The Grand Old Duke Of York’s 10,000 men were in Wakefield!

Oh, the grand old Duke of York
He had ten thousand men
He marched them up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again

And when they were up, they were up
And when they were down, they were down
And when they were only half-way up
They were neither up nor down

Well now that I’ve given you that ear worm, you can thank me later, let me tell you why. It’s a nursery rhyme we all know but where did it come from?


Well let me tell you, my own back yard, that’s where! Seriously, lockdown local discoveries have never stopped jumping out at me as soon as I opened my eyes to them. It may also be a by-product of lockdown in that I have started to become quite irrationally excitable when it comes to such discoveries. To be clear, yes, this is me, intrepid off-beat traveller and Indophile getting rather excited about a nursery rhyme. It’s either that or in general, becoming overexcited about discovering just how much I don’t know, being thick in other words.

But back to the rhyme. Every day I walk around Pugneys Country park, a wonderful, lottery funded public space available to the general public for picnics, walking, jogging, cycling, sailing, kayaking and if you really must, wild swimming. We are incredibly fortunate.  Looming over this park is Sandal Castle which is very very old. In fact and I quote from (aren’t you pleased it’s me who does all this fascinating research) ‘’The first surviving record …. dates from circa-1240, the fortification was constructed much earlier. It is generally attributed to William de Warenne, Second Earl of Surrey who had been granted Wakefield for his support to Henry I during the Battle of Tinchebray (1106)’’ I bet he was chuffed to bits!

However, when walking in this area, Sandal Castle is something you can’t miss, but how many of us actually take any real notice of it? And how many (or few of us) actually know its place in history in establishing the present-day monarchy? Yes, Sandal Castle and dear old Queen Liz are inextricably linked.

I didn’t find this out until recently when dad and I were on one of our days out. As we were attempting to circumnavigate Pontefract, I spotted the sign for a castle. No prizes for guessing that I didn’t know there was a castle in Pontefract, always having been far more interested in Pontefract Cakes. Anyway, I did my getting excited thing and in we popped. It was when we were on these ramparts that dad decided to impart some of his own knowledge and told me that is was this castle that The Lancastrians marched from on 30th December 1460 to defeat Richard of York at Sandal Castle some 9 miles away in what has forever since been known as The Battle of Wakefield – the original battle of Wakefield, Saturday nights up Westgate notwithstanding.

Then he told me about the link with the nursery rhyme, and then started to sing it,

‘He marched them up to the top of the hill
And he marched them down again,’

‘Oh,’ says I, ‘that makes so much more sense than them just marching up the mound of Sandal Castle, from Pugneys, it would have been ever so crowded with 10,000 men.’ At this point  he gave me that oh so familiar withering look, the one of utter despair that is invariably followed by, ‘How much did your education cost?’ And off he went, in search of more intelligent conversation, or possibly Pontefract Cakes.

Anyhow, we don’t know much about the actual battle apart from that Richard of York protector of the English Monarchy and heir to the king, despite being safely ensconced behind the impregnable walls of Sandal Castle, bizarrely chose to leave and led his men down the hill to face the Lancastrian army. No one knows quite why, perhaps he was short of supplies or was tricked into thinking that the Lancastrians did not have the numerical advantage. Either way once he was on the flat ground below the castle he was ambushed and his forces surrounded. His men were slaughtered and he, as well as his second eldest son, were killed. The story goes that his head, sporting a paper crown, which does’t seem terribly sporting, was put on a stake. How we know this when we don’t really know any other hard facts seems a little odd and this ‘fact’ remains unverified in my mind.

For those in need of more historical facts, this was all part of the 32 year long Wars of the Roses (22 May 1455 – 16 Jun 1487) which were equivalent to a civil war, between the house of York (whose symbol was a white rose) and the house of Lancaster (whose symbol was a red rose).

As you can see by the dates, The Battle of Wakefield wasn’t the final or definitive moment of the Wars of the Roses which did go on for another 27 years. As much as I’d love to tell you exactly what happened during that time and who won what, and where and who killed who and who plotted and quite significantly, just how the ass kicking female, Margaret of Anjou, took the lead roll, I can’t find any really succinct source which makes it interesting enough for me to bother with. Therefore, I’m not going to. This article was all about the origins of the nursery rhyme after all, and as far as I am concerned, that is job done!

However, for those of you who would like more info:

Here’s the links to the direct page on Castles for Battles 


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