King William was King James’s son, all the royal races run,
On his breast he wore a star, pointing to the Prussian War.
Choose in the east, choose in the west, choose the one you love the best,
If he’s not here to take our place, choose another with all your grace.
Down on this carpet you shall kneel, while the grass grows round your feet.
Salute your bride and kiss her sweet, rise again upon your feet.
This is a traditional song
By no means confined to Yorkshire, this well-known children’s singing game has been found throughout the English-speaking world. I decided to include it here as I had not hitherto come across any versions in the East Riding, nor in fact anything sung to The White Cockade tune* that I’d always associated with Scots songs. The Hudlestons recorded a version in Rosedale to exactly the same tune, which textually has some interesting variations. (Songs of the Ridings p154)
King Henry was King James’s son and all the royal race was run,
Upon his breast he wears a star, ride away to the ocean far.
Choose to the east and choose to the west and choose the one that you love best;
If they’re not here to take your part, choose another with all your heart. Down on this carpet you shall kneel as sure as the grass grows in the field.
Hallelujah bright and a kiss so sweet, here’s to rise up on your feet.
In the 1930s in Farndale this kiss-in-the-ring game was still being played following village feasts. The lads and lasses formed a large ring on the village green, joining hands and singing The Green Leaves are Falling (See Songs of the Ridings, p155) whilst circling to a waltz tempo. A lad in the centre chose a girl with the words, ‘Give me thy hand, love’, and led her to the centre where he kissed her. The girl then knelt on the grass whilst the dancers circled singing King Henry at a brisk pace. At its conclusion the girl then rose and restarted the game by choosing one of the lads.
Nigel Hudleston dated the song back to James I whose eldest son was Prince Henry. In our version ‘King William was King George’s son’, i.e.,William IV and George III. Other versions give different names as one would expect of a song that has spent a few centuries in oral tradition. An American version even sings of ‘King David’.
Recently I came across an eighteenth century garland (British Library C116.bb.11. 23. 2) containing The New Highland Laddie followed by an Answer to it. They must surely go to the Scottish White Cockade tune and they actually incorporate some of the stanzas from the earlier song. The fourth stanza runs:
My Lad he is both straight and tall,
He’s able to face a Cannon Ball,
He’s the only thundering bolt of War
And on his Breast he wears a Star.
The fourth stanza of the Answer runs:
Duke William is King George’s son,
And from his Royal Blood he sprung.
Here’s no pretender dare invade,
He’s mill his Nob and white Cockade.
As can easily be seen the first verse of our kissing game song is a paraphrase of these two. However it is quite likely this anti-Jacobite piece is a parody of some earlier piece extolling the virtues of the Stewarts.
Our version is sung here by Nona Cromack of Gilberdyke, East Riding, but originally from Huddersfield where she learnt the song as a child some sixty-five years ago.
*The Scottish White Cockade is a totally separate song to our other more widespread White Cockade. (See No. 2)