The Boar’s Head Carol with an MP3

Illustration of Boar's Head

As early as the 15th century in England, they served boar’s head at the Christmas banquet. It was the first course in every Baron’s Hall and was brought into the feast with great singing. One song they sang was “The Boar’s Head Carol”.

There are several versions of “The Boar’s Head Carol”. I’m happy to present to you the version that’s most commonly sung today. It was printed in 1521 in “Christmasse Carolles” collected by Wynken de Worde. It’s been sung at Queens College in Oxford since before that time… perhaps a hundred years before! Below you can hear it sung and read along with the lyrics. The Latin part is annotated after the song.

MP3 of The Boar’s Head Carol

The Boar’s Head Carol
aka Carol on Bringing in the Boar’s Head

The boar’s head in hand bring I,
Bedeckt with bays and rosemary.
And I pray you my masters be merry
Quot estis in convivio (1)

Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino (2)

The boar’s head, as I understand,
Is the rarest dish in all this land,
Which thus bedeck’d with a gay garland
Let us servire cantico (3)

Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino (2)

Our steward hath provided this
In honor of the King of Bliss;
Which, on this day to be served is
In Reginensi atrio. (4)

Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino (2)

(1) All of you who are at this feast
(2) The boar’s head I offer
Giving praises to the Lord
(3) Let us serve with a song
(4) In the Queens hall

Below you can read the oldest known version of “The Boar’s Head Carol”. It’s from a manuscript from the 15th century, printed in "Reliquiæ Antiquæ".

Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!
The boar’s head is armed gay.

The boar’s head in hand I bring.
With garlands gay encircling,
I pray you all with me to sing,
With Hey!

Lords, knights, and squires,
Parsons, priests, and vicars,
The boar’s head is the first mess*,
With Hey!

The boar’s head, as I now say,
Takes its leave and goes away,
Goeth after the Twelfth day,
With Hey!

Then comes in the second course with great pride,
The cranes, the herons, the bitterns, by their side,
To partridges and the plovers, the woodcocks, and the snipe,
With Hey!

Larks in hot show, for the ladies to pick,
Good drink also, luscious and fine,
Blwet of Allemaine, romnay, and wine,
With Hey!

Good brewed ale and wine, I dare well say,
The boar his head with mustard armed so gay,
Furmity for pottage, and venison fine,
And the humbles of the doe and all that ever comes in,
Capons well baked, with the pieces of the roe,
Raisins of currants, with other spices too,
With Hey!


Illustration of Boar's Head Carol

It’s believed that the boar’s head wasn’t actually eaten, but that it was a “show dish”, because there’s reference to only one boar’s head at each feast, no matter how many people were present at the banquet.

If you’re interested in reading more about old carols I refer you to “Christmas with the Poets” (1851) by Henry Vizetelly and Miles Birket Foster.


Mama Lisa

This article was posted on Wednesday, December 9th, 2009 at 12:42 pm and is filed under Boar's Head Carol, Christmas, Christmas Songs, Countries & Cultures, England, English, Holiday Songs, Holidays Around the World, Languages, Mama Lisa, MP3's, Recordings, Recordings of Songs, United Kingdom. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

5 Responses to “The Boar’s Head Carol with an MP3”

  1. Mark Davis Says:

    Traditionally we sing the “Boars Head Carol” at the Christmas meeting of our Masonic Lodge in Malvern, as our Steward parades a fully prepared boars head through the room and onto the Masters table prior to the meal. Thank you for the explanation as to it’s origin, as I’m quite sure that over the years the reason as to why we carry out this tradition has been lost, and I look forward to passing on the information.

  2. Lisa Says:

    That’s neat! Glad to hear the tradition is still alive! If you’d like to send any photos of the boar’s head or anything… I’d be happy to post it! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Lisa Says:

    I spoke with my friend Chris from England today about this custom. He’s not familiar with the Carol. He did say, however, that a boar’s head it still served at big celebrations. I asked if they eat it. He said they eat the jowl and tongue.

  4. Lisa Yannucci Says:

    I found more info about the Boar’s Head custom in “Old Cookery Books and Ancient Cuisine” (1902) by William Carew Hazlitt…

    “Most of the early descriptions and handbooks of instruction turn, naturally enough, on the demands and enjoyments of the great. There is in the treatise of Walter de Bibblesworth (14th century) a very interesting and edifying account of the arrangement of courses for some important banquet. The boar’s head holds the place of honour in the list, and venison follows, and various dishes of roast. Among the birds to be served up we see cranes, peacocks, swans, and wild geese; and of the smaller varieties, fieldfares, plovers, and larks. There were wines; but the writer only particularises them as white and red. The haunch of venison was then an ordinary dish, as well as kid. They seem to have sometimes roasted and sometimes boiled them. Not only the pheasant and partridge appear, but the quail, – which is at present scarcer in this country, though so plentiful abroad, – the duck, and the mallard.”

  5. Michael Klaric Says:

    The best version of this I’ve encountered was recorded by the Southern California Ren Faire singing group, Country Matters on their Christmas Album, Let Us Servire Cantico. By far the most sumptuous and sublime rendition of this grand little ditty. I hope you may encounter it and soon!

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