The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

A Selection of English Carols
A Limited Selection

Richard Greene

Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1962

Editor's Note:

This volume is a successor to Mr. Greene's expansive and authoritative The Early English Carols (1935). It is, in part, an abridgment, and, in part, an expansion due to the discovery after World War II of MS Egerton 3307 (now in the British Museum). In addition, information that the editor had acquired since 1935 has also been incorporated into the Introduction and Notes. There is also an extensive list of abbreviations, most of whom are invaluable resources.

These carols, and those in The Early English Carols, are true carols, and all date to prior to the mid 1500s (and most are therefore in Medieval English, somewhat difficult for the modern, untrained eye – such as mine ;). These days, we tend to refer to all or most Christmas songs as carols, even including songs that may properly be designated as hymns. In fact, excluding the hymns, the largest number of modern “carols” are properly defined as ballads. While there are numerous variations, the most prominent form of the true carol has a specific formula. The verses are preceded by the burden, which also separates each verse (recall that the carol was originally a round dance, similar to our modern square dance in some respects). The burden typically was a couplet, that is, it consisted of two lines. The verses were typically four lines in length with the rhyming form of a a a b.

Both the Introduction to this work and The Early English Carols are excellent introductions to the true carol; they are not reproduced here because they are under copyright. They are both recommended, and I would also recommend the following:

See also:

There are numerous other volumes that contain valuable discussions of Christmas hymns and carols, far too many to list here. Several of the volumes listed above contain excellent Bibliographies. Many of the most valuable resources prior to 1922 have been reproduced on this web site; see the listing under "Tables of Contents" on The Hymns and Carols page.

At this time, links to carols are not to the versions found in this volume (with one or two exceptions), but to carols found in other collections including Sandys, Wright, Sylvester, Husk, Rickert, and others. Some carols are in Middle English, which for proper rendering, requires installation of two fonts: Junicode (the Unicode version of "Junius Modern") and Old Blackletter. See notes in F A Q.

 

Index of First Lines

(First lines of burdens are in italics)

 

A, a, a, a,
Nunc gaudet ecclesia

First Line of First Verse:
     Lestenytgh, lordynges, bothe grete and smale [Listeneth, lordings, both great and small]

24, 51

A babe is born to blis us brynge [A Babe Is Born, To Bliss Us Bring]

Burden:
    
Now synge we with angelis

42

A babe is borne of hye natewre

Burden: What tythyngis bryngst us, messangere,
         Of Cristis borth this New Eris Day? [
What Tythyngis Bryngst Us, Messangere]

See: What Tidings by John Audelay and What Tidings Bringest Thou

25

A blessid byrd, as I you say [A blessed bird, as I you say]

First Verse:
    
On Christes day, I understand

66

A chuld is boren amonges man

6

A chyld ys born, ewys

39

A hole confessoure thou were hone

61

A man that xuld of trewthe telle

77

A newe song I wil begynne

63

A Patre unigenitus

Burden:
     Make we joye nowe in this fest [Make We Joye Nowe In This Fest]

Also see:

12

Abowt the fyld thei pyped full right [Abowt the fyld thei pyped full right (Wright) and About The Field They Pipëd Right (Rickert)]

Burden:
    
Tyrle, tyrle, so merylye the sheppherdes began to blowe.
[Tyrle, tyrlow, tyrle, tyrlow (Rickert)]

17

Al Holy Chyrch was bot a thrall

23

Al this day ic han sought

95

Alas, ales, the wyle!

96

Ale mak many a mane to styk at a brere

89

Alleluya, alleluia

First line of first verse:
     Ther ys a blossum sprong of a thorn [
There Is A Blossom Sprung Of A Thorn]

28

Almyghty Jhesu, Kyng of Blysse

9

Als I me rode this endre day

94

And by a chapell as Y carne

68

Anoder yere hit may betyde

27

As I went in a mery mornyng

75

As I went on Yol Day in owre prosessyon

98

As the holy grouth grene

Burden:
     Grene growith the holy [Grene Growith The Holy]

93

Ave, plena gracia

49

Ave, rex angelorum

30

Be mery and suffer, as I the vise

71

Be we mery now in this fest

18

Behold what lyfe that we ryne ine [Behold what lyfe that we ryne in]

Burden:
     Revertere, revertere, 
the quene of blysse and of beaute.

37

Beholde and see how that nature

14

Bewar, sqwyer, yeman, and page

76

Blow, northerne wynd

92

Bryng us in good ale, and bryng us in good ale [Bring Us In Good Ale (Edith Rickert, 1914)]

This is the burden to the carol immediately below.

88

Bryng us in no browne bred, fore that is mad of brane [Bryng Us In No Browne Bred]

This is the first line of the first verse of the carol immediately above.

88

Can I not syng but hoy [Can I Not Sing But Hoy]

First Line of First Verse:
    
The sheperd upon a hill he satt

16

Caput apri refero | Resonens laudes Domino [Caput apri refero]

First Line of First Verse:
     The boris hed in hondes I Brynge.

Substantially similar are The boris hede in hond I bryng - Thomas Wright and The Boar His Head In Hand I Bring (Husk)

32

Care away, away, away

99

Com home agayne

58

Crist crid in cradil, ‘Moder, ba ba!’

22

 

Deo gracias Anglia

90

Doll I the ale, doll; doll thi ale, dole

89

Down in yon forest there stands a hall [Down In Yon Forest]

First Line in First Verse
     Over yonder’s a park, which is newly begun

And see:

67C

Ecce quod natura

14

Enfors we us with all our myght

62

Ete ye this brede, ete ye this brede

65

 

Fader and Son and Holy Gost

59

Fadyr, I am thin owyn chyld

57

Fadyr, my wyll yt is

57

Farewele, Advent; Cristemas is cum

1

God be with trewthe qwer he be

77

Grene growith the holy [Grene Growith The Holy]

First Line of First Verse:
     As the holy grouth grene

93

 

Hayl, Mary, ful of grace [Hail Mary, Full Of Grace, Mother In Virginity]

First Line of First Verse:
     The Holi Goste is to the sent

52

Hayl, most myghty in thi werkyng

30

Hayle be thou, Mary most of honowr

49

Hay, ay, hay, ay

4

Hay, hay, by this day

83

He bare hym up,he bare hym down

Burden:
     Lully, lulley; lully, lulley [
The Falcon Carol]

67A

He is wise, so most I goo

71

Here have I dwellyd with more and lasse

Burden:
     Now have gud day, now have gud day! [Now Have Good Day, Now Have Good Day!]

38

Hey now, now, now!

First Two Lines of First Verse:
     Swet Jhesus | Is cum to us, [Sweet Jhesus Is Cum To Us]

19

His body is wappyd all in wo

Burden:
     Mary modyr, cum and se [Mary modyr, cum and se - Version 2]

A slightly different version: Mary moder, cum and se - Thomas Wright, Mary moder come and se, and in Old Blackletter: Mary moder come and se.

44

Hys signe ys a ster bryth

31

Holy berith beris, beris rede ynowgh

Burden:
     Nay, nay, Iye, it may not be, iwis [Nay, Nay, Ivy!]

34B

Holy Chyrch of hym makyth mynd

9

Holy stond in the hail, fayre to behold

Burden:
     Nay, Ivy, nay, hyt thai not be, iwys [Nay iuy, nay]

Also see:
A Song Of the Ivy and the Holly (Sandys, 1833)
The Contest of the Ivy and the Holly (Husk, 1868, with notes)

34A

Holy Wret seth—nothing ys sother.

69

Hound by hound we schulle ous take

6

Hoow, gossip mynë, gossip myn

86

Hos is to hoth at hom

84

How, butler, how! Bevis a towt!

87

How, hey! It is non les

82

 

I am sory for her sake

99

I, Josep, wonder how hit may be

Burden:
     Mervele noght, Josep, on Mary mylde

See:

55

Y lovede a child of this cuntre

97

I pray yow all with on thoght

69

I saw a fayr maydyn syttyn and synge [Lullay, Myn Lykyng (Richard Greene)]

Also:

Burden:
     Lullay, myn lykyng, my dere sone, myn swetyng

40

I schal yow tell this ilk nyght [The Holy Marter Steven We Pray]

Similar: I shall you tell this ylke nyght; I Shall you tell this ylke nyght (in Blackletter)

Burden:
     The holy marter Steven we pray
     To be our socour both myght and day.

The Burden on the web site of the similar carols is:

Blessyd Stephan we the praye
Pro nobis preres funde

20

I shall you tell a full good sport

86

I wold fayn be a clarke

83

Iblessyd be Cristes sonde

85

Ichot a burd ein boure bryht

92

If Y halde the lowe asyse

72

If thou serve a lord of prys

76

Illuminare Jherusalem

31

In Bedlem, in that fayer cyte

A similar carol

Burden:
     To blis god bryng us all and sum. [
To blis God bryng us all and sum]

8

In everyplace ye may well see

81

In Patras, ther born he was

64

Iñ whate state so ever I be

75

Ivy, cheft of treis it is

First Line of First Verse:
     The most worthye she is in towne

Versions on this web site:

35

Ivy is both fair and gren

Burden:
    
Ivy ys good and glad to se [Ivy ys good and glad to se (Richard Greene)]

36

Ivy ys good and glad to se [Ivy ys good and glad to se (Richard Greene)]

Burden:
     Ivy is both fair and gren

36

Jentill butler, bell amy

87

 

Kep thi tunge, thi tunge, thi tunge

70

Kyrie, so kyrie’

98

 

Ladd Y the daunce a Myssomur Day

96

Lestenytgh, lordynges, bothe grete and smale [Listeneth, lordings, both great and small]

Burden:
     A, a, a, a,

     Nunc gaudet ecclesia

24

Letabundus exuitet fidelys chorus

7

Lett no man cum into this hall

Burden:
     Make we mery, bothe more and lasse [Make We Merry, Both More And Less]

5

Lyft up your hartes and be glad

26

Lyth and lystyn, both old and yyng [Lyth and lystyn, both old and young - Thomas Wright]

Burden:
    
Of a rose, a lovely rose, of a rose I syng a song.
 [Of A Rose, A Lovely Rose, a similar carol]

47

Lollay, lay, lay, lay

39

Lord, how scholde I roule me

72

Lullay, lullay, litel child [Lullay, Lullay, Litel Child]

Compare: Lullay, Lullay, Little Child

43

Lullay, myn lykyng, my dere sone, myn swetyng [Lullay, Myn Lykyng (Richard Greene)]

First Line of First Verse:
     I saw a fayr maydyn syttyn and synge

Also:

40

Lully, lulley; lully, lulley [The Falcon Carol]

First Line of First Verse:
     He bare hym up, he bare hym down;

67A

 

Mak ye merle as ye may

64

Make we joye nowe in this fest [Make We Joye Nowe In This Fest]

First Line of First Verse:
     A Patre Unigenitus

Also see:

12

Make we mery, bothe more and lasse [Make We Merry, Both More And Less]

First Line of First Verse:
     Lett no man cum into this hall

5

Make we myrth | For Crystes byrth, | And syng we Yole tyl Candelmes.

First Verse:
     The fyrst day of Yole have we in mynd

Versions on this web site:

3

Man, be merle as bryd on berie | And al thi care let away.

First Line of First Verse:
     This tyme is born a chyld ful good.

Versions on this web site:

10

Man, be ware and wyse indede

First Line of First Verse:
     Under a forest that was so long [
Under A Forest That Was So Long]

78

Man, be wys, and arys

73

Mankend I cale, wich lyith in frale

58

Mary, for the love of the

51

Mary moder, meke and mylde

Burden:
     Nowel, el, el, el, el, el, el, el, el, el, el, el,

See:

54

Mary modyr, cum and se [Mary modyr, cum and se - Version 2]

First line of first verse:
     His body is wappyd all in wo

A slightly different version: Mary moder, cum and se - Thomas Wright, Mary moder come and se, and in Old Blackletter: Mary moder come and se.

44

Mervele noght, Josep, on Mary mylde

First Line of First Verse:
     I, Josep, wonder how hit may be

See:

55

Mery hyt ys in May mornyng

68

My harte of golde as true as stele [My Heart Of Gold, with notes]

First Line of First Verse:
     My lady went to Caunterbury

100

My lady went to Caunterbury [My lady went to Caunterbury]

See this version retyped in Old Blackletter: My lady went to Caunterbury

100

 

Nay, Ivy, nay, hyt thai not be, iwys [Nay iuy, nay]

First Line of First Verse
     Holy stond in the hail, fayre to behold

Also see:

34A

Nay, nay, Iye, it may not be, iwis [Nay, Nay, Ivy!]

First Line of First Verse:
     Holy berith beris, beris rede ynowgh

34B

Nou sprinkes the sprai

94

Novo profusi gaudiois [Novo profusi gaudio]

First Line of First Verse:
     Omnes gentes plaudite.

15

Novus sol de virgine

50

Now have gud day, now have gud day! [Now Have Good Day, Now Have Good Day!]

First Line of First Verse:
     Here have I dwellyd with more and lasse

38

Now in Betheleme, that holy place

18

Now is the Twelthe Day icome [Now Ys The Twelthe Day Cum and Now Is The Twelfth Day Ycome]

And see note under Now Is Christmas Ycome

Burden:
     Reges de Saba venient;
     Aurum, tus, myrram offerent;
     Alleluia.

29

Now ys Yole comyn with gentyll chere

4

Now joy be to the Trynyte

Burden:
     Wassaill, wassayll, wassaill, syng we [Wassail, Wassail, Wassail, Sing We]

13

Now synge we with angelis

First Line of First Verse:
     A babe is born to blis us brynge [A Babe Is Born, To Bliss Us Bring]

42

Now well may we myrthys make

7

Nowel, el, el, el, el, el, el, el, el, el, el, el,

First Line of First Verse:
     Mary moder, meke and mylde

See:

54

Nowel, nowel, nowel

First Line of First Verse:
     Owt of your slepe aryse and wake. [Out Of Your Sleep Arise]

11

Nowel, nowel, nowel

First Line of First Verse:
     Under a tre | In sportyning me [Under A Tre, In Sportyng Me]

56

Nowell

74

Nowell, Nowell, this is the saluctacion off the aungell Gabriell [Nowell, Nowell]

First Line of First Verse:

Tydynges trew ther be cum new, sent frome the Trinite

Other versions on this web site:

53

Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell

First Line of the First Verse:
     The borys hede that we bryng here

Versions of this carol on this site:

This is also known as The Exeter Boar's Head Carol, with music by Richard Smert (15th century). Music is found in The New Oxford Book of Carols (#37, pp. 106-108) and in Musica Britannica, Vol. IV, Medieval Carols, John Stevens, ed., London: Stainer & Bell, 1958 (Second Revised Edition), #79, p. 66. See generally Boar's Head Carols.

33

O Fader withoute begynnyng

60

O, O, O, O, O, O, O, O

60

Of a rose, a lovely rose

First Line of First Verse:
     Lyth and lystyn, both old and yyng [Lyth and lystyn, both old and young - Thomas Wright]

A second, slightly different version: Of A Rose, A Lovely Rose.

47

Of all creatures women be best

81

Of M, A, R, I [Of M A R I Syng I Wyll A New Song]

First Line of First Verse:
     Of thes iiii letters purpose

48

Of thes iiii letters purpose I

Burden:
     Of M, A, R, I [Of M A R I Syng I Wyll A New Song]

48

Omnes gentes plaudite

Burden:
     Novo profusi gaudiois [Novo profusi gaudio]

15

On Cristes day, I understand

Burden:
A blessid byrd, as I you say [A blessed bird, as I you say]

66

Over yonder’s a park, which is newly begun

Burden:
     Down in Yon Forest

See:

67B

Owre kynge went forth to Normandy

90

Owt of your slepe aryse and wake [Out Of Your Sleep Arise]

Burden:
     Nowel, nowel, nowel

11

Pray for us, thou prynce of pes

First Line of First Verse:
     To the now, Crystys der derlyng [To the now, Crystys der derlyng]

Also see: To Thee Now, Christ's Dear Darling (Rickert)

21

Quan I have in myn pun inow

79

Qui natus est de virgine

59

Reges de Saba venient

First Line of First Verse:
      Now is the Twelthe Day icome [Now Ys The Twelthe Day Cum and Now Is The Twelfth Day Ycome]

And see note under Now Is Christmas Ycome

29

Revertere, revertere

First Line of First Verse:
     Behold what lyfe that we ryne ine [Behold what lyfe that we ryne in]

37

Rybbe ne rels sit spynne yc ne may

95

Saynt Frances, to the I say

61

Seynt Thomas honour we

23

Syng we alle, and sey we thus

79

Synge we now, all and sum

63

Swet Jhesus [Sweet Jhesus Is Cum To Us]

Burden:
     Hey now, now, now!

19

The boris hed in hondes I brynge

Burden:
     Caput apri refero | Resonens laudes Domino [Caput apri refero]

Substantially similar are The boris hede in hond I bryng - Thomas Wright and The Boar His Head In Hand I Bring (Husk)

32

The borys hede that we bryng here

Burden:
     Nowell, nowell, nowell, nowell

Versions of this carol on this site:

This is also known as The Exeter Boar's Head Carol, with music by Richard Smert (15th century). Music is found in The New Oxford Book of Carols (#37, pp. 106-108) and in Musica Britannica, Vol. IV, Medieval Carols, John Stevens, ed., London: Stainer & Bell, 1958 (Second Revised Edition), #79, p. 66. See generally Boar's Head Carols.

33

The fyrst day of Yole have we in mynd

Burden:
     Make we myrth | For Crystes byrth, | And syng we Yole tyl Candelmes.

Versions on this web site:

3

The heron flew east, the heron flew west

67D

The holy doghter of Syon

50

The Holi Goste is to the sent

Burden:
     Hayl, Mary, ful of grace [
Hail Mary, Full Of Grace, Mother In Virginity]

52

The holy marter Steven we pray [The Holy Marter Steven We Pray]

First Line of First Verse:

     I schal yow tell this ilk nyght

Similar: I shall you tell this ylke nyght; I Shall you tell this ylke nyght (in Blackletter)

The Burden on the web site of the similar carols is:

Blessyd Stephan we the praye
Pro nobis preres funde

20

The merthe of alle this londe

85

The most worthye she is in towne

Burden:
Ivy, cheft of treis it is

Versions on this web site:

35

The Rose es the fayreste flour of alle

91

The Rose it es the fairest flour

91

The sheperd upon a hill he satt

Burden:
Can I not syng but hoy [Can I Not Sing But Hoy]

16

Ther ys a blossum sprong of a thorn [There Is A Blossom Sprung Of A Thorn]

Burden:
     Alleluya, alleluia

28

Ther is no rose of swych vertu [There Is No Rose Of Such Virtue]

46

Ther is non gres that growit on ground

70

There blows a colde wynd todaye, todaye

45

Thynk, man, qwerof thou art wrout

73

This brede geveth eternall lyfe

65

This endurs nyght This Endris Night - Version 2

First line of first verse:
     This lovely lady sete and song.

Substantially similar is

For Blackletter, Thys endris nyghth - Thomas Wright.

41

This lovely lady sete and song

Burden:
This endurs nyght
This Endris Night - Version 2

Substantially similar is

For Blackletter, Thys endris nyghth - Thomas Wright.

41

This tyme is born a chyld ful good

Burden:
     Man, be merle as bryd on berie | And al thi care let away.

Versions on this web site:

10

Thys wynde be reson ys callyd tentacyon

45

This word is falce, I dare wyll say

74

Tydynges trew ther be cum new, sent frome the Trinite

Burden:
Nowell, Nowell! this is the saluctacion off the aungell Gabriell [Nowell, Nowell]

Other versions on this web site:

53

Tyrle, tyrlo [Tyrle, tyrlow, tyrle, tyrlow]

First Line of First Verse:
     Abowt the fyld thei pyped full right [Abowt the fyld thei pyped full right (Wright) and
About The Field They Pipëd Right (Rickert)]

17

To blis God bryng us all and sum [To blis God bryng us all and sum]

First Line of First Verse:
     In Bedlem, in that fayer cyte

See also:

8

To the now, Crystys der derlyng [To the now, Crystys der derlyng]

Burden:
     Pray for us, thou prynce of pes

Also see: To Thee Now, Christ's Dear Darling (Rickert)

21

Under a forest that was so long [Under A Forest That Was So Long]

Burden:
     Man, be ware and wyse indede

78

Under a tre [Under A Tre, In Sportyng Me]

Burden:
     Nowel, nowel, nowel

56

Wan ic wente byyoude the see

84

Wassaill, wassayll, wassaill, syng we [Wassail, Wassail, Wassail, Sing We]

First Line of First Verse:
     Now joy be to the Trynyte

13

Welcum be thou, Heven Kyng

The burden
     Welcum Yole in glod aray.

Versions of this carol on this web site:

2

Welcum, Yole, in glod aray [Welcü Yole In Good Array]

First Line of First Verse:
     Welcum be thou, Heven Kyng

Versions of this carol on this web site:

2

Were it unto that is ydo

97

What cher? Gud cher, gud cher, gud cher!

26

What tythyngis bryngst us, messangere [What Tidings by John Audelay, What Tidings Bringest Thou and What Tythyngis Bryngst Us, Messangere]

First Line of First Verse:
     A babe is borne of hye natewre

25

Who wot nowe that ys here

27

Wymmen beth bothe goud and schene

80

Wymmen beth bothe goude and truwe

80

With al the reverens that we may

22

With paciens thou hast us fedde

1

Worschip of vertu ys the mede

62

Yyng men, I warne you everychon

82

 

 

English musician, composer and scholar, Tamsin Lewis, has created two delicious collections of English music and song from the 16th and 17th Centuries for Christmas and Winter. From Advent through Candlemas, these books contain a selection of carols, hymns and ballads that celebrate both the birth of Christ, as well as the festivities of the Christmas-tide.
Rondo Publishing.

 

 

To Shorten Winter’s Sadness

Introduction

Contents

For the accompanying CD please see Winter's Sadness

 

 

Old Christmas Returned

Introduction

Contents

 

 

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