Jack and Jill: King Gylfi and King Charles

Dear fellow-artist, why so free

With every sort of company,

With every Jack and Jill?

Choose your companions from the best;

Who draws a bucket with the rest

Soon topples down the hill.

William Butler Yeats

The nursery rhyme Jack and Jill as depicted by American illustrator William Wallace Denslow (1856 -1915) may have its origins in Norse mythology. Hjúki and Bil are a brother and sister who fetch water from a well called Byrgir. The pair are taken from earth to the the moon by the lunar god, Máni where they can be seen as craters. This creation story was retold in Gylfaginning by Icelandic poet, mythologer and historian, Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241). In the illustration from an 18th century Icelandic manuscript, King Gylfi displays his knowledge of the legend to the three kings, High, Just-as-High, and Third. Another theory behind the nursery rhyme is that it referred to King Charles I of England's (1600-1649) taxation of liquids. A Jack being a 1/2 pint and a Gill signifying a 1/4 pint. This was one of the many occasions where the king tried to obtain royal revenue against the wishes of parliament. His portrait as Prince of Wales by English portrait miniature painter Isaac Oliver (1565 -1617) shows a young man unaware that he would one day lose both his crown and his head.