The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Thomas Hearne's Notae Regarding The Boar's Head Carol

Source: Thomas Hearne  (1678–1735), Guilielmi Neubrigensis Historia Siv Chronica Rerum Anglicarum, Libris Quinque. Vol. III. (Oxonii: E Theatro Sheldoniano, 1719), Section 9., Pages 743-5.

See: Notes On The Boar's Head Carols

Editor's Note: In 1719, Thomas Hearne released Volume 3 of an expanded version of William of Newbury's History of English Affairs (1197). Near the back of the volume, Mr. Hearne provides the reader with his views concerning the place for old ballads in literature, together with the first reprinting of 'A Caroll Bringyng In The Bores Heed' since it was printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1521. The fragment found by Hearne was unique; no other copy has since been discovered (yet). Most of the quotations of this account are severely truncated. I provide this full reading for the curious reader.

The Psalms and Mournful Ditties that are now handed about (such as that in The Garland of Good-Will. Being a Collection of Songs, in 3 Parts. T. D.i London. 1631. 8o.) as well as the vulgar Narratives upon the same Subject, are, in divers respects, different from the original Songs and Relations that were published soon after herii Death. For which reason it were to be wished, that we had the Stories exactly now remaining as they were delivered then. But this we must not expect, the old Accounts being quite Destroyed upon the Appearance of such as were done in a more modern Dress and improved with many Additions. This way of Alteration is what hath happened to many old English Pieces. Reynard the fox was one of the first Things printed in England, being done by the famous William Caxton in the year 1481.

It was an admirable Thing. And the Design, being political and to represent a wise Government, was equally good; so little reason is there to look upon this as a poor despicable Book. Nor is there more reason to esteem The Merry Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham, (which was much valued and cry'd up in H. The Eighth's time, though now sold at Ballad=Singers stalls) the Author whereof was Dr. Andrew Borde, as altogether a Romance, a certain skillful Person having told me more than once, that he was assured by one of Gotham that they formerly held Lands there by such Sports and Customs as are touched upon in this Book; for which reason, I think, particular notice should have been taken of it in Blount's Tenures, as I do not doubt but there would, had that otherwise curious Author been appraised of the matter. But 'tis strange to see the changes that have been made in the Book of Reynard the Fox from the original Editions.

I shall not give other Instances of Alterations in the 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.iii [sic] With Trumpets before his Son when his said son was crownediv) as I have it in an old fragment (for I usually preserved 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 Booksv, 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 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 same time that some of David's Psalmsvi came to be used in its stead.

A Caroll bringyng in the bores heed.

Caput apri vii differo
Reddens viii laudens domino.

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

The bores heed I understande
Is the ix these seruyse in this lande
Loke where ever it be fande
Seruite cum cantico.

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


Thus endeth the Christmasse carolles newly enprinted at Londō in the fletestrete at the sygne of the sonne by Wynkyn de Worde. The year of our lorde M.D.xxi.


i Ed. Note: T.D. = Thomas Deloney.

ii Ed. Note: Rosamund Clifford, mistress of King Henry II, who, according to legend, was confronted by Queen Eleanor, and was offered the choice between death by stabbing or death by poison. She selected the latter. King Henry II was, at the time, engaged in defending against an open rebellion in France conducted one or more of his sons.

iii Ed. Note: King Henry II., not King Henry I.

iv Hollynshed's Chron. Vol. III. p. 76.

v So in some MMS. Papers of Mr. John Bagford, given me by that most excellent Physician and truly great Man, Dr. Richard Mead, to whom I am eternally obliged.

vi Certaine of David's Psalms intended for Christmas carolls fitted to the most common but solempne Tunes, every where familiarly used: By William Slatyer. Printed by Robert Young 1630. 8o. [Ed. I have not yet encountered a copy of this volume.]

vii Sic, pro defero.

viii Sic, pro laudes.

ix Sic, pro chese.


In this text, Hearne mentions The Garland of Goodwill (1631). The original is in the Bodleian. I've found no separate copies of this book, however, Volume 4 of F. O. Mann's Works of Thomas Deloney is online and contains the Garland. It can be extracted using a PDF Print Driver program (there are several; I have used “CutePDF”). As the Garland contains no Christmas content, I haven't posted a copy on this site.

The “much valued and cry'd up in H. the Eighth's time” work, The Merry Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham, was a bit of humor based upon the legendary attempts by the inhabitants of Gotham to prevent a public highway from being placed through their village. A mere six pages long, no original copies have been found – although they may exist in libraries or museums. However, the work has been included in a number of subsequent volumes. A search using any of the web search engines such as Google or Bing will produce a profitable garland from which this work of genius can be found. Residents of New York city are advised to put their tongues firmly in their cheeks before accessing this literary gem, and to rest assured that had Washington Irving lived a bit longer, the assignment of "Gotham" would have made to a certain august body that regularly sits in our nation's capital.

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