Join FunTrivia for Free: Hourly trivia games, quizzes, community, and more!
Fun Trivia
Ask FunTrivia: Questions and Answers
Answers to 100,000 Fascinating Questions
Welcome to FunTrivia's Question & Answer forum!

Search All Questions


Please cite any factual claims with citation links or references from authoritative sources. Editors continuously recheck submissions and claims.

Archived Questions

Goto Qn #


What is the song "Baa Baa Black Sheep" about?

Question #52756. Asked by chris42.
Last updated Sep 19 2016.

avatar
Baloo55th
Answer has 2 votes
Baloo55th
21 year member
4545 replies avatar

Answer has 2 votes.
Seems very obscure. Commonest version today has 'One for the master, one for the dame, and one for the little boy who lives down the lane'. I've heard another version which was stated to be more authentic which ran 'Two for the master and one for the dame, and none for the little boy who cries down the lane'. It is very likely to be political in origin, but who it refers to I don't know. (No reference for the alternative version - it was on the radio some years ago.)

Nov 29 2004, 11:31 AM
teabreak
Answer has 2 votes
teabreak
20 year member
14 replies

Answer has 2 votes.
A few sites give this as the meaning of Baa Baa Black Sheep.

"In the Middle Ages, a hard-working peasant was required to give one third of his income to the King, “my master,” and one third to the fat nobility, “my dame,” leaving only a final third for himself, “the little boy.”


Nov 29 2004, 11:52 AM
avatar
Baloo55th
Answer has 1 vote
Baloo55th
21 year member
4545 replies avatar

Answer has 1 vote.
I don't think the peasant contributed directly to the king, unless the king was the direct holder of the lands himself. The peasant paid the lord, who paid his lord who paid the king. Or paid the monastery etc etc. Another point about this is that wool from a black sheep was worth quite a lot less than ordinary wool.

[Nov 29 04 4:29 PM] Baloo55th writes:

Little Jack Horner sounds cheerful - even though it's probably about political corruption. Most are rather dire or dubious. Goosy goosy gander is best not gone into here too deeply, and contains apparent violence as well. Pop goes the weasel refers to pawning the implements of one's trade (tailoring). Kids like 'em, anyway. Nice little things, kids, aren't they? In Baa Baa, the use of 'yes, sir' suggests 17th -18th century for time of origin. (A sudden thought suggests possibly William and Mary as the master and dame, and the exiled James as the little boy who cries down the lane. Good cider, this. Don't think this has been suggested anywhere before.) There is also suggestion that it refers to the replacement of labour intensive arable farming by sheep farming in certain areas. I do remember the cries version from my childhood.

Nov 29 2004, 4:04 PM
triviasoprano
Answer has 1 vote
triviasoprano
21 year member
30 replies

Answer has 1 vote.
I have also heard of it referring to American slavery ('black sheep'; 'master'...); the wool in question could be cotton.

Nov 29 2004, 6:54 PM
avatar
Terry star
Answer has 7 votes
Currently Best Answer
Terry star
Moderator
24 year member
333 replies avatar

Answer has 7 votes.

Currently voted the best answer.
There is no evidence for its origin, but a few theories.
Uncorroborated theories have been advanced to explain the meaning of the rhyme. These include that it is a complaint against Medieval English taxes on wool and that it is about the slave trade.

link https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baa,_Baa,_Black_Sheep

Sep 19 2016, 6:31 PM
avatar
gtho4 star
Answer has 2 votes
gtho4 star
Moderator
24 year member
2385 replies avatar

Answer has 2 votes.
Until the late 16th century the final lines of the rhyme read "And none for the little boy who cries down the lane." It was changed to the current version in order to cheer it up and make it into a song more suitable for children.

Baa Baa Black Sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes, sir, yes, sir,
Three bags full;
One for the master,
One for the dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane.

This explanation re the wool trade and its importance to the UK economy seems plausible:
The great English landowners including lords, abbots and bishops began to count their wealth in terms of sheep, with some flocks totalling over 8,000 animals, all tended by dozens of full-time shepherds.

After returning from the crusades in 1272, Edward I imposed new taxes on the wool trade in order to pay for his military ventures. It is believed that this wool tax forms the background to the rhyme. One-third of the price of each bag, or sack sold, was for the king (the master); one-third to the monasteries, or church (the dame); and none to the poor shepherd (the little boy who cries down the lane) who had tirelessly tended and protected the flock.

link http://www.historic-uk.com/CultureUK/more-nursery-rhymes/

Sep 19 2016, 7:20 PM
free email trivia FREE! Get a new mixed Fun Trivia quiz each day in your email. It's a fun way to start your day!


arrow Your Email Address:

Sign in or Create Free User ID to participate in the discussion