Horse Named Bill, A

DESCRIPTION: "I had a horse, his name was Bill And when he ran, he couldn't stand still. He ran away one day And also I ran with him." Nonsense verses about the singer, his girlfriend, her cat, birds, balloons, and all else that comes to mind
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1927 (Sandburg)
KEYWORDS: animal nonsense
REFERENCES (6 citations):
Sandburg, pp. 340-341, "A Horse Named Bill" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-FSNA 69, "The Horse Named Bill" (1 text, 1 tune)
Coleman/Bregman, pp. 120-121, "The Crazy Dixie" (1 text, 1 tune, beginning with "The Horze Named Bill" and including "Crazy Song to the Air of Dixie" verses)
Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 174, "A Horse Named Bill" (1 text, tune referenced)
Silber-FSWB, p. 241, "A Horse Named Bill" (1 text)

Roud #6674
cf. "Dixie" (tune) and references there
NOTES: Sandburg describes the tempo of this as "with lucid intervals if possible." The tune is the same as the first part of "Dixie." - RBW
I incline to the opinion that Sandburg wrote most of these verses. - PJS
Certainly a fair possibility, though he clearly started with some piece of craziness which he amplified (compare the "Crazy Song to the Air of 'Dixie'") - RBW
Verse 1 of Sandburg is similar to verse 4 of Opie-Oxford2 355, "There was a monkey climbed a tree" (earliest date in Opie-Oxford2 is 1626).
Sandburg: "I had a horse, his name was Bill And when he ran, he couldn't stand still He ran away, one day And also, I ran with him"
Opie-Oxford2 355: "There was a horse going to the mill, When he went on, he stood not still."
Unlike "Horse Named Bill," all of Opie-Oxford2 355 is of this type. For another example, "There was a crow sat on a stone, When he was gone, then there was none."
Halliwell 26, ("There was a monkey climb'd up a tree") [The Nursery Rhymes of England] is the same as Opie-Oxford2 355. Halliwell says "it appears ... that these verses were written in 1626, against the Duke of Buckingham." - BS
Halliwell's reference appears to be to the couplet
There was a navy went to Spain,
When it returned, it came back again.
If this indeed was written in 1626, then it is presumably a reference to the failed attack on Cadiz ordered by, yes, Buckingham.
That's George Villiers, whom James VI and I made Duke of Buckingham. Villiers was a handsome young man (born 1592) when James -- who inclined to homosexuality -- noticed him in 1616. In fact, it appears several men-about-the-court gave him money to outfit him, intending to wave him under James's nose. According to Kishlansky, p. 96, "It was money well spent." Not only did Villiers eventually earn himself a Dukedom (something that should have been impossible, since he wasn't a member of the royal family), he also gained grants for his relatives (Kishlansky, p. 97)
Plus he became a major influence on the government -- so much so that, he was in a position to set policy that violated James's own goals. One of these errors -- taking Prince Charles to Spain in a failed attempt to arrange a marriage -- was so bad that some historians (e.g. Fry/Fry, p. 167) think that Buckingham had to have James killed to avoid blame. Whatever the truth of this, when Charles I succeeded his father in 1625, Buckingham retained influence -- but was impeached by the commons in 1626. He was assassinated in 1628 (Cannon, entry on "Buckingham, George Villiers, 1st Duke of").
According to Kishlansky, p. 89, Buckingham became the most hated man in England -- so hated that even his funeral procession had to be surrounded by armed guards, and it took place in the middle of the night (Kishlansky, p. 90).
The Cadiz expedition was one of those expensive fizzles that were an English specialty in this period. According to Stokesbury, p. 48, "[In 1625] England launched a great expedition against Cadiz, but it turned out to be a dismal affair. Failing to destroy the Spanish shipping, Lord Wimbledon decided to take the city instead. He landed his troops, who unfortunately but happily found the storage center for all the wine bound for the Indies. The troops immediately drank themselves into a blind stupor, and they were with great difficulty gotten back aboard ship before the Spanish could round them up."
However, there were quite a few times when the English attacked, or at least proclaimed their intention to attack, Spain. Francis Drake had once raided Cadiz safely, in 1587 (Stokesbury, pp. 23-24) -- which resulted in a lot of English expeditions to Spain intended to emulate Drake. But if ever there as a human activity where trying to repeat just what was done before doesn't work, it's commerce-raiding.
Buckingham's failed expedition was one of many reasons why Charles I came under extreme pressure in his early years. Parliament's complaints against Charles would almost instantly result in the passage of the Petition of Right (Smith, p. 320). This did not solve Charles's problems, but "One grievance was soon removed when the Duke of Buckingham was murdered by a malcontent lieutenant, "John Felton, who blamed Buckingham for his personal disappointments" (Kishlansky, p. 89). Charles I was overcome with grief. There was national rejoicing." Obviously any minister that unpopular would have been an easy target for scurrilous broadsides.
Folklorists seem to have a thing about Buckingham. Opie-Oxford2, #181, mentions a suggestion that he is the Georgie Porgie of "Georgie Porgie Pudding and Pie"; there has also been a an attenpt to link him with "A Carrion Crow." In both cases it is possible to imagine a link between the poem and the career of Buckingham. But in neither case is the link compelling. - RBW
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