The Grand Old Duke Of York

Welcome to the latest instalment of Nursery Rhymes By Hand. This time we are looking at the well known English rhyme 'The Grand Old Duke Of York'. It is  believed to date back to the Plantagenet dynasty in the 15th century.

The Plantagenets were a huge powerful family throughout Europe. Plantagenet Kings were the richest family in Europe, ruled England and half of France.

Richard, "The grand old Duke of York" was defeated in the Wars of the Roses (1455). This war was between the house of York (whose symbol was a white rose) and the house of Lancaster (whose symbol was a red rose). The Wars of the Roses lasted for over thirty years and were equivalent to a Civil War.

The words of the song are about Richard, Duke of York, claimant to the English throne and Protector of England, and the Battle of Wakefield on December 30, 1460. Sandal Castle was built on top of the site of an old Norman motte and bailey fortress. Its massive earthworks stood 33 feet (10m) above the original ground level ("he marched them up to the top of the hill"). He marched his soldiers up there to defend what he believed was rightfully his.

In a moment of madness he left his stronghold in the castle to make a direct attack on the Lancastrians " he marched them down again". His army was overwhelmed and Richard was killed. 

Just in case you didn't know, there is a second verse to the song. Here is the whole song"

The Grand Old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men.
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.
And when they were up, they were up.
And when they were down, they were down.
And when they were only half way up,
They were neither up nor down.

He marched them to the left.
And he marched them to the right.
Then he marched them round and round
And marched them out of sight.

Leave a Reply