The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Songs and Carols Now First Printed,
From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century

Thomas Wright, The Percy Society, 1847

Preface

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. On a comparison of the contents of the two manuscripts, it has been found that a few of the pieces printed in the present volume are found in the Sloane MS., and they have been indicated in the notes; one or two are also found separately in other manuscripts; and a diligent search would probably bring to light others: but by much the larger number of the songs contained in our manuscript, including some of the most interesting and curious, appear to be unique, and the others are in general much better and more complete copies than those previously known.

The great variations in the different copies of the same song, shew that they were taken down from oral recitation, and had been often preserved by memory among minstrels who were not unskillful at composing, and who were not only in the habit of voluntarily or involuntarily modifying the songs as they passed through their hands, and adding or omitting stanzas, but of making up new songs by stringing together phrases and lines, and even whole stanzas, from the different compositions which were imprinted on their memories, — imitating in this the practice of the more ancient bards of the Anglo-Saxons.

It remains only to add that the present volume is, as nearly as is consistent with the right duties of an editor in presenting his original in a intelligible form, a literal facsimile of the original manuscript.

Thomas Wright

24, Sydney Street, Brompton
     Oct. 12, 1847

Editor's Note: Songs and poems which do not relate to Christmas are stored in a separate directory on this site, and are not included in the count of Christmas carols reported, periodically, on the What's New page.

Wright was also the editor of

Material in square brackets [like these] are by the editor.


Index of Carols

Editor's Note: Because Middle English contains letters not found in modern English, I've used a special font, "Junius Modern" created by Professor Peter S. Baker, Professor of English, University of Virginia on this page.  You can obtain a copy of this font from his website Old English at the University of Virginia (or right click here, and then select "Save File As" to save a copy of the zipped file to your computer).  This font must be downloaded and installed before this page will display accurately.

1. Angelum misit suum Deus omnipotens

2. Bonum vinum cum sapore

3. Man, be war, the way ys sleder

4. Herfore, and therfor, and therfor I came

5. Et virgine natus, Christe, es sine macula

6. Whylome I present was with my soffreyne

7. Now ys wele and all thyne aryõt

8. Wold God that men myõt sene

9. Every mane in hys degré

10. Thys endris nyõth

11. A ferly thyng it is to mene

12. This may I preve withoughten lett

13. Salvator mundi Domine

14. Lullay, my chyld, and wepe no more

15. Godes sonne for the love of mane

16. Lyth and lystyn, both old and 3yng

17. For a man that is almost blynd

18. Blowyng was mad for gret game

19. The fyrst day of yole have we in mynd

20. Tydynges I Bryng 3ow For To Tell

21 All That I May Swynk Or Swet

22. In All This Warld Is a Meryar Life

23. Under A Forest That Was So Long

24. Holy Wrytt Sayth No Thyng Sother

25. Whan No Thing Was But God Alone

26. Of M A R I Syng I Wyll A New Song

27. O Blyssedful Berd, Full Of Grace

28. Gabriell, That Angell Bry3t

29. Man, be war, or thou knyte the fast

30. Man Upon Mold, Whatsoever Thou Be

31. Gabryell of Hy3e Degree

32. Man And Woman In Every Place

33. His Body Is Wappyd All In Wo

34. A Man Was The Fyrst Gylt

35. Game And Ernest Ever Among

36. Ittes Knowyn In Every Schyre

37. The Fyrst Day Wan Crist Was Borne

38. At The Begynnyng Of The Mete

39. 3yng Men, I Red That 3e Be War

40. Holvyr And Heyvy Made A Gret Party

41. Thow Thou Byst Kyng

42. An Aungell Fro Hevn Gan Lyth

43. Now Ys The Twelthe Day Cum

44. Make we jow in this fest

45. Of All Thi Frendes Sche Is The Flowr

46. As I Up Ros In A Mornyng

47. Thys Indrys Day Befel A Stryfe

48. As Storys Wryght And Specyfy

49. In Bedlem, That Fayer Cyte

50. The best tre, if 3e tak entent

51. Behold what lyfe that we ryne in

52. As I Went In A Mery Mornyng

53. O Glorius Johan Evangelyste

54. To the now, Crystys der derlyng

55. Psallimus cantantes Domino nova cantica dantes

56. Nowell, Nowell, Nowell (Tydynges trew ther be cum new)

56a. Bryne Us In No Browne Bred

57. Dayly In Englond Mervels Be Fownd

58. When Nettuls In Wynter Bryng Forth Rosys Red

59. Off The 5 Joyes Of Owr Lady

60. Sweet Jhesus Is Cum To Us

61. Under A Tre, In Sportyng Me

62. As I Went Me Fore To Solasse

63. Jhesus, For Thi Holy Name

64. With Pety Movyd, I Am Constreynyd

65. Nowell, Nowell (This is the saluctacion off the aungell Gabriell)

66. Ale mak many a man to styke at a brere

67. Goddys Sonne Is Borne

68. Welcome By Thys Blissed Feest

69. Her Commys Holly, That Is So Gent

70. Ivy Chefe Off Treis It Is

71. Many a man blame his wif parde

72. In every place ye may well se

73. Some be mery, and some be sad

74. I wyll yow tell a full good sport

75. Abowt the fyld thei pyped full right

76. Vycyce be wyld, and vertues lame


Editor's Note. The following account is from William Chappell, The Ballad Literature and Popular Music of the Olden Time (London: Chappell & Co., 1859), pp. 41-43:

A curious collection of the songs and Christmas carols of this reign (Henry VI.) have been printed recently by the Percy Society. (Songs and Carols, No. 73.)

The manuscript book from which they are taken, had, in all probability, belonged a country minstrel who sang at festivals and merry makings, and it has been, most judiciously, printed entire, as giving a general view of the classes of poetry then popular. A proportion of its contents consists of carols and religious songs, such as were sung at Christmas, and perhaps at other festivals of the Church. Another class, in which the MS. is, for its date, peculiarly rich, consists of drinking songs. It also contains a number of those satirical songs against the fair sex, and especially against shrews, which were so common in the middle ages, and have a certain degree of importance as showing the condition of private society among our forefathers. The larger number of the songs, including some the most interesting and curious, appear to be unique, and the others are in general much better and more complete copies than those previously known (viz, in MS. Sloane, No. 2593, Brit. Mus.). The editor of the MS. (Mr. T. Wright) observes that “The great variations in the different copies of the same song, show that they were taken down from oral recitation, and had often been preserved by memory among minstrels, who were not unskilful at composing, and who were not only in the habit of, voluntarily or involuntarily, modifying the songs as they passed through their hands, and adding or omitting stanzas, but of making up new songs by stringing together phrases and lines, and even whole stanzas from the different compositions which were imprinted on their memories.” But what renders the manuscript peculiarly interesting, is, that it contains the melodies of some of the songs as well as the words. From this it appears that the same tune was used for different words. At page 62 is a note, which in modern spelling is as follows: “This is the tune for the song following; if so be that ye will have another tune, it may he at your pleasure, for I have set all the song.” The words of the carol, “Nowell, Nowell,” (Noel) are written under the notes, but the wassail song that follows, and for which the tune was also intended, is of a very opposite character, “Bryng us in good ale.” I have printed the first verse of each under the tune, but it requires to be sung more quickly for the wassail song than for the carol.

The notation of the original is in semibreves, minims, and crotchets, which diminished to crotchets, quavers, and semiquavers, as became necessary in modernizing the notation; for the quickest note then in use was the crotchet.1  The Christmas carol partakes so much of the character of sacred music, that it is not surprising it should be in an old scale. If there were not the flat at the signature, which takes off a little of the barbarity, it would be exactly in the eighth Gregorian tone.

There are seven verses to the carol, but as they are not particularly interesting, perhaps the words of the wassail song will be preferred, although we should not now sing of “our blessed lady,” as was common in those days.

Bring us in no brown bread, for that is made of bran,
Nor bring us in no white bread, for therein is no gain,
    But bring us in good ale, and bring us in good ale;
    For our blessed Lady’s sake, bring us in good ale.

Bring us in no beef, for there is many bones,
But bring us in good ale, for that go’th down at once. And bring, &c.

Bring us in no bacon, for that is passing fat,
But bring us in good ale, and give us enough of that. And bring, &c.

Bring us in no mutton, for that is passing lean,
Nor bring us in no tripes, for they be seldom clean. But bring, &c.

Bring us in no eggs, for there are many shells,
But bring us in good ale, and give us nothing else. But bring, &c.

Bring us in no butter, for therein are many hairs,
Nor bring us in no pig’s flesh, for that will make us bears. But bring, &c.

Bring us in no puddings, for therein is all God’s good,
Nor bring us in no venison, that is not for our blood. But bring, &c.

Bring us in no capon’s flesh, for that is often dear,
Nor bring us in no duck’s flesh, for they slobber in the mere. [mire]

But bring us in good ale, and bring us in good ale,
For our blessed lady’s sake, bring us in good ale.

An inferior copy of this song, without music, is in Harl. M.S., No. 541, from which it has been printed in Ritson’s Ancient Songs and Ballads, p. xxxiv. and xxxv.

Note from Chappell:

1. After the Percy Society had printed the Songs, I was to have had the opportunity of transcribing all the Music; but, in the mean time, the bookbinder to whom this rare Ms. was entrusted, disappeared, and with him the manuscript, which is, perhaps, already in some library in the United States. Return

 

 

Tamsin Lewis, ed., To Shorten Winter's Sadness, English Music and Song for Christmas and Winter from the 16th and 17th Centuries. Following the religious calendar from Advent to Candlemas, this book contains a selection of carols, ballads, rounds, madrigals, dance melodies and consort songs. It also describes many of the festive customs of the time, with feasts and revels through the cold of winter, and fairs upon the frozen river. Rondo Publishing, 2012. ISBN-13: 979-0708067788.

 

 

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