“Sing a Song of Sixpence”


"Sing a song of sixpence A pocket full of rye; Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie." The pie is opened and the birds sing. The king is in the counting house, the queen in the parlour, the maid in the garden and a blackbird "snapped off her nose"


Opie-Oxford2: "It is well known that in the sixteenth century surprising things were inserted in pies.... The mention of a 'counting-house' ... also helps to indicate that the rhyme may be traced to the sixteenth century.... Kidson says that the air to which the words are generally sung is the old Scottish dance tune 'Calder Fair.'" - BS

The "surprising things" in the pie often were intended as a entertainment or reward (a theme which more recently inspired J. R. R. Tolkien's "Smith of Wootton Major," his last fantasy work).

The notes in the _Annotated Mother Goose_ mention a connection with Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon, and Anne Boleyn. But Henry VIII was the sort of monarch you wouldn't be likely to find in a counting house. If there were an English king involved, especially in the sixteenth century, it would doubtless be Henry VII, who was such a money-grubber that he would without doubt have had intimate relations with his cash had he figured out a way to do it. - RBW

Same tune

  • Three Brave Blacksmiths (File: OLcM071)
  • Sing a Song of Charleston (Vera Brodsky Lawrence, _Music for Patriots, Politicians, and Presidents_, p. 342)


  1. Opie-Oxford2 486, "Sing a song of sixpence" (1 text)
  2. Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #3, p. 26, "(Sing a song of sixpence)"
  3. MHenry-Appalachians, p. 229, "Sixpence" (1 text, with a different ending: No King in the counting-house, and the singer is "Sitting on a stool... a-singing for a fool")
  4. Roud #13191
  5. BI, GGGSiSo6


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1784 (Gammar Gurton's Garland, according to Opie-Oxford2)
Found in: US(SE)