The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Boares Head in Hand Bear I

For Christmas

Words and Music: Traditional English performed at Queen's College, Oxford.

Source: Anthony Wood, 1660, from a manuscript.

See: Notes On The Boar's Head Carols


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;

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.


* 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.

Editor's Note:

This is the earliest version of the carol as performed at Queen's College, the University of Oxford. As Anthony Wood notes, the celebration of bringing in the boar's head dates from the very beginning of the college in 1340, although we don't know what that ceremony looked like.

This account was found in a manuscript in the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Oxford, signed by 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.

In addition to these lyrics, Wood had these notes:

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.

From a MS. in the Ashmole Museum.

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., (16361703). 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.

Other versions sung at Queen's College:

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