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Genealogy Places of Interest


Meurig  (Mathew) Hen was related to Coel Hen (Old King Cole) and is thought to have written of him, from which the poem was later written. As smoking was not then invented it must be  assumed that the pipe and bowl were musical instruments equivalent to the modern flute or drum.

The children’s nursery song is now believed to have derived from the historical story of Coel Hen (Old King Cole) and because of this, or perhaps for younger readers the poem is reproduced below. Hen is the Welsh word for old. 

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.

Now every fiddler had a fine fiddle,

And a very fine fiddle had he.

Tweedle dum, tweedle dee, went the fiddlers three,

Tweedledum-dee, dum-de-dee, dum-de-dee.


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 harpers three.

Every harper had a fine harp,

And a very fine harp had he.

Twang-a-twang, twang-a-twang, went the harpers three,

Twang-a-twang, twang, twang-a-twang-a-twee.


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 drummers three.

Every drummer had a fine drum,

And a very fine drum had he.

Rub-a-dub, rub-a-dub, went the drummers three,

Rub-a-dub, dub, rub-a-dub-a-dee.


The Cole family, referred to as the Cole race, ruled the biggest area of Britain (which at that time consisted of a combined England, Scotland and Wales) which encompassed present day Southern Scotland, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Northumberland and Cumbria. This compared with Wales which was split into five regions and extended east to Lichfield and the rest of Britain consisting of dozens of kingdoms.

The arrival and subsequent departure of the Romans did not much alter the Cole dynasty and it was the Danes and Saxons who eventually wiped them out, being completed by about 616.

Coel Hen himself (Old King Cole) reigned from about 350 to 420 and prior to Arthur, 'fighting duke' of the Coles, who later became a king. Coel Hen is thought to have ruled South West Scotland, Cumbria and Yorkshire down to York.

At the time of which we are speaking the outline of Britain was very much different than it is today. The land mass was much bigger in these dark ages, an example of which is that much of Cardigan Bay was land and a triangle of land existed between the North Wales coast to north of the Ribble. This latter area was occupied by a race of people known as the Setantii. Why no approximate maps exist showing the outline of this island prior to the huge rise in water levels during the dark ages is not understood as it would make the understanding of history very much easier.

Not much is known of the Cole race earlier than Coel Hen and his brothers. The brothers were Hen (the oldest) d about 420, Dyfynwal of Dumbarton and Clyde d about 440, Amlauit Wledic (or Lluch) d about 440, ruling East Cumbria, North Lancashire and most of Yorkshire, whose wife was Gwen, daughter of Cunedda and Arthur's maternal Great grandfather. The ruler of Setantii and lower Lancashire was Seithenin.

Two of Coel's sons were Ceneu and Gorbanian of whom nothing else is known. Another son was thought to be Meirchawn whose uncle Mor and cousin Morydd were thought to be father and brother of Merlin. Meirchawn had two sons, March  500 - 530 and Llyr Merini, with two sisters Eliffer and Gwenddoleu. Rhodric Mawr was an ancestor of Coel Hen, as was Mathew Hen, son of Brochfael Ysgythrog King of Powys.

Seithenin's family was Gwyddno, a son, who died about 470, by which time the sea had submerged his and his fathers kingdom. Another son was Arwystal Cloff who married Tywanwedd, the sister of Arthur's mother Ygerne, and therefore became Arthur's uncle. Arwystal Cloff had a daughter Machell. Another son of Seithenin was Llyr Merini (the 1st of that name, see above) whose name meant Sea Marine. Senewr d. 470 was another son of Seithenin and the last was named Menestry. Seithenin also had a grandson Cei who became one of Arthurs closest companions.

Other notes about the Cole or Coel family are as follows. Padarn Peisrudd was the grandfather of Cunedda of Gododin, who with Urien of Rheged and Gwallauc of Elmet were the warrior leaders of the Cole dynasty. Owein the son of Urien was a Cole family member so must have married into the family. Talhearn, who lived at the time of Arthur, was a family member and his son Aneirin died about 600.

By the 6th century the Anglo Saxons were pressing the Cole empire seriously, hampered severely by 'King' Arthur and by 547 the Saxon King Ida had taken Northumbria. This was the beginning of the end for the Coles.

Although much material is held on the Cole race, nevertheless reference has been made extensively to 'Old King Cole and the Real King Arthur' to collate and extend notes to write this article.


Since writing the above I have received many ‘comments’, but one from Michael Poole, living in Japan, is of sufficient interest to share. Part of Michael’s ‘comment’ reads as follows :-
"I was looking for Old King Cole to explain him correctly to a colleague who has just moved near to Amagasaki Station, not far from Osaka. The reason I am explaining him is that hard by Amagasaki Station, right in the heart of Japan on the site of the old Kirin Brewery, is a whopping great statue of Old King Cole. There he is, quite unmistakable, sitting astride a beer barrel with his pipe (of the anachronistic clay variety of course) and his ‘bowl’ – a goblet of foaming ale (well Kirin brew lager, and quite a good one too, but it’s near enough). A ‘merry old soul’ he certainly is in the statue. Of all the thousands of people who go past him every day, it is unlikely that many know who or what he is or that he is the subject of a nursery rhyme. They probably don’t even know that he’s a British icon, let alone that he was a real person."


The above would suggest that although Old King Cole (Coel Hen) is a figure in history remembered mainly as a nursery rhyme even in Britain but that particular nursery rhyme has since become global.