Old King Cole
Culture,  Location

Coel Hen “Old King Cole”

Coel Hen “Old King Cole” Ap Tegfan, King of Northern Britain was the 47th great grandfather of my children (Hen is Welsh for “the Old”).


He was the son of Guotepauc Ap Techabt, was born about 320 in Ebrauc (York), England, married Ystradwel Ferch Cadfan (born about 352) and their children were Aiofe Ferch Coel Hen (380-       ), St. Ceneu Ap Coel Hen, King of Northern Rheged (404-470), Gwawl Ferch Coel Hen (384-450) and Garbanian Ap Coel Hen King of Bryneich (born about 390). Coel died about 410 at the age of 90 in Tarbolton, Ayrshire, England and was buried at Coylton, England.

Meurig (Mathew) Hen was related to Coel Hen “Old King Cole” and is thought to have written of him, upon whose account the nursery poem was later based. As smoking was not then invented it would appear that the pipe and bowl were musical instruments similar to the modern flute or drum.

Coel Hen "Old King Cole"
Coel Hen, “Old King Cole”

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 Coel family ruled the largest area of Britain, which included Scotland, England, and Wales. The Danes and Saxons eventually wiped them out by about 616. Coel Hen himself (Old King Cole) reigned from about 350 to 420 and he is thought to have ruled southwest Scotland, part of Yorkshire and Cumbria.

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.

He is a familiar figure in ancient Welsh genealogies, for most of the Celtic British monarchies claimed descent from him. He appears to have lived around the turn of the 5th century, when Roman officials returned to Italy and left the British people to fend for themselves. Coel’s association with the north of Britain raises the possibility that he may have been the last of the Roman Duces Brittanniarum.

During Coel’s time, immigrant Irishmen from the Scotti tribe began to settle the western coast of Scotland around Argyle. Coel feared that Irish and the Picts would unite against the British and he sent raiding parties to stir things up between them. However, his plan backfired. Coel only managed to push the two groups even closer together, and they in turn attacked Strathclyde. Coel declared war and moved north against the Picts and Scots. The Picts and Scots fled to the hills and Coel’s army made camp beside the water of Coyle (later Coylton) in Ayrshire. For quite a while the British triumphed while the Irish and Picts starved. In their desperation, the enemy advanced an attack on Coel’s stronghold. Taken by surprise, Coel and his men were overrun. It is said that Coel wandered the countryside until he was caught in a bog at Coilsfield (in Tarbolton, Ayrshire) and drowned. Coel was first buried in a mound there before being removed to the church at Coylton. After his death, Coel’s kingdom was divided between two of his sons, Ceneu and Gorbanian.”

In subsequent comments made regarding Coel Hen, Michael Poole, who lived in Japan, made a comment that is of some interest. An excerpt of Michael’s comment is 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 its 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 dont even know that hes a British icon, let alone that he was a real person.”


A fifties' child, mom, wife, avid genealogy researcher, web contributor and author/owner of four blogs including Empty Nest Ancestry, Feathering the Empty Nest Nest, Top Web Blog Tips, Job Bully, and our extensive family genealogy database site at Blythe Genealogy.

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