Noble Duke of York, The

DESCRIPTION: "Oh, the Noble 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...."
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1892 (Northall), but see NOTES
KEYWORDS: army nonballad
FOUND IN: US(SE,So) Britain(England(West),Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (15 citations):
Greig/Duncan8 1592, "The Grand Old Duke of York" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Brown/Belden/Hudson-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore3 99, "The Duke of York" (1 text)
Brown/Schinhan-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore5 99, "The Duke of York" (1 tune plus a text excerpt)
Abernethy-SinginTexas, pp. 14-15, "The Grand Old Duke of York" (1 text, 1 tune)
Opie/Opie-OxfordDictionaryOfNurseryRhymes 549, "Oh, the brave old Duke of York" (1 text)
Opie/Opie-TheSingingGame 45, "The Grand Old Duke of York" (1 text, 1 tune)
Baring-Gould-AnnotatedMotherGoose #201, p. 138, "(Oh, the brave old Duke of York)"
Sutton-Smith-NZ-GamesOfNewZealandChilden/FolkgamesOfChildren, p. 42, "(The grand old Duke of York)" (1 text)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 390, "The Noble Duke of York" (1 text)
Jack-PopGoesTheWeasel, p. 52, "The Grand Old Duke of York" (1 text)
Dolby-OrangesAndLemons, p. 58, "The Grand Old Duke of York" (1 text)
Averill-CampSongsFolkSongs, pp. 133, 175, 263, 346, 348, 424, 431, 500, 510, 529-537, "Grand Old Duke of York" (notes plus 2 texts on pp. 536-537; the second changes the Duke to "The Great Apache Chief"; bibliography on pp. 702-707)
Tobitt-SkipToMyLou, p. 9, "The Noble Duke of York" (1 text, 1 tune)
BoyScoutSongbook1997, p. 10, "The Grand Old Duke of York" (1 text, tune referenced)
ADDITIONAL: G.F. Northall, English Folk-Rhymes (London, 1892 ("Digitized by Google")), pp. 98-99 (4 texts) (see Notes)

ST FSWB390B (Full)
Roud #742
cf. "A-Hunting We Will Go" (tune of some versions)
cf. "The Famous Duke of York" (probable subject)
NOTES [1321 words]: Averill-CampSongsFolkSongs, p. 175, claims this descended from "A-Hunting We Will Go" (and "The Farmer in the Dell"), but the evidence is pretty strong that the dependence goes the other way. Averill, p. 702, claims the song goes back to 1620, but this is probably overreach.
Since the Dukedom of York is usually bestowed upon the Prince of Wales's oldest brother (that is, the second son of the reigning monarch), or other fairly senior prince, there have been a lot of them in history, and many of them important. This makes it hard to be certain which Duke of York (if any) might be the subject of this little satire. I've seen suggestions over the years, but not one was convincing enough for me to remember it until I had to write this entry.
Although Kidson, e.g., believes this song refers to events in the reign of Henry IV of France (died 1610), the standard suggestion seems to be that it was Frederick Augustus (1763-1827), second son of George III, who was made a soldier in spite of what was regarded at the time as a clear lack of ability in this department. The Baring-Goulds go so far as to specify the hill as Mount Cassel in Belgium. But even they admit the rhyme does not resemble actual events -- and the Opies quote Burne's account of York's campaigns, which points out that Frederick of York's army never came within ten miles of Mount Cassel.
In any case, I can imagine candidates going back all the way to Richard, Duke of York from 1415. Or maybe even his uncle, who was killed at Agincourt and who was treated as something of a buffoon by later historians -- a Tudor account has it that he fell and was smothered because he was so fat, although contemporary sources do not support this (Barker, p. p. 303)
(We should note that the Shakespeare characterization of Richard of York, in the Henry VI plays, is all wrong. He *was* rightful King of England, but he never sought the throne until Margaret of Anjou forced him to do so. Hence a sufficiently anti-Lancastrian partisan could have mocked him for his hesitation. On the other hand, Shakespeare in Henry V is at least as close to the truth about Edward Earl of York as were the Tudor historians.)
If we assume that the Noble Duke is indeed Frederick Augustus, as is widely assumed, we should note that this description of him is a little unfair. Perhaps it was just his general appearance. Sinclair-Stevenson, p. 119, who notes that he was groomed from an early age to be an officer, quotes Lord Cornwallis's description of him: "The Royal Person whom I saw does not give much hope, further than a great deal of good nature and a very good heart. His military ideas are those of a wild boy of the Guards."
As a field commander, he was genuinely poor. Frederick fought in Flanders from 1793 to 1794, when he was defeated at Turcoing and recalled. He also had a bad experience in the Low Countries in 1799.
Being a prince, however, he eventually was made a field marshal (Chandler/Beckett, p. 146). And, having achieved that rank, he proved himself a good manager, enacting needed reforms in the army when commander-in-chief (Chandler/Beckett, pp. 147-148). Keegan/Wheatcroft, p. 337, say that "As commander-in-chief... from 1798 until his death, he proved an efficient administrator and... apparently not a corrupt one. He was called 'the soldier's friend,' though probably not by the soldiers themselves."
Similarly Brumwell/Speck, p. 432, "Long ridiculed as the hapless 'Grand Old Duke of York'... [he] has more recently received recognition for his role in reforming the British army that was to emerge victorious during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars."
Haddick-Flynn, p. 211, gives a mixed description, saying "The Duke of York was intelligent, outgoing and boisterous.... He was a big, coarse man with a high-coloured face and an intimidating growl. In a throwback to an earlier age, he had been consecrated bishop of Osnasbruck when six months old, not because of an infantile religious disposition but because of the vast revenues attached to the office. In 1793 he commanded an expedition against the French in Flanders and, after a courageous cavalry charge at Beaumont in April 1794, went on to an astonishing defeat the following month at Turgoing."
In quoting the song, Haddick-Flynn, pp. 211-212, says that "[D]espite his reputation for rudeness, boozing and whoring, the Duke had his admirers, and some regretted that he was caricatured in the nursery rhyme.... He was responsible for a number of useful military reforms, and founded teh Duke of York's Royal Military School (later Sandhurst Military Academy)."
Chandler/Beckett, p. 141, credits him with helping impose the manual of maneuver used during the Napoleonic Wars (before that, local commanders drilled their men pretty much as they liked) and on pp. 142-143, with working to somewhat limit commission by purchase (although he couldn't eliminate it -- given the massive expense of the Napoleonic Wars, the government needed the money!).
But the public doesn't remember administrative accomplishments. What it would remember about the Duke of York was his failures in the field and, perhaps, a scandal involving his mistress and the purchasing of commissions (Keegan/Wheatcroft, p. 337; Brumwell/Speck, p. 432). Which might well be enough to make him the target of this song.
There is a biography by A. H. Burne, which I have not seen, entitled The Noble Duke of York.
Gomme describes this as the music for a game, "Find the Ring."
There is a nursery rhyme, "The King of France went up the hill" (Opie/Opie-OxfordDictionaryOfNurseryRhymes, #173; Baring-Gould-AnnotatedMotherGoose #209, p. 144) which looks as if it might be a parody of this -- although the Opies date it to the reign of Charles I. (Apparently it is from one of the Sloane manuscripts, which would certainly make it sixteenth or seventeenth century -- but they do not quote the Sloane form.) If the Sloane form is indeed the inspiration for the York version, then the parody is presumably the other way.
No matter which Duke of York it was, his hill also has its folklore. According to Kellett, pp. 52-54, ""The hill up and down which old Duke Frederick marched his 'ten thousand men' in the old song is said to have been the mound in Allerton Park (near the A1, north of Wetherby), on which stands the eighteenth century folly known as the Temple of Victory. Other traditions say the hill was at Crayke, N Yorks or Cassal, near Dunkerque." - RBW
Northall has the following texts:
"The King of France with twenty thousand men, Went up the hill and then came down again; The King of Spain with twenty thousand more, Climb'd up the same hill the French had climbed before."
"The King of France went up the hill with twenty thousand men, The King of France came down, etc., And ne'er went up again."
"The King of France and four thousand men, They drew their swords and put 'em up again."
"O, the mighty King of France/Duke of York, With his twenty thousand men .... (continues with the usual text). - BS
The version involving the King of France appears to be at least a quarter of a century older than Northall. According to Glatthaar, p. 243, in early 1863 a Confederate artillerist wrote, "we have been playing the part of the King of France, marched up the hill and then down again." I can't cite this as the earliest date, though, because I can't absolutely prove it an allusion to this song.
The inimitable Katherine Elwes Thomas has another idea: She cites Halliwell to the effect that this was written before 1642 -- then pushes it back three centuries before that, to the time of Edward the Black Prince and his victory over the King of France at Poitiers in 1356! (Thomas, pp. 36-37).
The obvious objection to this is that the rhyme is in Modern English, which didn't exist in 1356. As best I can tell, the only basis for this particular fantasy is whatever she was smoking at the time. - RBW
Bibliography Last updated in version 6.3
File: FSWB390B

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 2022 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.