Why Is Humpty Dumpty An Egg? An Investigation

Literally nowhere in the rhyme does it say he's an egg.
This Humpty cake also has questions.
This Humpty cake also has questions.

Think of Humpty Dumpty and you no doubt picture an egg on a wall -- or, if you're the morbid type, an egg smashed to pieces at the bottom of one.

That's because Humpty has been depicted as an egg for hundreds of years, despite the fact the actual rhyme never refers to him as one.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall (a refresher)

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;

All the king's horses and all the king's men

Couldn't put Humpty together again.

Source: The Dorling Kindersley Book of Nursery Rhymes

See? It's no eggsageration. It's no yolk. It's enough to make you go into shell shock. (OK we'll stop.)

But seriously. How the flip (sorry) did Humpty end up as an egg?

Well, apparently it's all thanks to Lewis Carroll (yes, he of 'Alice in Wonderland' fame) and his 1872 novel 'Through the Looking-Glass'.

Chapter six of the book is entitled 'Humpty Dumpty' and apparently, it's here that Humpty first appeared as an egg.

"However, the egg only got larger and larger, and more and more human: when she had come within a few yards of it, she saw that it had eyes and a nose and mouth; and when she had come close to it, she saw clearly that it was Humpty Dumpty himself. 'It can't be anybody else!' she said to herself. 'I'm as certain of it, as if his name were written all over his face.'"

- Extract from 'Through the Looking Glass', Lewis Carroll.

Much like an omelette in a stainless steel pan, this portrayal of Humpty apparently stuck (sorry again) and he's been an egg ever since.

But while Carroll may have introduced Humpty as an egg, he can't be credited with the original nursery rhyme. So what was Humpty before he was an egg? (Hopefully a chicken, because that would settle a really long debate.)

The original depiction of Humpty as an egg, illustrated by John Tenniel.

Nope. According to several war historians, the original Humpty Dumpty was not an egg, not a chicken, not a man but a CANNON.

Yep. A large cannon which is believed to have been used in English Civil War (1642-1649), specifically, in the 1648 Siege of Colchester.

The rhyme came about because as Colchester was under siege, one of the cannons from the attacking side managed to destroy the wall 'Humpty Dumpty' was positioned on. Hence, Humpty Dumpty came tumbling down.

Due to its massive size, none of the king's horses and none of the king's men were able to put it back together again... and so Humpty's legacy was born.

So there you have it. Once a cannon, now an egg, forever a popular nursery rhyme.

You're welcome.