Origin And History Of The Grand Old Duke Of York Song

The Grand Old Duke of York” also known as “The Noble Duke of York” is a popular kids' song and English nursery rhyme. The “Duke” of the title is not clear as folklorist as it is referred to a number of holders of that office, most probably Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany. The rhyme is also sung to the tune of “A-Hunting We Will Go”.

Origins and meaning
Like many traditional English nursery rhymes and kids' songs, several theories have been advanced to explain the origin and meaning of “The Grand Old Duke of York”. The origin has been much debated and no evidence has been found to prove these theories.  

A historical person referred to in this nursery rhyme is much debated. Several attempts have been made to identify which Duke is being referred to in the lyrics. The modern version of the rhyme was not printed until relatively recently in Arthur Rackham's 'Mother Goose' in 1913. Prior to that, the rhyme appeared with a number of alternatives such as in Warwickshire in 1892, the song was recited of both the Duke of York and the King of France. From 1894, the rhyme sung of Napoleon.

However, the oldest version of “The Grand Old Duke of York” kids' song appeared in 1642, titled “Old Tarlton's”, which was credited to Richard Tarlton (an English actor of the Elizabethan era).

An Action song for kids to enjoy
“The Grand Old Duke of York” is a children's favorite action song, in which singing is often accompanied by a set of hand movements and actions. There are several variations to the actions performed by the kids while reciting or singing the rhyme, as there are groups who perform regularly and pass on their style to other younger ones. But the most common movements involves players standing on “up”, then reseating when “down” is sung and taking a  half-standing/crouching position whenever "only half-way up" is sung.

Great variation to the actions has been also noted. A stiff salute is performed whenever “Duke of York” is sung, “ten” is indicated by displaying ten fingers and then hands or arms are used to depict a “hill” summit. In the second verse, actions are rapid. Players make a quick, short movement up and down and synchronization is usually lost by the players who are not quick in changing the positions.