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With bells on

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on May 04, 2010 at 20:58

In Reply to: With bells on posted by Smokey Stover on May 04, 2010 at 14:25:

: : I don't know how true this is but I was told that "With bells on" became popular thanks to "Bells on her fingers and bells on her toes, She will have music wherever she goes" but dates back before the nursery rhyme. Right or not? I cannot say! Thank you for your time.
: ...............................................

: Ride a cockhorse to Banbury Cross
: To see a fine lady upon a white horse.
: Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
: And she shall have music wherever she goes.
: The lyrics of this nursery rhyme are explained in a Website at:


: The explanation given there is:

: "The lyrics of this nursery rhyme relate to Queen Elizabeth I of England (the fine lady) who travelled to Banbury (a town in England) to see the new huge stone cross which had just been erected. The lyrics 'With rings on her fingers' obviously relates to the fine jewellery which would adorn a Queen. The words 'And bells on her toes' refers to the fashion of attaching bells to the end of the pointed toes of each shoe! Banbury was situated at the top of a steep hill and in order to help carriages up the steep incline a white cock horse (a large stallion) was made available to help with this task. When the Queen's carriage attempted to go up the hill a wheel broke and the Queen chose to mount the cock horse to reach the Banbury cross. Her visit was so important that the people of the town had decorated the cock horse with ribbons and bells and provided minstrels to accompany her - "she shall have music wherever she goes". The big cross at Banbury was later destroyed by anti - Catholics."

: According to the Wikipedia article on Banbury (in Oxfordhire), there were several large crosses there in the time of Queen Elizabeth, but they were all destroyed in 1600 by Puritans. Eventually another cross was erected in 1859.


: The article includes a view of the present Banbury Cross.

: You may also wish to consult:"History muddle makes Banbury cross," q.v. at:


: This article also has a cropped picture of the present cross.


Oh, Smokey, Smokey! That site is a big steaming pile of manure, and I'm surprised at you for citing it. The identification of the "fine lady" with Queen Elizabeth is pure fantasy; its source is a pernicious little book called "The Real Personages of Mother Goose" published in Boston in 1930 by a lady named Katherine Elwes Thomas who was absolutely determined to identify every conceivable nursery rhyme character with a historical figure, whether the evidence pointed that way or not. Other theories are that the lady was Lady Godiva (since some versions of the rhyme speak of "Coventry Cross"), or the celebrated 17th-century horseback traveller Lady Celia Fiennes (which is pronounced "Fines" - hence, "a Fiennes lady"). The plain fact is that nobody knows if the nursery rhyme was a real person, and is so, who she was.

As for "With bells on", it is certainly nowhere near as old as the rhyme - the rhyme goes back at least to 1784, whereas the phrase is late 19th century and probably American in origin. It's probably related to the concept of "bells and whistles", i.e. with all possible add-ons.