The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Boris Hed In Hondis I Brynge

For Christmas

Words: English Traditional from The Common-place Book of Richard Hill, London, Early XVI Century
The Original Manuscript is located at Balliol College, Balliol College MS 354; this carol is found on p. 477.

Source: F. J. Furnivall, ed., The Babees Book: Early English Meals and Manners. Early English Text Society, Original Series, No. 32. (E.E.T.S, London, 1868), p. 398.
Furnivall gives the following citation: "Balliol MS 354, ffl. ij C xij, or leaf 228."

See: Notes On The Boar's Head Carols

The Boar's Head

Caput apri refero,
Resonens laudes domino.

1. The boris hed in hondis I brynge
With garlondis gay & byrdie syngynge,
I pray you all, helpe me to synge,
Qui estis in conviuio.

[Caput apri refero,
Resones laudes domino.]

2. The boris hede, I vnderstond,
Ys cheff seruyce in all this londe,
Wher-so-ever it may be fonde,
Seruitur cum sinapio.

[Caput apri refero,
Resonens laudes domino.]

3. The boris hede, I dare well say,
Anon after the xijth day,
He taketh his leve & goth a-way,
Exiuit tunc de patria.

[Caput apri refero,
Resonens laudes domino.]


First publication of Hill's version of the carol was in an article, "The Commonplace Book of Richard Hilles," by James A. Froude in Fraser's Magazine for Town and Country, Vol. LVIII, No. CCCXLIV, August, 1858 (London: John W. Parker and Son, West Strand), pp. 127-144. The article is somewhat difficult to read due to the quality of the paper. It was reprinted the next month in The Living Age, No. 748, 25 September, 1858 (Littell, Son & Boston), pp. 963-973. Hill's version of "The Boar's Head In Hand I Bring" is found on p. 966.

As you can see, the spelling has been modernized (to see the original, go to page 477 of the MS 354):

Caput apri refero,
Resonans laudes Domino,

The boar's head in hand I bring,
With garlands gay and birds singing,
I pray you all help me to sing
Qui estis in convivio.

The boar's head I understand,
Is chief service in all this land,
Wheresoever it may be found,
Servitur cum sinapio.

The boar's head, I dare well say,
Anon after the Twelfth day.
He taketh his leave and goeth away,
Exivit tunc de patria.

Froude's essay has also been republished in his Essays in Literature & History (1906). It is available at Google Books, and in numerous formats at  Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive (mirrored at the Open Library). The article itself is also online at Read Books Online.

Hill's version of the Boar's Head Carol is also found in Roman Dyboski, ed., Songs, Carols, and Other Miscellaneous Poems from the Balliol MS 354, Richard Hill's Commonplace-book. (London: Published for the Early English Text Society by Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Limited, 1907, issued in 1908), #43, p. 33. According to the Mr. Dyboski, these notes range from A.D. 1508 to 1536. The date that Mr. Hill entered these lyrics in the manuscript is unknown.

The editors of The Oxford Book of Carols give the date that his carol was copied into the manuscript as 1504, but don't give the reasoning for their conclusion.

In his Preface to The Early English Carols, Richard Leighton Greene notes:

The first and most important of [the lyrics in Hill's Common-place book] are the numerous Sacred Songs and Carols, the greatest part of which are actually placed together in the MS. (see No. 120 a-zz in the Table of Contents) and were probably transcribed in one series from a then extant collection. (Greene, The Early English Carols (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1935), p. xvii.)

It is unknown what collection this group of carols originally came from, but this would likely push the date of the creation of this carol into the 15th century, together with the other related Boar's Head carols.

A slightly different version was printed in 1878:

Caput apri refero,
Resonens laudes Domino.

The boris hed in honde I brynge,
With garlandes gay and byrde syngynge,
I pray you all help me to synge,
Qui estis in convivio.

The boris hed, I understond,
Ys chiefly sirved in this londe,
Wher so ever it may be fonde,
Ceruitur cum sinapio.

The boris hed, I dare well say,
Anon after the xvth day
He taketh hys leve and goth away,
Exiuit de patria.

Source: James J. Moore, The Historical Handbook and Guide to Oxford. 2nd Edition. (Oxford: Thos. Shrimpton and Son, 1878), p. 185. Sometimes referred to as "Shrimpton's Handbook.

This carol shares about two-thirds of its content with another version published by Wynkyn de Worde in 1521, differing primarily in the third verse that announces the end of the Christmas-tide on the Epiphany (Twelfth Day, Jan. 6). See: The bores heed in hande bring I - de Worde, 1521.

Another boar's head carol that shares stanzas is "Hey, hey, hey, hey, the borrys hede is armyd gay" from the Porkington MS. No. 10, folio 202, ca 1460-1470 AD. The shared content are the first and third stanzas. A version of this carol was also published by Furnival, p. 397. See "The Boar's Head In Hand I Bring."

In his A Selection of English Carols, Richard Leighton Greene wrote:

The version here printed [by Hill] of this best known of the boar's head carols is probably earlier in the form of its text than the version printed by Wynkyn de Worde in 1521, even though it may have been written later in Richard Hill's MS.

Greene doesn't say why he believes that this is the earlier form of this carol, but when we look at the structure of the two carols, the reason becomes evident. In Hill's carol, all three verses have the same structure: three English lines and a fourth Latin line, followed by a two-line Latin burden. However, in Wynkyn de Worde's carol, the structure has been changed. Only the first two verses are of the same structure as Hill's, but the third verse has been changed to four English lines, and the Burden is omitted. Thus, it would seem that Hill's is older, and may be either the original carol or a direct descendant.

It is interesting that the version sung at Queen's College in 1660, as reported by Anthony à Wood (1632–1695), has the third verse in the same structure as the first two verses (although different that the version given by Hill). This, then, might either be a restoration of the original structure (from what we see altered in Wynkyn de Worde), or it could be an example of the original itself, of which the Richard Hill version is an alteration. It's important to remember that Wood was a noted antiquarian who had access to many of the most important libraries at Oxford and elsewhere.

In his note, Greene also wrote "The last stanza marks the ceremonial serving of the boar's head as a custom confined to the Christmas season. The 'byrdes syngynge' of line 2 [of verse 1] may mean an actual garnishing of the charger with captive live birds, a procedure not too elaborate for a Tudor fest."

The manuscript containing this carol was lost for many years, and was found lodged behind a bookcase in the mid-1800s: 

This manuscript "has been recently found in the library of Balliol College, Oxford, where it had been accidently concealed, behind a book-case, during a great number of years." At Mr. Hill's passing, the volume passed to his eldest son, John, but that after that the history became obscure. (Chappell, Popular Music in Olden Time. Vol I. (1855) p. 50.)

Froude's version is the first known publication of this carol. The second that I have found was by James J. Moore in the second edition of Shrimpton's The Historical Handbook and Guide to Oxford (1878), p. 185. It was followed by George Herman Ellwanger, The Pleasures of the Table: An Account of Gastronomy from Ancient Days to Present Times. (New York: Doubleday, Page and Company, 1902), p. 92. Finally, it was printed in 1908 by Dyboski, ed., Songs, Carols, and Other Miscellaneous Poems.

Today, Hill's "Commonplace Book" can be seen at “Early Manuscripts at Oxford University,” manuscripts at Balliol College, Manuscript 354, page 477. The copyright notice at that web site prohibits republication of that page or any parts of that page, but does permit republication of the URL. Viewing the page will give the modern student an idea of the challenges of transcribing the lyrics of this carol from the original manuscript. In the meantime, here's my attempt to re-create the burden as it was written by Richard Hill:

In modern English, the burden is:

Caput apri refero,
Resonens laudes domino.

Again, head to page 477 of Hill's manuscript to see the original.

Finally, I would recommend the excellent article by Janine Rogers, "Courtesy Books, Comedy, and the Merchant Masculinity of Oxford Balliol College MS 354" at The Medieval Forum, George W. Tuma and Dinah Hazell, eds., The English Department, San Francisco State University. This article has an excellent bibliography concerning the manuscript, which would be a great help to researchers. Although not stated, I suspect that the author is Dr. Janine Rogers, Director of CultureWorks and Associate Professor, Department of English, Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada.

Versions of Hill's Boar's Head Carol on this web site:

Interestingly, Froude also provides us with three verses from "As I walked by a forest side," p. 965, a version of the last entry in Wynkyn de Worde's Christmas Carolles Newly Emprinted (1521), As I Came By A Grene Forest Syde. He describes it as a hunting song:—

As I walked by a forest side
I met with a forester; he bade me abide
At a place where he me set —
He bade me what time an hart I met
That I should let slip and say go bett;
With Hay go bett, Hay go bett, Hay go bett,
Now we shall have game and sport enow.

I had not stand there but a while,
Yea, not the maintenance of a mile,
But a great hart came running without any guile;
With there he goeth — there he goeth — there he goeth;
Now we shall have game and sport enow.

I had no sooner my hounds let go
But the hart was overthrow;
Then every man began to blow,
With trororo—trororo—trororo,
Now we shall have game and sport enow.

Compare: As I Came By A Grene Forest Syde. See the Discussion of Hill's MS 354 at Balliol Library.

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