The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Boar's Head Carols

"Learn Greek, and seek glory from hunting the boar."
From a song, "In Honour of the Celebration of the Boar's Head At Queen's College, Oxford."

To skip the history, click on The Carols Themselves.

 

From the earliest days as a hunter, mankind has enjoyed feasting on the wild boar and, later, its domestic cousin. These practices go back so far that they are incorporated in mythologies that come down to us from many cultures.

In the 8th Century B.C., in Homer's epic poem The Iliad, we read the story that the Greek goddess Artemis was angered when King Oeneus of Calydon failed to make a sacrifice to her. She sent a boar to Calydon, which ravaged the country (in time, it would be called the Calydonian Boar). Homer wrote:

"Where Calydon on rocky mountains stands
Once fought the Ætolian and Curetian bands;
To guard it those; to conquer, these advance;
And mutual deaths were dealt with mutual chance.
The silver Cynthia bade contention rise,
In vengeance of neglected sacrifice;
On Œneus fields she sent a monstrous boar,
That levell'd harvests, and whole forests tore:
This beast (when many a chief his tusks had slain)
Great Meleager stretch'd along the plain,
Then, for his spoils, a new debate arose,
The neighbour nations thence commencing foes.
Strong as they were, the bold Curetes fail'd,
While Meleager's thundering arm prevail'd:
Till rage at length inflamed his lofty breast
(For rage invades the wisest and the best).

Note: The Calydon region was located in Ætolia, a mountainous region of Greece on the north coast of the Gulf of Corinth. The city itself was located in west-central Greece north of the Gulf of Patras. The identity of the Curetes people is unclear; this text seems to imply that they were Ætolian neighbors of Calydon, possibly related. Following the hunt, the two peoples made war against each other; Meleager was killed during the conflict.

By the 1st Century BC, the Greek goddess Artemis had morphed into the Roman goddess Diana, and it was she who became angry when the same King Oeneus of Calydon failed to make a sacrifice to her. And it was Diana, then, who sent the boar. In Virgil's epic poem Aeneid, the reference to "Diana's ire" refers to this incident. The Roman poet wrote:

Yet Mars from earth, and for a less disgrace
Could sweep the Lapithæ, and Heaven's great Sire
Doomed ancient Calydon and Oeneus' race
To rue the vengeance of Diana's ire.

Not to be outdone, in Book VIII of The Metamorphoses, the 1st Century Roman poet Ovid tells the story in rich detail, and with this startling description of the beast:

Its eyes glowed with bloodshot fire: its neck was stiff with bristles, and the hairs, on its hide, bristled stiffly like spear-shafts: just as a palisade stands, so the hairs stood like tall spears. Hot foam flecked the broad shoulders, from its hoarse grunting. Its tusks were the size of an Indian elephant’s: lightning came from its mouth: and the leaves were scorched, by its breath.

The full account is too long to include here, but see: The Calydonian Boar Hunt by Ovid.

In Hindu mythology, the third Avatar of the Lord Vishnu was the boar Varaha. In Celtic mythology the boar was sacred to the Gallic goddess Arduinna, and in Norse mythology there is the tradition of sacrificing a boar to the goddess Freyja. Also in Norse mythology, the sun-god Frey comes riding in his chariot drawn by the boar called Gullinbursti (meaning "Gold Mane or Golden Bristles"), and in The Christmas Book: Christmas in the Olden Time, we read:

In the Eddas, we read that, in the Valhalla (the heaven of the northern nations), the gods and heroes passed their days in fighting, and their nights in feasting; during the day they were busy cutting each: other to pieces, but when the hour for their repast came, they were all made whole again, and returned to the banqueting-hall to feast. Their feast was made from the flesh of the boar, Saehrimnir, which was servsed up every day, and every day it was renewed again, so that it supplied an eternal feast. The boar was thus the sacred meat; and what more natural than that it should enter, as the chief element, into the feast of Yule?

As such, some feel that this feast as it is celebrated in England is a direct descendant of the Norse sacrifices of the boar to Freyja. Carol historian Dr. Edith Rickert, who reproduced seven Boar's Head carols in her Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400-1700, wrote: “The boar's-head carols are interesting as embodying a ceremony surviving from a pagan sacrificial feast.” Dr. Rickert is referring to the Norse had custom of sacrificing a boar to their goddess of fertility, Freyja, at her midwinter feast. Karl Blind also wrote an excellent article that touches on this: The Boar's Head Dinner At Oxford - Karl Blind, 1877.

Writing about the various boar's head ceremonies, James J. Moore observed:

... undoubtedly, the custom takes its rise from an ancient Babylonish Sun Festival, during which a wild boar was sacrificed to Adonis, or Tammuz, the Sun god, because Adonis (also known, as Nimrod) was said to have been killed by the tusk of a boar — a boar's head being always served up at the festival. Egyptians, Germans, Greeks, Indians, Massagetes, Persians, Romans, Scandinavians, &c. , alike held their sun festivals, at each of which an offering of the boar took place at Yule-tide (Yule signifying un- wheel). The festival of the Druids in honour of the Thor, was called leul or Yeol, whence the derivation Yule. Christmas was introduced as a festival so late as the fourth century — taking to a great extent the place of the Yule observance. In other words, what is still celebrated at Queen's College, Oxford, St. John's College, Cambridge (December 27), and in a few other places, is but a survival of what was formerly a regular and almost universal rite — Sun Worship at the winter solstice.

"Then the grim boar's head frowned on high,
Crested with bays and rosemary.
Who lists may in the mumming see
Traces of ancient mystery."

Source: James J. Moore, The Historical Handbook and Guide to Oxford. 2nd Edition. (Oxford: Thos. Shrimpton and Son, 1878), p. 186.

Candidly, all this seems a bit of a stretch to me. It could also be argued that these mythological stories arose as post-dinner entertainment — a plausible attempt to explain this part of the world experience — and the feasting on the wild boar would have occurred whether or not they were ensconced in mythological lore. Recent archeological excavations at Stonehenge and nearby Durrington Walls, possibly the largest Neolithic settlement in Britain, indicate that huge midwinter feasts of pigs and cows were conducted as long ago as 4,500 years ago.

Finally, the boar’s head was an important emblem, and for that reason a boar’s head was frequently used as ornament for the helmets of Northern kings and heroes whose bravery was unquestioned. We see this in Shakespeare's "Richard III" (Act III. Scene II.), when at the entrance of Stanley, Hastings say:

Come on, come on; where is your boar-spear, man?
Fear you the boar, and go so unprovided?

 

The Ancient Hunt for the Boar

From early on, the hunt for the wild boar was recognized as a very dangerous practice. Although it might not seem like it, the boar is actually a very challenging hunting target. Even though it has short legs, they are remarkably quick, and they can turn on a dime (have you ever watched a cheetah – the fastest cat on the planet – try to catch a wart hog on one of the nature channels?). In addition, the tusks on the males are kept razor sharp, and the teeth on the females and youngsters were also quite sharp. When cornered, the boars would attack both men and dogs with savagery. Females with young were especially dangerous. And while wild boars will sometimes run, but they will also turn and attack humans.

Over the centuries, a number of kings, emperors and other nobility have been killed during the hunt.

Right: "The Hunt" by Birkit Foster from Henry Vizetelly, Christmas With The Poets (6th Ed., 1872), p. 16.

A single hunter with a bow and arrow or a cross-bow can bring one down if very, very stealthy. Mounted and dismounted hunters, with specialized English hunting dogs, could chase, surround, and subdue the boar, and the hunter would either dispatch the boar with a spear (a “pig-sticker”), a sword, or a dagger – the latter as a test of a man's courage and speed.

In time, hunting the boar became something of a sport among the European and English nobility more than as as a way to put meat on the table. It was also used as an instruction to young military leaders on attacking the enemy, and what steps to take after the plan meets the subject of the attack (in military circles it's said that no plan survives first contact with the enemy). Both the boar and the hart were considered among the most prestigious forms of quarry, a "beast of venery."

The Boar In The 21st Century

Even if they weren't a sport for the nobility, farmers can attest to the need to hunt herds of wild boars, wild hogs, or wild pigs, which can strip a field of its crops in a night, and with their rooting behavior, they do great damage to the field itself, as well as suburban yards and carefully-manicured golf courses.

Shakespeare mentioned the damage that the boar can do to fields in his play  "Richard III" (Act V, Scene II.)

The wretched, bloody, and usurping boar
That spoil'd your summer fields and fruitful vines

Likewise, the second stanza of the carol of "The Boar is Dead, lo! here his head," refers to the damage inflicted by the wild boar:

"He living spoiled where good men toiled,
Which made kind Ceres sorry"—

Fyfe observed that this "is an evident allusion to the classic story of the boar that laid waste King Aeneas' fields by direction of the Goddess Diana." The story is recounted by Homer in The Iliad and by Ovid in Book VIII of Metamorphoses, The Calydonian Boar Hunt.

Fyfe also wrote the boar must at one time have been the common foe of agricultural industry, for naturalists assure us that at certain seasons "after they have assembled in herds, they are apt to sally forth from the forests, and do no small damage to the cultivated fields, both by rooting up and trampling down."

The Bible also makes reference to the damage caused by the boar. In the 80th Psalm we read: "The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it." Note that some sources erroneously cite the 18th Psalm.

Since the 1990s, the populations of wild pigs and boars have exploded in North America, Europe and Asia, and they do untold millions of dollars in damages annually. The damage in the state of Texas was recently estimated at $400 Million per year. Large beds of sea turtle eggs have been destroyed by wild pigs at Cape Canaveral in the state of Florida. In some places, wild pigs, hogs, and boars have few natural enemies, and spread without any constraints ... except man. While piglets are a food source for many predators, few will attempt to attack an adult animal whose tusks and teeth are formidable defensive and offensive weapons.

Not native to the Americas (or Australia), the large number of animals that now exist in North America are said to have stemmed from eight specially-selected pigs that were released in Florida by Columbus in 1493 during his Second Voyage. In the United States, wild pigs are interbreeding with wild boars that have escaped from wildlife reserves (or have been intentionally released), creating a bigger, more intelligent, and more aggressive hybrid. Extinct since the 13th century, escapes from wildlife reserves has allowed the European Boar to become re-established in areas of England as well. The harsh winter conditions in some areas of Russia appears to be creating a bigger, tougher Eurasian Boar, coming in at up to 700 pounds and more than a meter tall.

 

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

In the late 14th Century poem "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," there was a description of an epic, two-day boar hunt. On the first morning, the men harried the boar with their hounds, ultimately driving the boar into a place between a pool and a cliff. While the hunters were beating the bushes, "suddenly and fiercely he rushed athwart the huntsmen...." He was very old and tough, one of the greatest of boars, "and whenever he grunted many were fearful, for at the very first thrust he hurled three men to the earth and caused many to fall back without further hurt."

Then the archers shot their arrows at the boar, but at first the arrows did not pierce the hide. "But whenever the blows at all pierced his flesh, then, maddened, he burst forth on the hunters and hurt them hotly as he hied." Although the men fell back, the lord of the manor (who was the Green Knight in disguise) came forth and pursued the boar until the end of the day.

The next morning the chase resumed, and while following the boar, "the beast bit the backs of his hounds in two." Eventually, with a shower of arrows, the bowmen drove the boar into a hillock. He began to scratch at the ground and foam at the mouth and on his tusks, and the men gave him some distance because

"He had hurt so many before
That no man did desire
  To be torn by his tusks any more,
For his brain was fiercely on fire. "

The lord of the manor then arrived, and dismounting, he drew his sword and charged the boar. In turn, the boar made a great rush for him, and when they collided, the two fell into the water. But as they began to fall, the lord stabbed the boar with his sword, piercing its heart, "and the boar, snarling, gave up the struggle as he fell down in the water on his knees."

  "A hundred hounds and more
Fiercely did him seize ;
  Men brought him to the shore,
And death gave him release."

These days, wild pigs and wild boars are hunted with thermal-imaging cameras, rifles, cross-bows and bows-and-arrows, and are trapped in cages or with snares (and then either re-located or dispatched with a long-bladed knife). Dogs continue to be used as well.

 

The Boar's Head Feast in History

The boar's head feast is said to have been the special first dish at formal feasts around the year for many centuries, and not just at Christmas as was the later practice. We have the report of a feast hosted by King Henry II in June, 1170, for example, as reported by Rafael Holinshed, in his Chronicle.

King Henry II., of the House of Plantagenet, returned from Normandy in the first week of March, 1170, surviving a great storm that took many ships and over 400 lives. He then became concerned about the how to "assure the estate of the realme unto his sons."

"Therefore to preuent the chances of fortune, he determined whilest he was aliue to crowne his eldest sonne Henrie, being now of the age of 17 yeares, and so to inuest him in the kingdome by his owne act in his lifetime...."

The King then called together a parliament of lords both spiritual and temporal in London, and on St. Bartholomew's Day, he announced that his son Henry would rule jointly with him, and on June 14, 1170, the son was crowned. To celebrate, "Upon the daie of coronation, king Henrie the father serued his sonne at the table as sewer, bringing vp the boars head with trumpets before it, according to the maner." The "sewer" was the officer who placed and removed the various dishes (Holinshed's Chronicle).

Unfortunately, this story would end badly; see: The Boar's Head Feast for Young Henry, 1170 and The Crowning of Young Henry in 1170.

Left: "Serving the Boar's Head" from Henry Vizetelly, Christmas With The Poets (6th Ed., 1872), p. 17.

It is interesting to note that the boars head would be served "with trumpets before it, according to the maner." So we see that even at that early date, there was a ceremony to be followed in serving up the boar's head. Unfortunately, the precise steps of the custom at that time are not recorded except that the boar's head was served "with trumpets before it."

However, Sir Walter Scott gives us this glimpse of a yuletide celebration in this excerpt from his 1808 poem, Marmion:

The fire, with well-dried logs supplied,
Went roaring up the chimney wide:
The huge hall-table’s oaken face,
Scrubb’d till it shone, the day to grace,
Bore then upon its massive board
No mark to part the squire and lord.
Then was brought in the lusty brawn,
By old blue-coated serving-man;
Then the grim boar’s head frown’d on high,
Crested with bays and rosemary.
Well can the green-garb’d ranger tell,
How, when, and where, the monster fell;
What dogs before his death he tore,
And all the baiting of the boar.
The wassel round, in good brown bowls,
Garnish’d with ribbons, blithely trowls.
There the huge sirloin reek’d; hard by
Plum-porridge stood, and Christmas pie:
Nor fail’d old Scotland to produce,
At such high tide, her savoury goose.
Then came the merry maskers in,
And carols roar’d with blithesome din;
If unmelodious was the song,
It was a hearty note, and strong.

This is an excerpt is from the "Introduction to Canto Sixth" found with the title Heap on more wood!-the wind is chill (from Marmion by Sir Walter Scott, 1808)

There are numerous examples of the boar's head being served at the meals of the nobility in England. William Henry Husk (and others) reported that

Caption: Ushering In The Boar's Head. (Sandys, 1852)

 

Lo, now is come our joyful'st feast!
        Let every man be jolly.
    Eache roome with yvie leaves is drest,
        And every post with holly.
    Now all our neighbours' chimneys smoke,
        And Christmas blocks are burning;
    Their ovens they with bak't meats choke
        And all their spits are turning.
            Without the door let sorrow lie,
            And if, for cold, it hap to die,
            Wee'l bury 't in a Christmas pye,
            And evermore be merry.
                                 Withers, Juvenilia.

 

It is widely reported that John Aubrey, in a manuscript dated 1678, wrote: "Before the last civil wars, in gentlemen's houses at Christmas, the first diet that was brought to table was a boar's head with a lemon in his mouth." The phrase "first diet" means the first course in the dinner. It was also referred to as the "first dish" and the "first mess."

Likewise, Joshua Sylvester wrote that "The first dish that was served up in the old baronial halls was the Boar's Head, which was brought in with great state, and with minstrelsy. Between the flourishes of the heralds' trumpets, Carols were chanted forth."

Thomas Warton observed that "The boar's head soused, was antiently the first dish on Christmas day, and was carried up to the principal table in the Hall with great state and solemnity.... For this indispensable ceremony, as also for others of that season, there was a Carol, which Wynkyn de Worde has given us in [Christmasse carolles newly imprinted], as it was sung in his time, with the title, "A Carol bryngyng in the bores head." [The bores heed in hande bring I]

Richard Leighton Greene noted that "The emphasis on the place of the boar's head as the first course of a meal and on mustard as its accompaniment reflects definite points of medieval etiquette. See the 14th and 15th century bills-of-fare in Thomas Austin, ed., Two Fifteenth Century Cookery-Books."

William Sandys wrote:

Queen’s College, Oxford, is famed for its Boar’s Head Carol, "Caput apri defero," &c. and the accompanying ceremony on introducing the head. [See The Boar's Head in Hand Bear I] The boar’s head, with a lemon in his mouth, continued long after this to be the first dish at Christmas in great houses, nor is the practice yet entirely obsolete, though in most cases brawn is now substituted for it, the former being rather an expensive dainty, for a dainty it is, experto crede. Brawn is a dish of great antiquity, and may be found in most of the old bills of fare, for coronation, and other great feasts. (Sandys, 1833)

Note: "experto crede" is translated as "Believe one who has had experience in the matter." One reason that the  boar's head was "an expensive dainty" was because the wild boar became extinct in England in the 13th century. Thus, if a boar's head was needed, it had to come from the continent, otherwise, the head of a domestic pig was used instead. Finally, "brawn" is pig's brain that is cooked and pressed into a pot with jelly. It is also called "head cheese" or "souse." Where we see a "soused boar's head" we would see brawn pressed into the shape of a boar's head.  The recipes for brawn vary by country. Mr. Sandys added that "Brawn, mustard, and malmsey, were directed for breakfast at Christmas during Queen Elizabeth’s reign; and Dugdale, in his account of the Inner Temple revels of the same age, states the same directions for that Society."

In time, the boar's head was the first course only during feasts conducted during the Christmas-tide (broadly, from Christmas Day to Candlemas, February 2nd, also celebrated as the Purification of Our Lady). In that respect, Henry Vizetelly gives us this poem at the beginning of his discussion of the Boar's Head Carols:

"The season of the Boar is from the Nativity
Till the Purification of our Lady so free,
For at the nativity of our Lady sweet,
He may find where he goeth under his feet,
Both in woods and fields, corn and other fruit,
When he after food maketh any suit:
Crabs and oak corns and nuts there they grow,
Haws and hips and other things enow,
That till the Purification lasteth as ye see,
And maketh the boar in season to be;
For while that fruit may last,
His time is never past."
                            
Book of St. Albans (1460)

In short, hunting season ("the season of the boar") was from December 25 to February 2, a little later than in earlier centuries, when the hunting season for boars was in the fall during the fall, which was also that time of year when female boars were said to come into season, and when male boars were at their most aggressive.

So we see that it was the royals and the nobility that hunted the boar and sat at the table where the boar's head was served. But what about the commoners? It is likely that they did not engage in boar hunts themselves, and therefore did not partake of the flesh of the wild boar.

John Ashton noted: "Beef may be said to be the staple flesh of England, and is procurable by every one except the very poorest, whilst it is not given to all to obtain the lordly boar's head, which used to be an indispensable adjunct to the Christmas feast." Why? From the time of William the Conqueror (reigning from 1066 until his death in 1087),  hunting in the forests was reserved to the King or other nobles (upon payment of a fee). The monarch owned the forest, as were many of the animals in the forest (including the red deer, the boar, the hart, the wolf, and others). Hunting without permission was a serious offense; I've read that offenders would either have their hands struck off, or would be blinded in both eyes. Please note that the laws concerning royal forests were complicated, often changing, and not always enforced.

The second reason that commoners didn't partake of the boar's head feast is explained by John Ashton: "... wild boars only exist in England either in zoological gardens or in a few parks — notably Windsor — in a semi-domesticated state." Again, it is reported that the boar became extinct in England in the 13th century (and the wolf became extinct in the 15th century). Of course, while the wild boar was off-limits, the domestic pig was widely available as the source for a pork roast, ham, bacon, ribs and other delicacies.

 

The Tavern Of The Same Name

Although the commoner couldn't hunt the boar, the boar was the name sake for many taverns and inns in England, the most famous of which was the Boar's Head Tavern in East Cheap ("Cheap" = Market); there was another "Boar's Head" in Southwark, and one in Old Fish Street. A well-known landmark that was established before 1537, the Boar's Head Tavern stood on the north side of Eastcheap, between Small Alley and St. Michael's Lane, the back windows looking out on the churchyard of St Michael, Crooked Lane, where one of its waiters was buried, namely "... Robert Preston, late drawer at the 'Boar's Head Tavern,' Great Eastcheap, who departed this life March 16, Anno Domini 1730, aged twenty-seven years." The Tavern was rebuilt after the Great Fire of 1666, and continued operation until some point in the late 18th Century. What remained of the building was demolished in 1831.

After the Great Fire, a mound of rubbish was found at Whitechapel that contained a carved boxwood bas-relief boar's head, set in a circular frame formed by two boars' tusks, mounted and united with silver. The inscription on the back: "William Brooke, Landlord of the Bore's Hedde, Estchepe, 1566." On January 27, 1855, it was sold at Christie and Manson's, and was bought by Mr. Halliwell.

The tavern was the site of many celebrations recounted by Shakespeare, first mentioned in Richard II., and then the scenes of the revels of Falstaff and Henry, Prince of Wales, in "The History of Henry IV.," Part 1 (Act II. Scene 4, and Act III. Scene 3) and Part 2 (Act II. Scene 4), including Hostess Quickly.

 Left: Henry IV, First Part, in the Boar's Head Tavern. Fastaff, Poins and Henry IV in the Boar's Head Tavern, Fastaff throwing his left arm up to his chin as he laughs, glancing at Henry whom he had not recognised and who taps on the shoulder; illustration to 'Henry IV, part I' in Lowndes' edition of Shakespeare's plays; etched state. 1783. In the British Museum.

Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343 – 25 October 1400) alluded to the meal in the following passage, in his 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."

Note: A "franklinwas a medieval landowner.

The Boar's Head Tavern was the subject of numerous articles and stories, including mention by Washington Irving, The Boar's Head Tavern, East Cheap, Oliver Goldsmith, A Reverie At The Boar's Head Tavern, Eastcheap, and James Boswell, Boswell, Johnson, and the Boar's Head Tavern. It needs to be remembered that the Tavern of Irving, Goldsmith, and Boswell was not the Tavern of Shakespeare. As noted above, the original Tavern was completely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666; on that site another Boar's Head Tavern was constructed, whose sign, cut in stone and dated 1668, is (or was) in the Guildhall Museum in London.

Right: The Sign of the "New" Boar's Head Tavern, erected in 1668.

It's also important to note that this tavern is not the same as the Boar's Head Inn at Southwark owned by Sir John Fastolf, whose name is similar to the fictional character in Shakespeare's play.

 

Boar's Head Carols in the Middle Ages

In the 1500s, five different Boar's Head carols appeared in manuscripts, or in print (from manuscripts). These carols show an interesting variety in their approach to the head and the hunt. They are:

1. The Boar's Head In Hand Bring I. Earliest Sources: Wynkyn de Worde, 1521, and Richard Hill, early 16th century, with numerous variants.

2. The Boar's Head, That We Bring Here. Earliest Source: "Ritson's Manuscript," which is now housed in the British Library, "Addit. MS. 5665."

3. The Boar Is Dead. Earliest Source: The Christmas Prince celebration at St. John the Baptist's College, Oxford, 1607.

4. At The Beginning Of The Meat. Earliest Source: Thomas Wright, Songs and Carols Now First Printed From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century, 1847. The manuscript is in the Bodleian Library, MS. Eng. poet e 1.

5. Tidings I Bring You For To Tell. Earliest Source: Thomas Wright, Songs and Carols Now First Printed From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century, 1847.

The first song on this list shows the evolutionary process of these carols that we have often seen in other carols and hymns. It would also be the song most often written about and performed during the holidays. As such, it will dominate this introduction. However, to the extent possible, the history of each of these carols will be be explored, often in the notes to the various texts.

The performance of these songs in history are not necessarily mutually exclusive. One source wrote that at the bringing in of the boar's head, four different boar's head songs were performed.

Editor's Note: I've lost the source for this information. Sorry. I'll look through the sources I've collected. Please check back.

We know that a musician in the 15th century had two of these carols in his repertoire, "At The Begynnyng Of The Mete" and "Tydynges I Bryng 3ow For To Tell." These are found in the manuscript reproduced in Thomas Wright's Songs and Carols Now First Printed From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century (1847).

Sheet music to these carols, where available, has been consolidated on this page, Sheet Music to the Boar's Head Carols.

William Wallace Fyfe, writing in the 1860s, observed that "The places where the Christmas Boar's Head ceremony is specially observed, by bringing in the gigantic dish in procession, with song and chorus, on Christmas Day, are Queen's College, Oxford, St. John's College, Cambridge, and the Inner Temple, London." Far from dying out, the custom of observing the bringing in of the boar's head is widely celebrated today.

 

The Boar's Head Carol of 1521.

In 1521, English printer Wynkyn de Worde published a collection of Christmas carols, his Christmasse Carolles Newely Enprinted. Only a single page survives, and no earlier version is known. Yet, this would be the source of the mostly widely performed of the five families of Boar's Head carols: The bores heed in hande bring I. We can see that there is a scholarly background to this carol because of several Latin phrases that occur in the otherwise English text of this carol (this class of carols is termed "macaronic"). It's "cousin" carol was written in a "common-place book" (a journal in manuscript form) by London grocer Richard Hill: The Boris Hed In Hondis I Brynge-Hill. Two of the three verses are the same, indicating that this carol had much earlier roots. Because it was lost for several centuries, it didn't significantly influence the evolution of the family.

Here's the version printed by Wynkyn de Worde:

Caput apri differo
Reddens laudens domino.

The bores heed in hande bring I
With garlans gay and rosemary
I pray you all synge merely
  Qui estis in conuiuio

The bores heed I vnderstande
Is the thefe seruyce in this lande
Loke where euer it be fande
  Seruite cum cantico.

Be gladde lordes bothe more & lasse
For this hath ordeyned our stewarde
To chere you all this christmasse
The bores heed with mustarde.

Note that the structure of the third verse differs from the first two verses.

The fragment was found by antiquarian Thomas Hearne (July 1678 – 10 June 1735); on his death, part of Hearne's library was purchased by Dr. Richard Rawlinson who later bequeathed it to the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Hearne wrote about his finding and printing of this carol:

"I will beg leave here ... to give an exact copy of the CHRISTMAS CAROL upon the Boar's Head, ... as I have it in an old fragment ... of the Christmas Carols printed by Wynkyn de Worde, ...  by which it will be perceived how much the said carol is altered, as it is sung in some places even now [i.e., 1719, Queen's College], from what it was at first [1521].

It is the last thing, it seems, of the book (which I never yet saw entire), and at the same time I think it proper also to add to the printer's conclusion, for this reason, at least, that such as write about our first printers, may have some notice of the date of this book, and the exact place where printed, provided they cannot be able to meet with it, as I believe they will find it pretty difficult to do, it being much laid aside, about the time that some of David's Psalms came to be used in its stead."

This description is found in Hearne's notes ("Notæ et Spicilegium") to his Guilielmi Neubrigensis Historia, Volume 3 of 3 volumes (1719), p. 744-5  (a copy is available at the Bavarian State Library, Guilielmi Neubrigensis Historia); this is an edition of William of Newbury's History of English Affairs (1197). William of Newbury  (1136?–1198?), was a 12th-century English historian and Augustinian canon. Source: Thomas Frognall Dibdin, Typographical Antiquities. Vol. II. (London: William Miller, 1812), pp. 250-251, and others. For the complete account by Hearne, see: Thomas Hearne's Notae Re The Boar's Head Carol. An English translation of the History of English Affairs is available at Fordham University: History of English Affairs-Book 1.

Warton observed that "These were festal chansons for enlivening the merriments of the Christmas celebrity: and not such religious songs as are current at this day [1781] with the common people under the same title, and which were substituted by those enemies of innocent and useful mirth, the Puritans." He also noted that "this Carol, yet with many innovations, is retained in Queen's College, Oxford, and still sung in that college, somewhat altered, to the common chant of the prose version of the Psalms."

According to Ritson, the tune that was used was one that was found in a volume compiled by William Slatyer in 1630, “Certain of David's Psalms Intended For Christmas Carolls Fitted to the Most Common But Solempne Tunes, Every Where Familiarly Used." I have been unable to locate a copy on-line.

It's "cousin" carol was written in a "common-place book" (a journal in manuscript form) by London grocer Richard Hill, The Boris Hed In Hondis I Brynge, in the early 1600s. Two of the three verses are the same, indicating that this carol had much earlier roots. Because it was lost for several centuries, Hill's carol didn't significantly influence the evolution of the family.

Richard Leighton Greene wrote that the Hill version was probably earlier than this version from Wynkyn de Worde. In his A Selection of English Carols, he wrote:

The version here printed [by Hill] of this best known of the boar's head carols is probably earlier in the form of its text than the version printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1521, even though it may have been written later in Richard Hill's MS.

Greene doesn't say why he believes that this is the earlier form of this carol, but when we look at the structure of the two carols, the reason becomes evident. In Hill's carol, all three verses have the same structure: three English lines and a fourth Latin line, followed by a two-line Latin burden. However, in Wynkyn de Worde's carol, the structure has been changed. Only the first two verses are of the same structure as Hill's, but the third verse has been changed to four English lines, and the Burden is omitted. Thus, it would seem that Hill's is older, and may be either the original carol or a direct descendant.

Greene also noted:

The last stanza marks the ceremonial serving of the boar's head as a custom confined to the Christmas season. The 'byrdes syngynge' of line 2 may mean an actual garnishing of the charger with captive live birds, a procedure not too elaborate for a Tudor fest. Source: Richard Leighton Greene, A Selection of English Carols (Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1962), Carol 32, p. 91-2.

The lyrics continued to evolve, and by 1660 it had been adopted and modified for use at Queen's College, Oxford. That version would continue to evolve, eventually becoming the carol annually sung on a Saturday before Christmas Day at Queen's and many other places where the custom of bringing the boar's head to table continues to this day.

 

The Boar's Head Feast before the Christmas Prince, 1607

Source of the following text is Griffin Higgs, An account of the Christmas prince: as it was exhibited in the University of Oxford, in the year 1607. Reprinted from the original manuscript at St. John's College, University of Oxford, by Philip Bliss, D.D., Volume 7 of Miscellanea antiqua anglicana. (London: T. Bensley and Son for Robert Triphook, 1816), pp. 23-24. Only 250 copies were initially printed.

The Holy-Dayes beinge now at hand, his priuye-chamb was prouided and furnisht, wherein a chayre of state was placed vpon a carpett wth a cloth of state hangde ouer it, newly made for ye same purpose.

On Christsmas day in ye morninge he was attended (p. 24) on to prayers by ye whole companye of ye Bacchelours, and some others of his Gentlemen Vshers, bare before him. At diner beinge sett downe in ye Hall at ye high table in ye Vice Praesident's place (for ye President himself was then allso p'sent) hee was serued wth 20 dishes to a messe, all wch were brought in by Gentlemen of ye Howse attired in his Guard's coats, vshered in by ye Comptroller, and other Officers of ye Hall. The first messe was a Boar's Head, wch wch carried by ye tallest and lustiest of all ye Guard, before whom (as attendants) wente first, one attired in a horseman's coate, wth a Boars-speare in his hande, next to him an other Huntsman in greene, wth a bloody faucion drawne; next to him 2 Pages in tafatye sarcenet, each of yem wth a messe of mustard; next to whome came hee yt carried ye Boares-head crost wth a greene silke Scarfe, by wch hung wch empty Scabbard of ye faulcion wch was carried before him. As yei entred ye Hall, He sange this Christmas Caroll, ye three last verses of euerie Staffe beinge repeated after him by ye whole companye:

1. The Boare is dead,
Loe, heare is his head,
What man could haue done more
then his head of to strike,
Meleager like,
And bringe it as I doe before?

2. He liuinge spoyled
Where good men toyled,
Which made kinde Ceres sorrye;
But now dead and drawne,
Is very good brawne,
And wee haue brought it for yu

3. Then sett downe ye Swineyard,
The foe to ye Vineyard
Lett Bacchus crowne his fall,
Lett this Boares-head and mustard
Stand for Pigg, Goose & Custard,
And so yu are wellcome all.

Editor's Note: An account of the Christmas Prince of Grays Inn, in 1594, was printed in 1688 with the title of the "Gesta Grayorum." It contained accounts of various feasts and masks, but no feast was described as containing the head of a boar (and there were no bills-of-fare).

 

The Origin of the Boar's Head Feast at Queen's College

Throughout the world, the bringing in of the boar's head is the continuation of a ceremony that predates the ceremony observed by King Henry II. in 1170 nearly 850 years ago. However, at one location, an additional reason for this celebration is remembered.

For over 600 years, a Boar's Head Feast has been celebrated at Queen's College, Oxford. It is believed that some type of ceremony has been conducted since the college was established in 1340, just 170 years after the ceremony conducted by King Henry II. in 1170. Unlike other such feasts, however, there is a legendary account of the reason for the feast at this College.

According to a "now-lost manuscript," an Oxford scholar (a taberdar) named John Copcot of Queen's College was walking, in cap and gown, from the direction of Oxford through the Shotover Forest (possibly from "Chateau Vert," the Green Castle) on his way to St. Giles Church in Horspath village (see above) in order to attend Mass on Christmas morning, circa 1376. The old road from Oxford to London — said originally to be a horse path — from which you diverge a little to the south to reach Horspath, runs over Shotover Common, which is still an open space on relatively high ground (or was the case when Eric Routley penned this sentence in the 1950s).

The scholar, deeply immersed in his studies — in Greek — of the great philosopher Aristotle* took little heed of his surroundings, until suddenly he looked up to see a wild boar running in the attack towards him with its mouth wide open, bristling with sharp teeth!

* There is some dispute as to which of Aristotle's volumes were being studied by Copcot. Some say, generically, "Philosophy," although others claim it was "Logic" and still others "Ethics." "Logic" has the lead if this excerpt from a song in honor of the boar's head is correct: "No Armour but Logic; by which we may find / That Logic's the Bulwark of Body and Mind."  The full poem is reproduced in full below. As it turns out, Copcot should have been studying Dame Juliana Barne's "The Boke of Huntynge" printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1496.

As the furious beast charged, the lad — fortunately, very courageously, and with a happy presence of mind — the lad rammed his volume into the open jaws of the beast, the scholar fairly choking the savage with the sage, while exclaiming "Swallow that, if you can!" (or, as they say at Oglethorpe University ... in Greek ... Wisdom conquers even the treacherous beast.”)

"Eheu, Graecum est!" – "Alas, it is Greek!" – croaked the boar as it expired, the foam dripping from his tusks over the indigestible philosopher – the triumphant victory of the bookish over the brutish.

Note: there is a similar phrase in Latin: "Graecum est; non legitur" ("it is Greek, [therefore] it cannot be read").

With superb nonchalance, Copcot severed the head from the body of the beast, with the Grecian tome intact in the beast's jaws. He thrust the boar's head on the tip of his spear and carried it to the church, where he left the beast's head on the porch during the service. After Mass, the student carried the boar's head ... in triumph ... back to Queen's College, where it was roasted — book and all — and consumed at dinner on Christmas Day. It is said that each person who ate the flesh of the boar grew wiser with each bite.

Note: Until now, no one has asked why the student bested the boar with a book, rather than with his spear. Evidently that is a story for another time.

Hold the Presses! This issue was possibly resolved in the account by Nathan Boughton Warren, The Holidays: Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide; together with the May-day (H. B. Nims and company, 1876), Footnote 1, p. 114:

Taberdars are officers peculiar (it is said) to Queen's College ; their duties appertained to the refectorium, or dining-hall. One of these students in office, in earlier centuries, was returning home through Shotover Forest, after a day spent in recreation, and for safety against wild things, he carried a spear. Jogging homeward leisurely, it pleased him to lull the distance with a page or two of the MS. Aristotle, which he had slung in the folds of his vestment. Thus occupied, and all insecure from foes, biped or quadruped, he was terrified to find that a savage boar was at that instant thrusting itself offensively in his path. The scholar suddenly halted. The boar did likewise. The scholar extended his jaws to raise an alarming cry, and the boar followed the example. Pursuing his advantage, — the man who could study Aristotle in those days was not likely to be blamed for stupidity, — as quick as speech the taberdar thrust the volume, vellum, brass, and all, into the animal's throat, and then finished the business with the spear, whilst his opponent was digesting his classics. [Emphasis added]

In his entry for August 26, 1823, George Valentine Cox, in his Recollections of Oxford, observed that "The Oxford Herald ... gave a long poem 'On the Boar of Shotover,' from a pretended old MS. of the seventeenth century. The student, with his Aristotle in his hand, sees the boar approach with open mouth:—"

'He seiz'd the clos'd volume, text, comment, and note,
     And thrust it afar down his ravening throat!
The wild monster started, and tore up the ground,
     Shriek'd, panted, and toss'd the white venom around.—
His bowels within him, they heav'd and they heav'd!,
     He groan'd and he retch'd, and he yell'd, and he strain'd;
Recoil'd, stretch'd his jaws, yet was nothing reliev'd,
     The obstruction still firm in his thorax remain'd,' &c. &c.

A footnote to this excerpt by Cox:

All this amplification, clever as it is, falls short of the old, simple way of telling the story, with its touching climax : Swallow that, if you can, (cried the unarmed student, thrusting his Aristotle down the boar's throat). Graecum est, cried the boar, and expired, foaming at the mouth ; for he found Aristotle (as many other throats had done and will do) too hard for him !

Sadly, I have been unable to locate the entire poem. Perhaps some budding antiquarian at Oxford can search the archives and bless humanity with this invaluable source of history.

To this day, the youth's act of valor is celebrated in song at the Bringing In Of The Boar's Head on Christmas Day dinner at Queen's College ... a tradition that, it is said, has continued since the founding of the college in 1340, although records are sketchy to the point of nonexistence (which is evidenced by the excessive use of the adjective in the many accounts of this feat in the volumes of yore).

Routley reminds us that boars were a natural hazard in those parts at that time, as we remember from the name of Boar's Hill, which stands over against Shotover on the other side of the Isis River.

In honour of this miraculous escape, it is said, a bust of Aristotle adorns the large fireplace in the College Hall to this day. In the common-room gallery of the College, there is an oil-painting of the brave young scholar, with a boar's head transfixed on a spear, and the inscription beneath:— "COPCOT." Likewise, St. Giles Church in nearby Horspath has a window in which a man in the garb of an apostle holds a spear on which a boar's head is impaled — with the name "Copcot" written below (see right. Nave, north window, made by William Price of York, 1740, given to the St. Giles Church by Magdalen College.).

In The Historical Handbook and Guide to Oxford, James J. Moore wrote that:

To celebrate the traditional escape of the student from the savage onslaught of the boar the custom at Queen's College was introduced. A boar's head forms the cognisance of the Gordon, Chetwode, and Nigel families, and members of each family have matriculated at Queen's College, and the legend might have been founded on the fact that a member of the Gordon family slew a wild boar in Huntley Wood, 1193, in self-defence.

Note: This account was shamelessly plagiarized with direct quotes from the following sources:

I also profited from published quotations (by others) from:

To increase the readability of the above text, I have dispensed with the usual quotation marks.

 

At the Queen's College, 1660

The following account was found in a manuscript in the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford, signed by the noted antiquary Anthony à Wood. It was "printed on a sheet for private distribution" by Dr. Philip Bliss of Oxford, and contained two versions of the boar's head carol, notes by Wood, and notes by Thomas Baskerville from a manuscript owned by Rawlinson. It was later reproduced, without attribution, in Thomas Dibdin's Typographical Antiquities (London: For William Miller by W. Bulmer and Co., 1812), between pages 252 and 253. The first text was that from antiquarian Anthony à Wood:

THE BOAR'S HEAD SONG.

The Boares head in hand bear I,
Bedeck'd with bays and rose-mary,
And I pray you, masters, be merry
Quot* estis in convivio;

Chorus:
Caput Apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino.

The Boares head as I vnderstand
Is the brauest dish in all the land,
Being thus bedeck'd with a gay garland;
Let vs servire cantico;

Chorus:
Caput Apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino.

Our Steward hath provided this
In honour of the King of Bliss,
Which on this day to be served is
In Reginensi atrio;

Chorus:
Caput Apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino.

It must be remembered that at Queens Coll. Oxon. is every year a boars head provided by the manciple against Christmas-day.

This boar's head, being boyld or roasted, is layd in a great charger covered with a garland of bays or laurell as broad at bottome as the brimmes of the charger.

When the first course is served up in the refectory on Christmas-day in the said College, the manciple brings the said Boars head from the kitchen up to the high table, accompanied with one of the Tabitters (Taberders) who lays his hand on the charger.

The Taberder sings the aforesaid song, and when they come to the Chorus, all the members that are in the refectory joyne togeather and sing it.

This is an antient custome, as old as tis thought as the College it selfe; but no reason to be given for it.

ANT. A WOOD
1660.
From a MS. in the Ashmole Museum.

* Note: In the original, the word is "quotquot" — evidently a duplication of one word. The same lyrics, without this duplication, are found in John Aubrey, Remaines of Gentilisme And Judaismme, 1686-87. Edited and Annotated by James Britten. (London: W. Satchell, Peyton, and Co., 1881), p. 142. This is the first publication of the complete Landsdowne MSS 231, written by Aubrey between 1686 and 1687.

This same document by Dr. Bliss also quoted from a manuscript formerly owned by Richard Rawlinson. The document, "Memoirs of the Family of Baskerville," gives us this account:

My worthy friend Dr. Hide, one of this society, (Queens) 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 Queen's Colledge on Christmas day at the beginning of dinner is kept an ancient custome of singing up the Boar's head, which perhaps formerly might be a real head, but now is a wooden head dress'd with Bayes and Rosemary, and before the 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 the Butler or any body who hath a tolerable good voice, and is strong enough to bear the weight of the head at his arme's end. But the Chorus is sung by all in the hall, who have a mind to stretch their voices. But the Taberders or Foundation Batchelors who are chiefly expected to sing it, do exercise it for above a week before, in the evening altogether in a Chamber, for which they are allow'd at such times some Beer by the Colledge. And that is the only song which is ever allowed to be sung alowd in the College, it being otherwise an offence to sing lowd. The song consists of 3 stanzas and is accordingly by parts sung at 3 several stations in the hall, viz. at the entrance, at the middle, and at or neer to the high Table.

An identical account was found in Thomas Baskerville's Account of Oxford, 1683-1686, published in 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.

"Dr. Hide" is Thomas Hyde, M.A., D.D., (1636–1703). 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.

Following the account given by Dr. Hyde, Dr. Bliss gave the version of the boar's head carol first printed by Wynkyn de Worde, The bores heed in hande bring I.

Finally, we have this account recorded by W. M. Wade, Walks in Oxford:

Every Christmas day this refectory witnesses the observance of an ancient custom, retained perhaps in no other part of the kingdom, although once very common on great festival days, that of bringing up a boar's head in great state to the table. Of the manner in which the ceremony is conducted at Queen's, the following account is given by [John] Aubrey, in one of his manuscripts reposited in the Ashmolean Museum [circa 1678].

"The boar's head being boiled or roasted, is laid in a great charger, covered with a garland of hays or laurel. When the first course is served up in the refectory on Christmas-day, the manciple brings the said boar's head from the kitchen up to the high table, accompanied by one of the Taberdars, who lays his hand on the charger. "The Taberdar sings the following song, and when he comes to the chorus, all the Scholars that are in the refectory join together and sing it:

The boar's head in hand bear I,
Bedecked with bays and rosemary;
And I pray you masters merry be,
…..Quot estis in convivio.
Chorus. Caput Apri defero,
Reddens laudes Domino.

Etc., etc.

 

Dibdin's Curiosity and Irving's Recreation in the 19th Century

The Rev. Thomas Dibdin was a man with a question. While he was working an expansion of Joseph Ames' Typographical Antiquities he encountered a scathing review by Joseph Ritson of Thomas Warton's History of English Poetry. See: Ritson's Observations on Warton's History of English Poetry.

Rev. Dibdin read that this carol, according to Warton, with many alterations, is still sung at Queen's College in Oxford, but he knew of no collection in which a copy of these "ancient strains" could be found. Rev. Dibdin recounts what happened next:

"Being anxious to obtain a correct copy of this ballad, as I had myself heard it sung in the hall of Queen's College, I wrote to the Reverend Mr. [Robert] Dickinson, tutor of the College, to favour me with an account of it: his answer, which may gratify the curious, is here subjoined.

Queen's College, June 7th, 1811.

Dear Sir,

I have much pleasure in transmitting you a copy of the old Boar's Head Song, as it has been sung in our College-Hall every Christmas-day, within my remembrance. There are some barbarisms in it, which seem to betoken its antiquity. It is sung to the common chaunt of the prose version of the Psalms in Cathedrals; at least, whenever I have attended the service at Magdalen or New College Chapels, I have heard the Boar's Head strain continually recurring in the Psalms.

believe me very sincerely your's,

R. DICKINSON.

Immediately below his signature, Rev. Dickinson gave the words of the carol as sung in 1811:

The Boar's head in hand bear I,
Bedeck'd with bays and rosemary;
And I pray you, my masters, be merry,
Quot estis in convivio.

Caput Apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino.

The Boar's head, as I understand,
Is the rarest dish in all this land,
Which thus bedeck'd with a gay garland
Let us servire Cantico.

Caput Apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino.

Our Steward hath provided this
In honour of the King of Bliss;
Which on this day to be served is
In Reginensi Atrio.

Caput Apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino.

See: The Boar's Head in Hand Bear I - Queen's College 1811. Source: Joseph Ames, Typographical antiquities: an historical account of printing in England, with some memoirs of our antient printers, and a register of the books printed by them, from 1471 to 1600, with an appendix concerning printing in Scotland and Ireland. Greatly enlarged by Rev. Thomas Frognall Dibdin. Volume II. (London: For William Miller by W. Bulmer and Co., 1812), pp. 250-253.

An authentic copy of the Psalms tune reference above is said to have been reproduced by William Wallace Fyfe, Christmas: It's Customs And Carols (London: James Blackwood, 1863), pp. 175-176. See: The Boar's Head In Hand Bear I.

In 1820, Washington Irving gave us an example of the ceremony that he experienced at "Bracebridge Hall" in his account from "Old Christmas" one of the chapters in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon. He introduced the dinner to his readers by observing "We were ushered into this banqueting scene with the sound of minstrelsy, the old harper being seated on a stool beside the fireplace and twanging his instrument with a vast deal more power than melody." After an observation on the ivy and holly clad decorations, he continued:

The parson said grace, which was not a short familiar one, such as is commonly addressed to the Deity in these unceremonious days, but a long, courtly, well-worded one of the ancient school. There was now a pause, as if something was expected, when suddenly the butler entered the hall with some degree of bustle: he was attended by a servant on each side with a large wax-light, and bore a silver dish on which was an enormous pig's head decorated with rosemary, with a lemon in its mouth, which was placed with great formality at the head of the table. The moment this pageant made its appearance the harper struck up a flourish; at the conclusion of which the young Oxonian, on receiving a hint from the squire, gave, with an air of the most comic gravity, an old carol, the first verse of which was as follows

        Caput apri defero
        Reddens laudes Domino.
    The boar's head in hand bring I,
    With garlands gay and rosemary.
    I pray you all synge merily
        Qui estis in convivio.

Though prepared to witness many of these little eccentricities, from being apprised of the peculiar hobby of mine host, yet I confess the parade with which so odd a dish was introduced somewhat perplexed me, until I gathered from the conversation of the squire and the parson that it was meant to represent the bringing in of the boar's head, a dish formerly served up with much ceremony and the sound of minstrelsy and song at great tables on Christmas Day. "I like the old custom," said the squire, "not merely because it is stately and pleasing in itself, but because it was observed at the college at Oxford at which I was educated. When I hear the old song chanted it brings to mind the time when I was young and gamesome, and the noble old college hall, and my fellow-students loitering about in their black gowns; many of whom, poor lads! are now in their graves."

In a footnote, Irving gave the full song, identical to that provided to Rev. Dibdin by Rev. Dickinson in 1811 (above). See "The Boar's Head" from Old Christmas by Irving.

In 1875 there was an inquiry posted in the English periodical Notes and Queries (5th S. iii. 156) about Irving's account. A few months earlier, there had been a posting that contained Wynkyn de Worde's original carol. After posting the full carol given by Irving, the individual asked "Which is correct?"

A third individual came to the rescue:

This carol ... is still sung on Christmas Day at the bringing in of the boar's head at Queen's College, Oxford. More than twenty years have passed since, in my undergraduate days, I witnessed the ceremony, and the carol was on that occasion sung by the present Archbishop of York, at that time a fellow of the college. A lemon was placed in the mouth of the boar, which was claimed by the "solo" singer as his perquisite, and the charger on which the boar's head was placed was held up on high by four tall serving-men of the college, the singer who preceded it touching it with his hands at the words, "the boar's head in hand bear I."

For the full account from Notes and Queries, see Ye Boare's Head - 1875.

In 1902, George Herman Ellwanger gave a description of the presentation that is very much consistent with these, but also added that "In Scotland it was sometimes brought to table surrounded by banners displaying the colours and achievements of the baron at whose board it was served." See: George Herman Ellwanger, The Pleasures of the Table: An Account of Gastronomy from Ancient Days to Present Times. (New York: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1902), p. 92.

James J. Moore, in the second edition of Shrimpton's The Historical Handbook and Guide to Oxford (1878) tells us that four versions of the carol are given, the first being "The Original Carole" from "Christmasse Carolles newly emprynted at London in ye flete strete, at ye sygne of ye Sonne, by Wynkyn de Worde. The yere of our Lorde, m.d.xxi, " The bores heed in hande bring I. The second is the Carol used at the present time (1878), The Boar's Head in Hand Bear I. The third, he writes, is very rare, from the Balliol MSS., No. 354, The Boris Hed In Hondis I Brynge. The fourth version "is yet more ancient" — from the Porkington MSS., a fifteenth-century collection. It commences—"Hey, hey, hey, hey, the borrys hede is army'd gaye:" The boris hede in hond I bryng.

 

The Boar's Head Feast at Queen's College  in the 20th Century

In 1921, John Richard Magrath published this account of the Feast at Queen's College:

Before dinner on Christmas Day the Boar's Head is brought in procession into the College Hall.

At the hour appointed the Provost and Fellows in residence, with any guests who may have been invited, enter the hall and arrange themselves on the east side of the high table facing the door. Grace before meat is said and the trumpet sounded in each quadrangle as a summons to dinner.

The procession then enters the hall. The head, borne on the silver basin, presented by Sir Joseph Williamson in 1668, is carried by four servants, conducted by the chief singer, generally a member of the College, and followed by the choristers under the direction of the College organist. As the procession begins to move from the cloister into the hall the choir sings the refrain —

Chorus. Caput apri defero, Reddens laudes Domino.

Thrice the procession halts in its progress up the hall while the chief singer delivers one of the verses of the carol

The Boar's head in hand bear I
Bedeck'd with bays and rosemary.
And I pray you, masters, be merry,
Quot estis in convivio.

The Boar's head, as I understand,
Is the bravest dish in all the land,
When thus bedeck'd with a gay garland.
Let us
servire cantico.

Our steward hath provided this,
In honour of the King of Bliss,
Which on this day to be served is,
In reginensi Atrio.

Between each verse the procession moves forward, the choir singing the refrain, and the fourth repetition of it brings the head up to the dais, where it is placed upon the table in front of the Provost.

The chief singer is presented by the Provost with the orange which has till then been between the front teeth of the boar ; and the bays, rosemary, and holly, of which some of the sprigs are gilt, are distributed among the spectators.

The head, weighing from 70 to 90 pounds, is that of a domestic boar-pig. The neighbouring villages sometimes vie with one another which shall produce the biggest head. The late Mr. Furneaux described to me the excitement among his villagers of Heyford Purcell when they thought they had the chance of producing the biggest head. On one occasion the head was so big that the tissues were not strong enough to hold the fat together, and it fell to pieces in the cooking; and a smaller head had to be substituted at the last minute. One year a wild boar's head from the Ardennes, presented by Mr. (now Dr.) Alfred Butler of Brasenose was served up with the other head, but it was not large enough to be carried in procession.

It appears that in the latter half of the seventeenth century a wooden boar's head was carried in procession. (See ii. 38 and n. 1 there.)

The traditional account of the origin of the ceremony is that it commemorates the slaying of a boar in the Middle Ages by a student of the College. He was wandering, Copcot was his name, in the forest of Shotover, reading Aristotle, when a boar attacked him. He rammed his book down the throat of the animal saying 'Græcum est' and the boar expired. The church at Horspath has a window in which a middle-aged man in the garb of an apostle holds a spear on which a boar's head is impaled with the name copcot below. In the common-room gallery of the College is an oil-painting of the same.

Karl Blind, who was present at the dinner one Christmas, as the guest of the College, traces the ceremony back, in a paper he wrote after his visit, to a festival of sun-worshippers sacrificing in symbol the black cloud which threatened to devour their god. See: The Boar's Head Dinner At Oxford - Karl Blind, 1877.

Source: John Richard Magrath, The Queen's College. Volume II. (1646-1877) (Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1921), pp. 240-242.

On page 38, Magrath wrote that there was, for a time, a wooden effigy of a head served up at Christmas in lieu of the actual head of a boar. He cited two sources from the late 1600s that stated that an artificial, wooden head was brought out on Christmas Day. Thomas Baskerville wrote "In Queens College 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 is put a little burning pitch which flameth, and a little white froath to represent the foaming of the Boar." Source: Thomas Baskerville, "Account of Oxford, 1670-1700," printed in O. H. S. xlvii, Colletanea IV, p. 221. As noted above, the wild boar went extinct in England sometime in the 13th century, according to experts.

The same lyrics are given by Richard Leighton Greene, The Early English Carols (Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1935), Carol 132.C.a., p. 92.

 

The Carol We Sing Today At Queen's College.

Very little has changed since the 1921 versions given by Greene and Magrath, but there are a few words that are different. The two words and phrases that seem to be rotated among the versions over the centuries occur in the first and second verses: "bravest" vs. "rarest" and "masters" vs. "my masters." In today's version, as nearly as I can tell, the word "bravest" is retained, and the phrase "my masters" is now favored.

As I am neither a student at Queen's nor an "Old Member," my source is the Boar's Head Christmas Card that is (seasonally) available through the University of Oxford online store. I would have ordered a package of cards — and will attempt to do so next winter — but for the time being I had to rely upon the scan of the card that is found on the Queen's College website:

The Boar's head in hand bear I,
Bedeck'd with bays and rosemary;
And I pray you, my masters, be merry,
    Quot estis in convivio.
        Caput apri defero
        Reddens laudes Domino.

The Boar's Head, as I understand,
Is the bravest dish in all the land,
When thus bedeck'd with a gay garland,
    Let us servire cantico.
        Caput apri defero
        Reddens laudes Domino.

Our steward hath provided this,
In honour of the King of Bliss,
Which on this day to be served is,
    In Reginensi Atrio.
        Caput apri defero
        Reddens laudes Domino.

See: The Boar's Head Christmas Card at the University of Oxford Shop: "Sold for £6 in packs of ten, these Christmas cards depict the traditional Boar’s Head Carol which is sung each year at the Boar’s Head Gaudy. The greeting inside reads ‘Merry Christmas’ and information about the Boar’s Head Ceremony appears on the back of the card." This is the card that was sold in 2012, but it is not known whether this card will be offered in 2013. As of March 27, 2013, the card was not for sale.

 

Success is the Parent of Imitation.

From the hallowed pages of The Oxford Sausage, we are gifted with:

SONG,
In Honour of the Celebration of the Boar's Head,
At Queen's College, Oxford,
Tam Marti quam Mercurio.*

I Sing not of Roman or Grecian mad Games,
The Pythian, Olympic, and such like hard Names ;
Your Patience awhile with Submission I beg,
I strive but to honour the Feast of Coll. Reg.
Derry down, down, down, derry down.

No Thracian Brawls at our Rites ere prevail,
We temper our Mirth with plain sober mild Ale;
The tricks of old Circe deter us from Wine ;.
Though we honour a Boar, we won't make ourselves Swine,
Derry down, &c.

Great Milo was famous for flaying his Ox,
Yet he prov'd but an Ass in cleaving of Blocks:
But We had a Hero for all Things was fit,
Our Motto displays both his Valour and Wit.
Derry down, &c.

Stout Hercules labour'd, and look'd mighty big,
When he flew the half-starv'd Erymanthian Pig,
But we can relate such a Stratagem taken,
That the stoutest of Boars, could not save his own Bacon.
Derry down, &c.

So dreadful this bristle-back'd Foe did appear,
You'd have sworn he had got the wrong Pig By the Ear.
But instead of avoiding the Mouth of the Beast,
He ramm'd in a Volume, and cry'd — Græcum est.
Derry down, &c.

In this gallant Action such Fortitude shewn is,
As proves him no Coward, nor tender Adonis;
No Armour but Logic; by which we may find
That Logic's the Bulwark of Body and Mind.
Derry down, &c.

Ye Squires that fear neither Hills nor rough Rocks,
And think you're full wise when you outwit a Fox;
Enrich your poor Brains and expose them no more,
Learn Greek, and seek Glory from hunting the Boar.
Derry down, &c.

Often reproduced, this copy comes to us courtesy of Thomas Warton from his The Oxford Sausage: Or, Select Poetical Pieces. Written by the most Celebrated Wits of the University of Oxford, Adorned with Cuts, Engraved in a New Taste, and Designed by the Best Masters, the edition of 1764. Note that "The New Edition of 1777 features the likeness of Mrs. Dorothy Spreadbury, Inventress of the Oxford Sausage."

The Oxford Sausage, the volume, should not be confused with the true "Oxford Sausage," the well-known food stuff.

* Footnote: Tam Marti quam Mercurio: Roughly translated as "Mars as much as Mercury," that is, to serve as much as a soldier as a poet. See the Wikipedia article on George Gascoigne.

 

From Hunt to Hall: A pair of engravings from Christmas With The Poets (London: David Bogue, 1851), pp. 15, 17; artwork is by Birket Foster, whose artwork appeared in other, later publications.

 

 

These same pictures also appeared in Christmas Poems and Pictures (New York: James G. Gregory, 1864), together with the same six Boar's Head Carols.

Dr. William King, in The Art of Cookery In Imitation of Horace's Art of Poetry ["De arte poetica"] (London: Bernard Lintott, 1708), p. 75, gives the following recipe for dishing up a boar's head: —

At Christmas time be careful of your Fame,
     See the old Tenant's Table be the same;
Then if you wou'd send up the Brawner's Head,
     Sweet Rosemary and Bays around it spread:
His foaming Tusks let some large Pippin grace,
     Or midst those thund'ring 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.

For additional details, see: Preparing the Boar's Head For Christmas from Jessup Whitehead, Cooking for Profit: A New American Cook Book. Third Edition. (Chicago: Jessup Whitehead & Co., 1893), pp. 190 ff.

 

The Boar In The 21st Century

Even if they weren't a sport for the nobility, farmers can attest to the need to hunt herds of wild boars, wild hogs, or wild pigs, which can strip a field of its crops in a night, and with their rooting behavior, they do great damage to the field itself, as well as suburban yards and carefully-manicured golf courses.

Shakespeare mentioned the damage that the boar can do to fields in his play  "Richard III" (Act V, Scene II.)

The wretched, bloody, and usurping boar
That spoil'd your summer fields and fruitful vines

Likewise, the second stanza of the carol of "The Boar is Dead, lo! here his head," refers to the damage inflicted by the wild boar:

"He living spoiled where good men toiled,
Which made kind Ceres sorry"—

Fyfe observed that this "is an evident allusion to the classic story of the boar that laid waste King Aeneas' fields by direction of the Goddess Diana." The story is recounted by Homer in The Iliad (above) and in some detail by Ovid in Book VIII of Metamorphoses, The Calydonian Boar Hunt.

Fyfe also wrote the boar must at one time have been the common foe of agricultural industry, for naturalists assure us that at certain seasons "after they have assembled in herds, they are apt to sally forth from the forests, and do no small damage to the cultivated fields, both by rooting up and trampling down."

The Bible also makes reference to the damage caused by the boar. In the 80th Psalm we read: "The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it." Note that some sources erroneously cite the 18th Psalm.

Since the 1990s, the populations of wild pigs and boars have exploded in North America, Europe and Asia, and they do untold millions of dollars in damages annually. The damage in the state of Texas was recently estimated at $400 Million per year. Large beds of sea turtle eggs have been destroyed by wild pigs at Cape Canaveral in the state of Florida. In some places, wild pigs, hogs, and boars have few natural enemies, and spread without any constraints ... except man. While piglets are a food source for many predators, few will attempt to attack an adult animal whose tusks and teeth are formidable defensive and offensive weapons.

Not native to the Americas (or Australia), the large number of animals that now exist in North America are said to have stemmed from eight specially-selected pigs that were released in Florida by Columbus in 1493 during his Second Voyage. In the United States, wild pigs are interbreeding with wild boars that have escaped from wildlife reserves (or have been intentionally released), creating a bigger, more intelligent, and more aggressive hybrid. Extinct since the 13th century, escapes from wildlife reserves has allowed the European Boar to become re-established in areas of England as well. The harsh winter conditions in some areas of Russia appears to be creating a bigger, tougher Eurasian Boar, coming in at up to 700 pounds and more than a meter tall.

 

Seasonally ... Hunting Songs.

Finally, there is this hunting song that was sung during the Christmas-tide, although the songs itself says nothing concerning the birth of the Savior, or of the holiday season. Henry Vizetelly provided this introduction before reproducing the song itself:

On the other side of the leaf of Wynkin de Worde's volume [of 1521] is the following Carol, which, although apparently unconnected with our subject, we introduce as one of a class of songs usually sung during the Christmas season. That, in its own day, it was regarded as an undoubted Christmas Carol, is evident from the circumstance of its finding a place amongst Wynkin de Worde's collection, as the leave which has been preserved, and which is the last of the book, bears the following imprint: — "Thus endeth the Christmasse Carroles, newely enprinted at Londō, in fletestrete at the sygne of the sonne by Wynkin de Worde. The yere of our lorde, M.D. XXI."

A CAROL OF HUNTING

As I came by a green forest side,
I met with a forester that bade me abide,
Whey go get, hey go get, hey go how,
We shall have sport and game enow.

Underneath a tree I did me set,
And with a great hart anon I met,
I bade let slip, and said hey go bet,
With hey go bet, hey go bet how,
We shall have sport and game enow.

I had not stated there but awhile,
Not the mountenaunce
 of a mile,
There came a great hart without guile.
There he goeth, there he goeth,
With hey go bet, hey go bet how,
We shall have sport and game enow.

Talbut my hound, with a merry taste,
All about the green wood he 'gan cast,
I took my horn and blew him a blast
With tro, ro, ro, ro: tro, ro, ro, ro:
With hey go bet, hey go bet how.
We shall have sport and game enow.
There he goeth, there he goeth.
With hey go bet, hey go bet how,
We shall have sport and game enow.

Older versions of this poem are As I Came By A Grene Forest Syde (1801) and As I Came By A Grene Forest Syde (1889) plus an updated version by Elizabeth Poston, A Carol of Hunting

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

 

 

The Boar's Head at Christmas.

"With garlandes gay and rosemary."

 

 

A Boor's Head.

"Civil as an orange." - Shakespeare

 

With Minstralsye

The accounts of the feast make it clear that the feast was also accompanied "with minstralsye," that is, with songs, carols and music from an early date. As we noted earlier, Joshua Sylvester wrote that between the courses of the meal, "Carols were chanted forth." In a similar manner, Henry Vizetelly noted:

It is not merely at regal banquets, however, that these Carols have been in request. The boar's head was the first dish served up at table in every baronial hall throughout the country at the Christmas feast; and on such occasions we may be certain there was no lack of amateur or professional minstrels to do becoming honour to a ceremony of so much importance.

In addition to other carols, it is likely that various boar's head carols were sung at an early date. We know of many Christmas carols sung during the 15th and 16th centuries. Antiquarian Thomas Wright edited three volumes of carols and songs from those days, including songs from a manuscript believed to have been owned by a 15th century minstrel; see:

However, the only Boar's Head carols that we know of come down to us from the manuscripts of the 15th and 16th centuries, and there were quite a few such carols, often with shared themes and elements. Most of them date from at least the 15th century, although two of the best known (Richard Hill and Wynkyn de Worde) are first found in collections that were created early in the 16th century. It is likely, however, that most of these carols date to a time during or before the 15th century, given that the boar's head ceremony dates to at least the 12th century (King Henry II.)

An analysis of the versions that we know gives us a total of five “families” of carols, with variants.

1. The Boar's Head In Hand Bring I. Earliest Sources: Wynkyn de Worde, 1521, and Richard Hill, early 16th century, with numerous variants.

2. The Boar's Head, That We Bring Here. Earliest Source: "Ritson's Manuscript," which is now housed in the British Library, "Addit. MS. 5665."

3. The Boar Is Dead. Earliest Source: The Christmas Prince at St. John the Baptist's College, Oxford, 1607.

4. At The Beginning Of The Meat. Earliest Source: Thomas Wright, Songs and Carols Now First Printed From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century, 1847.

5. Tidings I Bring You For To Tell. Earliest Source: Thomas Wright, Songs and Carols Now First Printed From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century, 1847.

 

Major Collections of Boar's Head Carols

In perhaps the ultimate tribute to the Boar's Head, William Henry Husk reproduced all seven Boar's Head Carols of which he had knowledge (see: The Boar's Head Carols - Husk), with notes. Below there are links to each of these treasures, each with its own notes, together with other versions from other collectors.

The seven carols from Husk are:

  1. The Boar His Head In Hand I Bring, 116

  2. Tidings I Bring You For To Tell, 117

  3. At The Beginning Of The Meat, 118

  4. The Boar's Head In Hand Bring I (The Early Version), 119

  5. The Boar’s Head In Hand Bring I (The Later Version), 120

  6. The Boar's Head, That We Bring Here, 124

  7. The Boar Is Dead, 125

Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols, also reproduces seven Boar's Head carols:

  1. Tidings I Bring You For To Tell, p. 256

  2. At The Beginning Of The Meat (Po, po, po, po), p. 257

  3. The Boar's Head In Hand I Bring (Hey, hey, hey, hey), p. 257

  4. The Boar's Head That We Bring Here (In Die Nativitatis or Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell), p. 258

  5. The Boar's Head In Hand Bear I, p. 259

  6. The Boar's Head In Hand Bring I, p. 260 [Separate Rickert Version]

  7. The Boar Is Dead, p. 260

The Rickert versions are incorporated with the Husk versions below, as are the versions from other collections. They largely, but not always, follow Husk, but lack extensive notes. Dr. Rickert notes:

The boar's-head carols are interesting as embodying a ceremony surviving from a pagan sacrificial feast. Numerous as are the versions, their general effect is strikingly similar. Two give an account of the killing of the beast, and one drags in Christian symbolism by comparing him to Christ.” Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400-1700 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1914, reprint of the edition of 1910), p. 301.

Seven Boar's Head Carols were also published by antiquarian Thomas Wright in three of his collections:

1a. The boris hede in hond I bryng (Specimens of Old Christmas Carols, 1841, and Reliquiæ Antiquæ, Vol. ii, 1845)

1b. The bores heed in hande bring I (Specimens of Old Christmas Carols, 1841)

1c. The Boar's Head In Hand Bear I (Specimens of Old Christmas Carols, 1841)

2. The borys hede that we bryng here (Specimens of Old Christmas Carols, 1841)

3. The Boare is dead (Specimens of Old Christmas Carols, 1841)

4. At The Begynnyng Of The Mete (Songs and Carols Now First Printed From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century, 1847)

5. Tydynges I Bryng 3ow For To Tell (Songs and Carols Now First Printed From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century, 1847)

Richard Leighton Greene in his The Early English Carols prints four versions, pp. 91-3, plus related variants, for a total of seven carols:

1. 132. The Boar's Head In Hand ...

a. "The boris hed in hondes I brynge." Balliol College, Oxford. MS 354. XVI Century. Richard Hill's Common-place Book, early 16th century.

b. "The bores heed in hande bring I." Bodleian Library. Rawlinson 4to. 598 (10). Wynkyn de Worde, 1521.

c. "The Boar's head in hand bear I." Queen's College, Oxford, 1921.

d. "The Boar's head in hand bear I." Queen's College, Oxford, 1811.

2. 133. "The borys hede that we bryng here." British Library. MS. Addit. 5665. XVI Century. The "Ritson Manuscript;" a.k.a. The Exeter Boar's Head Carol

3. 134. "At the begynnyng of the mete." Bodleian Library. MS. Eng. poet. e. 1., XV Century.

4. 135. "The boris hede in hond I bryng." Lord Harlech, Brogyntyn, Oswestry. The Porkington Manuscript, #10, f 202 r (now referred to as Brogyntyn MS ii.1). XV Century.

Henry Vizetelly, in Christmas With The Poets (London: David Bogue, 1851), reproduces five Boar's Head carols, with his own introduction to Boar's Head Carols (which bears reading). His five carols are:

1. Tidings I bring you for to tell (citing Wright)

2. The boar's head, that we bring here (from the British Museum)

3. At the beginning of the meat (citing Wright)

4. The boar's head in hand I bring ("Reliquiæ Antiquæ")

5. The boar's head in hand bring I (from Wynkin de Worde)

He has brief notes introducing each carol, plus a final "A Carol of Hunting," which is reproduced for the sake of completeness. This book became the genesis of two others in the last half of the 19th century: Christmas Poems and Pictures (New York: James G. Gregory, 1864) and Christmas In Art and Song (New York: The Arundel Printing and Publishing Company, 1879). They would also include "The Boar Is Dead."

Joshua Sylvester, in A Garland of Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (London: John Camden Hotten, 1861), gave five Boar's Head Carols:

  1. Tidings I bring you for to tell

  2. The Boar's Head in Hand I bring
  3. The Boar's Head in Hand bring I
  4. The Boar's Head that we bring here
  5. The Boar is dead

Sylvester introduced his list with the following note:

Under the head of Boar's Head Carols I have grouped together a few that were formerly in much request at Christmas celebrations. In those days Carols of this kind usually heralded the entertainment of good things provided by the generous host.

The first dish that was served up in the old baronial halls was the Boar's Head, which was brought in with great state, and with minstrelsy. Between the flourishes of the heralds' trumpets, Carols were chanted forth.

Note that it is believed that "Joshua Sylvester" was a pseudonym for a collaboration between William Sandys and William Henry Husk.

All of the early boar's head carols date from the 15th century, although two of the best known (Richard Hill and Wynkyn de Worde) are first found in collections that were created early in the 16th century.

 

The Carols Themselves

Sheet music to these carols has been consolidated on this page, Sheet Music to the Boar's Head Carols.

I. The Boar's Head In Hand Bring I. Earliest Sources: Wynkyn de Worde, 1521, and Richard Hill, early 16th century. These two likely had a common source, although we don't know what that source was. Or, the "original" might have been one of these two, or it might have been a third carol that differed only with the last verse. There is only one verse that is different between these two, but over time, many more changes would occur to the point where only the first line of the first verse can be traced to these two original carols. The descendants of this family are likely the most often performed of the boar's head carols. See the listing of locations in the Wikipedia article, Boar's Head Carol.

A. The Boris Hed In Hondis I Brynge. Richard Hill's "Common-place Book," early 1500s manuscript.

This version is given first, although it was one of the last to be found, and then was quickly lost for several centuries. As such it never evolved much beyond it's original form, unlike the version given by Wynkyn de Worde in 1521. It is likely older than the version printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1521, or the version with the burden "Hey, hey, hey, hey."

B. The bores heed in hande bring I. Wynkyn de Worde, 1521. This is the oldest printed Christmas carol that comes down to us. It was found on a single piece of paper, the last page of a collection of Christmas carols. It is said that the fragment was found by antiquarian Thomas Hearne; on his death, part of Hearne's library was purchased by Dr. Richard Rawlinson who later bequeathed it to the Bodleian Library. The lyrics evolved over time, eventually becoming the version annually sung on Christmas Day at Queen's College, Oxford, where the custom of bringing the boar's head to table continues to this day.

Regarding Wynkyn de Worde's collection:

"These were festal chansons for enlivening the merriments of the Christmas celebrity : and not such religious songs as are current at this day [1781] with the common people under the same title, and which were substituted by those enemies of innocent and useful mirth the puritans." Source: Thomas Warton, History of English Poetry, Volume 3 (London: Reeves and Turner, 1781), pp. 142-144.

C. The Boar's Head in Hand Bear I - Queen's College, 1921, derived from Wynkyn de Worde, 1521. It is widely reported that John Aubrey, in a manuscript dated 1678, wrote: "Before the last civil wars, in gentlemen's houses at Christmas, the first dish that was brought to the table was a boar's head with a lemon in his mouth. At Queen's College in Oxford they still retain this custom; the bearer of it brings it into the hall, singing to an old tune an old Latin rhyme, "Caput apri defero," &c." In an 1811 letter, Rev. Mr. Dickinson, a tutor at Queens, wrote: "It is sung to the common chaunt of the prose version of the Psalms in cathedrals ; at least, whenever I have attended the service at Magdalen or New College Chapels, I have heard the Boar's Head strain continually occurring in the Psalms [of David]."  The "Boar's Head Gaudy" is today celebrated at the College on a Saturday just before Christmas each year for selected "Old Members" of the College. More than just a song, this is a carol sung by one young scholar celebrating the exploits of another young scholar whose cool and courage may have inspired generations of students at Queen's College, Oxford.

This is the most widely reproduced of the boar's head carols, due, in no small part, to it's "History." This brief account is from John Ashton (and differs slightly from the longer account given above):

The custom of ceremoniously introducing the boar's head at Christ-tide was, at one time, of general use among the nobility, and still obtains at Queen's College, Oxford; and its raison d'être is said to be that at some remote time a student of this College was walking in the neighbouring forest of Shotover (Chateau vert), and whilst reading Aristotle was attacked by a wild boar. Unarmed, he did not know how to defend himself; but as the beast rushed on him with open mouth he rammed the Aristotle down its throat, exclaiming, "Græcum est" ["It is Greek"], which ended the boar's existence.

Some little ceremony is still used when it is brought in; the head is decorated, as saith the carol, and it is borne into the hall on the shoulders of two College servants, followed by members of the College and the choir. The carol, which is a modification of the above, is generally sung by a Fellow, assisted by the choir, and the boar's head is solemnly deposited before the Provost, who, after helping those sitting at the high table, sends it round to all the other tables.

Thus, as the late Very Reverend Dean Wade of Glasgow solemnly observed in his Walks in Oxford, the student "fairly choked the savage with the sage!"

Likely based on the Wynkyn de Worde version of 1521, the earliest Queen's College adaptation that I have seen was the one by Anthony a Wood in 1660.

Seasonally, there is a Boar's Head Carol Christmas Card for sale from Queen's College at the University of Oxford store. Sold for £6 in packs of ten, these Christmas cards depict the traditional Boar’s Head Carol which is sung each year at the Boar’s Head Gaudy.  The greeting inside reads ‘Merry Christmas’ and information about the Boar’s Head Ceremony appears on the back of the card. Proceeds from the sale of the cards are split equally between the College and the University.

D. With burden beginning "Hey, hey, hey, hey," from the Porkington Manuscript, #10, f 202 r (now referred to as Brogyntyn MS ii.1).

Concerning this carol, Henry Vizetelly wrote:

The second part of this old Carol furnishes us with a minute description of the viands that formed the second course at a Christmas feast. They certainly make some amends for the poverty of the first portion of the banquet; and we may presume that when these dishes were served up, the dinner commenced in good earnest. In spite of the invitations contained in these Carols to partake of the "first mess," the Boar's Head, we anticipate, was little else but a show dish; for, in all of the allusions to it, mention is only made of one head being served at each feast, though, even were the number greater, it could hardly have been sufficient to have yielded a mouthful a-piece to the numerous guests who were generally present at these entertainments. Between the courses the minstrels played and sang — the jesters cracked their smartest jokes, and practices their most extravagant antics; and, we dare say, the famous Dance of Fools was not unfrequently performed at this particular juncture, before the attention of the guests came to be directed to the more exciting business which was so soon to follow.

 

II. The Boar's Head, That We Bring Here. Earliest Source: Joseph Ritson (1782).

This is also known as The Exeter Boar's Head Carol, with music by Richard Smert (15th century). The editors of The New Oxford Book of Carols have the Smert music (#37, pp. 106-108). Music is also found in John Stevens, ed., Medieval Carols, Vol. IV of the series Musica Britannica, London: Stainer & Bell, 1958 (Second Revised Edition), #79, p. 66. The music in Medieval Carols is from Smert. Burden 1 has two voices. Burden 2 has three voices, The verse has two voices.

It first appeared in print in Ritson's Observations on Warton's History of English Poetry, from a manuscript in his possession (and thus "Ritson's Manuscript"), and which is now housed in the British Library, "Addit. MS. 5665." The manuscript is said to contain the music, but no music appears in either Ritson's Observations or Ritson's Ancient Songs (Vol. 2, p. 16). Ritson observed:

This, and the following ancient Christmas Carol [I Am Here, Syre Christmasse] are given, merely as curiosities, from the editors folio MS., where each is accompanied with a musical composition for three voices; but which, neither in point of merit nor antiquity, seems to deserve a place in this work. [Emphasis added]

 

III. The Boar Is Dead. Earliest Source: "The Christmas Prince." This is a carol on bringing the Boar's Head, used before the Christmas Prince at St. John the Baptist's College, Oxford, Christmas, 1607.

Concerning this carol, William Sandys wrote:

At the time of the celebrated Christmas Prince, at St. John’s, Oxford, in 1607, “The first messe was a boar’s head, wch was carried by ye tallest and lustiest of all ye guard, before whom (as attendants) wente first, one attired in a horseman’s coate, wth a boar’s speare in his hande, next to him an other huntsman in greene, wth a bloody faucion drawne; next to him 2 pages in tafatye sarcenet, each of yem wth a messe of mustard; next to whome came hee yt carried ye boares-head crost wth a greene silke scarfe, by wch hunge ye empty scabbard of ye faulcion, wch was carried before him. As yei entred ye hall, he sange this Christmas Caroll, ye three last verses of euerie staffe being repeated after him by ye whole companye.” (Sandys, 1833)

The full citation of "The Christmas Prince" is:

Griffin Higgs, An account of the Christmas prince: as it was exhibited in the University of Oxford, in the year 1607. Reprinted from the original manuscript at St. John's College, University of Oxford, by Philip Bliss, D.D., Volume 7 of Miscellanea antiqua anglicana. (London: T. Bensley and Son for Robert Triphook, 1816), pp. 23-24.

 

IV. At The Beginning Of The Meat. Earliest Source: Thomas Wright, Songs and Carols Now First Printed From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century, 1847. Wright believes that the manuscript was created by a professional minstrel in the latter half of the 15th century, at the end of the reign of Henry VI. (1461) and the beginning of the reign of Henry VII. (1485).

In 1859, William Chappell wrote "After the Percy Society had printed the Songs, I was to have had the opportunity of transcribing all the Music; but, in the mean time, the bookbinder to whom this rare Ms. was entrusted, disappeared, and with him the manuscript, which is, perhaps, already in some library in the United States." (I do not know why Mr. Chappell believed that the manuscript might have ended up in the United States. In fact, it never left England.)

Subsequently, the manuscript was found and purchased for £16 by the Bodleian Library from the estate of Joseph Mayer (1803–1886) of Liverpool, who was an English goldsmith, antiquary and collector:

Shelfmark: MS. Eng. poet. e. 1

Summary Catalogue no. 29734

From a volume containing a description of the holdings of the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, Volume 5, containing "Miscellaneous, 1887. 29735-38," pp. 679-680.

"Seventy-six songs, religious and other, including some Christmas carols and drinking songs, presumably collected for the use of a professed minstrel: a few have the music as well as the words. This valuable MS. was edited for the Percy Society (vol. 23) in 1847, see also W. Chappell's Popular Music of the Olden Time (1855-7), i. 41. Most of the songs are in English or mixed English and Latin, a few in Latin alone.

"In 1847 this volume was owned by Thomas Wright, who edited it: he subsequently lost it, and it was bought by the Bodleian at the Joseph Mayer sale (lot 42) on July 19, 1887, for £16.

"[On this MS. see further 'Early Bodleian music,' i. p. xxiv and plates 99-100 (where I have ascribed the date 'about 1485-1490'), ii. pp. 182-4. E. W. B. N.]

"Now MS. Eng. Poet. E. 1."

See in the Bodleian Library, MS. Eng. poet. e. 1 (scroll down to get to "e. 1"), c. 1460-1480. There is a single image, fol. 41v, described as "Musical notation in a minstrel's manuscript; the text begins "Nowell, nowell, nowell, pis is pe salutacyon of pe angel gabryell" with "Bryng us in good ale" in lower margin, c. 1460-90; anglicana script." It doesn't appear that the entire volume has been scanned, or, if so, that it is readily available for viewing.

Wright's "Songs and Carols" was also issued as Volume 23, Issue 1 of of the Percy Society's series "Early English Poetry, Ballads, and Popular Literature of the Middle Ages."

Joseph Mayer (1803–1886) of Liverpool was an English goldsmith, antiquary and collector.

 

V. Tidings I Bring You For To Tell. Earliest Source: Thomas Wright, Songs and Carols Now First Printed From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century, 1847. See IV, above, for a description of the volume and its history.

Many of these versions have their own notes, sometimes short and sometimes long.

 

Were There Others?

Yes. We have this fragment from Richard Leighton Greene in the Appendix in his The Early English Carol:

The borys hed have we in broght;
Lok ye be mery in hert and thoght!
And he that all this world has wrowt
Save hyow and eke me!

It was apparently the final stanza, wrote Greene, of a carol whose fragmentary remains are found in Manuscript S. S. 54, f. 1r, at St. John's College, Cambridge.

This fragment is also found in The Digital Index of Middle English Verse in an older form of English:

Þe borys hed haue we in broȝht
Lok ȝe be mery in herte & thoȝht
& he þat all þis world has wrowt
Saue ȝow & eke me

In addition to the two volumes by Greene, the editors of The Digital Index also cite Montague Rhodes James and G. C. Macaulay, eds. “Fifteenth Century Carols and Other Pieces.” Modern Language Review 8 (1913): 68-87: 68. The DIMEV is a remarkable bibliography of sources for middle English verse, and highly recommended to the researcher.

There are, undoubtedly, long-forgotten manuscripts and fragments of manuscripts that might contain further carols that celebrate the bringing in of the boar's head. These and other carols await the diligent researcher.

 

A Carol of Hunting

The single leaf from Wynkyn de Worde contained two carols (see right from Anglia XII, 1889, p. 587).anglia-12-587.jpg (85312 bytes). The first is the subject of this page, The bores heed in hande bring I. But on the other side of the page there is a carol of hunting. Although it does not refer to Christmas in any manner, it is clear that it's a song that was sung during the Christmas-tide, since it's included in a Christmas songbook. During the time of Edward II. (25 April 1284 – 21 September 1327), the hunting season for the wild boar was from Christmas day to Candlemas, Feb. 2.

Versions of this poem are on this website include:

See also:

Here are a couple of other files of interest:

Eric Routley had an amusing observation concerning the bill of fare at some of these medieval feasts:

And so Christmas domesticity, with a roaring fire, a Yule log, a cold night and a good supper, is reflected in the carols. It is not surprising, with all this evidence of communal roistering good humour, to learn what substantial trenchermen the medievals could be. One of the boar's head carols (G. 135, verse 4) enumerates the rest of the Christmas dinner – crane, bittern, heron, partridge, plover, lark, woodcock, snipe, crushed almonds, venison, capon and fruit. But then the medievals worked hard in the open air, and the church taught them how to fast as well as how to feast; Advent was then the season not of Christmas shopping, but of protracted preparatory fast, and this fact played no small part in the high spirits that prevailed at Christmas.

Source: Eric Routley, The English Carol (New York: Oxford University Press, 1959), p. 73. The reference "G. 135" refers to Richard Leighton Greene, The Early English Carol, Carol 135, "The boris hede in hond I bryng," p. 93. Verse 4 begins "Then commys in the secund kowrs with mykyll pryid..."

Illustration from Dr. Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols

The Boar Is Dead

Artwork by John A. Hows from Christmas In Art And Song. New York: The Arundel Printing and Publishing Company, 1879.

Note that modern presentations of the Boar's Head include a gold crown on top of the head, together with four flags on each side of the head. See the photograph at The Boar's Head Gaudy, Queen's College, Oxford.

Translations of the Latin from Adams, Round About Our Coal Fire (ca. 1860)

W. H. Davenport Adams provided these handy Latin translations for those of us who were unable to take a course of study in this ancient tongue.

1. Quot estis in convivio. = Ye who are now at the feast.
2. Caput Apri defero | Reddens laudes Domino. - I bring the boar's head, returning praise to the Lord.
3. Let us servire cantico. = Let us serve it with a song.
4. In Reginensi Atrio. = In the Queen's Hall.

Translations from W. H. Davenport Adams, Round About Our Coal Fire (London: James Blackwood, no date; "1860" written in pen, and the date of the Preface), p. 163.

Edith Rickert provided a glossary in her Ancient English Christmas Carols, 1400-1700, and gives the following translations:

1. Quot estis in convivio = As many as are at this feast
2. Caput apri defero, reddens laudes Domino = I bring the boar's head, giving thanks to the Lord
3. Let us "sevire cantico" = Let us "serve it with song."
4. In reginensi atrio = In the royal hall

Source: Martha Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols, 1400-1700 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1914), pages 303 - 310.


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

The Calydonian Boar Hunt by Ovid (March 20, 43 BC – 17 AD)

King Richard I - Longing for the Flesh of the Swine (1191)

The Boare Is Dead before The Christmas Prince, 1607

The Boar's Head Carol - Wood, 1660 from Dibdin, Typographical Antiquities (1812), below.

The Boars Head in hand bear I - Aubrey - 1680s

Hyde's Account of the Boar's Head Feast (Queen's College, late 1600s)

Warton Concerning The Boar's Head Carol (1781)

Boswell, Johnson, and the Boar's Head Tavern (James Boswell, 1786)

Ritson's Observations on Warton's History of English Poetry (1782)

Ritson-A Caroll Bringyng In The Bores Heed, 1790

Dibdin On The Boar's Head Carol from Thomas Dibdin, Typographical antiquities: an historical account of printing in England. Greatly enlarged by Rev. Thomas Frognall Dibdin. Volume II. (London: For William Miller by W. Bulmer and Co., 1812), pp. 250-252.

Irving at The Boar's Head Tavern, East Cheap (Washington Irving, 1819)

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

The Custom at Hornchurch in Essex. William Hone, The Every Day Book, Volume 2 of 2 Vols. (London: William Tegg, 1827).

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

Oliver Goldsmith, A Reverie At The Boar's Head Tavern, Eastcheap (1841)

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

The Boars Head Feast from William Sandys, Christmas-tide, Its History, Festivities and Carols, With Their Music (London: John Russell Smith, 1852).

The Boar's Head Carols. William Henry Husk, Songs of the Nativity  (London: John Camden Hotten, 1868)

Ye Boare's Head - 1874-1875 from Notes and Queries.

"The Boar's Head Dinner At Oxford, and A Germanic Sun-God" by Karl Blind, 1877

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.

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.")

The Boar's Head in Hand Bear I - Queen's College, 1921 from John Richard Magrath, The Queen's College. Volume II (1646-1877) (Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1921), pp. 241-242.

Also: As I Came By A Grene Forest Syde, "A Carol of Hunting." This is the earliest of several versions of the other carol included in the fragment from Wynkyn de Worde's 1521 booklet.

See: Boar's Head Carol, Wikipedia.

 

Sources:

John Ashton, A Righte Merrie Christmasse!!! The Story of Christ-tide (London: Leadenhall Press, Ltd., 1894).

Ian Bradley, Penguin Book of Carols. (London: Penguin, 1999)

E. K. Chambers and F. Sidgwick, eds., Early English Lyrics (London: A. H. Bullen, 1907)

William Chappell, The Ballad Literature and Popular Music of the Olden Time (1859)

Roman Dyboski, ed., Songs, Carols, and Other Miscellaneous Poems from the Balliol MS 354, Richard Hill's Commonplace-book. (London: Published for the Early English Text Society by Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Limited, 1907, issued in 1908).

Dearmer, Percy., R. Vaughan Williams, Martin Shaw, eds., The Oxford Book of Carols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1928). 

George Herman Ellwanger, The Pleasures of the Table: An Account of Gastronomy from Ancient Days to Present Times. (New York: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1902)

F. J. Furnivall, ed., The Babees Book: Early English Meals and Manners. Early English Text Society, Original Series, No. 32. (E.E.T.S, London, 1868), p. 398. Furnivall gives the following citation: "Balliol MS 354, ffl. ij C xij, or leaf 228."

Richard Gooch, Oxford and Cambridge Nuts To Crack. Second Edition, Corrected and Enlarged (London: A.H. Baily, 1835)

Richard Leighton Greene, ed., The Early English Carols. (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1932)

Richard Leighton Greene, ed., A Selection of English Carols (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1962).

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.") I

Griffin Higgs, An Account of The Christmas Prince as it was Exhibited In The University of Oxford in the Year 1607 (London: T. Bensley and Son for Robert Triphook, 1815), pp. 23-25. "Now first published from the original manuscript."

"Hogs Gone Wild," an American Television Series (airing in 2013).

Raphael Holinshed, Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland. Volume Two of Six. (London: J. Johnson, et al., 1807), page 130.

Homer, The Iliad of Homer. Book IX. Translated by Alexander Pope, with notes by the Rev. Theodore Alois Buckley, M.A., F.S.A. and Flaxman's Designs. (1899), p. 175.

William Hone, The Every Day Book. 2 Vols. (London: William Tegg, 1825, 1827)

William Henry Husk, Songs of the Nativity. (London: John Camden Hotten, 1868, reprinted by Norwood Editions:  Norwood, PA, 1973.) 

Washington Irving, Old Christmas - From the Sketch Book of Washington Irving (London: Macmillan & Co., Fifth Edition, 1886); Illustrated by Randolph Caldecott.

Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott, eds., The New Oxford Book of Carols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).

William King, The Art of Cookery In Imitation of Horace's Art of Poetry (London: Printed for Bernard Lintott, 1708)

Rev. Ernest J. B. Kirtlan, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. First Edition. (London: Charles H. Kelly, 1912), pp. 147-151, 156-159.

Chloey Mayo, "Boar’s Head: An Oglethorpe Tradition," November 30, 2010, Oglethorpe University, Atlanta, Georgia.

James J. Moore, The Historical Handbook and Guide to Oxford. 2nd Edition. (Oxford: Thos. Shrimpton and Son, 1878). Sometimes referred to as "Shrimpton's Handbook.

Ovid, The Metamorphoses. Book VIII. Translated by A. S. Kline © 2000. Reproduced with permission.

Edward Bliss Reed, ed., Christmas Carols Printed in the 16th Century Including Kele's Christmas Carolles Newly Inprynted. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1932).

Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400-1700 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1914, reprint of the edition of 1910).

Edward F. Rimbault, A Little Book of Christmas Carols (London: Cramer, Beale & Co., 201, Regent Street, No Date, circa 1863)

Joseph Ritson, Observations on Warton's History of English Poetry (1782)

Joseph Ritson, Ancient Songs and Ballads From the Reign of King Henry the Second to the Revolution. 1790. W. Carew Hazlitt, ed., Third Edition. (London: Reeves And Turner, 1877)

William Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (London: Richard Beckley, 1833)

William Sandys, Christmas-tide, Its History, Festivities and Carols, With Their Music (London: John Russell Smith, 1852)

Sir Walter Scott, "Heap On The Wood," an excerpt from his longer poem Marmion, 1808.

John Stevens, ed., Medieval Carols, Vol. IV (Second Revised Edition), Musica Britannica. (London: Stainer & Bell, 1958)

Joshua Sylvester, A Garland of Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (London: John Camden Hotten, 1861)

The Christmas Book: Christmas in the Olden Time-Its Customs and their Origin. (London: James Pattie and George Glaisher, 1859)

Virgil, The Aeneid of Virgil. Book VII. Translated into English Verse by E. Fairfax Taylor (London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltc.; New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1907, reprinted 1910).

Nathan Boughton Warren, The Holidays: Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide; together with the May-day (H. B. Nims and company, 1876)

Thomas Warton, ed., The Oxford Sausage: Or, Select Poetical Pieces (J. Fletcher and Company, 1764)

Thomas Warton, The History of English Poetry. Volume 3. Section XXVI. (London: J. Dodsley, et al., 1781)

Jessup Whitehead, Cooking for Profit: A New American Cook Book. Third Edition. (Chicago: Jessup Whitehead & Co., 1893)

Wikipedia contributors. "Philip Bliss." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 Feb. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

Wikipedia contributors. "Boar hunting." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 Feb. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

Wikipedia contributors. "Boar's Head Carol." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 Feb. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

Wikipedia contributors. "Thomas Hyde." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 Feb. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

Wikipedia contributors. "Medieval hunting." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 Feb. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

Wikipedia contributors. "Richard Rawlinson." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 Feb. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

Wikipedia contributors. "Royal Forests." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 Feb. 2013. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.

Wikipedia contributors. "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 1 Mar. 2013. Web. 1 Mar. 2013.

Wikipedia contributors. "Wild boar." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 20 Feb. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

Thomas Wright and James Orchard Halliwell, eds., Reliquiæ Antiquæ. Scraps from Ancient Manuscripts. Vol. 2 of 2. (London: John Russell Smith, 1845).

Thomas Wright, Songs and Carols Now First Printed From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century (The Percy Society, 1847) 

Thomas Wright, Songs and Carols from a Manuscript in the British Museum of the Fifteenth Century (The Warton Club, 1856)

Thomas Wright, Specimens of Old Christmas Carols Selected from Manuscripts and Printed Books (London: The Percy Society, 1841).

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

Print Page Return Home Page Close Window

If you would like to help support Hymns and Carols of Christmas, please click on the button below and make a donation.