The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Boar Is Dead

Words and Music: English Traditional

Compare: Compare:
The Boare Is Dead (Sandys, 1833)
The Boare is dead - Thomas Wright (1841)

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

Version Seven of Seven From Husk
See generally Boar's Head Carols

1. The Boar is dead,
Lo, here is his head:
    What man could have done more
Than his head off to strike,
Meleager like,
    And bring it as I do before?

2. His living spoiled
Where good men toiled,
    Where made kind Ceres sorry;
But now, dead and drawn,
Is very good braun,
    And we have brought it for ye.

3. Then set down the swineyard,
The foe to the vineyard,
    Let Bacchus crown his fall;
Let this boar's head and mustard
Stand for pig, goose, and custard,
    And so you are welcome all.

Sheet Music from William Wallace Fyfe, Christmas: It's Customs And Carols (London: James Blackwood, 1863), pp. 177-178.
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF

boars_head-fyfe-p177.jpg (80843 bytes) boars_head-fyfe-p178.jpg (65615 bytes)

Husk's Note:

This carol was sung, in 1607, at the ceremony of bringing in the Boar's Head before the Christmas Prince, a kind of Lord of Misrule, or Master of Revels, formerly annually elected from amongst the juniors of St. John the Baptist's College, Oxford, to preside during the Christmas holidays. This custom had prevailed in other Oxford colleges, particularly in Merton College, before the Reformation, when it was abolished. In the Societies of the Law, particularly Gray's Inn and the Temple, it continued long afterwards. "At a Christmas celebrated in the Hall of the Middle Temple, in the year 1635, the jurisdiction, privileges, and parade of this mock monarch are thus circumstantially described. He was attended by his Lord Keeper, Lord Treasurer, with eight white slaves, a captain of his Band of Pensioners, and of his Guard; and with two chaplains, who were so seriously impressed with an idea of his regal dignity, that when they preached before him on the preceding Sunday in the Temple Church, on ascending the pulpit they saluted him with three low bows. He dined, both in the Hall and in his privy chamber, under a cloth of estate. The pole-axes for his Gentlemen Pensioners were borrowed of Lord Salisbury. Lord Holland, his temporary Justice in Eyre, supplies him with venison on demand; and the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs of London with wine. On Twelfth Day, at going to church, he received many petitions, which he gave to his Master of Requests: and, like other kings, he had a favourite, whom, with others, gentlemen of high quality, he knighted as returning from church. (The satire conveyed in this last action, was, doubtless, keenly relished at the time.) His expenses, all from his own purse, amounted to two thousand pounds."

The change from the manners and tastes of the times when the former carols were written appears strikingly in the present production. Instead of references to the Blessed Virgin and the King of bliss, we have the quasi-classic allusions to Meleager (the destroyer of the famed boar of Calydon), Ceres and Bacchus, so strongly characteristic of the age. It may be remarked that in all these carols, save one or two, mustard is mentioned as an accompaniment to the boar's head, in a manner that exalts it to an almost equal consequence with the head itself. It is alluded to as an essential article even so late as the eighteenth century, in the following passage from Dr. William King's poem, "The Art of Cookery:" --

"At Christmas time. --
Then if you would send up the Brawner's head,
Sweet rosemary and bays around it spread;
His foaming tusks let some large pippin grace,
Or, midst these thundering spears an orange place;
Sauce, like himself, offensive to its foes,
The roguish mustard, dangerous to the nose.
Sack and the well-spic'd Hippocras the wine,
Wassail the bowl with ancient ribbons fine,
Porridge with plums, and turkies with the chine."

Also found in Joshua Sylvester, A Garland of Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (London: John Camden Hotten, 1861)

This Carol is the Christmas grace sung before Prince Henry, at St. John's College, Oxford, in 1607. The second verse would appear to give countenance to the pagan origin of our Christmas observances. The mention of Meleager in the first verse refers to the hero who slaughtered the famous old Calydonian Boar.

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.

Editor's Note:
The carol collections of William Sandys (1833) and Thomas Wright (1841) both have the note: "Carol, on bringing the Boar's Head, used before the Christmas Prince, at St. John the Baptist's College, Oxford, Christmas 1607."

Sylvester gives us the name of "the Christmas Prince:" Prince Henry (15941612), the beloved eldest son of James I. Henry died of typhoid fever on November 6, 1612, "to the great grief of the whole nation," and was buried in Westminster Abbey. His younger brother, Charles I, came to the throne on the death of James I in 1625; Charles was executed in 1649 during the English Civil War. The victory of Cromwell and the Puritans marked the death of the public observance of Christmas in England until after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660.


The reference to "Ceres" in Verse 2 is to the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility and motherly relationships.

Also found in Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400-1700 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1914), p. 260. Rickert cites The Christmas Prince, as given at St. John's College, Oxford.

Illustration from Rickert:

The Boar Is Dead

Also found in A. H. Bullen, A Christmas Garland (London: John C. Nimmo, 1885), p. 172, with the note "From the Christmas Prince, 1607 (printed in 1814)."

Also found in Henry Vizetelly, Christmas With The Poets (London: David Bogue, 1851), who notes "The annexed is the only Carol on bringing in the Boar's Head that belongs to the era of Elizabeth and her successor James I. He was used before the Christmas Prince at St. John the Baptist's College, Oxford, in 1607."

Print Page Return Home Page Close Window

If you would like to help support Hymns and Carols of Christmas, please click on the button below and make a donation.