The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Ivy Chefe Of Treis It Is

For Christmas

Words: English Traditional from Ms. Eng. Poet. e. 1, Bodleian Library, Oxford

See Notes Under The Holly And The Ivy.

Music: Not Stated

Source: E. K. Chambers and F. Sidgwick, eds., Early English Lyrics (London: A. H. Bullen, 1907), #CXXXVIII, p. 236.

Ivy chefe of treis it is.
Veni coronaberis.

The most worthie she is in towne ;
He that seith other, do amisse ;
And worthy to bere the crowne. 5
    Veni coronaberis.

Ivy is soft and meke of speche ;
Ageinst all bale she is blisse.
Well is he that may her reche.
    Veni coronaberis. 10

Ivy is green, with coloure bright,
Of all treis best she is ;
And that I preve well now be right.
    Veni coronaberis.

Ivy bereth beris black. 15
God graunt us all his blisse,
For there shall we nothing lack !
    Veni coronaberis.

Editor's Note:

Versions of this carol on this web site include:

Note to #CXXXVIII, pp. 374-375.

Eng. Poet. e, 1. Printed Wright, P.S., 85.

‘Veni coronaberis’ is the refrain of a poem in Lambeth 853, printed Furnivall, H.V., 1. Husk, Carols, 85, prints another Holly and Ivy carol from a broadside of c. 1710, beginning :—

‘The holly and the ivy
Now are both well grown.
Of all the trees that are in the wood
The holly bears the crown.’
            See: The Holly And The Ivy (Now Are Both Well Grown)

Cf. also Henry the Eighth’s song (No. XXIII, Green Groweth The Holly, So Doth The Ivy). The disputes between holly and ivy recall the débats or estrifs which are common enough in medieval literature, Latin, French, and English (cf. Chambers, The Mediaeval Stage, i. 79). A writer in The Gentleman's Magazine (1779), 137, describes a Shrovetide custom in East Kent, in which the girls of a village burnt a ‘Holly Boy’ stolen from the boys, and the boys burnt an Ivy-Girl stolen from the girls. These rites were performed in different parts of the village. See Holly-Boy And Ivy-Girl. With this may be put a quotation in Brand, Popular Antiquities (ed. Ellis, 1841, i. 268) from M. Stevenson, The Twelve Months (1661), 4, ‘Great is the contention of holly and ivy, whether master or dame wears the breeches’; and the significance of the fact that in No. CXLI, Nay, Nay, Ivy !, Holly has ‘mery men’ and Ivy has ‘jentill women ’ becomes apparent. Segregation or opposition of the sexes is not uncommon in festival custom, and may be traced to a very primitive stratum of religious observance [Medieval Stage, i, 105).

Extended Citations

Wright, P.S., 85
Thomas Wright, ed., Songs and Carols Now First Printed From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century (Percy Society, 1847), Ivy Chefe Off Treis It Is, p. 85. [Texts from Eng. Poet, e.1, then in Wright’s possession.]

Furnivall, H.V., 1
Frederick James Furnivall, ed., Hymns to the Virgin and Christ, the Parliament of devils, and other religious poems : chiefly from the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lambeth MS. no. 853. (London : Pub. for the Early English Text Society, by Trübner, 1867)

Husk, Carols, 85
William Henry Husk, Songs of the Nativity (London: John Camden Hotten, 1868), The Holly And The Ivy (Now Are Both Well Grown), p. 85.

Chambers, The Mediaeval Stage, i. 79
Edmund Kerchever Chambers, The Mediaeval Stage. Volume One of Two Volumes. (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1903), p. 79. Editor's Note: Each volume contains two books, as follows: Volume 1: Book 1, Minstrelsy & Book 2: Folk Drama; Volume 2: Book 3: Religious Drama & Book 4, The Interlude, with Appendices.

See Also:

Holly-Boy And Ivy-Girl (Brand, Popular Antiquities, ed. Ellis, Edition of 1905, Vol. 1, pp. 318-319).

See Notes Under The Holly And The Ivy.

Eng. Poet. e. 1.
Eng. Poet. e. 1. Paper, 6 x 4 1/4. ‘Seventy six songs, religious and other, including some Christmas carols and drinking songs, presumably collected for the use of a professed minstrel’ (Madan, v. 679). Written partly in English, partly in Latin, partly in both. In several hands ; two pieces of music (facsimiles in E.B.M.). Variants of several poems in Sloane 2593. Dated 1460-80 by Madan, and ‘about 1485-90’ by Nicholson in E.B.M. Belonged in 1847 to Thomas Wright, but was then lost, and was said to have been taken away by the bookbinder to whom it was entrusted (Chappell, 43, note). It was bought for the Bodleian in 1887 at the sale of the library of Joseph Mayer, who was a patron of Wright’s. Described by Madan as above, and in E.B.M., i. xxiv. Edited complete by Wright in 1847 as No. LXXIII of the Percy Society publications (misquoted XXIII by Flügel, Fehr, and others, owing to an error in the Brit. Mus. Catalogue).

Editor's Note: The reference to "XXIII" (23) is to the Volume number published by the Percy Society's series Early English Poetry, Ballads, and Popular Literature of the Middle Ages. Wright's work was Number LXXIII (73) in their list of publications.

MS Eng. Poet. e. 1. is located in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Madan is Falconer Madan, Richard W. Hunt, et al., Summary Catalogue of the Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library. 7 volumes in 8. (Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1895-1953). E.B.M. refers to Sir John Stainer, ed., Early Bodleian Music. Sacred and Secular Songs together with other MS. Compositions in the Bodleian Library, Oxford : ranging from about a.d. 1185 to about a.d. 1505. Two volumes (vol. i, facsimiles, vol. ii, transcriptions) (London : Novello ; New York : Novello, Ewer, 1901). With an Introduction by E. W. B. Nicholson, and Transcriptions into Modern Musical Notation by J. F. R. Stainer and C. Stainer. A third volume was subsequently published.

The complete description by Madan, pp. 679-680:

29734. In English and Latin, on paper: written about A. D. 1460-80 by several hands : 6 1/4 x 4 3/4 in., in a box lined with red velvet 7 1/4 x 5 3/8 in., 64 leaves : stained and worn in parts, but repaired : binding, green morocco with gold ornament, done for mr. J. Mayer (19th cent.).

Seventy-six songs, religious and other, including some Christmas carols and drinking songs, presumably collected for the use of a professed minstrel : a few have the music as well as the words (foll. 40v , 41v , 50v).

This valuable MS. was edited for the Percy Society (vol. 23) in 1847, see also W. Chappell's Popular Music of the Olden Time (1855-7), i. 41. Most of the songs are in English or mixed English and Latin, a few in Latin alone.

In 1847 this volume was owned by Thomas Wright, who edited it : he subsequently lost it, and it was bought by the Bodleian at the Joseph Mayer sale (lot 42) on July 19, 1887, for £16.

[On this MS. see further 'Early Bodleian music' i. p. xxiv and plates 99-100 (where I have ascribed the date 'about 1485-90'), ii. pp. 182-4. E. W. B. N.]

Now MS. Eng. poet. e. 1.

Source: Falconer Madan, A summary catalogue of Western manuscripts in the Bodleian Library at Oxford which have not hitherto been catalogued in the quarto series with references to the Oriental and other manuscripts. Vol. V: Collections received during the second half of the 19th century and miscellaneous MSS. acquired between 1695 and 1890. Nos. 24331-31000. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905), pp. 679-80.

In the Preface to Songs and Carols Now First Printed From a Manuscript of the Fifteenth Century, Thomas Wright wrote:

The following very curious collection of old English Songs and Carols is printed verbatim from a manuscript at present in the possession of the Editor. It appears by the writing and language to have been written in the latter half of the fifteenth century, probably during the period intervening between the latter end of the reign of Henry VI [1421-1471], and the beginning of that of Henry VII [1457-1509]; a date which is confirmed by the fact that the few other copies of songs in this collection that occur elsewhere, are invariably found in manuscripts of the reign of Henry VI or of the age immediately following.

This manuscript has in all probability belonged to a professed minstrel, who sang at festivals and merry makings, and it has therefore been thought to merit publication entire, as giving a general view of the classes of poetry then popular. A rather large proportion of its contents consists of carols and religious songs, such as were sung at Christmas, and perhaps at some other of the great festivals of the church; and these are interesting illustrations of the manners and customs of the age.

Another class of productions, in which this manuscript is for its date peculiarly rich, consists of drinking songs, some of which are singular in their form and not wanting in spirit. The collection also contains a number of those satirical songs against the fair sex, which were so common in the middle ages, and which have a certain degree of importance as showing the condition of private society among our forefathers. In addition to these three classes, the manuscript contains a few short moral poems, which also are not without their peculiar interest.

Manuscript collections of songs like the present, of so early a date, are of great rarity. The only one with which I am acquainted, which may be considered of exactly the same character, is the MS. Sloane, No 2593, in the British Museum, which has generally been ascribed to the reign of Henry VI.

See: Songs and Carols Printed From A Manuscript in the Sloane Collection in the British Museum (London: William Pickering, 1836); twenty songs and carols from Sloane MS 2593, and Songs and Carols from a Manuscript in the British Museum of the Fifteenth Century (The Warton Club, 1856); the complete Sloane MS 2593.

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