Where they simply three hapless rodents who managed to upset a cranky farmer’s wife, were they the Oxford Martyrs or were they someone or something else?
The nursery rhyme we all know is not the original, the first version was supposedly published in 1609, together with accompanying music, by composer and author Thomas Ravenscroft. He was a teenager at the time and the name of the book was Deuteromelia or The Seconde part of Musicks melodie. The words in this version were:
Three Blinde Mice, three Blinde Mice,
Dame Iulian, Dame Iulian,
The Miller and his merry olde Wife,
she scrapte her tripe; licke thou the knife.
Three Blinde Mice, three Blinde Mice.
“Dame Iulian” is the Dame Julian also known as Julian of Norwich who lived from 1342 to 1416. She is best known for her book, Revelations of Divine Love (or Showings). No one seems to know why she is mentioned in the rhyme.
The historical speculation is that the music and words were written earlier and refer to Queen Mary I of England blinding and executing three Protestant bishops, known as the Oxford Martyrs. They were the Anglican Bishops, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Although all three were burned at the stake for their religious beliefs and teachings, not blinded.
This shows the burning of Bishop Latimer and Bishop Ridley on the 16th of October 1555 from a book by John Foxe. Bishop Cranmer was burnt five months later on 21 March 1556
However “blindness” could refer to the Bishop’s Protestant faith, a movement against what its followers considered to be errors in the Roman Catholic Church.
The work attributed to Thomas Ravenscroft was written a few years after Queen Mary had died, so maybe it was written about the beliefs of Julian of Norwich instead as she was mentioned in the original lyrics.