Baa, Baa, Black Sheep

Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full.
One for the master,
One for the dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane.

bah bah black sheep

 

Version published in 1744:

Bah, Bah a black Sheep,
Have you any Wool?
Yes merry have I,
Three Bags full,
One for my master,
One for my Dame,
One for the little Boy
That lives down the lane.

Royal Taxation

At first glance, this nursery rhyme may seem a simple children’s song teaching the kids the sound that sheep make. In reality, however, this verse speaks about… taxation!

The rhyme is quite old, dating back to the 12th century AD. At the end of this century England had countless rebellions and minor wars in Wales and in Scotland, and in 1272 the last Crusade had ended with defeat. All this required vast sums of money and resulted in financial hardships.

King Edward I (1239-1307), just as today’s governments, saw the solution to these financial problems in raising the taxes. Even the Church, who until then was free of paying any taxes to lay authorities, now had to pay half of it's revenues to the King.

Tax on Wool

Farmers had to pay the tax in wool: one third to the King (the master), one third to the local nobleman (the Dame). The remaining third was left to the farmer himself who is that little boy in the rhyme.

An interesting thing to mention is that the wool of a black sheep was worth considerably less than that of a white sheep which could be dyed to any color.

bah bah black sheep marching with the sacks