There are many variations on this song; it is recorded under a range of titles including ‘Three Dukes’ and ‘Three knights from Spain’. Here we hear the ‘Three Jews from Spain’ version.
The Opies believe that this game is at least 200 years old and can be traced to 16th century Spain. Kidson argues that it has a longer history originating from when Spanish ambassadors solicited for a royal alliance between Spain and the daughters of Edward III.
This sung game is ‘matchmaking’ or ‘courtship line game’. The suitors, in this example ‘three Jews’ (although we see the role played by only one girl), arrive seeking the hand of, in this case, ‘my sister Jane’. The children playing the suitors line up opposite the other children with the one (traditionally the tallest) in the middle playing the role of the ‘guardian’ who replies to the suitors. The guardian tells the suitor that ‘Jane’ is far too young to marry which causes him to threaten to leave. The suitor is pacified and invited to select the ‘fairest’ girl. This is done by naming a child: ‘The fairest one that I do see/ Is bonnie [insert name], will you come to me?’ If, as seen in this clip, the child singled out says ‘No’ in response, the suitor, or suitors, will dance while chanting a variation on ‘you naughty girl, you would not come out … to help us without dancing’. This causes retaliation from the other children. If the next child picked says ‘yes’ to the suitors s/he joins their ranks to dance with them to ‘Now we’ve got a beautiful maid, a beautiful maid, a beautiful maid … To help us with our dancing’. The selected child can joins the line of suitors. The game repeats until all children have either joined the suitors.