The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Coventry Carol

For the Feast of the Holy Innocents, December 28

Version by Thomas Sharp, 1817 & 1825.

Compare: The Coventry Carol, Bramley and Stainer (1878)
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: Thomas Sharp, A Dissertation on the Pageants or Dramatic Mysteries Anciently Performed at Coventry. (Coventry: Merridew and Son, 1825), pp. 113-114. These lyrics were privately printed by Sharp in 1817 with 12 copies. Note that the ("thorne") character is usually rendered as "th" (as in "thy," "this" and "thou").

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

Lully lulla w littell tin child
By by lully lullay
w littell tyn child
By by lully lullay

O sisters too how may we do
For to preserve
is day
This pore yongling for whom we do singe
By by lully lullay

Herod the king in his raging
Chargid he hath this day
His men of might in his owne sight
All yonge children to slay

That wo is me pore child for thee
And ever morne and say
For thi parting nether say nor singe
By by lully lullay

Sheet Music from Thomas Sharp, A Dissertation on the Pageants or Dramatic Mysteries Anciently Performed at Coventry. (Coventry: Merridew and Son, 1825), pp. 113-114

Lully-lulla-Music-01.jpg (111908 bytes)  Lully-lulla-Music-02.jpg (134401 bytes)

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)

Sheet Music from Rev. Charles Lewis Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916), Carol #540
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF

Coventry_Carol_540.gif (196708 bytes)

Sheet Music from Martin Shaw and Percy Dearmer, The English Carol Book, Second Series (London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., Ltd., 1913), Carol #38

Public Domain Recording:

The Coventry Carol:
Koventria Karolo
in Esperanto! by Gene Keyes

An Additional 6 Christmas Carols by Gene at Jula Karolaro

Plus 148 Christmas Carols in Esperanto at Kristnaskaj Kantoj

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."

Note:

This was one of three carols from The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. According to Elizabeth Poston, the manuscript had a later annotation by Thomas Mawdycke, 1591, directing that this song the women singe, and that the shepherds sing the other two. Concerning the song, Poston wrote:

The manuscript, no longer in existence, from which Sharp transcribed the carol, gave it in a three-part setting. The carol is well performable in these three parts, impressive and rather bare in harmony. To anyone conversant with the style of the period, the addition of a fourth or tenor part in amplification of the existing harmony is obvious and presents little choice. Sharp gives the original as barred in duple metre, which Thurston Dart in his interesting edition (Two Coventry Carols, Stainer & Bell) has been careful to preserve.

The first carol was:

As I out rode this enderes night
Of thre ioli sheppardes I saw a sight
And all a-bowte there fold a star shone bright
       They sange terli terlow
       So mereli the sheppards ther pipes can blow.

This carol was to be sung by the shepherds, as was the third carol:

Donne from heaven, from heaven so hie
Of angels ther came a great companie
With mirthe and ioy and great solemnitye
      The sange terly terlow
      So mereli the shephards ther pipes can blow.

In contemporary usage, these two verses are sometimes combined into a single carol; note that the two carols have the same burden. See: As I out rode this enderes night.

These are the pages from Sharp's 1825 document that contained the lyrics to the three carols:

Songs_To_The_Pageant-113.jpg (40268 bytes) Songs_To_The_Pageant-114.jpg (28554 bytes)

This is the sheet music for all three carols that Sharp included in his 1925 Dissertation.

Carol 1 Carol 2 Carol 3
" As I out rode this enderes night " " Lully, lulla, thou littell tine childe " " Doune from heaven, from heaven so hie "
As_I_Out_Rode-Music.jpg (162299 bytes) Lully-lulla-Music-01.jpg (111908 bytes)  Lully-lulla-Music-02.jpg (134401 bytes) Downe_From-Music.jpg (134572 bytes)

While this was the first printing of the lyrics by Thomas Sharp, who transcribed the carol from the 1534 manuscript in the City of Coventry archives, the actual first printing of the carol was by Francis Douce in 1807 (with credit to Mr. Sharp).

Lully, lulla, thou littell tine childe,
By by lully lullay, thou littell tyne child,
By by lully lullay!

O sisters too,
How may we do,
    For to preserve this day
This pore yongling,
For whom we do singe
    By by lully lullay.

Herod the king,
In his raging,
    Chargid he hath this day ;
His men of might,
In his owne sight,
    All yonge children to slay.

That wo is me,
Pore child for thee,
    And ever morne and say ;
For thi parting,
Nether say nor sing,
    By by lully lullay."

See: Francis Douce, Illustrations of Shakespeare and Ancient Manners. Volume Two of Two Volumes. (London: Longman, Hurst, Reeds and Orme, 1807), pp. 114-115.

In most settings, the text beginning "Lully, lulla" is treated as a verse. However, Richard Greene, in his The Early English Carols, treats that text as the burden, with three verses. The burden is often sung before the first verse, and then again after each of the verses. Taking Douce's 1807 version as the example, we then have:

Lully, lulla, thou littell tine childe,
By by lully lullay, thou littell tyne child,
By by lully lullay!

O sisters too,
How may we do,
    For to preserve this day
This pore yongling,
For whom we do singe
    By by lully lullay.

Lully, lulla, thou littell tine childe,
By by lully lullay, thou littell tyne child,
By by lully lullay!

Herod the king,
In his raging,
    Chargid he hath this day ;
His men of might,
In his owne sight,
    All yonge children to slay.

Lully, lulla, thou littell tine childe,
By by lully lullay, thou littell tyne child,
By by lully lullay!

That wo is me,
Pore child for thee,
    And ever morne and say ;
For thi parting,
Nether say nor sing,
    By by lully lullay."

Lully, lulla, thou littell tine childe,
By by lully lullay, thou littell tyne child,
By by lully lullay!

See: Richard L. Greene, ed., The Early English Carols (Oxford; At the Clarendon Press, 1935), "O Sisters Too," #112, p. 71.

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).

Print Page Return Home Page Close Window

If you would like to help support Hymns and Carols of Christmas, please click on the button below and make a donation.


Related Hymns and Carols