The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

March of the Kings

Traditional French: La Marche Des Rois Mages

Music: Provençal Melody, 13th Century
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer

Three great kings I met at early morn
With all their retinue were slowly marching
Three great kings I met at early morn
Were on their way to meet the newly born
With gifts of gold brought from far away
And valiant warriors to guard the royal treasure
With gifts of gold brought from far away
Their shields all shining in their bright array

Ce matin, j'ai rencontré le train
De trois grands rois qui allaient en voyage
Ce matin, j'ai rencontré le train
De trois grands rois dessus le grand chemin
Tout chargés d'or les suivaient d'abord
De grands guerriers et les gardes du trésor
Tout chargés d'or les suivaient d'abord
De grands guerriers avec leurs boucliers

For Thy mercy and Thy grace
Constant through another year
Hear our song of thankfulness
Father and Redeemer hear
Dark the future; let Thy light
Guide us, bright and morning star
Fierce our foes and hard the fight
Arm us Savior for the war

In our weakness and distress
Rock of strength be Thou our stay
In the pathless wilderness
Be our true and living way
Keep us faithful; keep us pure
Keep us evermore Thine own
Help, O help us to endure
Fit us for the promised crown

William L. Simon, ed., Reader’s Digest Merry Christmas Songbook (1981)

The Crusades-those religious expeditions to rescue the holy places in Palestine from the Moslems -created an enormous interest in both faith and fighting in the Middle Ages. French peasants from Provence in the 13th century, when the tune for this "March of the Kings" was being sung and danced to, must have endowed the Three Kings of the Christmas story with all the virtues and appearance of their own folk heroes nearer at hand. These were the French dukes, clad in gleaming armor, carrying brilliant banners and bejeweled shields, who fought for the Pope far more willingly than they would have for the lives of their own serfs. Hence the martial references in this text, sung to a tune that is perhaps even older than the verses. Georges Bizet, composer of the opera Carmen, used the same tune as a farandole, or stately dance, in his incidental music for Alphonse Daudet’s play L’Arlesienne (The Woman from Aries).