Old King Cole
Old King Cole is believed to have been based upon a real king who lived in the 3rd century A.D.
The lyrics popular today date back to the early 18th century England. 1700’s
The first version was published around 1708 in William King’s work “Useful Transactions in Philosophy”.
The origin of King Cole can be traced back to Roman occupation. Cole Godhebog, Coel (Old Welsh: Coil) or Coel Hen (“Coel the Old”) is a figure prominent in Welsh literature and legend since the early Middle Ages.
Early Welsh tradition knew of a Coel Hen (Coel the Old), a circa Fourth Century leader in Roman or Sub-Roman Britain and the progenitor of several kingly lines in the Hen Ogledd (“the Old North”), the Brittonic-speaking part of what is now northern England and southern Scotland.
Later medieval legend told of a Coel, apparently derived from Coel Hen, who was the father of Saint Helena and the grandfather of Roman Emperor Constantine the Great. I doubt this was the same person. If so, then one of the accounts is wrong. The name Cole Godhebog is ancient Welsh. So, unless the Roman changed his name and I very seriously doubt the Romans would have accepted a conquered king to have fathered the next heir to the glory of Rome. When studying history, you have to view things from the perspective of that day and time.
Helena, the mother of Constantine was worn in Bithynia, Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), circa 248. Helena was married to Roman Emperor Constantius and had a son who would become Constantine I, also known as Constantine the Great, the first Roman emperor to become a Christian.
Helena was born in the caste considered the lowest of commoners, possibly in Drepana, Bithynia in Asia Minor, she became the consort of the future Roman Emperor Constantius Chlorus and later his queen. He reigned from 293–306. She was also the mother of the future Emperor Constantine the Great who reigned 306–337.
Other similarly named characters may be confused or conflated with the Welsh Coel. The legendary “King Coel” is sometimes supposed to be the historical basis for the popular nursery rhyme “Old King Cole”, but this is unlikely.
He died in 420 AD. It’s believed the name is derived from the Brythonic “Coel”. The character was related to some legendary names in British History, all identified as King Coel and mostly mentioned in British legends and literature.
One of those figures was Coel Hen, also nicknamed, Coel the Old or Old King Cole because of his age. We do know he was the King of Northern Britain during the decline of the Roman Empire when Britain was assailed by the Goths and exempt by the Romans.
Another legendary figure in Britain’s History was Coel Godhebog, a predecessor of Coel Hen, known as Cole the Magnificent. Oftentimes one person has many different names and titles.
The son of Coel Hen, identified as Saint Ceneu ap Coel, (English: Kenneth) was also a King of Northern Britain, mostly famous for defending and claiming the Christian religion especially during pagan invasions. He was canonized for this practice later on.
Another interpretation of this song’s origins is that it could be a musical theme song. In Gaelic the term ceol means music. The term fiddle is an old instrument that resembles today’s violin. The pipe is also used to define a flute or recorder. A literal analysis of this song will suggest that King Cole is the name of a musical group singing. I doubt that too because the era in which the lyrics came from eon couldn’t name himself ‘king‘ anything without serious consequences.
But I think it was originally a light and merry song the court jesters sung to entertain the king. Songs of praising a king was quite common.
“Old King Cole” Lyrics
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” Original 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