The First Carol

Bishop Jeremy Taylor very appropriately said that the first Christmas

carol was sung by the angels at the Nativity of our Saviour--GLORY TO


knows when the custom began of singing carols, or hymns on Christmas

day in honour of the Nativity; but there can be no doubt that it was

of very ancient date in the English Church, and that it has been an

custom to this day, when the practice is decidedly on the

increase, as may be judged from the many collections of ancient

carols, and of modern ones as well. It would be impossible for me to

give anything like a representative collection of Christmas carols,

because of space, but I venture to reproduce a few old ones, and

first, perhaps the oldest we have, an Anglo-Norman carol, which is in

the British Museum, and with it I give Douce's very free translation.

It will be seen by this that all carols were not of a religious kind,

but many were songs appropriate to the festive season:--

Seignors ore entendez a nus,

De loinz sumes venuz a wous,

Pur quere Noel;

Car lun nus dit que en cest hostel

Soleit tenir sa feste anuel

Ahi cest iur.

Deu doint a tuz icels joie d'amurs

Qi a DANZ NOEL ferunt honors.

Seignors io vus di por veir

KE DANZ NOEL ne uelt aveir

Si joie non:

E replein sa maison

De payn, de char, e de peison,

Por faire honor.

Deu doint, etc.

Seignors il est crie en lost

Qe cil qui despent bien e tost,

E largement;

E fet les granz honors sovent

Deu li duble quanque il despent

Por faire honor.

Deu doint, etc.

Seignors escriez les malveis,

Car vus nel les troverez jameis

De bone part;

Botun, batun, ferun groinard,

Car tot dis a le quer cunard

Por faire honor.

Deu doint, etc.

NOEL beyt bein li vin Engleis

E li Gascoin e li Franceys

E l'Angeuin;

NOEL fait beivre son veisin,

Si quil se dort, le chief en clin,

Sovent le ior.

Deu doint, etc.

Seignors io vus di par NOEL,

E par li sires de cest hostel,

Car benez ben:

E io primes beurai le men,

E pois apres chescon le soen,

Par mon conseil.

Si io vus di trestoz Wesseyl

Dehaiz eil qui ne dirra Drincheyl.


Now, lordings, listen to our ditty,

Strangers coming from afar;

Let poor minstrels move your pity,

Give us welcome, soothe our care:

In this mansion, as they tell us,

Christmas wassell keeps to-day;

And, as the king of all good fellows,

Reigns with uncontrouled sway.

Lordings, in these realms of pleasure,

Father Christmas yearly dwells;

Deals out joy with liberal measure,

Gloomy sorrow soon dispels:

Numerous guests, and viands dainty,

Fill the hall and grace the board;

Mirth and beauty, peace and plenty,

Solid pleasures here afford.

Lordings, 'tis said the liberal mind,

That on the needy much bestows,

From Heav'n a sure reward shall find;

From Heav'n, whence ev'ry blessing flows.

Who largely gives with willing hand,

Or quickly gives with willing heart,

His fame shall spread throughout the land,

His mem'ry thence shall ne'er depart.

Lordings, grant not your protection

To a base unworthy crew,

But cherish, with a kind affection,

Men that are loyal, good, and true.

Chase from your hospitable dwelling

Swinish souls that ever crave;

Virtue they can ne'er excel in,

Gluttons never can be brave.

Lordings, Christmas loves good drinking.

Wines of Gascoigne, France, Anjou,

English ale that drives out thinking,

Prince of liquors, old or new.

Every neighbour shares the bowl,

Drinks of the spicy liquor deep,

Drinks his fill without controul,

Till he drowns his care in sleep.

And now--by Christmas, jolly soul!

By this mansion's generous sieur!

By the wine, and by the bowl,

And all the joys they both inspire!

Here I'll drink a health to all:

The glorious task shall first be mine:

And ever may foul luck befall

Him that to pledge me shall decline.


Hail, Father Christmas! hail to Thee!

Honour'd ever shalt thou be!

All the sweets that love bestows,

Endless pleasures, wait on those

Who, like vassals brave and true,

Give to Christmas homage due.

Wynkyn de Worde first printed Christmas carols in 1521, but there were

many MS. carols in existence before then. Here is a very pretty one

from Mr. Wright's fifteenth-century MS.:--

To blys God bryng us al and sum.

Christe, redemptor omnium.

In Bedlem, that fayer cyte,

Was born a chyld that was so fre,

Lord and prince of hey degre,

Jam lucis orto sidere.

Jhesu, for the lowe of the,

Chylder wer slayn grett plente

In Bedlem, that fayer cyte,

A solis ortus cardine.

As the sune schynyth in the glas,

So Jhesu of hys moder borne was;

Hym to serve God gyffe us grace,

O Lux beata Trinitas.

Now is he oure Lord Jhesus;

Thus hath he veryly vysyt us;

Now to mak mery among us

Exultet coelum laudibus.

The next carol I give has always been a popular favourite, and can be

traced back to the fourteenth century, when it was called Joyes

Fyve. In Mr. Wright's fifteenth-century MS. it is Off the Five Joyes

of Our Lady. It afterwards became the Seven Joys of Mary, and has

expanded to


The first good joy our Mary had,

It was the joy of One,

To see her own Son Jesus

To suck at her breast-bone.

To suck at her breast-bone, good man,

And blessed may he be,

Both Father, Son and Holy Ghost,

To all eternity.

The next good joy our Mary had,

It was the joy of Two,

To see her own Son Jesus

To make the lame to go.

To make the lame, etc.

The next good joy our Mary had,

It was the joy of Three,

To see her own Son Jesus

To make the blind to see.

To make the blind to see, etc.

The next good joy our Mary had,

It was the joy of Four,

To see her own Son Jesus

To read the Bible o'er.

To read, etc.

The next good joy our Mary had,

It was the joy of Five,

To see her own Son Jesus

To raise the dead alive.

To raise, etc.

The next good joy our Mary had,

It was the joy of Six,

To see her own Son Jesus

To wear the crucifix.

To wear, etc.

The next good joy our Mary had,

It was the joy of Seven,

To see her own Son Jesus

To wear the Crown of Heaven.

To wear, etc.

The next good joy our Mary had,

It was the joy of Eight,

To see our blessed Saviour

Turn darkness into light.

Turn darkness, etc.

The next good joy our Mary had,

It was the joy of Nine,

To see our blessed Saviour

Turn water into wine.

Turn water, etc.

The next good joy our Mary had,

It was the joy of Ten,

To see our blessed Saviour

Write without a pen.

Write without, etc.

The next good joy our Mary had,

It was the joy of Eleven,

To see our blessed Saviour

Shew the gates of Heaven.

Shew the gates, etc.

The next good joy our Mary had,

It was the joy of Twelve,

To see our blessed Saviour

Shut close the gates of Hell.

Shut close, etc.

On Christmas Day in the Morning and God rest You, Merry Gentlemen,

are both very old and popular, the latter extremely so; in fact, it is

the carol most known. The next example was first printed by the Rev.

Arthur Bedford, who wrote many books and published sermons between

1705 and 1743, but his version began somewhat differently:--

A Virgin unspotted, the Prophets did tell,

Should bring forth a Saviour, as now it befell.


A Virgin most pure, as the Prophets did tell,

Hath brought forth a Baby, as it hath befell,

To be our Redeemer from death, hell and Sin,

Which Adam's transgression hath wrapped us in.

Rejoice and be merry, set sorrow aside,

Christ Jesus, our Saviour, was born on this tide.

In Bethlehem, a city in Jewry it was--

Where Joseph and Mary together did pass,

And there to be taxed, with many ane mo,

For Caesar commanded the same should be so.

Rejoice, etc.

But when they had entered the city so fair,

A number of people so mighty was there,

That Joseph and Mary, whose substance was small,

Could get in the city no lodging at all.

Rejoice, etc.

Then they were constrained in a stable to lie,

Where oxen and asses they used to tie;

Their lodging so simple, they held it no scorn,

But against the next morning our Saviour was born.

Rejoice, etc.

Then God sent an Angel from heaven so high,

To certain poor shepherds in fields where they lie,

And bid them no longer in sorrow to stay,

Because that our Saviour was born on this day.

Rejoice, etc.

Then presently after, the shepherds did spy

A number of Angels appear in the sky,

Who joyfully talked, and sweetly did sing,

To God be all Glory, our Heavenly King.

Rejoice, etc.

Three certain Wise Princes they thought it most meet

To lay their rich offerings at our Saviour's feet;

So then they consented, and to Bethlehem did go,

And when they came thither they found it was so.

Rejoice, etc.

But all Christmas carols were not religious--many of them were of the

most festive description; but here is one, temp. Henry VIII., which is

a mixture of both:--

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel,

Who is there, that singeth so, Noel,

Noel, Noel?

I am here, Sir Christhismass,

Welcome, my lord Christhismass,

Welcome to all, both more and less.

Come near, Noel.

Dieu vous garde, beau Sire, tidings I you bring,

A maid hath born a Child full young,

The which causeth for to sing,


Christ is now born of a pure maid,

In an ox stall He is laid,

Wherefore sing we all at a braid,[80]


Buvez bien par toute la compagnie,

Make good cheer, and be right merry,

And sing with us, now, joyfully,


Of the purely festive carols here is an example of the fifteenth

century, from Mr. Wright's MS.:--

At the begynnyng of the mete

Of a borejs hed 3e schal hete;

And in the mustard 3e xal wete;

And 3e xal syngyn, or 3e gon.

Wolcom be 3e that ben here,

And 3e xal have ryth gud chere,

And also a ryth gud face;

And 3e xal syngyn, or 3e gon.

Welcum be 3e everychon,

For 3e xal syngyn ryth anon;

Hey 3ow fast that 3e had don,

And 3e xal syngyn, or 3e gon.

The last I give is of the sixteenth century, and is in the British

Museum (MS. Cott. Vesp. A. xxv.):--


A bonne, God wote!

Stickes in my throate,

Without I have a draught,

Of cornie aile,

Nappy and staile,

My lyffe lyes in great wanste.

Some ayle or beare,

Gentell butlere,

Some lycoure thou hus showe,

Such as you mashe,

Our throtes to washe

The best were that you brew.

Saint, master and knight,

That Saint Mault hight,

Were prest between two stones;

That swet humour

Of his lycoure

Would make us sing at once.

Mr. Wortley,

I dar well say,

I tell you as I thinke,

Would not, I say,

Byd hus this day,

But that we shuld have drink.

His men so tall

Walkes up his hall,

With many a comly dishe;

Of his good meat

I cannot eate,

Without a drink i-wysse.

Now gyve hus drink,

And let cat wynke,

I tell you all at once,

Yt stickes so sore,

I may sing no more,

Tyll I have dronken once.