The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Nowel Sing We Now All And Sum

For Christmas

Words: English Traditional from Trinity College Library (T.C.C.) Ms. O. 3, 58, Cambridge

Music: Not Stated

Source: E. K. Chambers and F. Sidgwick, eds., Early English Lyrics (London: A. H. Bullen, 1907), #LXXIV, p. 138.

Nowel sing we now all and sum
For rex pacificus is cum.

In Bedleem, in that fair cete,
A child was born of a maden free,
That schall a lord and prince be 5
    A solis ortus cardine. 

Children were slain full grete plente,
Jhesu, for the love of thee.
Wherfore here1 soules saved be,
    Hostis Herodes impie.  10

As sunne schineth throw the glass,
So Jhesu in his moder was.
Thee to serve now graunt us gras,
O lux beata trinitas !

Now God is comen to wurchepen us, 15
Now of Marye is born Jhesus.
Make we mery amonges us ;
    Exultet celum laudibus.


1. here, their. Return

Sheet Music from Sir Richard Runciman Terry, A Medieval Carol Book: The Melodies Chiefly from MMS. in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd., 1932), Carol #26, p. 49.

AMCB62.jpg (694776 bytes)

Early English Lyrics

Nowel Sing We Now All And Sum
#LXXIV, p. 138.

Note to #LXXIV, p. 355.

T.C.C., O. 3. 58. Printed Fuller Maitland, 12-13 and 40-41.

Other versions in Eng. Poet. e. i, printed Wright, P.S., 52; Balliol 354, printed Anglia, xxvi. 239. Cf. also Seld. B. 26, printed E.B.M., ii. 104 [facsimile, i. plate XLV), five stanzas, each beginning with two or three words of Latin.

Of the Latin lines, A solis ortus cardine is the beginning of Nativity hymns both by St. Ambrose (A solis ortus cardine, Daniel, i. 21) and by Sedulius (A Solis Ortus Cardine, Daniel, i. 143), Hostis Herodes Impie is from the Epiphany hymn of Sedulius (Daniel, i. 147), O Lux Beata Trinitas from the evening hymn of St. Ambrose (Daniel, i. 36), and Exultet coelum laudibus from a hymn used on the feast-days of Apostles (Daniel, i. 247).

11. A common simile; an early instance is in Bodl. MS. Tanner 169*, f. 175, in the Compassio Mariae, C. 1270:--

'For so gleam glidis thurt the glas,
Of thi bodi burn he was,'

Editor's Note:

Roman Dyboski also pointed out the simile in line 11. He wrote:

The simile "As the sun shineth through the glass, so Jesus in her body was," may have been suggested by the following lines in an old Latin hymn (Mone, Lat. Hymnen des Mittelalters, I. p. 63): Ut vitrum non laeditur | sole penetrante, | sic illaesa reditur | virgo post et ante.

See: Roman Dyboski, ed., Songs, Carols and Miscellaneous Poems from the Balliol Ms. 354, Richard Hill's Commonplace Book. (London: Published for the Early English Text Society, 1907), Notes, p. 173.

Extended Citations:

T.C.C., O. 3. 58.
Manuscript O. 3. 58 at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Eng. Poet. e. 1
Manuscript Eng. Poet. e. 1, Bodleian Library, Oxford

Balliol 354,
Manuscript 354, f. 222b, Balliol College, Oxford. Versions found in:

Selden B. 26, folio 7r: Nowel syng we bothe al and som
Manuscript Selden B 26 at Bodleian College, Oxford.

Editor's Note:

Another copy was found in MS. Ee. 1. 12., f. 1.r., Cambridge University Library. In Bethlehem, That Fayre Cite-ee.1.12 (Greene, The Early English Carols, #21D)

The Oxford Book of Carols (1928) has "In Bethlehem That Fair City," with a musical setting from Piae Cantiones. Number 120, pp. 253. The New Oxford Book of Carols (1992), #34, pp. 98-99, has text and music from the Selden manuscript (and music from the Trinity ms.), plus good notes.

Editor's Note:

The popularity of this carol can be seen by its appearance in an unusually large number of 15th century manuscripts including

Trinity College Library, O. 3. 58. (James, No. 1230)

Balliol 354, Richard Hill's Common-place Book, Balliol College, Oxford

Eng. Poet. e. 1., Bodleian Library, Oxford

MS. Ee. 1. 12., f. 1.r., Cambridge University Library

Selden B. 26, Bodleian Library, Oxford

Descriptions of Manuscripts from Chambers and Sidgwick

T.C.C. O. 3. 58.
T.C.C., the Trinity College Library, O. 3. 58. (James, no. 1230). Parchment roll 7 inches wide, and 6 feet 7 inches long. One side bears a Latin ecclesiastical treatise; the other 13 carols and poems with music, perhaps by John Dunstable (see Bodl. Selden B. 26). Df the XV cent.; the forms of the words indicate northern origin. A variant of the Agincourt song is the only secular poem. The MS. was presented in 1838 to the College by H. O. Roe, Esq. Described in James, iii. 247. Edited with a facsimile and added vocal parts by J. A. Fuller Maitland and W. S. Rockstro in 1891, English Carols of the Fifteenth Century, from a MS. Roll in the Library of Trinity College, Cambridge. [Nos. LII, LIII, LXXIV.]

Eng. Poet. e. 1.
Eng. Poet. e. 1. Paper, 6 x 4 1/4. ‘Seventy six songs, religious and other, including some Christmas carols and drinking songs, presumably collected for the use of a professed minstrel’ (Madan, v. 679). Written partly in English, partly in Latin, partly in both. In several hands ; two pieces of music (facsimiles in E.B.M.). Variants of several poems in Sloane 2593. Dated 1460-80 by Madan, and ‘about 1485-90’ by Nicholson in E.B.M. Belonged in 1847 to Thomas Wright, but was then lost, and was said to have been taken away by the bookbinder to whom it was entrusted (Chappell, 43, note). It was bought for the Bodleian in 1887 at the sale of the library of Joseph Mayer, who was a patron of Wright’s. Described by Madan as above, and in E.B.M., i. xxiv. Edited complete by Wright in 1847 as No. LXXIII of the Percy Society publications (misquoted XXIII by Flügel, Fehr, and others, owing to an error in the Brit. Mus. Catalogue).

Editor's Note: The reference to "XXIII" (23) is to the Volume number published by the Percy Society's series Early English Poetry, Ballads, and Popular Literature of the Middle Ages. Wright's work was Number LXXIII (73) in their list of publications.

MS Eng. Poet. e. 1. is located in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Madan is Falconer Madan, Richard W. Hunt, et al., Summary Catalogue of the Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library. 7 volumes in 8. (Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1895-1953). E.B.M. refers to Sir John Stainer, ed., Early Bodleian Music. Sacred and Secular Songs together with other MS. Compositions in the Bodleian Library, Oxford : ranging from about a.d. 1185 to about a.d. 1505. Two volumes (vol. i, facsimiles, vol. ii, transcriptions) (London : Novello ; New York : Novello, Ewer, 1901). With an Introduction by E. W. B. Nicholson, and Transcriptions into Modern Musical Notation by J. F. R. Stainer and C. Stainer. A third volume was subsequently published.

The complete description by Madan, pp. 679-680:

29734. In English and Latin, on paper: written about A. D. 1460-80 by several hands : 6 1/4 x 4 3/4 in., in a box lined with red velvet 7 1/4 x 5 3/8 in., 64 leaves : stained and worn in parts, but repaired : binding, green morocco with gold ornament, done for mr. J. Mayer (19th cent.).

Seventy-six songs, religious and other, including some Christmas carols and drinking songs, presumably collected for the use of a professed minstrel : a few have the music as well as the words (foll. 40v , 41v , 50v).

This valuable MS. was edited for the Percy Society (vol. 23) in 1847, see also W. Chappell's Popular Music of the Olden Time (1855-7), i. 41. Most of the songs are in English or mixed English and Latin, a few in Latin alone.

In 1847 this volume was owned by Thomas Wright, who edited it : he subsequently lost it, and it was bought by the Bodleian at the Joseph Mayer sale (lot 42) on July 19, 1887, for £16.

[On this MS. see further 'Early Bodleian music' i. p. xxiv and plates 99-100 (where I have ascribed the date 'about 1485-90'), ii. pp. 182-4. E. W. B. N.]

Now MS. Eng. poet. e. 1.

Source: Falconer Madan, A summary catalogue of Western manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford which have not hitherto been catalogued in the quarto series with references to the Oriental and other manuscripts. Vol. V: Collections received during the second half of the 19th century and miscellaneous MSS. acquired between 1695 and 1890. Nos. 24331-31000. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905), pp. 679-80.

In the Preface to Songs and Carols Now First Printed From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century, Thomas Wright wrote:

The following very curious collection of old English Songs and Carols is printed verbatim from a manuscript at present in the possession of the Editor. It appears by the writing and language to have been written in the latter half of the fifteenth century, probably during the period intervening between the latter end of the reign of Henry VI [1421-1471], and the beginning of that of Henry VII [1457-1509]; a date which is confirmed by the fact that the few other copies of songs in this collection that occur elsewhere, are invariably found in manuscripts of the reign of Henry VI or of the age immediately following.

This manuscript has in all probability belonged to a professed minstrel, who sang at festivals and merry makings, and it has therefore been thought to merit publication entire, as giving a general view of the classes of poetry then popular. A rather large proportion of its contents consists of carols and religious songs, such as were sung at Christmas, and perhaps at some other of the great festivals of the church; and these are interesting illustrations of the manners and customs of the age.

Another class of productions, in which this manuscript is for its date peculiarly rich, consists of drinking songs, some of which are singular in their form and not wanting in spirit. The collection also contains a number of those satirical songs against the fair sex, which were so common in the middle ages, and which have a certain degree of importance as showing the condition of private society among our forefathers. In addition to these three classes, the manuscript contains a few short moral poems, which also are not without their peculiar interest.

Manuscript collections of songs like the present, of so early a date, are of great rarity. The only one with which I am acquainted, which may be considered of exactly the same character, is the MS. Sloane, No 2593, in the British Museum, which has generally been ascribed to the reign of Henry VI.

See: Songs and Carols Printed From A Manuscript in the Sloane Collection in the British Museum (London: William Pickering, 1836); twenty songs and carols from Sloane MS 2593, and Songs and Carols from a Manuscript in the British Museum of the Fifteenth Century (The Warton Club, 1856); the complete Sloane MS 2593.

Balliol 354,
Balliol 354. Paper, 11 1/2 x 4. Commonplace book of Richard Hill, who describes himself as ‘seruant with Mr. Wyngar, alderman of London.' John Wyngar, grocer, was alderman in 1493, mayor 1504, and died 1505. Richard Hill married in 1518 Margaret, daughter of Harry Wyngar, haberdasher, 'dwellyng in bowe parishe in London,' and the births of his seven children are recorded in the MS. from 1518 to 1526. The MS. is a miscellany of the widest character, English, French, and Latin, poems, romances, fabliaux, extracts from Gower and Sir Thomas More, receipts, legal notes, London customs, etc. Some pieces, signed by Hill, must be in his own hand ; so probably is most of the MS. The latest date in it is 1535, but part must have been written before 1504. Rimbault, 120, refers apparently to the MS. in 1851, (see notes on CXXXI), and said he intended to print it entire. Chappell (1855-59), 50, notes that this MS. had been 'recently found in the library . . . , where it had been accidentally concealed, behind a bookcase, during a great number of years.' Extracts printed by Flugel, W.L., in 1894; and thence by Pollard, 1903 ; also in Flugel, N.L. Edited, almost complete, with full table of contents, by Flugel in Anglia, xxvi, 94, printing 126 items. Source: Notes, p. 307-308.


Editor's Note:

See also

Balliol Ms. 354 is available on-line at Early Manuscripts at Oxford University; see Balliol Ms. 354.

Selden B. 26.
Selden B. 26: Oxford, Bodleian Library, 'Several MSS., apparently bound together after they came into the possession of the library' [in or about 1659] ; ff. 3-33, parchment, 10 1/4 x 7, contains 52 English and Latin carols and songs with music in 2, 3, and 4 parts. Nicholson traces eleven different hands in the music and nine in the words ; Southern English; about 1450. One tune by John Dunstable, who died 1453. Variants of four lyrics and tunes in Trinity College Library, 0. 3. 58 ; including the Song on Agincourt, transcribed hence by or for Samuel Pepys, now in his collection of Ballads, i. 3. Described in E.B.M., i. xx-xxiii, and O.H.M., ii. 133 (from musical point of view).

Editor's Note: Selden Ms. B 26 is available  on-line at Early Manuscripts at Oxford University; see Selden MS B26.

Sir John Stainer, ed., Early Bodleian Music. Sacred and Secular Songs together with other MS. Compositions in the Bodleian Library, Oxford : ranging from about a.d. 1185 to about a.d. 1505. With an Introduction by E. W. B. Nicholson, and Transcriptions into Modern Musical Notation by J. F. R. Stainer and C. Stainer. Volume Two of Two volumes (vol. 1, facsimiles, vol. 2, transcriptions), 1901, p. 107 (facsimile, i. plate XLVII).

The Oxford History of Music
. Edited by W. H. Hadow, 6 vols. First two vols. are Parts I (1901) and II (1905) of 'The Polyphonic Period' by H. Ellis Wooldridge.

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