The Grand Old Duke of York

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"The Grand Old Duke of York"
Nursery rhyme

"The Grand Old Duke of York" (also sung as The Noble Duke of York) is an English children's nursery rhyme, often performed as an action song. The eponymous duke has been argued to be a number of the bearers of that title, particularly Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827) and its lyrics (where the duke marches ten thousand soldiers up and down a hill for no apparent reason) have become proverbial for futile action. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 742.

"The Grand Old Duke of York" is also sung to the tune of "A-Hunting We Will Go".[1]


Statue of Frederick, Duke of York, in Waterloo Place, Westminster, London

A modern version is:

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.

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.[2]


Richard Tarlton in the 1580s with his pipe and tabor

Like many popular nursery rhymes the origins of the song have been much debated and remain unclear. Unusually the rhyme clearly refers to a historical person and debates have tended to circulate around identifying which Duke is being referred to in the lyrics.[2] The lyrics were not printed in their modern form until relatively recently, in Arthur Rackham's Mother Goose in 1913.[3] Prior to that a number of alternatives have been found including a note that in Warwickshire in 1892 the song was sung of both the Duke of York and the King of France; from 1894 that it was sung of Napoleon.[2] The oldest version of the song that survives is from 1642, under the title 'Old Tarlton's song', attributed to the stage clown Richard Tarlton (1530–1588) with the lyrics:

The King of France with forty thousand men,
Came up a hill and so came downe againe.[4]

As a result, the argument has been made that it may have been a common satirical verse that was adapted as appropriate and, because it was recorded in roughly the modern form, has become fixed on the Duke of York.[2] Candidates for the duke in question include:

Apart from the ducal title in the song and the events of their lives there is no external evidence to link the rhyme to any of these candidates.

Dutch version[edit]

A Dutch adaptation of the song replaces the Duke of York with Maurice, Prince of Orange (1567–1625), whose practice of training mercenaries (completely new, and mocked at first) became famous following his success in war. It is not known when the British song crossed the North Sea, but nowadays it is well-known within the Dutch scouting movement.[8]

De held prins Maurits kwam
met honderdduizend man
daar ging hij mee de heuvel op
en ook weer naar benee
en was 'ie bovenan
dan was 'ie niet benee
en was 'ie halverwege
was 'ie boven noch benee

The hero Prince Maurice came
with a hundred thousand men
with them he went up the hill
and also down again
and when he was up
then he wasn't down
and when he was half-way
he was neither up nor down

In popular culture[edit]

In February 2022, parodies of the nursery rhyme referencing Prince Andrew, Duke of York's reported £12 million out-of-court settlement with Virginia Giuffre had entered circulation.[9] A version reported in the media contained the lyrics:[9]

The grand old Duke of York, he had twelve million quid.

He gave it to someone he never met, for something he never did.

Later in May, black comedy musician Kunt and the Gang released the satirical single "Prince Andrew Is a Sweaty Nonce" about the controversy surrounding his 2019 interview with Emily Maitlis on Newsnight.[10][11] The single's verses directly interpolate the nursery rhyme.[10]


  1. ^ Cub Scout Songbook. Boy Scouts of America. 1955.
  2. ^ a b c d e f I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 442–443.
  3. ^ E. Knowles, Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1941, 6th edn., 2004).
  4. ^ J. Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps and Henry Chettle, eds, Tarlton's Jests: And News Out of Purgatory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1844), p. xxix.
  5. ^ J. Swinnerton, The History of Britain Companion (Robson, 2005), p. 149.
  6. ^ C. Roberts, Heavy words lightly thrown: the reason behind the rhyme (Granta, 2004), p. 44.
  7. ^ J. Black, Britain as a military power, 1688–1815 (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 195.
  8. ^ "De held prins Maurits". Scouting Marca Appoldro. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  9. ^ a b Merrifield, Ryan; Meehan, Abbie (20 February 2022). "Prince Andrew 'ridiculed by aides with nursery rhyme' after £12 million court settlement". Edinburgh Live.
  10. ^ a b Murray, Robin (10 May 2022). "The Kunts Announce New Single 'Prince Andrew Is A Sweaty Nonce'". Clash Music. Retrieved 28 May 2022.
  11. ^ Malt, Andy (10 May 2022). "The Kunts hoping for Jubilee hit single". Complete Music Update. Retrieved 28 May 2022.