Monday, 9 May 2016

Bishy Barnabee

Bishy, bishy Barnabee
Tell me when my weddin' be
If it be amara day
Tairk your wings and floi away
Floi to the east, floi to the west
Floi to the one I love the best

This is an old Norfolk rhyme, about ladybirds. I thought of it when I saw the cute bishy barnabee decorating the bathroom floor at Liz's new place.

The rhyme is written in Norfolk dialect - amara is tomorrow, and tairk and floi are obviously take and fly. Bishy Barnabee is believed to be 'Bishop Bonner's Bee'

Bishop Edmund Bonner, 1500-1569 was a catholic priest under Henry VIII, serving both Cardinal Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell. He became Archdeacon of Leicester, but prior to that he was a priest in Dereham.

Here are Bishop Bonner's Cottages [now the Town Museum] next to the Parish Church

BB was known as 'Bloody Bonner' for his cruel persecution of Protestants during the time of Mary Tudor. Some say the ladybirds got their nickname from the red colour of his cloak - others from the innocent blood he spilled. He was responsible for the arrests of Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer. Foxe's Book of Martyrs says...
“This cannibal in three years space three hundred martyrs slew
They were his food, he loved so blood, he sparèd none he knew.”

Historians are now beginning to suggest Bonner was not quite as bad as the Elizabethans made out - but I am not convinced.

So then, Bishy Barnabee is a pretty name with a rather unpleasant history. Personally I love ladybirds /ladybugs/ ladybeetles - whatever they are called. They are beautiful creatures who help gardeners and farmers by feasting on aphids. In my garden I face chives, dandelions, nasturtiums and thyme - all of which are supposed to attract these lovely creatures I am told. [I wish they ate slugs too]


  1. Imagine the size of a ladybird that ate slugs!!I like the French word for ladybird "coccinelle".

    1. I had forgotten that word - it sounds so pretty!

  2. Very interesting! Ladybugs were the theme of our church Ladies Day this year.

    1. That's intriguing - I wonder what how you interpreted that theme.


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