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Grand Old Duke of York

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.
But when they were only halfway up,
They were neither up nor down !


The kindergarten poem is typically supposed to be based upon the proceedings of the short attack of Flanders by Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, the second son of King George III and Commander-in-Chief of the British Military throughout the Napoleonic Wars. In 1793, a thoroughly-arranged assault on the northern conquests of the French Nation was led by the Duke himself. He won a little cavalry conquest at Beaumont (April 1794) merely to be solidly beaten at Turcoing in May and recalled to England. 
The exact site of the "hill" in the nursery school rhyme has long been supposed to be the township of Cassel which is built on a mount which rises 176 metres (about 570 feet) over the otherwise level lands of Flanders in northern France. 

The 'Grand Old Duke' was selected Field Marshal in 1795 and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed forces in 1798. In spite of a catastrophic assault on the Dutch island of Walcheren (1799) and allegations in 1809 that his mistress Mary Anne Clarke used her power to buy official commissions, the Duke returned to his authority in 1811 and played a huge part as a backscene superintendent in organising the Duke of Wellington's victories in the Peninsular War. He became heir presumptive to the throne in 1820, but predeceased his elder brother King George IV in 1827.  
But, an substitute origin is that the poem relates the tale of Richard, Duke of York at the Battle of Wakefield on 30 December . Richard's army, some 8,000 strong, was awaiting reinforcements at "the top of the hill" at Sandal Castle in Wakefield . He was encircled by Lancastrian armed forces some three times that figure, but nevertheless chose to sally forth to fight. Richard died in a pitched fight at Wakefield Green, together with between one third and one half of his army; several other Yorkist nobles were killed, and others were captured and afterward executed.


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