The King of Spain’s Daughter

I’ve always been interested in the origins of children’s rhymes ever since I first bought a copy of the Opie’s Lore and Language of Schoolchildren. As Andy has been playing a new song that references this one I thought I’d do a little research. I had an idea that the rhyme was some sort of reference to the Wars of Spanish Succession and the dwindling fertility of the Spanish Royal line. Often children’s rhymes have far from innnocent origins! I wasn’t quite right but fertility was certainly a big issue in the lives of the women concerned.
Some sources claim the King of Spain’s daughter in question to have been Joanna of Castile who was shipwrecked in England in 1506 and visited the court of Henry VII. She’s an unlikely candidate though as she had her husband, to whom she was obsessively devoted, with her at the time! She went on to have an altogether tragic life (see below). So the front runner then becomes her younger sister Katherine of Aragon who was betrothed to Prince Arthur and finally became the ill fated first wife of Henry VIII. The details don’t quite fit and it seems likely that it’s an adaptation of something earlier.

I was surprised to discove the rhyme wasn’t in the Guttenberg Project version ofThe Real Mother Goose which is a great resource of copyright free nursery rhymes and illustrations. There’s an American version of Mother Goose which definitely isn’t copyright free and I decided not to link to it. I eventually found the extended version with a second verse which I’d been thinking of:

I had a little nut tree,
Nothing would it bear
But a silver nutmeg,
And a golden pear;
The King of Spain’s daughter
Came to visit me,
And all for the sake
Of my little nut tree.

Her dress was made of crimson,
Jet black was her hair,
She asked me for my nut tree
And my golden pear.
I said, “So fair a princess
Never did I see,
I’ll give you all the fruit
From my little nut tree.

Joanna of Castile, who visited the court of Henry the Seventh in 1506:

Joanna was the last of the original Spanish royals; after her, all royalty on the Spanish throne was from houses that had come from abroad – though most of the future monarchs also were born in Spain. Most historians believe she suffered from schizophrenia and she was kept locked away and imprisoned. Needed to legitimize the claims of her father and son to the throne, Joanna only nominally remained queen of Castile until her death. (wikipedia)

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One thought on “The King of Spain’s Daughter

  1. This is an interesting theory on the topic, but doesn’t seem to be the last word on the historical background. Regrettably, no one seems to have much idea what it’s all about. If you ever find out, let me know!

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