King of the Castle (or King of the Mountain)

Though it now appears to be dying out (everywhere except Dave Matthews songs), the simple rhyme was once one of the best known taunts in the English-speaking world:

I’m the king of the castle
you’re the dirty rascal

It’s been appearing in print since at least 1850s, when it appeared in a book called Games and Sports for Young Boys. From the context of the book, you get the idea that it was hardly new, then, and could well go back to the 18th century. In the book (and many other similar 19th century books, the rhyme is described as the the opening taunt in a game of “king of the castle,” which is the same game now often called “King of the Mountain,” in which one kid stands on top of a hill, and the others attempt to knock him down and take his place. This game was not allowed at my school, but we played it anyway. In 1969, Iona and Opie Anthony noted that the game was known as “king of the castle” in the UK and “king of the mountain” in the states.

There are minor variations to the rhyme in the 19th century texts. In some versions of the game, the “king” opens the game by shouting “I’m the king of the castle, get down you dirty rascal!” In others, the king only shouts “I’m the king of the castle,” and the other players respond with “come down, you dirty rascal.”

Interesting note: the game above “King of the Castle” in the book mentioned above is called “knights,” a fight between two boys carried on the shoulders of other boys. It mentions that the ancient Greeks called this game “hippas.” We called it “chicken fighting.” The same book describes “hide and seek” under the name “Whoop!” You can read it on Google Books

But anyway, does the rhyme still come up outside of the music world? Is it still “King of the Castle” in the UK? Is it called that anywhere in the states (it certainly was in the past)?

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15 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I heard the rhyme as a child in nursery school in the mid-90's. I know at the time in Britain, it was still called "King of the Castle."

    Reply
  2. Mary

    When I was in primary school in Britain in the late 1960's it was just as you described it: I'm the king of the castle. Get down you dirty rascal

    Reply
  3. Herbaltablet

    "I'm the king of the castle, and you're the dirty rascal" could also be heard in the English Midlands (specifically Nuneaton, Warwickshire) in the 1980s/early 1990s.

    Reply
  4. Celeste

    Me and my sister used to play "king of the mountain", only we don't call it that, and we'd never heard of it before.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    I swear I've heard that before (not sure about the first line, but definitely the last line). (Toronto, Canada, early 2000s)

    Reply
  6. Anonymous

    I was born in 1996 (I'm 15 now), England and we never played the game but we did use it as a sort of taunt. If someone where to climb up onto a wall or reach the top of a hill first (get to higher ground basically) we would call down to everyone else 'I'm the kind of the castle, and your the dirty rascals.'

    Reply
  7. Rod Farmer

    We used to play a game that we called both names, at whim. The fellow who was at the top of a dirt mound was the king. Everyone else would try to knock him down, to take his place. Kings changed quickly, until nobody cared to challenge the lad at the top. He, then, was the king, until the next time the game was played. (Sundays, after church.)

    Stonehenge has a mound, outside the circus, that would make a fine castle. I wonder if the origin of the game is related to the old "mot and bailey" fortification?

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  8. Rod Farmer

    Larchmont, N.Y. early 1950's.

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  9. Anonymous

    We definitely used "King of the Castle" on the playground in the early/mid 1990's in New Brunswick, Canada.

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  10. Shadow

    Rather like one of the comments above, we used it as a taunt rather than a game. (Australia, mid-to-late 90s) Whoever got to the highest place first out of my sister and I would call out "I'm the king of the castle, and you're the dirty rascal" to the other. WE got it from a book called "A Lion in the Night" by Pamela Allen, which was a childhood favourite of ours, but I'm sure I remember hearing others use it in the playground.

    Reply
  11. fabio

    I heard it in the film "Filth"

    Reply
  12. Malcolm

    Played as described in North London in mid 1950's

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  13. goose

    We Played king of the mountain but never knew the rhyme. Usually played it at the river, on top of a rock that sticks out of the water so the king tries to push everyone back in. California 1990s

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  14. Toby Benoit

    do you remember "knights" or "chicken fights" in schoolyards?

    We used to play a version called "Tanks", two teams, 5 per team. One person is the "Tank Barrel", guys on either side to hold up the barrel, horizontally. Charge the other tank.

    I was often the barrel. Lots of stitches. Good times.

    Or, winters in Prince George, lots of snow. Graders would clear area around the school doors/building… leaving a 15-20' tall perimeter. We'd play "King of the mountain"… give/receive snowboots to face… good old school stuff.

    Snow is good for scrubbing blood off before return from lunch break.

    Reply
  15. handmaiden4him

    We played this on top of tons of magazines and newspapers that were in my grammas back yard for some reason…IT was near the outhouse. do ya think??? (she was a farmer gal from the country in the 50's)

    Reply

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