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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Rhyme

Posted November 14, 2011 to photo album "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Rhyme"

The nursery rhyme that is used in the title of the spy thriller TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY has its own backstory and mystery.

The Mystery of “Tinker, Tailor…”
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Pawn
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Singer
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Wife
AA Milne Picks up the Rhyme
Modern Tinkers and Tailors
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Pawn

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Pawn

A woodcut illustration of a pawn/trade from de Cessolis' tract.

The rhyme, which lists a series of professions, goes all the way back to a 12th century treatise by the Dominican monk Jacopo de Cessolis. An avid chess player, de Cessolis wanted to use his favorite game to illustrate church doctrine and ethical behavior. So his tract Liber de moribus hominum et officiis nobilium super ludo scacchorum (or in English, Book of the customs of men and the duties of nobles or the Book of Chess) did just that. In it, de Cessolis laid out not only the role of the monarchy and the church (king, queen, bishop) but also the role of tradesmen (doctors, notaries, blacksmiths, and artisans), which were represented by the pawns. The inspiration for this list might have actually gone back to the 1261 Treaty of Nyphaeum, in which representatives from Genoa signed their agreement by listing their guilds: “an innkeeper, a spicer, a draper, a dyer, a butcher, a barber, a cutler, and a smith.”  In 1474, William Caxton, often considered the father of English printing, brought this list into the English language when he translated de Cessolis’ work under the name The Game and Playe of Chess. Here the list became Labourer, Smith, Clerk, Merchant, Physician, Taverner, Guard and Ribald."