"The Coventry Carol" is from the 16th century. It's usually sung a cappella.

Most people think of it as a lullaby for Jesus, but it's really about the "Massacre of the Innocents" when Herod had all the male babies in Jerusalem killed because of the prophecy about the birth of Jesus. It's a lullaby sung from the point of view of the mothers of those doomed children.


This song wasn't originally a Christmas carol. The only ancient copy was burned in a library fire in 1875, so now we only have early 19th century transcriptions and we don't even know if they're the true copy of the original song.

Here are the original lyrics from these transcriptions:

Lully lulla, thow littell tine child,
By, by, lully lullay, thow littell tyne child,
By, by, lully lullay!

O sisters too, How may we do
For to preserve this day
This pore yongling, for whom we do singe
By, by, lully, lullay?

Herod, the king, In his raging,
Chargid he hath this day
His men of might in his owne sight
All yonge children to slay

That wo is me, Pore child, for thee,
And ever morne and may
For thi parting neither say nor singe,
By, by, lully, lullay.


"The 'Coventry Carol' is an English Christmas carol dating from the 16th century. The carol was traditionally performed in Coventry in England as part of a mystery play called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. The play depicts the Christmas story from chapter two in the Gospel of Matthew: the carol itself refers to the Massacre of the Innocents, in which Herod ordered all male infants under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed, and takes the form of a lullaby sung by mothers of the doomed children... The author is unknown; the oldest known text was written down by Robert Croo in 1534, and the oldest known setting of the melody dates from 1591..." -Wikipedia



MP3 recording by the US Army Chorus.


2nd recording by Susan K. Hawthorne.