The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Dibdin On The Boar's Head Carol

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. 250-252.

See: Notes On The Boar's Head Carols

In 1812, Rev. Thomas Dibdin was expanding work by Joseph Ames, Typographical Antiquities. Between pages 250 and 252 of Volume II, he gave the following account of the Boar's Head Carol. In addition, after page 252, but before 253, Dibdin inserted three pages. He gives no attribution, but William Hone, in his The Every Day Book (1825), describe an identical document created by Rev. Philip Bliss (see: December 24 - Christmas Eve).

342. Christmasse Carolles newely enprinted at Londo, in the fletestrete at the sygne of the Sonne by Wynkyn de Worde. The yere of our lorde, M.D.xxi. Quarto.

It is probable that the fragment of this very curious and uncommon book, which [Thomas] Warton saw, was the identical one inspected and described by Hearne;1 although Warton is silent respecting the account [p. 251] given of it by the latter. 'These carols (says Warton) were festal chansons for enlivening the merriments of the Christmas celebrity: and not such religious songs as are current at this day, with the common people under the same title, and which were substituted by those enemies of innocent and useful mirth, the Puritans. The boar's head, soused, was anciently the first dish on Christmas day, and was carried up to the principal table in the hall, with great state and solemnity.' See the anecdote and authorities in the 'Hist. of Eng. Poetry,' vol. iii. p. 143 [See Warton Concerning The Boar's Head Carol]. The carol, according to Hearne, Ames, Warton, and Ritson,2 is as follows:

A carol bringyng in the bores heed.

Caput apri differo3
Reddens laudes Domino

The bores heed in hande bring I,
With garlands gay and rosemary
I praye you all synge merely
Qui estis in conuiuio.

The bores heed I vnderstande
Is the thefe4 seruyce in this lande
Loke where euer it be fande5
Seruite cum cantico

Be gladde lordes bothe more and lasse6
For this hath ordeyned our stewarde
To chere you all this Christmasse
The bores heed with mustarde.

[p. 252]

Thus endeth the Christmasse carolles,
newely enprinted at Londo, in the fletestrete
at the sygne of the Sonne by Wynkyn
de Worde. the yere of our lorde. M.D.xxi.

This carol (says Warton), with many alterations, is yet retained at Queen's College in Oxford.7 I know of no collection in which a copy of these ancient strains is to be found.

Notes from Dibdin:

1. The following is [Thomas] Hearne's minute account of it: 'I shall not give other instances of alterations in old English pieces, only I will beg leave here to give an exact copy of the Christmas Carol upon the Boar's head, (which is an ancient dish, and was brought up by K. Henry I. with trumpets, before his son, when his said son was crowned) as I have it in an old fragment, (for I usually preserve even fragments of old books) of the Christmas carols printed by Wynkyn de Worde, (who as well as Richard Pynson, was servant to William Caxton, who was the first that printed English books, though not the first printer in England (as is commonly said), printing being exercised at Oxford in 1468, if not sooner, which was several years before he printed any thing at Westminster, by which it will be perceived how much the same carol is altered, as it is sung in some places even now, from what it was at first. It is the last thing, it seems, of the book (which I never yet saw intire) and at the same time, I think it proper also to add 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.'Hist. Guil. Neubrig. Vol. III. pp. 743-745. Return

2. Ancient English Songs, 1790, 8vo. Return

3. Sic pro deferoReturn

4 Sic pro chefeReturn

5. Found. Return

6. Great and small. Return

7. 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. 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,


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.

Editor's Note: This is the end of the text on p. 252. The following three pages are inserted in the book before Dibdin continues with p. 253.

[p. 1]


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

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;

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.

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

This bore'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. [p. 2]

When the first course is served up in the refectory on Christmas-day in the said College, the manciple brings the said Bores 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.



From a MS. in the Ashmole Museum.

= = = = =

On the same subject, from a MS. of Dr. Rawlinson's, in the Bodleian library, entitled "Memoirs of the Family of Baskerville." folio.

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 [Page 3] 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.

= = = = = =

The original Carol from "Christmasse Carolles newely enprinted at Londo' in the fletestrete at the sygne of the sonne by Wynkyn de Worde. The yere of our lorde. M.D.xxi."

A Caroll bringing in the bores head.

Caput apri differo1
Reddens laudens2 domino.

The bores head 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 thefe3 seruyce in this lande
Loke where euer it be fande
Seruite cum cantico.

Be gladde lordes both more and lasse
For this hath ordeyned our stewarde
To chere you all this Christmasse
The bores heed with mustarde.

Notes from Bliss:

1 So in the original for defero.

2 So for laudes.

3 So for chefe.


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