Christmas Songs #9: The Coventry Carol

Here is a song I’ll bet you haven’t heard, unless you are a hard core Christmas carols fan. This one is probably more popular in England than America. The song is sung by a mother who is afraid for her boy child because she’s heard that Herod has sent out to kill all the babies. She is trying to lull him to sleep so that he won’t be found by the soldiers.

You remember how the wise men, when they were led to Palestine by the star, went straight to King Herod and asked where the baby was who had been born as King of the Jews. Not the smartest thing to ask the current king, probably. Herod asked his Bible scholars where the Messiah would be born, and they assured him that it could only be in Bethlehem, on the basis of Micah 5.2. He told the wise men to report back to him when they found the baby. They found Jesus, but when God warned them, they went home without seeing Herod.

Herod had already asked them when the star had first appeared to them. He took action by killing all the male children two years old and under, anywhere near Bethlehem. This is totally consistent with Herod’s personality. For instance, he had his wife and three of his own children killed for various reasons.

So our song is a sad lament for those male children who fell victim to Herod. He was only the first of many rulers who have seen the Son of God as a threat and a competitor.

The history of the song is interesting too. It was written for a play during the 1500’s, and is one of the earliest examples of English songs for which both the words and the music are both known. Usually we only know the words, but these words are set to their original music.


Refrain Lullay lulla, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
Thou little tiny Child.
By, by, lully, lullay.

O sisters, too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day;
This poor Youngling for whom we do sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Herod the King, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day;
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young, to slay.

Then woe is me, poor Child, for Thee,
And ever mourn and say;
For Thy parting, neither say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

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.

Leave a Reply