Grand Old Duke of York (The)

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GRAND OLD DUKE OF YORK, THE. AKA and see "Boat is on the Shore (The)," "Brass Nuts," "My Boat is on the Shore." English, Country Dance or Quadrille Tune (2/4 time). D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABBC. The Duke was probably the same "Noble Duke of York" ('He had ten thousand men, He marched them up to the top of the hill, And down the side again') of the popular nursery rhyme, recited and sung for ages by schoolchildren. Frederick Augustus (1763-1827), Duke of York and Albany, second son of King George III, was a main figure of the British wars with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France. As a teenager and young man he received his military education abroad in Germany, fought a duel (narrowly escaping death when a ball clipped a curl from the side of his head), and spent much time in social dissipation and drink. When Britain and France declared war in 1793 Frederick returned home and was given command of an expeditionary force bound for Flanders. Once there, however, Frederick's inexperience showed and, amid bickering amongst the Allies, the British managed to amass one of the worst debacles in the annals of British arms and the Duke was recalled in semi-disgrace. Despite this setback, Frederick, was soon promoted by his father who appointed him Field Marshall in 1795. As a startling exception to the Peter Principle (i.e. one is promoted to his highest level of incompetence), Frederick proved to be an exceptional, if not exactly brilliant, administrator. Recognizing the need for reforms in the Army (which regularly sold promotions and rank, for example) Frederick instituted tracks for advancement on merit, regular training programs, and supported the founding of a military college. He introduced experimental units such as riflemen and light infantry that were to play key roles in the Napoleonic wars, and he gave the common soldier an increase in pay, better clothing and greatcoats for shelter. Unfortunately, he never quite put aside his dissolute tendencies and a major scandal caused him to resign in 1809. Ironically, an ex-mistress, Mary Clarke, had sold commissions and promotions (the very thing he attempted to eradicate) under the table to supplement her allowance from the Duke. Although he denied any wrong-doing, and probably was not involved, he was tainted by the affair. In 1811 he was reinstated to his position and remained commander in chief of the British Army until his death.

Peter Kennedy recorded the tune in the field in the 1950's from a few sources: a country dance version from melodeon player George Tremain (North Skelton, north Yorkshire) in 1953 (played for the dance "Brass Nuts"), and melodeon player Bob Cann (Sticklepath, Devon) recorded in 1956 (version used for the country dance "Cross Hands").

The march appears in a few Irish musicians' manuscripts as "Boat is on the Shore (The)" and "My Boat is on the Shore."

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Kennedy (Fiddler’s Tune Book, vol. 2), 1954; p. 26.

Recorded sources: Free Reed FRR-017, Tufty Swift, Alan & Sue Harris - "Brass Nuts" (1977).




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