The Pied Piper's Lady

James Elder Christie (1847 - 1914), The Pied Piper of Hamelin - 1881

Ratcatcher's Day

Jun 26

Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day

Ratcatcher's Day
The Pied Piper's Lady
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Today's Musings, History & Folklore

"Rats! They fought the dogs and killed the cats, And bit the babies in the cradles, And ate the cheeses out of the vats, And licked the soup from the cooks’ own ladle’s, Split open the kegs of salted sprats, Made nests inside men’s Sunday hats, And even spoiled the women’s chats By drowning their speaking With shrieking and squeaking In fifty different sharps and flats." ~The Pied Piper of Hamelin, Robert Browning (1812-1889)

Allegedly on this date in 1284, while the town of Hamelin was suffering from a rat infestation, a piper dressed in multicolored ("pied") clothing appeared, claiming to be a rat-catcher. He promised the mayor a solution to their problem, asking for a payment of 1000 guilders. Playing a tune upon his pipes, he rid the town of rats, leading them to drown in the river Weiser, but was then refused payment by the townspeople. Angry, he returned the next day then lured away their children with a different tune on his magic pipe. Although historians have yet to find evidence of the inspiration for this legend, it was a well entrenched story by early 14th century. The earliest mention of the story seems to have been regarding a stained-glass window placed in the Church of Hamelin c. 1300.  The window was described in several accounts between the 14th and 17th centuries, but was destroyed in 1660.  A written record from the town chronicles has an entry in 1384 which states: "It is 100 years since our children left." Many fascinating theories abound regarding this story's origin! Remember, it is always best to "pay the piper"! 🐀🐀🐀

The Pied Piper's Lady

For Ratcatcher's day, we have dance to mark the alleged date of incident of the Pied Piper of Hamelin in 1284, who first rid the town of rats, then lured away their children.

According to the usual retelling, while the town of Hamelin in Lower Saxony, Germany was suffering from a terrible rat infestation, a piper dressed in multicolored clothing appeared, claiming to be a rat-catcher. He promised the mayor a solution to their problem with the rats and was offered a sum of 1000 guilders.  The piper accepted and played his pipe to lure the rats into the Weser River, where all but one drowned.

Despite the piper's success, the mayor reneged on his promise and refused to pay him the full sum (reputedly reduced to a sum of 50 guilders) even going so far as to hint that he brought the rats himself in an extortion attempt. The piper left the town angrily, vowing to return later to take revenge. On Saint John and Paul's day, while the Hamelinites were in church, the piper returned dressed in green like a hunter playing his pipe. In so doing, he attracted the town's children. One hundred and thirty children followed him out of town and into a cave and were never seen again. 

Although research has been conducted for centuries, no explanation for the historical event is universally accepted as true. In any case, the rats were first added to the story in a version from c. 1559 and are absent from earlier accounts.

The earliest mention of the story seems to have been on a stained-glass window placed in the Church of Hamelin c. 1300.  The window was described in several accounts between the 14th and 17th centuries, but was destroyed in 1660.  This window is generally considered to have been created in memory of a tragic historical event for the town.  The earliest written record is from the town chronicles in an entry from 1384 which states: "It is 100 years since our children left."

In Hamelin, the road along which the children supposedly passed on their way out of the East Gate, never to be seen again, is called the Bungelosenstrasse, or “street without drums.” According to an article published in the Fortean Times, it is against the law to play music or dance on that street to this very day.

To read about the many different theories of the Pied Piper, click the animated sequence, from Walt Disney's Silly Symphony, 1933.

The Pied Piper's Lady
The Pied Piper's Lady

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