The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Boar's Head Carol

For Christmas

English Traditional Carol

Queens College Version, Oxford, England

First published 1521 by Wynken de Worde in Christmasse Carolles

Source: William Henry Husk, Songs of the Nativity (London: John Camden Hotten, 1868)
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF

See: The Bores Heed In Hand Bring I (Middle English Version from Sandys)
See generally: The Boar's Head Carols

Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino

1. The boar’s head in hand bring I,
Bedeck'd with bays and rosemary.
I pray you, my masters, be merry01
   Quot estis in convivio02

Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino

2. The boar's head, as I understand,
Is the rarest dish in all this land,
Which thus bedeck'd with a gay garland
   Let us servire cantico.04

Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino

3. Our steward hath provided this
In honor of the King of Bliss;
Which, on this day to be served is
   In Reginensi atrio.05

Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino


1. Or: And I pray you, my masters, merry be. Return

2. Translation: As you all feast so heartily. Return

3. Translation of Chorus:

Lo, behold the head I bring
Giving praise to God we sing

Another translation:

The boar’s head I bring,
Giving praises to the Lord. Return

4. Translation: Let us serve with a song. Return

5. Translation: In the Queen's hall. Return

Sheet Music From Husk
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF

Sheet Music from Edward F. Rimbault, A Little Book of Christmas Carols. London: Cramer, Beale & Co., 201, Regent Street, No Date (circa 1847).

On the page following this sheet music, Dr. Rimbault adds the following text:

The original Carol, from "Christmasse Caroles newly enprinted at London in the fletestrete at the sygne of the sonne by Wynkyn de Worde. The yere of our Lorde. M.D.xxi."

    A Caroll bryngyng in the bores heede.

Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes domino.

The bores heede in hande bring I,
With garlands gay and rosemary;
I praye you all synge merely,

    Qui estis in convivio.

The bores heede I understande,
Is the chefe servyce in this lande;
Loke, where ever it be fande,

    Servite cum cantico.

Be gladde, lordes, both more and lasse,
    For this hath ordeyned our stewarde,
To chere you all this Christmasse,
    The bores heed with mustarde.

See: The Bores Heed In Hand Bring I-Sandys

Public Domain Recording:

Text Notes

This is the fifth of seven Boar's Head Carols reproduced by William Henry Husk in Songs of the Nativity.  They are all put up and linked from the page titled The Boar's Head Carols. In the unlikely event that I come across any others, I'll add links to those carols as well.

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

This is a modernized version of the preceding carol [#4: The Boar's Head In Hand Bring I], and owes its chief interest to the circumstance of its being still annually sung on Christmas Day at Queen's College, Oxford, where the custom of bringing the boar's head to table on that day has been uninterruptedly maintained.

The new version was in all probability made and introduced into use about the commencement of the last century, as it is palpably referred to by Hearne in a note on the the older carol, which he printed amongst the "Notę et Spicilegium," appended to his edition of William of Newbury's Chronicle of 1719 stating that "it will be perceived how much the same carol is altered as it is sung in some places even now from what it was at first."

The ceremony now attending the bringing in the boar's head at Queen's College is as follows: -- The head (the finest and largest that can be procured) is decorated with garlands, bays, and rosemary, and is borne into the Hall on the shoulders of two of the chief servants of the college, and followed by members of the college, and by the college choir. The carol is sung by a member (usually a fellow) of the college, and the chorus by the choir as the procession advances to the high table, on reaching which, the boar's head is placed before the Provost, who sends slices of it to those who are with him at the high table; and the head is then sent round to the other tables in the hall and partaken of by the occupants.1

The music to which the carol is sung (a kind of chant) may be seen in the appendix to this collection of carols. Some years since it was more than once stated in print that the boar's head had given way to a carved wooden substitute, but there is no reason whatever for believing that such an absurdity was ever permitted.2

There was an amusing tradition formerly current in Oxford concerning the boar's head custom, which represented that usage as a commemoration of an act of valour performed by a student of the college, who, while walking in the neighbouring forest of Shotover and reading Aristotle, was suddenly attacked by a wild boar. The furious beast came open-mouthed upon the youth, who, however, very courageously, and with a happy presence of mind, thrust the volume he was reading down the boar's throad, crying, "Gręcum est,"3 and fairly choked the savage with the sage.

This tradition, together with the customary celebration, occasioned the production of the following song, which appeared in "The Oxford Sausage," a miscellany of humorous poetry relating to Oxford, published nearly a century ago, under the care of the Rev. Thomas Warton, who himself largely contributed to it.


In Honour of the Celebration of the Boar's Head,
At Queen's College, Oxford

'Tam Marti quam Mercurio.'

"I sing not of Roman or Grecian made games,
The Pythian, Olympic, and such like hard names;
Your patience awhile with submission I beg;
I strive but to honour the feast of Coll. Reg.

Derry down, down, down, derry down.

"No Thracian brawls at our rites eer prevail,
We temper our mirth with plain sober mild ail
The tricks of old Circe deter us from wine;
Though we honour a bour, we won't make ourselves swine.

Derry down, down, down, derry down.

"Great Milo was famous for slaying his ox,
Yet he prov'd but an ass in cleaving of blocks;
But we had a hero for all things was fit,
Our motto displays both his valour and wit.

Derry down, down, down, derry down.

"Stout Hercules labour'd and look's mighty big,
When he slew the half-starved Erymanthian pig;
But we can relate to such a stratagem taken,
That the stoutest of boars could not save his own bacon.

Derry down, down, down, derry down.

"So dreadful this brisle-back'd foe did appear,
You'd have sworn he had got the wrong pig by the ear;
But instead of avoiding the mouth of the beast,
He ramm'd in a volume, and cried -- Gręcum est.

Derry down, down, down, derry down.

"In this gallant action such fortitude shewn is,
As proves him no coward, nor tender Adonis;
No armour but logic, by which we may find
That logic's the bulwark of body and mind.

Derry down, down, down, derry down.

"Ye, squires, that fear neither hills nor rough rocks,
And think you're full wise when you outwit a fox;
Enrich your poor brains, and expose them no more,
Learn Greek, and seek glory from hunting the boar.

Derry down, down, down, derry down."

The present copy of the carol is given from Dibdin's edition of "Ames's Typographical Antiquities," ii 252.

Note from Husk:

1. For the communication of these particulars the editor [Husk] is indebted to the courtesy of the Rev. Dr. Jackson, Provost of Queen's College. Return

Note From Editor:

2. Mr. Husk is in error. There are numerous documents that indicate that a carved wooden image of a boar's head was used. In part, this was necessary because the wild boar was hunted to extinction in the 13th century in England. Usually, the head of a domestic pig was substituted, although occasionally the head of a wild boar was obtained from the continent. Return

3. Likely from the Latin proverb "Graecum est; non potest legi" ("It is Greek; it cannot be read"). Return

At left: "The Boar's Head" from Harper's Monthly, January, 1873.

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