Context: Lemuel Gulliver, shipwrecked off the coast of Lilliput and captured by its tiny inhabitants, is exhibited before the Lilliputians, including their emperor. Instructed in the language, Gulliver is brought to the chief city, Mildendo, and into the court, where he discusses politics with a leading official. He is informed that a controversy over which end of an egg is to be broken has led to the formation of two political parties, the Big-Endians and the Little-Endians, with a result that Lilliput has been at war for thirty-six moons with the neighboring land of Blefescu. The author first recounts the historical episode, and scholars explain the meaning in a footnote:
. . . It began upon the following occasion. It is allowed on all hands, that the primitive way of breaking eggs before we eat them, was upon the larger end: but his present Majesty's grandfather, while he was a boy, going to eat an egg, and breaking it according to the ancient practice, happened to cut one of his fingers. Whereupon the Emperor his father published an edict, commanding all his subjects, upon great penalties, to break the smaller end of their eggs.3 . . .
3 The Big-Endians and Little-Endians are no doubt the Roman Catholics and Protestants. But here, as elsewhere, the analogy must not be strained too far. The King who cut his finger is Henry VIII, the father of Edward VI.