During the Tudor period in England, over 10,000 people were without jobs.
Although by today’s standards that doesn’t seem a great number, the population as a whole was only around 5 million people. With no other method of getting money, they were forced to beg in the city streets. The velvet gowns no doubt refer to stolen property.
There is another version of this rhyme in which the fourth line says, ‘And one in a velvet gown.’ This has brought forward a theory that the beggars were in fact the Dutch, who came to England in 1688 and their King, William III is thought to be the one in the velvet gown.
“Hark, Hark! The Dogs Do Bark” Lyrics
Hark, hark, the dogs do bark,
The beggars are coming to town
Some in rags, and some in jags,
And some in velvet gowns.