The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

When Herod In Jerusalem

For Innocents Day
See Hymns Of The Holy Innocents

Version 1
See When Herod In Jerusalem - Version 2 (Sandys)

Words and Music: English Traditional

Source: Davies Gilbert, Some Ancient Christmas Carols. London: John Nichols And Son, Second Edition, 1823.

1. When Herod in Jerusalem
    Did reign in princely throne,
Strange tidings then were brought to him
    Of a King lately born;
The which did much torment his mind,
    So strange a thing should be,
That then amongst the Jews should reign
    A greater King than he.

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

That he might the young King prevent,
    Most wickedly he will'd,
The children small of two years old
    Should certainly be kill'd.
Then did the Lord an Angel send
    To Joseph where he lay,
And bad him into Egypt fly,
    To bear the Child away. Chorus.

3. Then men appointed when abroad
    Young Infants' blood to apill,
Supposing then assuredly
    Christ Jesus were to kill.
But see the judgments of the Lord:
    In the same wicked train
The King's own son, being out to nurse,
    Amongst the rest was slain.1 Chorus.

4. Of Herod's bloody rage with sad
    And grievous soul I speak,
By whom this day were slain ten thousand,
    Ten thousand Children weak.
Juda's bounds with scarlet wounds
    Of suckling babes lay dyed;
The death was spread with crimson red,
    Commanded by his pride. Chorus.

5. For unto him was told that born
    There was a greater King,
Whose matchless power it should him
    Into subjection bring.
Wherefore he sent incontinent
    His armed bands in rage,
For to destroy each mother's joy
    Under two years of age. Chorus.

6. The Son of God was sought that he
    With others might be slain,
And his destruction wrought, as cruel
    Herod did ordain.
But soon from Heaven this warning came,
That Mary should not stay,
But with her Child, a Son exil'd,
    To Egypt take her way. Chorus.

7. Let us give praise to God therefore,
    In modest mirth and glee,
And still this day adorn, wherein
    Our Saviour was set free.
For Mary mild, with her dear Child,
    In Egypt found great friends,
Till Herod's pride the Lord destroy'd;
    And so this Carol ends. Chorus.

Note from Davies Gilbert:

1. This circumstance [e.g., the death of Herod's son among the slaughter of the Innocents] is mentioned in one of the spurious Gospels.

Prudentius, who flourished in the fourth century, has these lines on the Innocents:

    Salvete, flores martyrum,
Quos lucie ipso in limine
Christi insecutor sustulit
Cen turbo nascentes rosas.

    Vos prima Christi victima,
Grex immolatorum tener,
Aram ante ipsam simplices
Palmā et coronis luditis. Return

Editor's Note:

I regret that I am unable to determine to which apocryphal Gospel Mr. Gilbert was referring.

I understand that Father Edward Caswell gave this translation of the first four lines of Salvete, flores martyrum:

Flowers of martyrdom, all hail!
Smitten by the tyrant foe
On life's threshold -- as the gale
Strews the roses ere they blow.

This longer translation is by R. Martin Pope (Hymn For The Epiphany, 1905):

Ye flowers of martyrdom, all hail!
Of rising morn pure blossoms frail!
By Jesu's foe were ye downcast,
Like budding roses by the blast.

Lambs of the flock too early slain,
Ye first fruits of Christ's bitter pain!
Close to His very altar, gay
With palms and crowns, ye now do play.

Of what avail is deed so vile?
Doth Herod gain by murderous guile?
Of all to death so foully done
Escapes triumphant Christ alone.

Amidst that tide of infant gore
Alone He wins the sheltering shore:
The virgin's Child survives the stroke,
When every mother's heart was broke.

See additional notes under All Hail, Ye Little Martyr Flowers.

William Sandys (among others) has noted that it is an old tradition that Herod's own son was among the innocents who suffered on this occasion, which induced Augustus (e.g., Caius Julius Caesar Octavianus, the first Roman emperor, 62 B.C.-14 A.D.) to say that it was better to be Herod's hog [ous], than his son [houios].

The Middle Ages gave faith to this story; it is said that Abelard (1079-1142) inserted it in his hymn for the feast of Holy Innocents. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Abelardian hymn for the feast of Holy Innocents was:

Ad mandatum regis datum generale
nec ipsius infans tutus est a caede.
Ad Augustum hoc delatum risum movit,
et rex mitis de immiti digne lusit:
malum, inquit, est Herodis esse natum.
prodest magis talis regis esse porcum.
(citing Dreves, "Petri Abaelardi Hymnarius Paracletensis", Paris, 1891, pp. 224, 274.) See: (accessed August 4, 2006). I regret that I can neither provide a translation of the Latin, nor was I able to locate a translation on-line.

In fact, the son of Herod was Antipater whom the historian Josephus called a "monster of iniquity." On his deathbed, Herod discovered that Antipater had been plotting against him. Herod proceeded to accuse him before the governor of Syria, and obtained permission from Augustus to put his own son to death by decapitation. Herod died five days after Antipater in 4 BC. It was then that Augustus was alleged to have said that it was better to have been Herod's swine than to have been Herod's son.

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