The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

When Herod In Jerusalem

For Innocents Day
See Hymns Of The Holy Innocents

See also Coventry Carol - Version 1

Version 2
See When Herod In Jerusalem - Version 1 (Davies Gilbert)

Words and Music: English Traditional


Source: William Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (London: Richard Beckley, 1833)

1. When Herod in Jerusalem
    Did reign in princely throne,
Strange tidings then were brought to him
    Of a King lately born.

O cruel Herod, hard of heart,
    Accursed mayst thou be,
That slewest so many innocents
    That never harmed thee.

2. Which news did so his mind torment,
    So strange a thing should be,
That then amongst the Jews should reign
    A greater King than he. Chorus

3. When he did then these tidings prove,
    Most wickedly he will'd,
That all males under two years old
    Should presently be kill'd. Chorus

4. Then did the Lord an Angel send
    To Joseph where he lay,
And bid him straight to Egypt go,
    And Bear the child away. Chorus

5. The men appointed went abroad
    All infants blood to spill,
Supposing that amongst the rest
    They should Christ Jesus Kill. Chorus

6. Now mark the judgments of the Lord
    On their ungodly train,
King Herod's son where he was nurs'd
    Amongst the rest was slain. Chorus

7. Of Herod's bloody reign with sad
    And grievous soul I speak,
By whom this day was slain, 'tis said,
    Ten thousand children weak. Chorus

8. Judah abounds with scarlet wounds
    Of sucking babes that died,
The earth was spread with crimson red,
    All caused by Herod's pride. Chorus

9. For unto him was told, that born
    There was a greater King,
Whose matchless power should him soon
    Unto subjection bring. Chorus

10. Wherefore he sent with full contempt
    His armed bands in rage
For to destroy each mother's joy
    Under two years of age. Chorus

11. The Son of God they straightway sought,
    That he might then be slain,
That his destruction might be wrought,
    As Herod did ordain. Chorus

12. But soon from Heaven was warning given
    That Mary should not stay,
But with her child at once exil'd
    To Egypt take her way. Chorus

13. Let us give praise to God therefore
    With modest mirth and glee,
And still this day adore, wherein
    Our Saviour was set free. Chorus

Sandys' note concerning verse six:

"King Herod's son." It is an old tradition that Herod's own son was among the innocents who suffered on this occasion, which induced Augustus to say that it was better to be Herod's hog than his son. (Horne's Introd. to Scriptures, vol. i. p. 629.)

This fancy is incorporated into some of the early English Mysteries, as well as some of the more recent Continental ones. In Collier's The History of English Dramatic Poetry it is mentioned that this theme is also found in the French Mistère de la Conception, Paris, 1486 (Collier, Vol. 2, 1831, p. 195).

A sort of buffoon also was occasionally introduced to please the populace; as in one mentioned by Hawkins ("Origin of English Drame," vol. i. p. 7 &c.) a cowardly character called Watkyn is introduced, who begs Herod, "for Mahound's sake," to make him a knight, that he may be properly qualified to assist in the slaughter. He is however beaten off by the women. Herod and his knights frequently swear by "Mahound," and occasionally by "Seynt Mahound," something like the Sicilian peasantry swearing by "Santu Diavolu."

Editor's Note

"Mahound" or a "Turkish Knight" is often a figure in the many St. George plays. See, for example, this play from William Sandys 1833 edition: Christmas Play of Saint George.

A portion of this carol is sung as a separate carol, Of Herod's Bloody Reign.

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