Out & About …

… on the North York Moors, or wherever I happen to be.

“Baa, Baa, Black Sheep!”

Ah, warm sunshine and lambs gambolling in the fields. A sure sign that Spring is here.

Everyone knows the nursery rhyme. Once said to have been a proletarian cry in the Middle Ages because the tremendous demand for wool meant that farming land had been turned into pasture for sheep. Thousands of farmhands were thrown out of work. ‘My master and my dame‘ were the King and rich nobility who profited from the wool-growing, and ‘the little boy who cried in the lane‘ was the worker out of a job.

But that’s now thought to be bunkum, dreamt up in the 1930s1Wikipedia Contributors (2022). Baa, Baa, Black Sheep. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baa,_Baa,_Black_Sheep#Origins_and_meaning [Accessed 24 Mar. 2022].. More likely the wool of black sheep may have been highly valued as it could be made into dark cloth without dyeing and fading.

Apparently the nursery rhyme’s well known first line has been said in Parliament.

In the King’s Speech at the opening of Parliament, George IV, when he was Prince Regent is said to have bet the Irish politician and playwright Sheridan 100 guineas that, “either owing to the magnetism (of) his personality or the flutter which the occupants of the Lords’ Chamber were in, so little attention was really paid to the verbal character of the Speech he was making that he could make any interpolation he liked, undetected2Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk. (2022). “ Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.” | Globe | Tuesday 08 February 1910 | British Newspaper Archive. [online] Available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0001652/19100208/101/0010 [Accessed 24 Mar. 2022].. The bet was accepted, and the Prince Regent agreed to introduce the words, “Baa, baa, black sheep,” in the middle the Speech. If anybody where to smile or look startled, then the bet would be lost. And sure enough, after a rambling account of Wellesley’s difficulties in Spain, the Regent cleared his throat, said, “Baa, baa, black sheep,” and went on, without apparently generating any comment or surprise. The bet had been won.

Sheridan afterwards asked George Canning if had heard the Prince Regent say ‘Baa baa black sheep‘. “Yes,” Canning replied, “but, as he was looking straight in your direction at the moment, I deemed it merely a personal allusion, and thought no more about it3Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk. (2022). “Baa, Baa. Black Sheep” Inserted Into King’s Speech! Giant King Of The Danes. C.f.i. and British Ttbrils. London, Saturday.. The | Belfast Telegraph | Saturday 12 January 1924 | British Newspaper Archive. [online] Available at: https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0002318/19240112/117/0010 [Accessed 24 Mar. 2022]..





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