“The Boar's Head Carol”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1790 (Ritson); earliest versions c. 1500 (Hill MS., Balliol Coll. Oxf. 354; Wales National Library Porkington 10)
Keywords: carol Christmas food party nonballad foreignlanguage
Found in: Britain(England)

Description

The singer brings in the boar's head, "bedecked with bays and rosemary," to help celebrate Christmas. Chorus: Caput apri defero, Redens laudes domino."

Notes

The Latin chorus translates as "[The] head of [the] boar I bring, giving praises to God."

This is said to be the "earliest English carol to appear in print"; Ian Bradley's _Penguin Book of Carols_ reports it to have appeared in van Wynken's _Christmase Carolls Newly Emprynted at London_ (1521). Since I have not seen the latter book, though, and no one else mentions that publication, I haven't listed that as an earliest date.

Folklore also has a rather fantastic account of the origin of the song: An Oxford student named Copcot was on his way to mass when attacked by a boar. He allegedly killed it by stuffing a volume of Aristotle down his throat (an act, it seems to me, more likely to kill a lazy student than a boar), then took the head to the cooks. - RBW

References

  1. OBC 19, "The Boar's Head Carol" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. ADDITIONAL: Brown/Robbins, _Index of Middle English Verse_, #3313, 3314
  3. Ian Bradley, _The Penguin Book of Carols_ (1999), #75, "The Boar's Head in Hand Bear I" (1 text)
  4. BI, OBC172