The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Nowell and Sire Christmas

For Christmas

Words and Music: Rev. Richard Smart (or Smerte), Rector (1435-1477) of Plymtree, Devon, and vicar-choral at Exeter Cathedral (1428-ca. 1466). The carol was likely composed ca. 1461-1477. He was also the author of one of the Boar's Head carols (The Borys Hede That We Bryng Here), among several other carols in Ritson's Manuscript (British Library, MS. Addit. 5665, f.8.v. ff).

Music: Traditional Air set to Four Voices by Edmund Sedding.

Source: Antient Carols for Christmas and Other Tides Arranged For Four Voices by Edmund Sedding. Second Edition. (London: Masters and Son, 1863), pp. 10-13.


Nowell! Nowell! Nowell! Nowell!
Nowell! Nowell! Nowell!

Sire Christmas. Solo.

Who is there that singeth so, Nowell?


I am here, sir Christmas,
welcome my lord sir Christmas.

Sire Christmas.

Welcome to us all both more and less.
Come near Nowell.

Chorus after each verse.

Nowell! Nowell! Nowell! Nowell!
Nowell! Nowell! Nowell!

Verse 1.

God you rest, good sire, tidings I you bring,
A Maid hath borne a Child full young,
The which doth cause you for to joy and sing Nowell.

Verse 2.

Christ is born today, of a pure Maid,
In an ox stall He is laid,
Therefore sing we all full loud with one assay Nowell.

Verse 3.

Drink well, gentle host, and all the company
Make good cheer and be right merry,
And sing with us now joyfully Nowell.

Sheet Music from  Antient Carols for Christmas and Other Tides Arranged For Four Voices by Edmund Sedding. Second Edition. (London: Masters and Son, 1863), pp. 10-13..

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Note Concerning the Words and Music by Mr. Sedding.

No. V

The air of No. V. is taken from a manuscript of the reign of King Henry VIII. [Addl. MS 5665 f.8 ff], and may have been been sung in the presence of that Sovereign. It is of such super-excellent quaintness and beauty that it seemed to me an act of desecration to divorce the antient words from the musick to which they have been for generations wedded in comely accordance. Unhappily it was found impossible to let the entirety of the old words to the melody, so that they might run smoothly together, and after long and serious deliberation, I resolved to contrive some few alterations in the text; but this ungracious travail, as the reader will himself discover, has been very delicately carried out with the least possible license of ink so that the sense and drift of the original should not be wantonly disturbed.

For the, convenience of Quires and Scholars, whom I am with pleasure bounden to style, my chief patrons and supporters, the orthography, has been charactered in modern English, but in like manner I am desirous to give good content unto those, my singular good friends, who have a reverend regard for the preservation of antient reliques, and I have therefore appended an exact copy of the original:

Ye original words of No. V.

" Nowell nowell nowell
Who ys there that singith so nowell
Nowell Nowell.

"I am here, syre Crystemasse,
Wellcome my lord syre Crystemasse,
Wellcome to us all bothe more and less,
Come ner Nowell.

Dieu wous garde byewe syre tydynges y you bryng
A Mayde hath born a Chylde full yong,
The weche causeth you for to syng

"Christe is now born of a pure Mayde
In an oxe stalle He ys layde,
Wherefor syng we all atte a brayde

Bevvez bien par tutte la company,
Make gode chere and be ryght mery,
And syng with us now joyfully

Editor's Note.

This is one among many versions of this venerable old carol. Versions on this site include:

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