Talk:Old King Cole

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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.

The instance of "pipe" need not imply a knowledge of tobacco. The term is very old, often referring to a musical instrument. Although "bowl" may well refer to something like a drinking bowl, the term is often used for gaming devices, and might be part of allusion to a general context of "merriment," but I wonder if the text has not become deformed. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, we have a reference dated about 1450 to the "lilt pipe, the lute, and the fiddle." Since lutes contained a bowl-like part, I wonder if the reference here is not to the lute.

In any case, it is not impossible that the nursery rhyme goes back to a period closer to the life of King Cole, presumably Coel Hen, who seems to belong to the early Fifth Century. We should also presume that the present nursery rhyme is a translation or rendition of an earlier bit, possibly in a Celtic language about Cole.

This information conflicts with the dates in Colchester. Hotlorp 03:27, 11 Jan 2004 (UTC)

On the lighter side: T.H. White mentions a song about Old King Cole in _The Once and Future King_.

     Whe-an Wold King Cole/ was a/ wakkin doon-t'street
     He saw a-lovely laidy a / steppin-in-a-puddle./
     She a lifted hup her skeat/
     For to / hop acorst ter middle,/
     An ee / saw her /an-kel.
     Wasn't that a fuddle?/
     Ee could'ernt elp it,/ee Ad to.
                                      (pp. 139-140)

Does anyone know whether this verse has any existence outside Mr. White's (admittedly fertile) imagination? If so, is it old or comparatively modern? Are there other King Cole songs or legends? Thanks! --Cladist Sun 21 Nov 2004

Colchester means Cole's Camp. Not Cole's Castle.

Coel Hen is sometimes credited for lending his name to the modern Scottish District of Kyle (in Ayrshire) where he said to have died (e.g. being a derivative of Coel. This corresponds to the old maps of the region (e.g. Coila Provincia - 1654) some of which can be viewed online at


Yes! This is the kind of introductions Wikipedia needs more of! I must say that whoever made that intro did a very good job of it. -- 11:38, 18 October 2007 (UTC)

Agreed. I came to the talk page just to see if anyone else had the same opinion of this forthright intro that I did. Really an excellent way to go about it. Mr. IP (talk) 04:14, 24 April 2008 (UTC)

The US military[edit]

The United States military also has a version in the form of a marching cadence during the 1980s

Oh, come on-- I have a Community Singing songbook (so it's from before the first world war) and it's British and it contains this version. Marnanel (talk) 21:42, 14 December 2007 (UTC)

US military usage of variants of Old King Cole as a cadence predates the 1980's. There was a racier version which my grandfather knew from WWII. He died in 1968. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 00:12, 20 April 2009 (UTC)

There is a version where the last line goes "there's none so rare as can compare with the voice of the infantry" (which similarly goes through the ranks). I have sung as a campfire song at historical reenactments but I can't easily attribute that version. -- (talk) 10:09, 13 September 2014 (UTC)

I will have to track down the reference, but I have seen a version of this in a historical folk song collection indicating it dates to well before the American Revolution. Further, the song was recorded live in 1960 by Harry Belafonte. BSVulturis (talk) 20:20, 5 December 2014 (UTC)

Transferred from article page[edit]

As a folk/tradtional musician i can confirm that the term "pipe" or "pipes"is commonly used as an informal term for bagpipes of any type/origin.--Northerncelts (talk) 19:19, 10 June 2008 (UTC)


There is a lot of information of Coel Hen and his descendents as well as his kingdom, and I think an entire spearate article could be built out of that, with only a summary on this page. If noone has any objections, I would like to do just that.---G.T.N. —Preceding comment was added at 17:20, 12 July 2008 (UTC)

Subject of article[edit]

Recent changes to the article have changed the focus. The title is "Old King Cole" and therefore the focus should be the nursery rhyme of that name. Accordingly I have reverted the edits, but it is probably a debate worth having. The only unifying element (apart from name) seems to be the nursery rhyme. If individual pages for each possible king are valid we could create those and redirect there from each sub-section (as suggested above).--Sabrebd (talk) 16:00, 7 June 2009 (UTC)

The problem is that the article hardly focuses on the nursery rhyme. Rather it discusses the various characters who have the same or similar names. I was just trying to update the lead to summarize what the article actually does discuss. At any rate many incoming links are talking about one or the other of the characters, and not the rhyme itself. There is more to connect them than just the name and the rhyme; Geoffrey of Monmouth's "Cole of Colchester" was probably based on the historical/legendary Coel Hen, whose name does, incidently, translate as "Coel the Old". Perhaps we should split the article into two: one on the king(s) and one on the rhyme. Of course the rhyme can't have any title other than this one, the one on the king could be at "King Cole" or somesuch.--Cúchullain t/c 15:28, 8 June 2009 (UTC)
Or perhaps this should just be moved to "King Cole" and deal with everything it currently deals with.--Cúchullain t/c 12:22, 10 June 2009 (UTC)

I would prefer to create individual pages for the people, then place summaries here, but some care would be needed to make the distinctions clear.--Sabrebd (talk) 22:16, 9 June 2009 (UTC)

Geoffrey's Coel and Coel Hen would not need separate pages. I'm not sure if any of the others would have enough on them to require a page. I'll get on this today.--Cúchullain t/c 12:22, 10 June 2009 (UTC)
Moving the material on "Cole of Colechester" to Cunobelinus is not the way to go. None of the sources indicate the connection between the two clearly, and at any rate it is definitely not the most common connection (I think a better place may be Coel Hen).--Cúchullain t/c 17:17, 3 July 2009 (UTC)
This move was precipitated by someone creating a Cole Hen page which means that the article here is now about the nursery rhyme with a disproportionate amount of detail on one mythical king. The move to Cunobelinus was suggested by the line "This character may be based on the pre-Roman King Cunobelinus of the Catuvellauni tribe". If that is not true it needs to be deleted here. The other material on Cole of Colchester needs to be edited down to fit the article, where it actually goes I leave up to you, but this problem has been left hanging almost a month and is now rather more acute.--Sabrebd (talk) 08:23, 4 July 2009 (UTC)
Oh, I see. The material is had better be moved to Coel Hen. At any rate it's been a problem for much longer than a month, since until very recently all information about any king named Coel or Cole redirected here.--Cúchullain t/c 13:51, 4 July 2009 (UTC)
I have created a new article King Cole to deal with both figures. Hopefully this is suitable. The redirects will still have to be corrected.--Cúchullain t/c 15:05, 4 July 2009 (UTC)
I split out Coel Hen (not Cole Hen) to its own article and updated all the links to avoid redirects, as the original article focused elsewhere. Previously, it had been difficult to reference him from other articles because one had to wade through irrelevancies to get to the section of interest (as Cuchullain had tried to circumvent by going to the article section rather than the top of the article).
I also thought that the Coel Hen article might be much improved while staying with the focus on the historical person rather than being a part of a grab-bag of usages (King Cole, Old King Cole, the historical Coel Hen, etc, etc) ... I was intending to return to the Coel Hen article in the not-distant future.
This last move complicates that, and it looks like somewhat of a grab-bag of different references again. I think we might do better to have separate articles here, with narrower focus (and where there might be overlap, such as King Cole and Coel Hen, there can be a short summary and a dab-link to go to the right place). Regards, Notuncurious (talk) 15:21, 4 July 2009 (UTC)
I was just about to post and say how happy I was with the last move, as I believe this article should be about the rhyme. However, I think we all agree we want the various characters to be easy to find. Not quite sure what is being suggested in the paragraph above (is "here" this article?). I think it would be best to do those things in the new article. Could we take the discussion there?--Sabrebd (talk) 15:44, 4 July 2009 (UTC)
No need to take the discussion there, if you and Cuchullain are happy with things this way, I can live with it quite comfortably. Regards, Notuncurious (talk) 15:56, 4 July 2009 (UTC)
Actually, my only thing was I don't think there's reason for Geoffrey's Coel to have an article distinct from Coel Hen. Everything I've seen indicates that Geoffrey's Coel is just a version of the earlier figure of that name, with a similar amount of changes from his sources as appear throughout his work. As such, all a distinct article could do would be to summarize what appears in Geoffrey and Henry of Huntingdon's risible accounts, and then redirect the reader back to Coel Hen. We've had similar trouble with other of Geoffrey's "kings" before, such as Heli of Britain/Beli Mawr, and the solution has been to merge Geoffrey's material into the articles for the pre-existing figure. However I could see that Coel Hen or maybe just Coel could be an appropriate title for such an article.--Cúchullain t/c 18:08, 4 July 2009 (UTC)
I like your reasons, and I'm really ok either way. Regards, Notuncurious (talk) 19:17, 4 July 2009 (UTC)

King Coal?[edit]

Coal mining has nothing to do with this article's subject, it's just a homonym of a work in the title. Was someone pranking when they added it? I suppose I should be italic and remove it... Huw Powell (talk) 20:47, 13 June 2010 (UTC)

Article contradicts itself[edit]

It says "it cannot be qualified as English", but in the sidebar/infopanel it says "country: England; language: English". Now, if something which comes from England cannot be qualified as English, what can? The first sentence appears to imply that the rhyme is believed to originate in Wales and/or be a translation from Welsh or from Celtic, but no evidence for this proposition is put forward in the article, which also mentions the possibility that Cole is a reference to a Reading (and so English) cloth merchant and not to King Coel. With so much confusion and contradiction, the article does not make a lot of sense. (talk) —Preceding undated comment added 16:01, 11 July 2012 (UTC)


Suggest 'pipe' refers to a 'pipe' of wine, or ale. 'Bowl' refers to a drinking vessel, cf 'fill the flowing bowl' Hence, Old King Cole planned to get 'merry', with wine and music.


And see : (talk) 21:15, 17 June 2015 (UTC)