The following passage is excerpted from “The Role of Cats in Nursery Rhymes,” by Sarah Hartwell–
Pussy-cat, Pussy-cat where have you been?
I’ve been to London to look at the Queen.
Pussy-cat, Pussy-cat, what did you there?
I frightened a little mouse under a [her] chair.
One explanation of the origins of this rhyme goes back to 16th century England. One of the staff of Queen Elizabeth I (Good Queen Bess) was said to have had an old cat which tended to roam throughout one of the royal residences. On one occasion the cat apparently went underneath the throne (the “chair”) and its tail brushed against the Queen’s foot, startling her. Luckily Queen Elizabeth was amused and declared that the cat could wander through the throne room as long as it kept it free of mice!
Another suggested meaning of this relates to the poor hygiene of a different queen and is perhaps a cautionary tale about hygiene in general. Undergarments were uncommon among poorer women before the nineteenth century and dust, ash and general grime accumulated on the genitalia just as it did elsewhere on the body….