The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Warton Concerning The Boar's Head Carol

Source: Thomas Warton, The History of English Poetry. Volume 3. Section XXVI. (London: J. Dodsley, et al., 1781), pp. 143-144.

See: Notes On The Boar's Head Carols

In the year 1521, Wynkyn de Worde printed a sett of Christmas Carols. {l} I have seen a fragment of this scarce book, and it preserves this colophon: "Thus endeth the Christmasse carolles newly imprinted at London in the Flete-strete at the sygne of the sonne by Wynkyn de Worde. The yere of our Lorde, M.d.xxi {m}." These 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. Hollinshed says, that in the year 1170, upon the day of the young prince's coronation, king Henry the Second "served his sonne at the table as sewer, bringing up the Bores Head with trumpets before it according to the manner." {n} For this indispensable ceremony, as also for others of that season, there was a Carol, which Wynkyn de Worde has given us in the miscellany just mentioned, as it was sung in his time, with the title, "A Caroll bringyng in the Bores heed."

Caput Apri defero,
Reddens laudes Domino.

The Bore's head in hand bringe I,
With garlans gay and rosemary.
I pray you all synge merely,
     Qui estis in convivio.

The Bore's head, I understande,
Is the chefe servyce {o} in this lande:
Loke whereever it be fande {p}
     Servite cum cantico.

Be gladde lordes, bothe more and lasse {q},
For this hath ordeyned our stewarde
To chere you all this Christmasse,
The Bore's head with mustarde.

This carol, yet with many innovations, is retained at Queen's college in Oxford. Other antient Christmas carols occur with Latin Burthens or Latin intermixtures. As thus,

Puer nobis natus est de Virgine Maria.
Be glad lordynges, be the more or lesse,
I brynge you tydynges of gladnesser.

The Latin scraps were banished from these jocund hymns when the Reformation had established an English liturgy. At length appeared, "Certaine of David's Psalmes intended for Christmas Carolls fitted to the most common but solempne tunes every where familiarly used, by William Slatyr, printed by Robert Young 1630"."

Warton's Footnotes:

{l}. For many small miscellaneous pieces under the reign of Henry VIII., the more inquisitive reader is referred to MSS. Cott. Vesp. A.25.

{n} [Holinshed,] Chron. iii. 76. See also Polyd. Virg. Hist. p. 212. 10. ed. 1534.

{m} In quarto.

{o} that is, the chief dish served at a feast.

{p} found.

{q} great and small.

Editor's Note:

This entry was subject to what has been termed an "ill-tempered" attack by Joseph Ritson in his Observations on the Three First Volumes of the History of English Poetry (London: J. Stockdale, 1782), pp. 36-37. See: Ritson's Observations on Warton's History of English Poetry.

Compare: The bores heed in hande bring I (Wynkyn de Worde, 1521), reproduced from Edwin Bliss Reed, Christmas Carols of the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1932) Plate A, p. 3. 

Concerning Holinshed's account in his Chronicles, Volume 3, see The Boar's Head Feast for Young Henry, 1170.

The reference to "Polyd. Virg. Hist." is to Polydore Vergil's Anglica Historia, Book 13, Henry II. The first edition, comprised of 36 books, was issued in 1534. See: Anglica Historia, Latin text and English translation (ed. and trans. Dana J. Sutton, 2005) in the Library of Humanistic Texts at the Philological Museum of University of Birmingham's Shakespeare Institute.

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