Rhymes » Grand Old Duke of York

Grand Old Duke of York

The Grand Old Duke of York is believed to date back to the 15th century. The words of the Nursery rhyme are believed to refer to mock the defeat of Richard, The Duke of York. On December 30, 1460, during the Battle of Wakefield, the Duke of York and his army of men marched to his castle at Sandal. Richard took up a defensive spot countering against the Lancastrian army. The Duke’s castle was built on the site of an ancient Norman motte and bailey tower. It’s humongous earthworks stood at a great height of 33 feet above the ground level. Thus, the lines ‘he marched them up to the top of the hill’. During the battle, in a moment of insanity, The Duke left his fortress and went charging down to make a direct attack on the Lancastrians. This is where the lines ‘He marched them down again’ fits in. The Duke’s army was defeated and Richard, the Duke of York was killed in the battle.

Oh the Grand old 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!
And when they were only halfway up,
They were neither up nor down!!

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