There is a truly horrible origin assigned to the nursery rhyme Rock-a-Bye Baby. It describes what happened to First Native babies in the USA, when the Americans decided to head west.

In this version of events, the mothers of the native babies would tie their papooses into the topmost branches of trees. This would keep the infants cocooned inside safe from the fighting on the ground.

Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock

Down below, bands of warriors would maintain a secure area around the trees. No pioneer nor militia could come close, while those braves were maintaining the defence. Unfortunately, they weren't always successful at that. With the parents dead or enslaved at ground level, the encroaching Americans could explore what was so precious, it needed to be stashed so high.

The assumption was that the bundles contained treasure - gold or some tribal jewels. Therefore the American soldiers would shoot at the papoose, until it fell to the ground.

When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall
And down will come baby, cradle and all.

It's all very suitably gruesome, and widely believed, due to the fact that a genocide was carried out against the First Natives around this time. Some acts of great cruelty were attributed on both sides, which makes this explanation all the more plausible. Except it isn't true. The nursery rhyme pre-dates the push west for the European settlers in the New World. Plus that's way too literal a meaning for a nursery rhyme, whose very nature tended to revolve around sedition.

Rock-a-bye Baby actually refers to the son of King James II of England (and VII of Scotland) and his wife Mary of Modena. James was a Catholic monarch in a decidedly Protestant England. This was viewed as unwelcome, but not a disaster. His two daughters had been raised as Protestants, hence it was all a matter of waiting for James to die, then the monarchy could get back to normal.

Only Mary went and had a son, whose claim to the throne superseded that of Mary or Ann, merely based on gender. James expressed his intention to raise his boy as a Catholic.

Little James Francis Edward Stuart was born right at the top of the social hierarchy. Heir apparent to the King himself. In short, he was 'on the treetop'. The panic of the Protestant parliament and nobility could do little but rock him.

But the backlash of this Protestant wind succeeded in deposing James II and forcing him to flee to the continent. The bough of that tree had broken, and baby James lost his birthright. That's the true meaning behind Rock-a-Bye Baby.

+James-II +Nursery-rhyme +Rock-A-Bye-Baby +Hush-a-Bye-Baby +Stuart +Royalty +Catholicism +Protestantism +Jacobite +History