The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Hyde's Account of the Boar's Head Feast

Queen's College, University of Oxford
From the Late 1600s

Source: Collectanea, Part IV. (Oxford: Oxford Historical Society at the Clarendon Press, 1905), Part VI. "Thomas Baskerville's Account of Oxford, 1683-1686," pp. 221-222.

See: Notes On The Boar's Head Carols

My worthy friend Dr Hide one of this society with a good dinner gave me this account of an ancient custome in their Colledge at Christmas.

So take it verbatim as he writ it.

In Queens Colledge on Christmas day at ye beginning of dinner is kept an ancient Custome of singing up the Boar's head, wch perhaps formerly might be a real Head, but now is a wooden head dress'd with Bayes and Rosemary, and before ye mouth, there is put a little burning pitch which flameth, and a little white froath to represent the foaming of the Boar. The song is sung only by one Person, either ye Butler or any body who hath a tolerable good voice, and is strong enough to bear ye weight of ye Head at his Armes end.

But ye Chorus is sung by all in ye Hall, who haue a mind to stretch their voices. But ye Taberders or ffoundation Batchelors who are Chiefly expected to sing it, do exercise it for aboue a week before, in ye evening altogither in a Chamber, for wch they are allow'd at such times some Beer by ye Colledge, And that is the only song wch is ever allowed to be sung alowd in the Colledge, it being otherwise an offence to sing lowd. The song consists of 3 stanz'as and is accordingly by parts sung at 3 seuerall stations in ye Hall viz. at ye entrance at ye middle & at or near to ye high Table.

The Boars Head in hand bear I,
Bedecked with Bays and Rosemary.
And I pray you my Masters merry be yee,
Quot estis in Convivio
Caput Apri defero, reddens laudes Domino.

The Boars Head as I understand,
Is the brauest dish in all the Land,
And thus bedecked with a gay Garland,
Let us servire Cantico,
Caput Apri defero, reddens Laudes Domino.

[missing line]
In memory of ye King of Bliss
Which on this day to be served is
In Reginensi Atrio,
Caput Apri defero, reddens Laudes Doo.

Editor's Note:

The third verse immediately above is missing its first line, which is "Our steward hath provided this." This is also the version that was sung at Queen's College in 1811, and was widely reprinted in that century in collections of Christmas carols. This would be the earliest printing of this version, and would also indicate that the changes to the carol at the College occurred at a very early date. This is also the version given by Anthony Wood in a manuscript dated 1660 (but not printed for the public until 1812). See: The Boar's Head Carol - Wood, 1660.

"Dr. Hide" is Thomas Hyde, M.A., D.D., (29 June 1636 18 February 1703). In 1658 he was chosen Hebrew reader at Queen's College, Oxford, and in 1659, in consideration of his erudition in Oriental tongues, he was admitted to the degree of M.A. He was later the Laudian Professor of Arabic, and the Regius Chair of Hebrew. He resigned in 1701, citing health concerns, and died at Oxford in 1703.

There is an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography for one Thomas Baskerville (1630-1720), a topographer who was known to write accounts of his journeys in the various counties of England. He was the 4th son of the antiquary Hannibal Baskerville (15971668). Anthony Wood was a friend of the family. See: Dictionary of National Biography: Baker-Beadon. Volume 3. (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1885), p. 369.

Another account from "Dr. Hide" was found a manuscript owned by Richard Rawlinson, entitled "Memoirs of the Family of Baskerville," now housed in the Bodleian Library. The account was published "on a sheet" by Dr. Philip Bliss of Oxford, and was later reprinted by Rev. Thomas Frognall Dibdin, Typographical Antiquities (London: For William Miller by W. Bulmer and Co., 1812), on three pages between p. 252 and p. 253. The texts by Dr. Hyde are virtually identical. See: Dibdin On The Boar's Head Carol.

Richard Rawlinson (3 February 1690 6 April 1755) was a friend of the antiquarian Thomas Hearne (July 1678 10 June 1735), an important collector who first found the fragment of Wynkyn de Worde's Christmasse carolles newely enprinted (1521) and the above carol.  Hearne's works were widely admired because they demonstrated an exceptional depth of scholarship.

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