The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

When Bloody Herod Reigned King

For Saint John The Baptist
Feast Day of June 24
See: Hymns Concerning St. John The Baptist

Words and Music: English Traditional

Compare: When Bloody Herod Reigned King-Roxburghe

Source: Davies Gilbert, Some Ancient Christmas Carols. London: John Nichols And Son, Second Edition, 1823, Carol #18, pp. 57-8.

1. When bloody Herod reigned king
    Within Judea1 land,
Much woes his cruel will did bring,
    By power of his2 command.
Amongst the rest, with grief opprest,
    Was good St. John there slain,
Who on this day midst sport and play,
    A Martyr'd death did gain.

2. King Herod, being in his tower,
    Herodias dancing spied,
As fair as any Summer3 flower
    In all her painted pride;
Clad in bright gold for4 to behold
    King Herod's heart admired
He bid her crave what5 she should have,
    Though she his crown desired.

3. A kingly crown I do not wish,
    But Saint John's head, she said;
Wherefore, all bleeding in a dish,
    Before me be it laid.
Which was the thing she of the king
    Desired with right good will,
Whose death was wrought, and to her brought:
    Such minds have harlots6 still.

4. Thus wine and women, we do see,
    Men's minds to folly win;
For Herod did too soon agree,
    And gave consent to sin.
For7 on this day, as Scriptures day,
    St. John did lose his head,
Whilst she did sing before the King,
    As he at table fed.

5. Then let us all by him take heed
    Of riot8 and excess,
For fear that soon to us it breed9
    As great a wickedness.
And let our sport in civil sort,
    Content each merry mind;
So shall we all in this good hall
    Much joy and comfort find.

6.10 Now kindly for my pretty song,
    Good butler, draw some beer;
You know what duties do belong
    To him that sings so clear.
Holly and ivy, and drink to drive ye,
    To the brown bowl of berry;
With apples and ale, and a Christmas tale,
    We'll make this household merry.


1.Or: Judea's. Return

2. Or: bloody fierce. Return

3. Or: summer's. Return

4. Or: which. Return

5.Or: and. Return

6. Or: strumpets. Return

7. Or: Then. Return

8. Or: riots.  Return

9. Or: bring. Return

10. Does not occurs in Davies Gilbert. Source is William Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (London: Richard Beckley, 1833). Return

Editor's Note. I find it odd to sing a song at Christmas time to St. John the Baptist, whose feast day is June 24. It may be explained on the basis that it was St. John the Baptist who preached "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 3:2), referring to the coming of the Messiah. It was common, of course, to sing carols to St. John the Evangelist, whose feast day is December 27, and therefore within the Christmas-tide. See: Hymns To St. John The Evangelist.

A copy is found on a broadside in the Roxburghe Collection, iii.354, ca. 1700, which has this graphical heading.

There is a copy at the English Broadside Ballad Archive, University of California, Santa Barbara.

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