The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

King Herod And The Cock

For Christmas, For Epiphany

Words and Music: English Traditional Sung by Mrs. Plumb at Armscote, Worcestershire

Source: Cecil J. Sharp, English-Folk Carols (London: Novello & Co., Ltd., 1911)

1. There was a star in David's land,
In David's land appeared;
And in King Herod's chamber
So bright it did shine there.

2. The Wise Men they soon spied it,
And told the King a-nigh
That a Princely Babe was born that night,
No King shall e'er destroy.

3. If this be the truth, King Herod said,
That thou hast told to me,
The roasted cock that lies in the disk
Shall crow full senses three.

4. O the cock soon thrusted and feathered well,
By the work of God's own hand,
And he did crow full senses three
In the disk where he did stand.

Sheet Music From Sharp, English-Folk Carols (1911)

Sheet Music From Cecil J. Sharp, Folk-Song Carols (London: Novello and Company, Ltd., 1913), No. 1175, pp. 3-5. Novello's School Songs, Book #245, edited by W. G. McNaught.

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Sheet Music from "Songs from the Lucy Broadwood Collection," Journal of the Folk-Song Society, Vol. I, "King Pharim," pp. 183-184 (including the notes on p. 184).

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Sheet Music From Lucy Broadwood, English Traditional Songs and Carols (1908), "King Pharaoh," pp. 74-75, 122 (including the notes on p. 122).

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The Carnal and the Crane - Herefordshire Version From the Journal of the Folk-Song Society, Vol. IV, No. 14, pp. 22-25 (including the notes).

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Cecil J. Sharp, ed., Folk Songs From Somerset. Series IV. Second Edition. (London: Simpkin & Co., Ltd., 1911), Carol #88, "Come, All Your Worthy Christian Men," pp. 26-28.

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Cecil J. Sharp, ed., Folk Songs from Somerset. Set II. (London: Novollo and Company, 1908), # 965. "Come, All Your Worthy Christian Men," pp. 14-16. From Somerset. Book 202 of the series "Novello's School Songs," edited by W. G. McNaught.

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Note from Sharp

The words in the text are given exactly as Mrs. Plumb sang them. I have collected no variants. The tune is a form of the well known "Dives and Lazarus" air (see "Come, All You Worthy Christian Men," Folk-Songs from Somerset, No. 88).

Mrs. Plumb's lines, although they tell a complete story, are but a fragment of a very much longer carol, consisting of thirty stanzas, called "The Carnal and the Crane," printed in Sandys's Christmas Carols, Husk's Songs of the Nativity, and elsewhere. For traditional verses with tunes, see Miss Broadwood's English Traditional Songs and Carols [King Pharaoh], and The Folk-Song Society's Journal (I, 183 and IV, 22 with notes) [King Pharim and The Carnal and the Crane - Herefordshire Version, respectively].

In this latter carol the Crane instructs the Carnal (i.e., the Crow) in the facts of the Nativity, of the truth of which the two miracles of the Cock and the Miraculous Harvest are cited as evidence.

I am unable to offer any explanation of the meaning of the words "senses," which occurs in the last two stanzas of the text. In the printed copies it is given as "fences" ― evidently a confusion has somewhere arisen between the letter "s," in its old fashioned form, and "f." "Thurstened" = "crowed"; it is evidently a derivative of the Mid. Eng. Thrusch which meant a chirper or twitterer.

The origin of the carol, and of the legends associated with it, is exhaustively analysed in Child's Ballads, to which the reader is referred. The conversion of King Herod to a belief in the power of the new-born Christ in the way narrated in the text is an early legend, and one that is widely distributed, traces of it being found in the Scandinavian countries and other parts of Europe. It is not, I believe, mentioned in any of the Apocryphal Gospels, although the second miracle in the carol, the Miraculous Harvest, can be traced to that source.

Sidgwick's Notes to “Saint Stephen and King Herod”

Source: Frank Sidgwick, ed., Popular Ballads of the Olden Time, Second Series. Ballads of Mystery and Miracle and Fyttes of Mirth (London: A. H. Bullen, 1904), p. 133.

The Text is taken from the same manuscript as the last [the Sloane ms. 2593 ]. This manuscript is ascribed, from the style of handwriting, to the reign of Henry vi. The ballad is there written without division into stanzas in twenty-four long lines.

The Story .—The miraculous resuscitation of a roast fowl (generally a cock, as here), in confirmation of an incredible prophecy, is a tale found in nearly all European countries. Originally, we find, the miracle is connected with the Passion, not the Nativity. See The Carnal and the Crane.

An interpolation in a late Greek ms. of the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus relates that Judas, having failed to induce the Jews to take back the thirty pieces of silver, went home to hang himself, and found his wife roasting a cock. On his demand for a rope to hang himself, she asked why he intended to do so; and he told her he had betrayed his master Jesus to evil men, who would kill him; yet he would rise again on the third day. His wife was incredulous, and said, ‘Sooner shall this cock, roasting over the coals, crow again’; whereat the cock napped his wings and crew thrice. And Judas, confirmed in the truth, straightway made a noose in the rope, and hanged himself.

Thence the miracle-tale spread over Europe. In a Spanish version not only the cock crows, but his partner the hen lays an egg, in asseveration of the truth. The tale is generally connected with the 126legend of the Pilgrims of St. James; so in French, Spanish, Dutch, Wendish, and Breton ballads.

In 1701 there was printed in London a broadside sheet of carols, headed with a woodcut of the Nativity, by the side of which is printed: ‘A religious man, inventing the conceits of both birds and beasts drawn in the picture of our Saviour’s birth, doth thus express them:— The cock croweth Christus natus est, Christ is born. The raven asked Quando? When? The crow replied Hac nocte, This night. The ox cryeth out Ubi? Ubi? Where? where? The sheep bleated out Bethlehem’ (Hone’s Every-day Book).

Editor's Note:

Regarding the Child Ballads.

See generally Ed de Moel, ed., The Child Ballads.

Notes concerning the miracle of the Roasted Cock, the 1701 broadside, and the notes from Prior, Ancient Danish Ballads, concerning St. Stephen and Herod, are in the notes to Saint Stephen Was A Clerk.

Concerning the miracle of the Miraculous Harvest, see the notes in King Pharaoh. And see The Miraculous Harvest and The Cherry-Tree Carol - Husk

See also King Pharaoh - Part 1 (The Miracle of the Cock)

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