He's more than an egg!
We all know him as an egg but when he first appeared in literature at the start of the 19th century that may not have been the case. As you would expect there are several theories on whom or what Humpty Dumpty was, and how the verse came together and what it relates to.
One interesting theory describes a cannon during the English Civil War (1642 – 49) that was situated on the top of the church known as St Mary-at-the-Wall in Colchester. This was used to defend the city from the enemy, and as you have already guessed, this cannon was called ‘Humpty Dumpty’. The story goes that a shot hit the wall on which the cannon was placed sending it tumbling to the ground. The Royalists, all the King’s men, tried to re-assemble the cannon without luck as it was so heavy and so couldn’t put Humpty together again.
Another theory suggests that due to his hunched back, Humpty Dumpty was actually Richard III, who went into battle in 1485 at Bosworth Field. He was riding his horse, apparently named “Wall”, when he fell to his death and was set upon by the enemy troops. Once again, all the Kings horses and all the Kings men couldn’t put Humpty (Richard III) back together again.
The final theory takes us back to the English Civil War and specifically the siege of Gloucester in 1643 when the British army tried to use a tortoise looking machine, similar to todays tank, to cross the moat and attack through the walls of the castle, as they had no way of getting over them. Whilst the army were working at building this machine, referred to as Humpty Dumpty, the story goes that the moat around the castle was widened over night. As a result when the army attacked in the morning their valuable machine had a great fall, into the widened moat and despite their best efforts the Kings horses and men couldn’t put it back together again.
Take your pick on which story you want to believe
None of them are proven, and in all probability there are sure to be some more. However we know him as a wise old egg and that’s all that matters. This intelligence was demonstrated in what was probably his most famous appearance in film and literature, “Through the Looking-Glass” where Humpty Dumpty grows from an egg purchased by Alice, and sits himself on a wall and discusses the meaning of words, and concludes by reciting a poem written for Alice. After shaking her hand and saying “Goodbye” he tells her that he does not recognise faces and wouldn’t know her if he saw her again. He closes his eyes and as Alice walks away he falls from the wall and breaks. A sad, but predictable, end to his appearance in the story.
So the history of Humpty Dumpty may be somewhat uncertain, but that is often the case when you have something as lovable and as important as he is, who has been with us all for generations past, and will be for many more to come. This website aims to help keep Humpty Dumpty, and his stories alive and with us so that the youngsters of today can enjoy his company as much as we all did.