dumpty, and he is an anthropomorphic egg in the illustration there. Perhaps that is the answer to your question."

Significant -- or not -- is a further connection between children's rhymes, Lewis Carroll stories, and Colchester exists.

The lyrics to the English lullaby, "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" was written by English poet Jane Taylor, who lived in Colchester. Her poem was called "The Star," and it was a couplet first published in 1806. It was set to music to the tune of a French melody that was arranged by the classical composer Mozart.

Variants of the melody were also used for the "Alphabet Song," which nearly all English-speaking children learn early on, and "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep."

But more importantly to our discussion here, a parody of the lullaby, entitled "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat" was recited by the Mad Hatter at the mad tea party in Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."

The words to that parody, only four lines and two words of which are actually in the story before the Mad Hatter is interrupted, are:

Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you're at!
Up above the world you fly,
Like a tea tray in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle...

"The Bat" in the story was the nickname of one of Carroll's former Oxford professors.

Colchester has a couple of other literary significances.

In George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, Winston Smith, the protagonist, ponders his childhood memories of war, with this sentence, "Perhaps it was the time when the atomic bomb had fallen on Colchester."

So there you have the rambling story of the English Civil War, a large egg with a face, a stuttering mathematician-cum-author with an obsession with the young daughter of his dean named Alice, and a city in United Kingdom.

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