“The Noble Duke of York”


"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...."

Supplemental text

Noble Duke of York, The
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

(Find the Ring)

From Alice B. Gomme, The Traditional Games of England, Scotland,
and Ireland, Volume I, p. 121. From Sheffield.

O the grand old Duke of York
He had ten thousand men,
He marched them up the hill ago (sic.)
And he marched them down again.
And when they were up they were up,
And when they were down they were down,
And when they were half-way up the hill
They were neither up nor down.


Since the Dukedom of York is usually bestowed upon the Prince of Wales's oldest brother, or other fairly senior prince, there have been a lot of them in history, and many of them important. This makes it hard to guess 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.

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 a clear lack of ability in this department. The Baring-Goulds even specify the hill as Mount Cassel in Belgium. But even they admit the rhyme does not resemble actual events.

In any case, I can imagine candidates going back all the way to Richard, Duke of York from 1415.

(The Shakespeare characterization of that York, it should be noted, 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.)

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" (Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #209, p. 144) which looks as if it might be a parody of this. - RBW


  1. BrownIII 99, "The Duke of York" (1 text)
  2. Opie-Oxford2 549, "Oh, the brave old Duke of York" (1 text)
  3. Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #201, p. 138, "(Oh, the brave old Duke of York)"
  4. Silber-FSWB, p. 390, "The Noble Duke of York" (1 text)
  5. ST FSWB390B (Full)
  6. Roud #742
  7. BI, FSWB390B


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1894 (Gomme)
Keywords: army nonballad
Found in: US(SE)