The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Boar's Head

Source: Brand's Popular Antiquities Of Great Britain

W. Carew Hazlitt, Faith and Folklore: A Dictionary of National Beliefs, Superstitions and Popular Customs, Past and Current, With Their Classical and Foreign Analogues, Described and Illustrated.

Forming A New Edition of "The Popular Antiquities of Great Britain" By Brand and Ellis, Largely Extended, Corrected, Brought Down To The Present Time, and Now First Alphabetically Arranged.

In Two Volumes

London: Reeves and Turner, 1905.

Vol. 1, pp. 59-60

Holinshed says that, in the year 1170, upon the day of the young Prince's coronation, King Henry the Second "served his son at the table as sewer, bringing up the bore's head with trumpet's before it, according to the manner." It is probable that Chaucer alluded to the above custom in the following passage, in this Franklin's Tale:

"Janus sitteth by the fire with double berd,
And he drinketh of his bugle-horn the wine,
Before him standeth the brawne of the tusked swine."

Dugdale, speaking of the Christmas Day Ceremonies in the Inner Temple, says: "Service in the church ended, the gentlemen presently repair into the hall to breakfast, with brawn, mustard, and malmsey." At dinner, "at the first course is served in a fair and large Bores Head, upon a silver platter, with minstralsye." Orig. Jurid., p. 155. Aubrey tell us (1678) that, before the Civil Wars, it was customary in gentlemen's houses to bring in at the first dish at Christmas a boar's head, with a lemon in its mouth. Morant says that the inhabitants of Horn Church, in the Liberty of Havering, when they paid the great tithes on Christmas Day, were treated with a bull and brawn, and the boar's head was wrestled for. The ceremony was long observed, as Hearne tells us, at Queen's College, Oxford, with the improvement that the boar's head was neatly carved in wood. Ritson printed the Carol sung in bringing in the head from a collection published in 1521. Ancient Songs, ed., 1844, p. 158. In later times the words were greatly altered.

In Dekker's "Wonderful Yeare, 1603," signat. D 2, our author, speaking of persons apprehensive of catching the plague, says, "they went (most bitterly) miching and muffled up and downe, with rue and wormewood stuft into their eares and nosthrils, looking like so many bores heads stuck with branches of rosemary, to be served in for brawne at Christmas."

In the "Gothamite Tales," 1630, No. 18 is an anecdote of a Scot, who ordered of a carver a boar's head for a sign to his inn at Gotham. "Hee did come to a carver or a joyner, saying in his mother tongue: I say, speake, canst thou make me a bare-head? Yea, said the carver. Then said the Scottish-man: make me a bare-head anonst Youle, and thouse have twenty pence for thy hire. I will doe it, said the carver. On S. Andrewes day before Christmas the which is named Youle in Scotland (and in England in the North), the Scottish man did come to London for the boreshead to set it at the doore for a signe." This is alluded to in King's "Art of Cookery," p. 75:

"At Christmas time ---
Then if you won'd send up the brawner's head,
Sweet rosemary and bays around it spread;
His foaming tusks let some large pippin grace,
Or, 'midst these thundring spears an orange place;
Sauce, like himself, offensive to its foes,
The roguish mustard, dang'rous to the nose.
Sack, and the well-spic'd Hippocras the wine,
Wassail the bowl with antient ribbands fine
Porridge with plumbs, and turkeys with the chine."

Pages on this web site concerning the Boar's Head Carols:

Notes On The Boar's Head Carols

Boar's Head, W. Carew Hazlitt, Faith and Folklore. Two Volumes. London: Reeves and Turner, 1905. ("Forming A New Edition of 'The Popular Antiquities of Great Britain' By Brand and Ellis.") (this page)

The Boar's Head, William Hone, The Every Day Book, 2 Vols. London: William Tegg, 1825, 1827 (Volume 1, 1825, December 25).

The Boar's Head, Washington Irving, Old Christmas - From the Sketch Book of Washington Irving (London: Macmillan & Co., Fifth Edition, 1886), p. xx; Illustrated by Randolph Caldecott.

The Boar's Head, William Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (London: Richard Beckley, 1833).

Boars Head Carols, Henry Vizetelly, Christmas With The Poets (London: David Bogue, 1851).

Profusion of Food at Christ-tide, John Ashton, A Righte Merrie Christmasse!!! The Story of Christ-tide (London: Leadenhall Press, Ltd., 1894), Chapter XXII. Illustrator: Arthur C. Behrend.

See: Boar's Head Carol, Wikipedia.

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