Old King Cole

Old King Cole was a merry old soul
And a merry old soul was he;
He called for his pipe, and he called for his bowl
And he called for his fiddlers three.
Every fiddler he had a fiddle,
And a very fine fiddle had he;
Oh there's none so rare, as can compare
With King Cole and his fiddlers three.

Old King Cole and Three Fiddlers

1708 version:
Good King Cole,
And he call'd for his Bowle,
And he call'd for Fidler's three;
And there was Fiddle, Fiddle,
And twice Fiddle, Fiddle,
For 'twas my Lady's Birth-day,
Therefore we keep Holy-day
And come to be merry.


An Ancient King

The nursery rhyme ‘Old King Cole’ refers to an actual ancient king. It is not quite certain which, because there are at least three different royal personages by the same name and at roughly the same time period. The name itself is of old Celtic (Brythonic) origin, originally spelled as “Coel”


A Military Commander Became King

The most probable candidate is Coel Hen (AD 350-420). At first, he was a Roman commander, governing quite vast territories in northern Britain, south of the famous Hadrian’s Wall. When the Romans left Britain in 410, after nearly 400 years of Roman rule, he became king. It has been speculated, that he was also a member of an ancient Roman family Coelius, since high officers in the Roman government usually belonged to high and noble families.


As smoking of pipes was not known in the fourth-century Britain, “called for his pipe” should mean he ordered some kind of a woodwind instrument to be brought. It also happens to be that “ceol” is an Irish word for music.


The Two Other Kings

The other two kings were Cole the Magnificent who in the 3rd century was the Decurion of Rome in Britannia; and St. Ceneu ap Coel, whose father was Coel Hen. St. Ceneu became a saint because he defended Christian faith against pagan invaders. Geoffrey of Monmouth's “History of the Kings of Britain”, written in the 12th century, predicates that St. Ceneu also attended the coronation of the great King Arthur.


A Cloth Merchant

Yet another interpretation was presented by William Chappell in the 19th century. He proposed an idea that King Cole could be a 12th century cloth merchant Thomas Cole-brook from Reading (Berkshire, England).


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