Two Bags Full

Sunday at the house we were sweeping up the mess made by the sparkies and plumbers.  I’m not complaining mind you, it was our choice to do so, but we wanted to make sure that the cavities were clean of the wood shavings.  We filled to large garbage bags full and as I was shovelling stuff into them it got me thinking about the origins of the nursery rhyme Ba Ba Black Sheep.

There are any number of websites that quote the origin of it as being a protest song from around the 13th century against a tax imposed on farmers where one third of the wool was given to the King, one third to the church (the dame) and only one third to the farmer (the little boy who lived down the lane).   Edward I imposed a tax on any wool exported from England at that time

The first written version of the nursery rhyme seems to be recorded in 1744 with the music set to the words in the early 19th century.

One question is this – why was the sheep black?    Black sheep in the family means someone who is a bit of a maverick, who doesn’t fit the family norm.  Black wool is seen as something that is a contaminant because it can’t be dyed like white wool.   Can anyone offer any reasons as to why it’s not Ba Ba white sheep?

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3 Comments

  1. River said,

    April 12, 2011 at 10:39 am

    You know, thta's something I never thought about. I've always sung Baa Baa Black sheep without a second thought.I'm wondering now though, was the wool black? Or was it from those black faced sheep that have white wool? I don't remember what type they are or where they're from, but I've seen them in magazines and on TV.

  2. Marja said,

    April 16, 2011 at 5:24 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Gauss said,

    January 16, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    I’ve always assumed that it was to emphasise that the little boy was not rich. As you say, black wool could not be dyed, and black sheep were therefore of lower value.


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