Old King Cole was a merry old soul,
And a merry old soul was he;
He called for his pipe, and he called for his bowl,
And he called for his fiddlers three.
Every fiddler he had a fiddle,
And a very fine fiddle had he;
Oh there's none so rare, as can compare,
With King Cole and his fiddlers three.
Who was Old King Cole?
The origins of the Nursery rhyme lyrics of Old King Cole are based in history dating back to 3rd century. There is considerable confusion regarding the origins of Old King Cole as there are three possible contenders who were Celtic Kings of Britain, all who share the name Coel (which is the Celtic word for the English word Cole). Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) by Geoffrey of Monmouth (1110-1155) refers to a King Cole as a king of the Britons. Our research details the contenders as follows:
Coel Godhebog (Cole the Magnificent - b.220 Decurion of Rome)
Coel Godhebog was the Lord of Colchester (the word Colchester means "Cole's Castle"). The Romans had conquered Britain during this period and Coel Godhebog was a Decurion meaning member of the municipal Senate in Ancient Rome who ran a local government. Gaius Flavius Valerius Constantius (250–306) was an Emperor of the Western Roman Empire (305-306). According to the Historia Regum Britanniae Constantius was sent to Britain in 296AD. where his liaison with Helena, apparently the daughter of Coel Godhebog, produced a son who became Constantine the Great.
Coel Hen ( Coel the Old c.350 - c.420 )
Coel Hen, called Coel the Old due to his longevity, was also the Lord of Colchester and a Decurion. This was the time of the Decline of the Roman Empire and the Romans officials abandoned Britain and returned to Italy which was under attack by the Goths. Coel Hen was therefore believed to be the last Decurion. This man is probably the main contender as 'Old King Cole' due to the name he was given - Coel the Old.
St. Ceneu ap Coel ( Born c382 )
St. Ceneu ap Coel was the son of Coel Hen. Ceneu appears to have been made a Saint because he upheld the old Christian ways against pagan invaders.
He used Saxon mercenaries to help with this quest. He was named in the Historia Regum Britanniae as attending the coronation of King Arthur who became the 'One King' of the Britons.
The History of the Ancient Britons is being reflected in the origins of Old King Cole encompassing the times of the Celts, the Romans, the Saxons and King Arthur. The Tudor dynasty, starting with King Henry VII, claimed to descend from Old King Cole's royal lineage in attempt to further legitimise the Royal House of Tudor's claim to the English throne. One of the main sources of information regarding the Ancient Britons is taken from the works by Geoffrey of Monmouth. But Geoffrey lived many years later in the 1100's and much of his history on the pre-Saxon kings of Britain is based on Celtic legends - thus adding to the confusion regarding the origins of Old King Cole!