Bastard King of England, The
DESCRIPTION: Philip of France is captured by a "thong on his prong"; when he is dragged to London, all the maids cheer him, for the Frenchman's pride has stretched a yard or more. The bastard king of En-ga-land is usurped.
AUTHOR: Attributed, probably falsely, to Rudyard Kipling
EARLIEST DATE: 1927
KEYWORDS: bawdy disease humorous royalty disease jealousy courting homosexuality marriage sex wedding
FOUND IN: Australia Britain(England) US(So,SW)
REFERENCES (5 citations):
Cray, pp. 122-124, "The Bastard King of England" (1 text, 1 tune)
Randolph-Legman I, pp. 506-509, "The Bastard King of England" (2 texts, 1 tune); II, pp.655-658 (2 texts)
Niles/Moore, pp. 51-54, "The Bastard King of England" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 197, "The Bastard King Of England" (1 text)
DT, BSTDKING BSTDKNG2
Anonymous singer, "The Bastard King of England" (on Unexp1)
NOTES: Cray tells us, "As the story goes, Rudyard Kipling wrote 'The Bastard King of England' (pronounced En-ga-land') and that authorship cost him his poet laureate's knighthood. It is too bad that the attribution is apparently spurious; 'The Bastard King' would undoubtedly be Kipling's most popular work."
Niles/Moore, in addition to mentioning the attribution to Kipling, list Tennysom, Whitman, Dickens, and Whistler as people who have credited with the poem. The attribution to Kipling is unlikely but at least conceivable; the others I think all file under "ridiculous." But they do all point to a date in the nineteenth century.
I'm sure none of you expect a song like this to be historical, but just in case you do, I'm going to prove it wasn't.
To start with a nitpick, there were no bastard kings of England. William the Conqueror (1066-1087) was illegitimate, and was even called "William the Bastard" as Duke of Normandy, but he won the throne of England by conquest, not birth. King Henry VII Tudor (1485-1509) also had questionable blood, but he himself was legitimate; it's just that his father was probably a bastard, and his mother's grandfather (through whom he traced his claim to the throne) was also of doubtful legitimacy. But, again, it hardly matters; Henry held the throne by right of conquest. (For more on this, see "The Rose of England" [Child 166] and "The Children in the Wood (The Babes in the Woods)" [Laws Q34]).
If you're looking for really *dirty* English monarchs, the obvious choice is the Hannoverians -- most especially George I (1714-1727). Not only was George incapable of presenting a pleasant appearance, he also was highly sexually active, and put away his wife (for having an affair) at a relatively young age.
Philip of France is only slightly clearer; France had six Kings Philip: Philip I (1060-1108, making him contemporary with William the Conqueror and his sons), Philip II Augustus (1180-1223, who warred with the English kings Henry II, Richard I, and John), Philip III the Bold (1270-1285), Philip IV the Fair (1285-1314, who also warred with England), Philip V (1316-1322), and Philip VI Valois (1328-1350).
This poses some problems. Several of these French kings were involved in wars with the English (notably Philip II, Philip IV, and Philip VI). And Philip IV, in particular, was regarded as the handsomest man in Europe. But it is noteworthy that the last of them died in 1350. However -- the kingdom of Spain did not even come into existence until the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile in the latter half of the fifteenth century. Thus the first Queen of Spain, Isabella, did not ascend until a century after the death of the last Philip of France.
What's more, England and Spain had very few dealings. The only English queen from Spain was Catherine of Aragon (plus Mary I Tudor, who became Queen of Spain by marriage). Before the union of Spain, to be sure, Edward I had married Eleanor of Castile, but he was much too stuffy for this. Henry IV married as his second wife Joanna of Navarre, but he was rather old and weary by that time. In addition, Richard I the Lion-hearted married Berengeria of Navarre -- but there is no proof he ever slept with her! Even if the speculation that he was homosexual is wrong, they weren't together much.
So Catherine of Aragon is the chief candidate. And it is interesting to note a tale told of Henry VIII: At the time his pretty sister Mary was wed (rather against her will) to Louis XII of France, a ball was held by Henry, and he "became so animated that he thre formality to the winds by removing his gown and dancing in his doublet" (Neville Williams: Henry VIII and His Court, Macmillan, 1971, p 63). - RBW
Paul Stamler proposes to split this song in two, with the second having the following description: "The (unnamed) Bastard King of England is a man of dubious morals and hygiene. The amorous Queen of Spain cavorts with him; Philip of France tries to steal her away. The BKoE sends a duke with the clap to give it to Philip, after which the Queen of Spain dumps Philip and marries the BKoE. At the wedding all dance without their pants."
Paul's notes to this state, "Obviously this is a sibling (fraternal twin?) of 'Bastard King of England (I).' But since the plot elements of (I) don't appear in (II), and vice versa, I've split them. Besides, the other guy comes out on top, so to speak.
"Incidentally, I've assigned the keyword 'homosexuality' because Silber's version, at least, makes it sound like the 'Duke of Zippity-Zap' gives Philip the clap directly rather than through a female intermediary."
I have to think, though, that the differences between the versions are the result of two sorts of rehandling: One to make the English come out ahead of some kind of furriner or other, and the other to clean up the song. After some vacillation, and a glance at the intermediate sorts of texts, I decided to keep the two together. This is one of those songs which invites self-parodying. - RBW, PJS
The recording on "The Unexpurgated Songs of Men" is of the song I consider "Bastard King of England (II)." I suspect this is Silber's source. - PJS
Last updated in version 3.3
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2014 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.