Saturday storytime: Baa Baa Black Sheep!

Baa Baa Black Sheep is a nursery rhyme that we are all probably intimately familiar with, its one of those nursery rhymes that is sung to every child growing up and has been for generations.

Bah, Bah, a black Sheep,
Have you any Wool?
Yes merry I Have,
Three Bags full,
Two for my Master,
One for my Dame,
None for the Little Boy
That cries in the lane

The original version of the rhyme.

We are also all probably familiar with the stories in the news of Nurseries and the like not singing Baa Baa Black Sheep but Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep instead, to avoid offending anyone. However what are the origins of this classic nursery rhyme?

Well according to some it stems back to the slave trade within the Southern United States and during the 1980s was used to further the political correctness cause, however there is no supporting historical fact for this theory. As stated above in more recent years there have been quite public instances of nurseries changing the black to rainbow or even little, in 2006 and 2012 respectively. However these changes haven’t really caught on.

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

A more modern version of the rhyme

So what is the origin of this recently controversial rhyme?

Well the most popular and most likely theory is that the rhyme refers to a protest against a taxation introduced by either Edward I or Edward II.

The story with Edward I goes that he realised the importance of the wool trade and industry to the English Economy and therefore decided that a tax on this trade would be a fantastic opportunity to raise some cash for various coffers, most notably the crowns and the churches.

The story goes that he levied a tax that was split three ways, a third went to the crown, a third went to the church and a third went to the farm owner, meaning that the shepherd by got nothing, this resulted in an increase of black sheep being farmed. White wool is valuable as it can be dyed and used in various applications, where as black wool can not be dyed and is thus almost worthless.

The Edward II story is remarkably similar, the main difference is that Edward II encouraged Flemish weavers to use and refine English wool to a higher finish then English weavers and then taxed them to do so.

One thing is certain however, regardless of which theory is true it certainly looks like that the rhyme Baa Baa Black Sheep has little to do with race relations and a lot to do with taxes.

To read more about Baa Baa Black Sheep follow the links to our sources for this post:

10 Sinister Origins of Nursery Rhymes



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