Three Blind Mice and the English Reformation

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When Queen Mary ascended the throne of England in 1553 – few people would have known that within five years hundreds of Protestant sympathisers would be burnt at the stake, the queen would become known as “Bloody Mary”, and the nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice” would be written.

Queen Mary’s father – the famous Henry VIII – had England join the Protestant Reformation in the 1530s. The country would then swing between Catholicism and the nascent Protestantism for over a hundred and fifty years – depending on the loyalties of the regent at the time.

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Queen Mary I of England (reigned 1553 – 1558)


Queen Mary’s devotion lay with the church of Rome and her five years in charge would be spent reversing not only the church reforms of her father, but also her half-brother Edward VI who had become king at the age of nine and was dead six years later.

The highest profile executions that Mary ordered were those she organised in the university town of Oxford. Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer were Anglican bishops who were burnt to death outside of Balliol College for their support of England’s Reformation. By the time of her death in 1558 “Bloody Mary” had ordered the executions of almost three hundred men and women for their religious beliefs.

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Board Street in Oxford, England – in front of Balliol College. The “X” marks the spot where the three Protestant bishops Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer were burnt at the stake


So, where does the famous children’s nursery rhyme “Three Blind Mice” fit into this story of the Reformation? Well, Queen Mary had not only earned the nickname “Bloody Mary” for her executions but also “The Famer’s Wife” for her marriage to King Phillip of Spain who owned huge tracts of fertile farmland. The three Anglican bishops who were executed in Oxford were said to be spiritually blind for their support of church reform and their criticisms of the Pope. And their deaths were a result of their actions to stop Mary becoming queen when her Protestant half-brother Edward VI died at the age of fifteen.

Who knew they were describing church history when as kids they sang:

“Three blind mice. Three blind mice.

See how they run. See how they run.

They all ran after the farmer’s wife,

Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,

Did you ever see such a sight in your life,

As three blind mice?”

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It is said the popular children’s nursery rhyme from centuries ago -“Three Blind Mice” – was written about the execution of the “Oxford Martyrs” (Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer)
A medieval woodcarving of the execution of Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer in 1555. Their colleague Thomas Cranmer (the Archbishop of Canterbury) was executed on the same spot in the same manner the following year.



(To read more about Thomas Cranmer – one of the “Three Blind Mice” – click here)


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About this blog: Pastor David Riley is a Christian minister residing on the Gold Coast in Australia. This article is from his “Reverential Ramblings” series – which you can subscribe to by clicking “follow” on this website.




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