The Traditional Children's Games of England Scotland
& Ireland In Dictionary Form - Volume 2

With Tunes(sheet music), Singing-rhymes(lyrics), Methods Of Playing with diagrams and illustrations.

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There occurs in some versions the incident of asking the girl to come, and the dancing round when she consents, mostly in connection with the incident of invitation to dance. This may not therefore belong, and I do not think it does, to the early forms of this game; but we must remember that dancing formed a part of the marriage ceremonies down to quite a late date, and it is therefore not surprising it should be found in many versions.
It has been suggested that this game has for its origin an historical event in the reign of Edward III., whose daughter Jane married a prince of Spain. There is some possibility in this, as doubtless the marriage was conducted by ambassadors first of all with pomp and ceremonial, but I think the game really dates from a much earlier period, and if there are any grounds for connecting it with this particular royal marriage, it may merely have altered and fixed some of the words, such as " daughter Jane," " Lords from Spain," " Spanish gold," in people's minds, and in this way tended to preserve the game in its modern form.
Mr. Addy, in his Sheffield Glossary, considers that the men­tion of the three knights and gifts of gold is a fragment of some old pageant of the Three Kings of Cologne, who, according to ancient legend, brought gifts to the infant Jesus, but I can see no evidence of this.
It is somewhat curious that this game is very rarely sung to a tune, nor have I succeeded in obtaining one. It is usually said to a sort of sing-song chant, or else it is spoken in dialogue, and that with a good deal of animation.
Mr. Newell gives versions, as played in America, similar to many here given, and Mr. Northall (Folk Rhymes, p. 385) gives one from Gloucestershire and Warwickshire.
Three Little Ships
—London (A. B. Gomme).

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