The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Coventry Carol

For the Feast of the Holy Innocents, December 28

The Version from Bramley and Stainer (1878)

Compare: The Coventry Carol, Sharp (1817)
The Coventry Carol, Dearmer and Shaw (1913)
The Coventry Carol, Terry, Two Hundred Folk Carols (1933)
The Coventry Carol (Lulle Lullay), collected by John Jacob Niles (1934)

Words Attributed to Robert Croo, 1534

English Melody, 1591
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / Sheet Music

Source: Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer, Christmas Carols New and Old, Third Series (London: Novello, Ewer & Co., ca 1878), Carol #61. Bramley and Stainer give attribution for the words to "Coventry Mysteries"

This carol is named after the city of Coventry, England, where the Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors
anciently depicted Herod's slaughter of the innocents, as told in the lyrics. See:
Notes to The Coventry Carol

1. Lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
Lullay, Thou little tiny Child.
By, by, lully, lullay.

2. O sisters, too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day;
This poor Youngling for whom we sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

3. Herod the King, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day;
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young, to slay.

4. Then woe is me, poor Child, for Thee,
And ever mourn and say;
For Thy parting, nor say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Editor's Note:

In some versions, the following lines are substituted for the first verse, and are repeated at the ending of the carol:

Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child,
By by, lully lullay.

Sheet Music from Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer, Christmas Carols New and Old, Third Series (London: Novello, Ewer & Co., ca 1878), Carol #61.

coventry_carol_61.gif (391331 bytes)

The Gospel According to Matthew
Chapter 2, verses 16 - 18

"Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all the region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

"A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled,
because they were no more."


This is one of many songs which relate to the Holy Innocents, whose feast day is December 28. For more, please see The Hymns Of The Holy Innocents.

See, generally, Corpus Christi Day and the Performance of Mysteries, from William Hone, The Every Day Book, 2 Vols. London: William Tegg, 1825, 1827 (Volume 1, June 2).

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