34 COCK A DOODLE DO,
1606 Almost four centuries ago, when Elizabeth was Queen, this rhyme was the first miraculous utterance of a little girl who had no tongue. The story is told in a black-letter pamphlet entitled The Most Crvell And Bloody Mvrther committed by an Innkeepers Wife, called Annis Dell, and her Sonne George Dell, Foure yeeres since. The murder was of a three year old boy, Anthony James, at Bishop's Hatfield, in Hertfordshire. The deed appears to have been seen by his sister, then 'not much aboue foure',and the perpetrators, to disembarrass them selves of the witness, cut her tongue out of her head 'hard by the rootes'. What happened thereafter is obscure, but three years later she reappeared at Bishop's Hatfield on her own, was recognised as the sister of the murdered boy ( whose body had been found ), and was put in the charge of a foster mother. The contemporary account continues:
This wench ( as before is reported ) being by the direction placed where she had reliefe; one day, some month before christmas last, going to play with the Goodwifes daughter where she soiourned in a Parke joyning to Hatfield (commonly called the King Parke ) as they were in sport together, a Cocke harde by them, fell a crowing, when the other Girle mocking the cocke with these words,
Cocka doodle dooe,
Peggy hath lost her shooe,
And called to her, Besse, canst not thou doe so ? When presently the Girle in the like manner did so; which, drawing the child into amazement, she presently left her, and ran home crying out as she went, the dumbe Girle Besse can speake the dumb Girle Besse can speaketh.
This wonder, continues the account, 'caused all the towne to gather in flocks & ran to meet her'. Finding the truth of it, the girl was straightway taken before the justice, Sir Henry Butler, and she was able to recount the story of her brother's murder by Annis Dell and her son. At the subsequent trial there was much marvelling 'how it pleased God to reueale, the Offenders by giuing speech to a tongueless Childe' and it was noted that when the jury looked into her mouth they saw nothing but a cavity. To mocke the cockes' by giving words to their crowing was a common game with children at that time.