The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

For Christmas

Song of the Angels, at the Nativity of our Blessed Saviour

Luke II. From Verse 8 to Verse 15

Version 2 - William Sandys, 1833

Alternate Titles:
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night
The Vision Of The Shepherds

Words: Nahum Tate, 17001; first appeared in Tate and Brady’s Supplement, 1700.

Music: "Christmas," George Frederick Handel, 1728; arranged in Harmonia Sacra, 1812,
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML
Alternate Tunes: "Winchester Old" and numerous others.
Meter: CM

Source: William Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (London: Richard Beckley, 1833), pp.147-8.

1. Whilst shepherds watched their flocks by night,
     All seated on the ground,
The angel2 of the Lord came down,
     And glory shone around.3

2. Fear not, said he, for mighty dread
     Had seized their troubled mind.
Glad tidings of great joy I bring
     To you and all mankind.4

3. To you, in David's town, this day
     Is born of David's line
A5 Saviour, which is Christ the Lord,
     And this shall be the sign.

4. The heavenly Babe you there shall find
     To human view displayed,
All meanly wrapped6 in swaddling bands,7
     And in a manger laid.

5. Thus spake the Seraph, and forthwith
     Appeared a heavenly throng7a
Of Angels praising God and thus,
     Addressed their joyful song.8

6. All glory be to God on high,
     And to the earth be peace;9
Good will henceforth from heaven to earth10
     Begin and never cease!

1. One source gives the year as 1702, although this may be erroneous. Return

2. Or: angels Return

3. The Irons arrangement repeats the last two lines. However, in Sandys and some other versions, the repetition of the last line is omitted in all verses. The Howard arrangement omits the repetition, but merges the first and second verses, the third and fourth verses, and the fifth and sixth verses. Return

4. Or: To all of humankind. Return

5. Or: The Return

6. Or: wrapt Return

7. Or: swathing; Pronounced "sway-thing" Return

7a. Or: a  shining throng. Return

8. Or: Of angels praising God, on high,
 Who thus addressed their song

9. Or: And on earth be peace Return

10. Or: men Return

Sheet Music "Angel's Carol" by J. Clarke from O. Hardwig, ed., The Wartburg Hymnal (Chicago: Wartburg Publishing House, 1918), #119

Sheet Music "Bethlehem" by G. W. Fink from O. Hardwig, ed., The Wartburg Hymnal (Chicago: Wartburg Publishing House, 1918), #120

Sheet Music by William Knapp, New Church Melody: Being a Set of Anthems, Psalms, Hymns, &c. on Various Occasions. In Four Parts with a Great Variety of other Anthems, Psalms, Hymns, &c. Composed after a Method Entirely New, and Never Printed Before. Fifth Edition. (London: R. Baldwin, S. Crowder, et al., 1753, 1764), pp. 159-161.

Knapp-New Church Melody-5th-1764-Title Page.jpg (76938 bytes) While_Shepherds_Watched-Knapp-5th-1764-p159.jpg (82066 bytes) While_Shepherds_Watched-Knapp-5th-1764-p160.jpg (118182 bytes) While_Shepherds_Watched-Knapp-5th-1764-p161.jpg (32289 bytes)

Settings to "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night" by William Knapp are available at ChoralWiki (CPDL , the Choral Public Domain Library)
While_Shepherds_Watched_Their_Flocks_By_Night (William_Knapp)
PDF & Midi versions available.
Note that settings for these lyrics by 16 composers are available at the CPDL.

Free sheet music is available for this piece for non-commercial use from Roding Music, both vocals and vocals with keyboard. The Christmas Carols page has links to this and other carols sung in the West Galley tradition.

Editor's Note: Sandys included no sheet music for this carol. For additional settings, see While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks - Version 1 (Davies, 1822).


Copies of this carol on this web site include:

Also found in Joshua Sylvester, A Garland of Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (London: John Camden Hotten, 1861), pp. 120-121, who had this note:

This piece enjoys great popularity in the rural districts. In the West it is frequently to be met with in the local Hymnbooks. It is probably not older than the last century.

Note that Hugh Keyte, an editor of The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) believes that "Joshua Sylvester" is a pseudonym for a collaboration between William Sandys (1792-1874) and William Henry Husk (1814-1887). See Appendix 4.

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"Christmas," George Frederick Handel, 1728

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
The "Christmas" Arrangement by Handel

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