See caption
Jack Sprat and his wife, by Frederick Richardson
Source: Wikimedia Commons

“Jack Sprat” is an English nursery rhyme, first recorded in the form it is known today by John Ray in 1670.[1]

Jack Sprat could eat no fat,
His wife could eat no lean,
And so between them both, you see,
They licked the platter clean.[2]

During the 16th and 17th centuries the term Jack Sprat was commonly used to describe a dwarf, or other small person.[3]

The American writer Katherine Elwes Thomas, in her efforts to root nursery rhymes in historical figures and events, has suggested that “Jack Sprat” is an allusion to King Charles I and his wife Henrietta Maria and their efforts to get funding from parliament to fund his naval war against Spain. Parliament refused to supply sufficient money for Charles’s military needs, leaving him “lean”, but with his queen consort Henrietta Maria he was free to “lick the platter clean” after he dissolved parliament in 1628 by imposing whatever additional taxes he chose.[4] The historian Stanley Edgar Hyman has characterised Thomas’s work as an “absurd reading of nursery rhymes as hermetic political history”.[5]

References



Bibliography


Hahn, Daniel. “Jack Sprat.” Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature, Online, Oxford University Press, 2015, https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199695140.001.0001/acref-9780199695140-e-1693.
Hyman, Stanley Edgar. “The Divine King in England by Margaret Alice Murray.” Midwest Folklore, vol. 5, no. 3, Autumn 1955, pp. 185–189, https://www.jstor.org/stable/4317533.
Opie, Iona, and Peter Opie. Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, 1997.
Thomas, Katherine Elwes. The Real Personages in Mother Goose. Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co, 1930.