Living History & Reenactment Music

Musical Rambles Through History © by Sara L. Johnson


Thanks to Larry Burns of Hamilton Ohio for turning up the following information, from a book called Songs & Music of the Redcoats; A History of the War Music of the British Army 1642-1902, by Lewis Winstock, Stackpole Books, 1970. It has often been said, and nowadays just as often refuted, that the British played the tune The World Turned Upside Down at Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown, 1781. It is known that there was no well-known British tune by that name at the time, although the phrase "world turned upside down" had been used in various ballads. In 1766 a song was published in The Gentleman's Magazine, called The World Turned Upside Down or The Old Woman Taught Wisdom, said to be "an humble attempt to reconcile the parent and her children, made by a peacemaker to Great Britain and her Colonies". But the ballad never contains the "world upside down" phrase, and the ballad doesn't seem to have been published anywhere else.

The tune supposedly used for the surrender music is a quite old tune known as When the King Enjoys His Own Again, and there are words to it, dating from 1646, that "I took delight in jovial life 'till fate on me did frown. Until alas, I got a wife, and the world turned upside down." It seems unlikely that those words were still popular in 1781. Winstock believes, in any case, that it would be unthinkable for the British soldiers to play a melody with a favorable association with the victorious rebels, as the British troops "always took capitulation very unsportingly".

Even the ritual of the surrender and the bands there would suggest this tune was not played. The Anglo-German forces didn't have a massed band, but had 15 separate musicians' units, and as the surrender involved 23,000 men and lasted for several hours, a whole range of music was likely to have been played, rather than one obscure tune. What witnesses did say about the music was that the British music was "slow and solemn", that "the drums beat as if they did not care how." Aedanus Burke, a Galway Irishman who fought with the American forces, said, "One hour ago I was one of the many spectators who saw the British Army march prisoners of war out of the garrison of York ... They marched through both armies in a slow pace and to the sound of music, not military marches but of certain airs which had in them ... a strain of melancholy." A sort of circumstantial evidence against When the King Enjoys His Own tune is that Burke, an Irishman, would have been more likely to recognize an old song associated with the Stuarts, but he didn't mention recognizing any of the tunes.

As to what is actually known about the music at Yorktown, an Ansbach sergeant mentions bands, some probably being German ones, and French bands who "played delightfully", while an American observer spoke of "the lovely French music". Americans and French played Yankee Doodle, as mentioned by the Marquis of Lafayette. The Americans played it as their right, while the French played it to annoy the British. As the British marched between the parallel lines of French and Americans, the British turned their heads to the French to ignore the Americans. "A little piqued at this piece of affectation he thought he would try the effects of music upon them, and ordered his band to strike up Yankee Doodle. The British turned their heads at the sound of the tune" - presumably marching "eyes front" and thus denying both victorious armies the courtesy of a salute."

In spite of its dubious use at Yorktown, the tune is still a delight to play, and has a long history. Just think of it as When the King Enjoys His Own Again.

A sheet music GIF and a MIDI of When the King Enjoys His Own Again are on the music pages.