The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

King Richard I - Longing for the Flesh of the Swine

For Christmas

See: Notes On The Boar's Head Carols

Source: William Hone, The Year Book. (London: William Tegg, 1832), pp. 751-752.

While king Richard I. lay before Acre [in 1191], he was attacked by an ague so grievous that none of the leeches could effect its cure; when owing to the prayers of his loyal army he became convalescent, his first symptom of recovery was a violent longing for swine’s flesh. None could be obtained; the cook therefore at the bidding of an old knight

“Takes a Saracen, young, and fat,
And sodden full hastily
With powdeer and with spicery,
And with saffron of good colour.”

and made a dainty dish for the royal invalid, who “eat the flesh and gnawed the bone,” and when he had satisfied his longing.—

“His chamberlain him wrapped warm,
He lay and slept, and swet a stound,
And became whole and sound.”

Presently after Richard hearing with astonishment and indignation the cries of the enemy who seemed making their way to his tent, he flung himself on his steed, and rushing among the Paynims, felled every opponent with his fearful battle-ax. Saladin retreated with loss, and the king returned triumphantly to his camp, and when he had rested awhile, be craved his “soupere” even “the head of that ilke swine,” which he “of ate.” Quoth the cook, “that head I ne have.” Then said the king,

“So God me save. But I see the head of that Swine,
Forsooth, thou shalt lessen thine!“
The cook saw none other might be,
He fetch’d the head, and let him see
He fell on knees, and made a cry,
“Lo here the head my lord, mercy!“

The swarte vis1 when the king seeth
His black heard, and white teeth,
How his lippes grinned wide,2
“What devil is this?” The king cried,
And gan to laugh as he were wode.
“What! is Saracen’s flesh thus good?
That, never erst, I nought wist!
By Godes death, and his up-rist,
Shall we never die for default,
While we may in any assault,
Slee Saracens, the flesh may take,
And seethen, and rostem, and do hem bake,
Gnawen her flesh to the bones!
Now I have it proved once,
For hunger ere I be wo,
I and my folk shall eat mo!"

This “right pleasaunt history” may be found at full in “Webers’s Metrical Romances, vol ii. p. 119, and abridged in Ellis’s Specimens of early English Romances, vol. ii. p. 233;” the which books be chiefly read by antiquaries and poets.

J. F. R.


1. Black face.

2. See the comic picture of a boars-head in the Every-Day Book.


Hone has drawings of both a "boars head" and a "boors head" in his entry for December 25 - The Nativity of Christ. Scroll down to "The Boar's Head" to see both drawings.

Richard I (born 8 September 1157) was King of England from 6 July 1189 until his death on 6 April 1199. Richard landed at Acre on 8 June 1191, capturing the city shortly thereafter. After leaving the Holy Land, Richard was captured shortly before Christmas 1192 near Vienna by Leopold V, Duke of Austria. After his ransom was paid, he was released on 4 February 1194.

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