Why Kipling Was Never Knighted (Perhaps)

Sometime in the late nineteenth century there appeared the anonymous bawdy ballad “The Bastard King of England.” Rumor attributed it to Kipling, with no real evidence; and rumor goes on to assert that the ballad and the attestation so scandalized Queen Victoria that she refused to knight Kipling. (Other rumors hold that he was offered, and refused, knighthood; and, indeed, it’s hard to think of a third possible reason why he not be Sir Rudyard.)yyresc

“The Bastard King of England” is pretty good, when judged by the standards of bawdy ballads, but it’s also, as is typical for the genre, the kind of thing designed to scandalize Queen Victoria. Even given its subject matter—a literal penis-measuring contest between the kings of England and France—it is unnecessarily scatological and vulgar. Needless to say, it’s worth reading in full, and stands up well next to older classics such as “The Plenipotentiary” (attributed to Robert Burns).

As a kind of vulgar in-joke, of the sort Disney animators are known for, the Disney fox-furry Robin Hood movie makes use of this very Kipling ballad for a cleaned up protest song about Prince John. Compare:

Oh, the minstrels sing of an English King of many long years ago
Who ruled his land with an iron hand though his mind was weak and low…
God bless the bastard King of England!


Oh, the world will sing of an English King a thousand years from now
And not because he passed some laws or had that lofty brow…
A pox on that phony king of England!

(I thought I had discovered this tidbit for myself, but it turns out, as it so often does, that others already knew.)

I bring this up now because, of late, the words to the Disney version have been running through my head. If they strike a chord with you as well—well, I can’t imagine why. But perhaps you can find some use for them.

He sits alone on the giant throne
Pretending he’s the king:
A little tyke who’s rather like
A puppet on a string.
And he throws an angry tantrum
If he cannot have his way,
And then he calls for Mom
While he’s suckin’ his thumb—
You see, he doesn’t want to play…

Related: Unintentional Old-Timey Filth

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