“I Had a Little Nut Tree”


"I had a little nutmeg, nothing would it bear But a silver nutmeg and a golden pear. The King of Spain's daughter came to visit me And all for the sake of my little nut tree." "Her dress was all of crimson.... She asked me for my nutmeg...."


Folklorists, ever desperate for an event upon which to hang a song, have connected this to the visit of Juana (Joanna) of Castile (the future Juana the Mad, 1479-1555, queen of Castile from 1505), the father of the future Emperor Charles V, who visited England in 1506 during the reign of Henry VII.

This has the usual problems. For starters, Juana's father Ferdinand of Aragon was not King of Spain; he was King of Aragon, and it was not until Juana succeeded him in 1516 that Spain was properly a united kingdom. (Though, in fairness, Ferdinand was regent of Castile after his wife's death, so one might loosely call him King of Spain.)

Problem #2 is the dating; there is no hint of the song at the time of Juana's visit.

It's also worth noting that, even if you project this song back 250 years before the earliest known version, there is still no real reason to connect it to Juana. Why not connect it to, say, Catherine of Aragon, Juana's sister, who happened to marry the son of Henry VII?

In the incidentals department: I learned this song somewhere along the line, I think from my mother, and my tune is not Linscott's (and I know of no other printed traditional tune).

Whatever the origin of this item, it has inspired various imitations and parodies. Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #208, prints two under the collective title "Two Nut Trees." The first, credited to "Thomas Anon," simply adds a fewline. The second, by Edith Sitwell, is an independent poem about "The King of China's daughter," but clearly dependent upon this, because it also mentions nutmeg trees and the courting of the princess. - RBW


  1. Linscott, pp. 210-211, "I Had a Little Nut Tree" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Opie-Oxford2 381, "I had a little nut tree" (2 texts)
  3. Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #130, p. 106, "(I had a little nut tree)"
  4. Roud #3749
  5. BI, Lins210


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1939 (Linscott); first printing appears to have been in one of the Tom Thumb songbooks (n.d. but c. 1790)
Keywords: royalty food courting
Found in: US(NE)