The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

A Jolly Wassel-Bowl

A Carrol for a Wassel-Bowl,
To Be Sung Upon Twelfth-Day at Night.

Words and Music: Traditional English
"about the time of Henry VI.," according to Ritson

Music: "To the Tune of, Gallants come away."

Source: Joseph Ritson, Ancient Songs From The Time of King Henry The Third To The Revolution (London: J. Johnson, 1790), pp. 304-306, citing a manuscript owned by Antony á Wood, thence to the Ashmoleian Museum, and transferred to the Bodleian Library in 1858.

See generally Wassailing - Notes On The Songs

1. A jolly wassel-bowl,
    A wassel of good ale,
Well fare the butler's soul,
    That setteth this to sale;
        Our jolly wassel.

2. Good dame, here at your door
    Our wassel we begin,
We are all maidens poor,
    We pray now let us in,
        With our wassel.

3. Our wassel we do fill
    With apples and with spice,
Then grant us your good will
    To tast here once or twice
        Of our good wassel.

4. If any maidens be
    Here dwelling in this house,
They kindly will agree
    To take a full carouse,
        Of our wassel.

5. But here they let us stand
    All freezing in the cold:
Good master give command
    To enter and be bold,
        With our wassel.

6. Much joy into this hall
    With us is entered in;
Our master, first of all,
    We hope will now begin,
        Of our wassel.

7. And after his good wife
    Our spiced bowl will try;
The Lord prolong your life,
    Good fortune we espy
        For our wassel.

8. Some bounty from your hands,
    Our wassel to maintain:
We'l buy no house nor lands
    With that which we do gain,
        With our wassel.

9. This is our merry night
    Of choosing king and queen,
Then be it your delight
    That something may be seen,
        In our wassel.

10. It is a noble part,
    To bear a liberal mind,
God bless our masters heart,
    For here we comfort find,
        With our wassel.

11. And now we must be gone
    To seek out more good cheer,
Where bounty will be shown,
    As we have found it here,
        With our wassel.

12. Much joy betide them all,
    Our prayers shall be still,
We hope and ever shall,
    For this your great good will
        To our wassel.

Melody Line from a Source Now Lost



Ritson introduced this carol with the following:

From a collection intitled "New Christmas Carols: Being fit also to be sung at Easter, Whitsontide, and other Festival Days of the year." No date, 12 mo. black letter; in the curious study of that ever-to-be-respected antiquary Mr. Anthony á Wood [1632-1695], in the Ashmoleian Museum.

In the second edition, the title was slightly changed, and a longer introduction to this carol was given:


From a collection intitled, "New Christmas Carrols: Being fit also to be sung at Easter, Whitsontide, and other Festival days in the year." no date. 12 mo. black letter; in the curious study of that ever to be respected antiquary Anthony à Wood, in the Ashmoleian Museum.

"There was an ancient custom," says Brand, "(I know not whether it be not yet retained in many places): Young women went about with a Wassail-Bowl, that is, a bowl of spiced ale, on new year's eve, with some sort of verses that were sung by them in going about from door to door.... They accepted little presents from the houses they stopped at. Mr. Seldon thus alludes to it in his Table Talk, Art. Pope. "The Pope in sending relicks to princes does as wenches do by their wassels at New years tide. They present you with a cup, and you must drink of a slabby stuff; but the meaning is, you must give them money, ten times more than it is worth.'" (Observations on Popular Antiquities, p. 195. See also, p. 408.) and the "Dissertation" prefixed to this collection.

Ben Jonson, in "Christmas, His Masque," presented at court 1616, introduces "Carol, in a long tawney coat, with a red cap, and a flute at his girdle; his torch-bearer carrying a song-book open:" and "Wassel, like a neat sempster and songster; her page bearing a brown bowl, drest with ribbands and rosemary before her."

See: Joseph Ritson, Ancient Songs and Ballads From the Reign of King Henry the Second to the Revolution. Volume 2 of 2. (London: Payne and Foss, 1829), pp. 238-241.

Also found in William Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (London: Richard Beckley, 1833), pp. 50-52.

Also found in Thomas Wright, ed., Festive Songs Principally of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (London: Percy Society, 1848), pp. 82-84, with the title "A Carrol for a Wassel Bowl," citing Ritson's Ancient Songs, pp. 604-6, from "New Christmas Carrols"; black letter, no date, to be sung upon twelfth-day, at night, to the tune of "Gallants, come away."

Also found in Henry Vizetelly, Christmas With The Poets (London: David Bogue, 1851), who notes:

The Boar's head and the Wassail-bowl were the two most important accessories to Christmas in the olden time, and there were frequent brief allusions to the latter, in the works of our early English poets. The phrase "Wassail," occurs in the oldest carol that has been handed down to us, and in the extracts already given from Spenser, Shakespeare, and Ben Jonson, mention is made of the Wassail bowl, which shows, that in their day it continued to form a necessary portion of the festivities appertaining to the season. New-year's eve and Twelfth-night were the occasions on which the Wassail-bowl was chiefly in requisition. In a collection of ordinances for the regulation of the royal household, in the reign of Henry VII., on Twelfth-night the steward was enjoined, when he entered with the spiced and smoking beverage, to cry "Wassail" three times, to which the royal chaplain — jolly priest as he doubtless was — had to answer with a song. While the wealthier classes were enjoying themselves with copious draughts of "lamb's wool" — as the beverage, composed of ale, nutmeg, sugar, toast, and roasted crabs, or apples, with which the bowl was filled, was styled — the poorer sort of people went from house to house with Wassail bowls adorned with ribbons, singing carols, and inviting those whom they visited to drink, in return for which, little presents of money were generally bestowed upon them.

Vizetelly gave his source as Ritson "from a scarce, black-letter volume, in the Ashmolean museum."

William Hone, in his Every Day Book series, has several discussions concerning the origin and contents of Lamb's-wool.

Also found in Joshua Sylvester, A Garland of Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (London: John Camden Hotten, 1861), under the title of "A Carol for a Wassail Bowl," and with these notes:

The following Carol was copied by Ritson from a scarce black-letter volume, in the Ashmolean Museum. The Boar's head and the Wassail bowl were the two most important accessories to Christmas in the olden time, and many are the allusions to the latter in our early English poets. The phrase "Wassail" occurs in the oldest Carol that has been handed down to us. New Year's eve and Twelfth-night were the occasions on which the Wassail bowl was chiefly in requisition. In the royal household of Henry VII., on Twelfth-night, the steward was enjoined, when he entered with the spiced and smoking beverage, to cry "Wassail " three times, to which the royal chaplain had to answer with a Carol or song.

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.

Also found in William Henry Husk, Songs of the Nativity (London: John Camden Hotten, 1868):

This carol is from an undated black-letter edition, called "New Christmas Carrols: Being fit also to be sung at Easter, Whitsontide, and other Festival days in the year," preserved amongst the books of Anthony á Wood, in the Ashmolean Museum. It bears the title of "A Carrol for a Wassel Bowl to be sung upon Twelfth Day at night -- to the Ordinances for his household during Christmas, the following occurs in reference to Twelfth Night: — "Item, the chapel to stand on one side of the Hall, and when the Stewart cometh in at the Hall-dore with the Wassell, he must crie three tymes, Wassel, Wassel, Wassel; and then the chappell to answere with a good song."

In the Husk version, the word "wassel" is modernized to "wassail." Otherwise, the versions are the same.

Also found in A. H. Bullen, A Christmas Garland (London: John C. Nimmo, 1885), pp. 176-9, with the note "From an undated black letter collection of New Christmas Carols (preserved in the Bodleian Library.)" He adds, at page 268:

"The undated black letter “New Christmas Carols,” from which this piece is taken, is bound up with three other collections of Christmas verses. The volume, which is in the Bodleian Library, formerly belonged to Antony-à-Wood (1632-1695). Each tract numbers only a few 12mo pages. In the same little volume is a curious prose-tract on the Arraignment of Christmas."

Also found in Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400-1700 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1914), p. 249. Dr. Rickert's version is the same as Sandys, but with modernized spelling (e.g., Wassail vs. Wassel). She gives the time period as “Seventeenth Century”, and notes as her source: 'New Christmas Carols' (Oxford, no date).

Also found in William Hone, The Every Day Book, Vol. 2 of 2 Vols. (London: William Tegg, 1825, 1827), pp. 5-6. In 12 verses. See Hone's Wassail. Mr. Hone writes:

The following pleasant old song, inserted by Mr. Brand, from Ritson’s collection of “Ancient Songs,” was met with by the Editor of the Every-day Book, in 1819, at the printing-office of Mr. Rann, at Dudley, printed by him for the Wassailers of Staffordshire and Warwick-shire. It went formerly to the tune of “Gallants come away.

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