Hark! Hark! The dogs do bark!
The beggars are coming to town,
Some in rags, and some in jags,
And one in a velvet gown.
1688 William III came to England. It is supposed by some that Hark! Hark! refers to this event. ‘Beggars’, supposedly, is a slang term for the Dutch, with the ‘one in a velvet gown’ being William himself.
According to the Opies,
The theory is perhaps supported by a song in Westminster Drollery (1672) called A Dialogue between a man (in Garrison) and his wife (with her company) Storming without’, the first verse of which goes,
Hark, hark, the Doggs do bark,
My wife is coming in
With Rogues and Jades,
And roaring blades,
They make a devilish din.
Opie, p. 179
Other theories suggest the rhyme refers to the Dissolution of the Monasteries, where the beggars are ejected monks, scratching a living on the streets, or, more likely, that the rhyme was a taunt frequently chanted at vagrants.
First appearing in print in Gammer Gurton’s Garland in 1784 (with the last line as ‘And some in velvet gowns’), some sources date the rhyme to the 13th century, but this claim has not been substantiated.