The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Preface to
Antient Carols for Christmas and Other Tides
Arranged for Four Voices
by Edmund Sedding.
Second Edition. (London: Masters and Son, 1863), pp. v-xiv.

The Blessed Virgin travailed without pain,
And lodged in an inn,
A glorious Star the sign,
But of a greater GUEST than ever came that way,
For there He lay
That is the GOD of night and day."

            Bishop Jeremy Taylor  (1613-1667)

Worship, ye sages of the East
The King of gods in meanness drest,
O Blessed Maid, smile and adore
The GOD, Thy Womb and Arms have bore."

            Bishop Joseph Hall (1574-1656), from Immortal Babe, Who This Dear Day

Cease then, O Queens, who earthly crowns do wear,
To glory in the pomp of earthly things;
If men such high respects unto you bear,
Which daughters, wives, and mothers are of Kings,
What honour can unto that Queen be done,
Who had your God for Father, Spouse, and Son?"

            Henry Constable (1562-1613)



ENCOURAGED by the singular distinguishment vouchsafed unto the Set of Antient Christmas Carols01, I have judged it convenient to devise a second collection, with Carols to serve for Festal Tides other than Yule.

Revival of Carols

It is a wholesome source of comfort to find the custom of singing Carols making such excellent way throughout the English Communion: there remains now but a scanty flock of Parishes in England without some observance of this delightsome and Catholick practice. The course of progress and revival is not yet complete, and should however hardly stay here. Carols have been resuscitated out of doors, but there is ill show of reason for their remaining unrestored to their original position in ye Offices of Holy Church.

The Right Use of Carols

Surely the Carol was never designed to be driven out of the Church altogether, to find sorry shelter in the stale and unsavoury atmosphere of concert rooms, or to be shuffled of upon family gatherings and parochial feasts. The Carol is to be considered part and parcel of the Services appertaining to the Festival of the Nativity, one of the many joyful passages in the Celebration of the great Eucharistick Sacrifice. In Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Man, and divers parts of the North and West of England, Carols have never been banished from the Church, while in foreign lands they are used at High Celebration throughout Christmas Tide. I rejoice to learn that in many Parish Churches, Cathedrals, and Abbies, ye restoration of ye Christmas Carol to its primitive dignity, has been prosecuted, and that with ye fairest success: may these humble remarks tend to provoke others to go and do likewise.


Concerning the word Nowell much has already been discoursed in the Preface to the First Series of Antient Christmas Carols, but I have thought good to print in this work a Wasseling Carol to a melody still used in the shires of Gloucester, Hereford, and Devon, and other places in the west of England, and on this I would adventure a few remarks.

Origin of the Term.

The word Wassel or Wassail is derived from the Anglo-Saxon Wæs hæl, "Be in health." Washaile and Drincheile were the customary antient English drinking pledges, and are equivalent to "Your health," "I'll pledge you" of the present times.

"These two," says Ritson, "are the very first Saxon words which we know from historical evidence to have been pronounced in this country. Vortigern, King of Britain, being invited to supper by his ally Hengist at his newly built castle of Sydingbourn, in Kent, was after supper approached by Hengist's beautiful daughter Rowena, who, having a goblet of wine in her hand, and making a graceful reverence, said, Wæs hæl (i.e., be of health,) lord King; to which the King, being instructed by his interpreter, replied, drincheil, i.e., drink health." 02

The term wesseyl occurs in one of the earliest Carols extant –

Si jo vus dl trestoz wesseyl,
Dehaiz eit qui ne dirra “Drincheyl”03

Here then I bid you all wasseyl,
Cursed be he who will not say "Drincheyl."04

How The Wassel Is Made.

The Wassel or Lamb's Wool is composed of "ale of the best barley," toast, sugar, apples, and spice.

"Sometime lurk I in a Gossip's bole;
In very likenesse of a roasted crab,
And when she drinkes against her lips I bob,
And on her withered dewlop poure the ale."

When roasted crabs hisse in the bowle
Then nightly sings the staring owle." 06

The Bowl.

The bowl was commonly fashioned of wood drest with ribbons and rosemary,07 but in the dwellings of gentlemen of honour or good worship the cups were frequently of pretious metals,

When To Be Used.

New Year's Eve and Twelfth Night were the principal occasions on which the Wassel was introduced. The following extract from a manuscript of the reign of King Henry VII., will advertize the gentle reader that the ceremonies to be observed on bringing in of the Wassel were of no mean order:-

Wasseling in the Reign of K. Henry VII.

"Item as for the void on the xijth nyght, ye Kinge and the Quene ought to haue it in the halle. And as for the wassaile, the steward, the tressourer, and ye controllere, shall com for it wt yr staves in yr hands ; the King’s sewere and the Quene's hauinge faire towelles about yr neks and disches in yr handes, siche as the Kinge and the Queue shall ete of: the King's keruers and the Quenes shall com aftur withe chargiours or disches siche as the Kinge or the Quene shall etc of, and wt towelles about yr neks. And yr shall no man bere nothynge for the Kinge or the Quene, but only siche as be sworn ...  And if yr be a bischope, his own squyere, or els the Kings, ... shall serue hym; ... And so of all oyr estats and yy be duks or erles, in lik wyse; and of duchesses and countesses in the sam maner. And yen yr muste cum in the vschers of the chambre wt the pile of cuppes, the Kings cupes and the Quenes and the bischope‘s wt the butlers and wyne, to the cupbord, and then a squyere for the body to bere the cupe and anoyr for the Queuees cupe siche as is sworn for hire.

"Item the Chapelle may stond at the on side of the halle; and when the steward comythe in at ye halle dore wt the waissaille he must cry thris, “Wassaile," &ca., and then shall the chapelle answere it anon wt a good songe : ... And then whene the Kinge and Quene have done they will go into chambre. And yr longithe for the Kinge ij lights wt the void, and ij lights wt the cupe; and the Queue in like wyse as many." 08

In the Reign of K. Henry VIII.

In the Second year of King Henry VIII., "agaynst the xii daye or the daye of the Epiphanie at nighte, before the banket in the Hall at Richemond, was a pageaunt devised like a mountayne, glisteringe by night, as  though it had been all of golde and set with stones, . . . and then it was drawen backe, and then was the wassaill or banket brought in, and so brake up Christmas." 09

King Charles I.

Father Herrick, in one of his most delectable Christmas Songs10 writes

" Come then, come then, and let us bring
Unto our prettie twelfth-tide King
Each one his severall offering;

Chos. And when night comes wee'l give Him wassailling;
And that His treble honours may be seen
Wee'l chuse Him King, and make His Mother Qeen".

Alluded to by old English Writers

The allusions to this one of the most important accompaniments of Yule-tide are very frequent in the works of Spenser, Wither, Ben Jonson, Bamsylde, and other old English writers.

The incomparable Shakespeare makes mention of Wits Pedler, who

                                                                    Retailes his wares
                        At Wakes, and Wassels, Meetings, Markets, Faires." 11

Wassel nauseous to the Puritan.

A carping puritan knave takes offence at this as well as sundry other exercises and spectacles sanctioned by the Church:—

Thus they (this rabble of worshippers) celebrates the Nativity, Circumcision, Epiphany, and Resurrection of Christ, with gay clothes, clean bouses, good cheer, the viol in the feast, to stir up lust instead of devotion, eating and drinking, and rising up to play and dance. . . . with their lords of misrule, commonly called Christmas lords, games, interludes, mummeries, masks, wassal cupes, with thousands of abominations which chaste and Christian hearts abhor to hear or think of.12

Carrying round the Wassel.

The custom of carrying round the Wassel from house to house with songs, still observed in many parts of England, does not appear to be older than the seventeenth century. A specimen of one of these Wassel songs is given by Ritson from a Manuscript in the Ashmolean Museum, and commences thus;—

"A jolly wassel-bowl,
    A wassel of good ale,
Well fare the butler's soul,
    That setteth this to sale;
        Our jolly wassel.

"Good dame, here at your door
    Our wassel we begin,
We are all maidens poor,
    We pray now let us in,
        With our wassel.13

No. I, The Cedar Of Lebanon.

For the melody of the first Carol I am indebted to William Chappell, Esq., F.S.A., editor of "Musick in the Olden Time;"

No. II, Let Us The Infant Greet.

and for that of No. II. to S. Smith, .Esq., Organist and Director of the Quire at S. John's, Windsor. The latter is from a collection made in Herefordshire during Christmas, A.D. 1858, but has been of late knitted to such bald poverty-stricken verse that I was at no pains to dissolve the unmeet connection.

No. III, Tidings True, Come Glad And New, The Salutation Carol of the Angel Gabriel.

The use of the melody of No. III, has been kindly granted me by Thomas Wright, Esq., M.A., F.R.S., and is taken from a manuscript aforetime in his possession. The Carol is let to sacred words, but thereto is appended this note ;-

This is the tewyn for the song foloyng, yf so be that ye wyll have another tewyn, it may be at your plesure for I have set all the song.

[“This is the tune for the song following; if so be that ye will have another tune, it may be at your pleasure, for I have set all the song.”]

Antient bacchanale.

This song foloyng is a right quaint drinking chanson, and that the reader may at his pleasure enjoy the fulsome ravishment of both words and musick of the antique times I have reprinted the whole of it:-

Bryng us in good ale, good ale;
For owr blyssyd lady sak,
bryng us in good ale.


Bryne us in no browne bred, for that is mada of brane,
Nor bryng us in no whyt bred, for theriun is no game.
            But bryng us in good ale, good ale;
            And bryng us in good ale,
            For owr blyssyd lady sak,
            Bryng us in good ale.

 a. made

Bryng us in no befe, for ther is many bonys,
But bryng us in good ale, for that goth downe at onys;b
            And bryng us in good ale, &c.

 b. once

Bryng us in no bacon, for that is passyng fate,c
But bryng us in god  ale, and gyfe us i-noughtd of tht;
            And bryng us in good ale, &c.

 c. fat
 d. enough


Bryng us in no mutton, for tht is often lene,
Nor bryng us in no trypes, for thei be syldom clene;
            But bryng us in good ale, &c.


Bryng us in no eggys, for ther ar many schelles,
But bryng us in good ale, and gyfe us no[th]yng ellys;
            And bryng us in good ale, &c.


Bryng us in no butter, for therin ar many herys;e
Nor bryng us in no pygges flesch, for that wyl make us borys;
            But bryng us in good ale, &c.

 e. hairs

Bryng us in no podynges,f for therin is al Godes good;
Nor bryng us in no venesen, for that is not for owr blod;
            But bryng us in good ale, &c.

 f. puddings

Bryng us in no capons flesch, for tht is ofte der;g
Nor bryng us in no dokes flesche, for thei slober in the mer;
           But bryng us in good ale, &c.

 g. often dear

No. V, Nowell and Sire Christmas.

The air of No. V. is taken from a manuscript of the reign of King Henry VIII. [Addl. MS 5665 f.8 ff], and may have been been sung in the presence of that Sovereign. It is of such super-excellent quaintness and beauty that it seemed to me an act of desecration to divorce the antient words from the musick to which they have been for generations wedded in comely accordance. Unhappily it was found impossible to let the entirety of the old words to the melody, so that they might run smoothly together, and after long and serious deliberation, I resolved to contrive some few alterations in the text; but this ungracious travail, as the reader will himself discover, has been very delicately carried out with the least possible license of ink so that the sense and drift of the original should not be wantonly disturbed.

For the, convenience of Quires and Scholars, whom I am with pleasure bounden to style, my chief patrons and supporters, the orthography, has been charactered in modern English, but in like manner I am desirous to give good content unto those, my singular good friends, who have a reverend regard for the preservation of antient reliques, and I have therefore appended an exact copy of the original:—

Ye original words of No. V.

" Nowell nowell nowell
Who ys there that singith so nowell
Nowell Nowell.

" I am here, syre Crystemasse,
Wellcome my lord syre Crystemasse,
Wellcome to us all bothe more and less,
Come ner Nowell.

“ Dieu wous garde byewe syre tydynges y you bryng
A Mayde hath born a Chylde full yong,
The weche causeth you for to syng

" Christe is now born of a pure Mayde
In an oxe stalle He ys layde,
Wherefor syng we all atte a brayde

“ Bevvez bien par tutte la company,
Make gode chere and be ryght mery,
And syng with us now joyfully

No. VII, Joy Hath Come To Earth Again.

The air of the last Carol is from a Swiss Book of the sixteenth century.14


In conclusion, I humbly beg to express my sincere gratitude for the many kind and gracious tokens of approbation bestowed upon my former work; also to tender my warmest acknowledgments to the Reverend Doctor R. F. Littledale, who has kindly supplied me with words for the present Collection, the fitness and beauty of which it would be presumptuous in me to commend. A tribute of thanks is likewise due to the Reverends H. L. Jenner and S. S. Greatheed15 for divers valuable services rendered to me on this and past occasions; and finally I must humbly pray that these unworthy labours may be blessed by Almighty Goo to the good of His Holy Church.

                                                ED. SEDDING.

A.D. 1863.

Sedding's Notes.

In the original, Mr. Sedding had additional notes on both the left side and the right side of the main text. Some of those notes have been converted into headings, while others have been converted into footnotes.

Except as stated, the following notes occur as marginal notes in the original, cumbersome in a normal word processing format, and so in this text, they are transformed into footnotes.

1. The reference here is to the First Series, published in 1860. Return

2. Dissertation On English Songs and Musick, p. xlix. Editor's Note: The essay "Dissertation on the Songs, Music, and Vocal and Instrumental Performance of the Ancient English," contained in Joseph Ritson, Ancient Songs from the Time of King Henry the Third to the Revolution (London: J. Johnson, 1790), pp. xxvii-lxxvi. The discussion concerning Wasseil (þæs heil), Drincheil (drinc heil), Vortiger, Hengrist and the beautiful Rowena is contained in note 5 on p. xxxiii-xxxiv. The rest of the story is both intriguing and instructive: "The bait had its effect; the king, smitten with the young ladys charms, desired and obtained her in marriage, divorcing his wife, and giving up the whole of Kent to Hengrist."  Return

3. MS. Reg. 16 e. xiii. Cent. Editor's Note: from the traditional French noel Seignors Ore Entendez À Nus, found in a manuscript in the British Library, MS. Reg. 16 E. viii, fol. 130, vo, early 13th century.  Return

4. Christmas With The Poets, A.D. 1852. Editor's Note: from the carol Lordings, Listen To Our Lay found in Henry Vizetelly, Christmas With The Poets (London: David Bogue, 1851) , pp. 3-5. Return

5. Midsommer Night's Dreame, Act ii. Editor's Note: See A Midsummer Night's Dream at Project Gutenberg. Return

6. Loue's Labour's Lost, act iv. Editor's Note: Love's Labor's Lost at Project Gutenberg. Return

7. Ben Jonson, Christmas, His Masque. Return

8. Editor's Note. This account can be found in Francis Grose and Thomas Astle, eds., The Antiquarian Repertory. A New Edition. Vol. 1 of 4 (London: Edward Jeffery, 1807), pp. 329-330; portions also reproduced in The Antiquary, Vol. 2 (1872), p. 2. Return

9. Hall's Chronicle. Editor's Note: See Sir Henry Ellis, ed., Hall's Chronicle; Containing The History of England, During the Reign of Henry The Fourth, and The Succeeding Monarchs, to the End of the Reign of Henry The Eighth, In Which Are Particularly Described the Manners and Customs of Those Periods. (London: Printed for J. Johnson, et al., 1809), pp. 516-517. This Chronicle incorporates Edward Hall, The Successful Reigne of Kinge Henry VIII. (London: Richard Grafton, 1550). Return

10. The Star Song, Sung in the presence of K. Chas. Mar. at Whitehall. Return 

11. Loue's Labour's Lost, Act iv. Editor's Note: Love's Labor's Lost at Project Gutenberg. Return  

12. A Brief Discourse of the False Church. Editor's Note: The author was Henry Barrowe, whose writings, while he was in prison in England, was published in Dort; this discourse was printed in 1590. An excerpt containing the above passage can be found in The Antiquary (1843), p. 94. Barrowe was arrested on questionable grounds and subsequently executed for his religious views. He would be considered one of the more extreme Puritans of his time. Return

13. Antient Songs. Editor's Note: The full citation is to Joseph Ritson, Ancient Songs From The Time of King Henry The Third To The Revolution (London: J. Johnson, 1790), pp. 304-306. See: A Jolly Wassel-BowlReturn

14. Editor's Note. It isn't known what book this is, but that research is continuing.  Return

15. Editor's Note. That Reverends H. L. Jenner and S. S. Greatheed were also musical editors, together with Rev. Thomas Helmore, of the Hymnal Noted, Part II (1864).  Return

Editor's Notes:

I found the preface to be difficult to read for three reasons:

I have neither corrected the text to use modern spellings nor have I substituted “the” for “ye.” The font that is used on this page, Verdana, does not have the old-style “s” character.

I would urge modern writers not to affect archaic spellings or typography. It makes it more difficult for your readers to easily comprehend your meaning if they must stop and translate an archaic form into a modern form.

Editor's Footnote.

1 The use of “ye” or “ye” is an error created by the lack of a full set of characters in the fonts used by many early English-language printers. The “y” letter is used where a letter called the Thorn should have been used. That letter can appear similar to the letter “y” but should have been transliterated as “th”. Thus, when we see “ye” we should be seeing “the” instead. Note that in some cases, “ye” may have meant “Thee,” and in others, it may have meant “you.”  Return

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