Who was the Grand old Duke of York?

One of the oldest Nursery rhymes is that of the Grand old Duke of York. The song is meant to be about futility and doing a pointless task. The tune goes that the Duke has a huge amount of troops at his disposal (ten thousand men as the song says). He decides to march them up to the top of an unspecified hill and then, when they have reached the top he simply commands them to go back down again for no military reason other than he can. This is the part where the song states “when they were up, they were up and when they down they were down”. The last line ends in confusion with them being all bunched up in the middle going nowhere.

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Hopefully the Duke has gone to a Camping Store Dublin based shop to get them all kitted out. How was this Duke from history? The answer is that no one is sure. Several Duke’s have been cited as  the source. The song dates back to the late fifteen hundreds where it was first written about the King of France. Here are a few others that might be the famous Duke.

  1. Richard, Duke of York. Defeated at the Battle of Wakefield, he had eight thousand men. Waiting for reinforcements he surged out of his castle but was overcome by the Lancastrians.

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  1. James the Second, who was previously the Duke of York. He marched his troops to Salisbury Plain, certainly not many hills there as the name suggests, to stop William of Oranges “invasion”. However he was so unpopular that most of his troops retreated and he fled.

Author: Kei Taylor

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