The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Wassailing Bowl

For Twelfth Night

Source: William Chappell, ed., A Collection of National Airs. (London: Chappell, 1838), Notes on Tunes, No. 212, The Wassailing Bowl, pp. 160-162.

See: Wassailing - Notes On The Songs

No. CCXII. The Wassailing Bowl. This is an old song, sung in Gloucestershire on New Year's Day, by parties who go about dressed with boughs and ribbons, carrying a bowl, which they expect to have filled with beer or cider, and a toast put therein. The Wassail Bowl contained formerly a composition of ale, nutmeg, sugar, toast, and roasted crabs or apples, denominated Lamb's Wool. In " Summer's last Will and Testament," by Nash, 1600, Christmas is personified,

------------- " Sitting in a corner, turning crabs ;
Or coughing o'er a warmed pot of ale."

And in "The Vindication of Christmas," 4to. 1653, Father Christmas, describing his welcome " with some country farmers in Devonshire," says : " After dinner we arose from the boord, and sate by the fire, where the harth was imbrodered all over with roasted apples, piping hot, expecting a bole of ale for a cooler, which immediately was transformed into warm Lamb Wool."

According to Vallancey,1 the term Lamb's Wool is a corruption from La Mas Ubhal, the term of the apple fruit, pronounced Lamasool. The term Wassail, or Wassel, is generally derived from the salutation of Rowena, daughter of the Saxon Hengist, to the British king Vortigern, in the early part of the fifth century ; when she presented him with a bowl of some favourite liquor, welcoming him with the words, " Louerd King wass-heil ;" to which he answered, as he was directed, " Drinc heile." She appears, however, only to have made use of a form of speech already known. The term Wasseling has, at any rate, from a very early period, been used for jovial revelry and carousing ;2 and the wassel-bowl has been particularly appropriated to Christmas. 3 In monasteries, it was placed at the abbot's table, at the upper end of the refectory or eating-hall, and sanctified by the appellation of Poculum Charitatis, and was always introduced with a song. The carols, " bringyng in the Bores Heed," are also very ancient, and one is reprinted in Ritson's Ancient Songs, (p. 125) from the " Christmasse Carolles" published by Wynkyn de Worde (1521). Holinshed relates that, in the year 1170, King Henry the Second, on the day when his son was crowned, served him at table himself as sewer, bringing up the boar's head, with trumpets before it, " according to the manner." Queen's College, Oxford, is famed for its Boar's Head Carol, " Caput apri defero ;" 4 but the head is now carved in wood. Another ancient Boar's Head Carol, taken from the Sloane MSS. No. 2593, is reprinted in J. Stafford Smith's Musica Antiqua, vol. i. p. 22. A boar's head, with a lemon in his mouth, continued until lately to be the first dish at Christmas in great houses, nor is the practice yet entirely obsolete.

" Among the ordinances for Henry the Seventh's household, the steward, when he enters with the wassel, is directed ' to cry three times, wassell, wassell, wassell, to which the chappell (probably gentlemen of the chapel) are to answere with a good song.' There were regular Wassail Songs, of which some ancient specimens may be found in the Harleian MSS." (275 and 341, for instance) and reprinted in Ritson's Ancient Songs, and Sandys' Christmas Carols. " In the seventeenth century, the wassail bowl was carried generally round to the houses of the gentry and others with songs, the bearers expecting a gratuity wherever they proffered it ; and most of the great houses also had a wassel-bowl, or cup, frequently of massy silver." Ben Jonson, in his "Masque of Christmas," describes Wassell like a neat sempster and songster ; her page bearing a brown bowl, dressed with ribbands and rosemary, before her.

The following song, as sung in Gloucestershire, has been reprinted in Hone's Every Day Book, vol. ii. p. 14 [in six verses] ; and in Sandys' Christmas Carols, p. 66, but with two verses less, and other variation from this copy, for which we are indebted to Mr. R. Pearsall and to Mr. Hale.


Wassail ! wassail ! all over the town;
Our bread it is white, and our ale it is brown ;
Our bowl it is made of the maplin tree;
So here, my good fellow, I'll drink to thee.

The wassailing bowl, with a toast within,
Come fill it up unto the brim ;
Come fill it up, so that we may all see :—
With the wassailing bowl I'll drink to thee.

Come, butler, now bring us a bowl of your best;
And we hope your soul in heaven may rest:
But if you do bring us a bowl of your small,
Then down shall go butler, the bowl, and all.

Oh, butler! oh, butler! now don't you be worst,
But pull out your knife, and cut us a toast;
And cut us a toast, one that we may all see:
With the wassailing bowl I'll drink to thee.

Here's to Dobbin, and to his right eye,
May God send our mistress a good Christmas pie;
A good Christmas pie, as e'er we did see;
With the wassailing bowl I'll drink to thee.

Here's to Broad, and to his broad horn,
May God send our master a good crop of corn ;
A good crop of corn, as we may all see :
With the wassailing bowl I'll drink to thee.

Here's to Colly, and to her long tail;
We hope our master and mistress's heart will ne'er fail;
But bring us a bowl of your good strong beer,
And then we shall taste of your happy new year.

Be there here any pretty maids? we hope there besome ;
Don't let the jolly wassailers stand on the cold stone:
But open the door, and pull out the pin,
That we jolly wassailers may all sail in.

[Editor: See Hone's Wassail!]

The following song, in the Gloncestershire dialect, is annually sung to the same tune, at the anniversaries of the Gloucestershire Society in London.


The stones that built George Ridler's oven,
And they came out of Blakeney Quare,
And George he was a jolly old man,
And his head did grow above his hair.

One thing of George Ridler I do commend,
And that was for a notable thing;
He made his brags before he died,
With any three brothers his sons should sing!

There was Dick the treble, and Jack the mean,
(Let every man sing in his own place) ;
And George he was the elder brother,
And therefore he should sing the bass.

My hostess' maid (her name was Nell)—
A pretty wench, and I loved her well;
I loved her well, and the reason why—
Because she loved my dog and I!

My dog has got'en such a trick,
To visit maids when they be sick;
When they be sick, and like to die,
O thither go my dog and I !

My dog is good to catch a hen,
A duck or goose is meat for men ;
And where good company I do spy,
O thither go my dog and I!

My mother she told me, full long ago,
That if I did follow the good ale tap,
That would soon prove my overthrow,
And I should wear a threadbare coat.

When I have three sixpences under my thumb,
O then I am welcome wherever I come;
But when I have none, O then I pass by,
'Tis poverty parts good company.

If I should die, as it may hap,
My grave shall be under the good ale tap ;
With folded arms there let me lie,
Cheek-by-jowl, my dog and I!


1. Collectanea, iii. 444. Return

2. " The king doth wake to-night, and takes his rouse ;
Keeps wassel."— Hamlet, Act i. Scene 4.

3. Sandys' Christmas Carols, p. liii. Return

4. Ritson's Ancient Songs, p. 126. Return

Sheet Music from William Chappell, ed., A Collection of National Airs. (London: Chappell, 1839). "Ancient English Airs," No. 212, The Wassailing Bowl, p. 120.

102-No_212-Wassail-Chappell-Natl_Airs-1839.jpg (53546 bytes)

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