Marke this songe for it is trewe
For it is trewe as clerkes tell.
In olde tyme straung thyngs cam to pas
Grete wonder and grete meruayll was
There was one Octauyan
Octauyan of Rome Emperour.
As bokes olde doth specyfye
Of all the wyde worlde trulye.
He was lorde and gouernour.
The Jewes that tyme lackyd a kyng
They lackyd a kyng to gyde them well
The Emperour of power and myght
Chose one Herode agaynst all ryght
This Herode than was kyng of Jewys
Was kynge of Jewys and he no Jewe
For so the he was a panym borne
Wherfore on fayth it may be sworne
He reygned kynge vntrewe.
By prophesye one Isay
One Isay, at lest dyd tell
A chylde sholde come wonderous newys
þe shold be borne trewe kyng of Jewys
This Herode knew one borne shold be
One borne sholde be of trewe lenage
That sholde be ryght herytour
For he but by the Emperour
Was made by vsurpage
Wherfore of throught this kynge Herode
This kynge Herode in grete fere fell
For all the days most in his myrth
Euer he fered Chrystes byrth
The tyme came it pleased god
It pleased god so come to pas
For mannes soule in dede
His blyssed sone was borne wyth spede
As his wyll was
Tydynges came to kynke Herode
To kynge Herode, and dyd hym tell
That one borne forsoth is he
Which lorde and kynge of all shall be
Herode than raged as he were woode
As he were wode of this tydynge
And sent for all his scrybes sure
Yet wolde he not trust the scrypture
Nor of theyr councellynge.
Than this was the conclusyon
The conclusyon of his councell
To sende vnto his knyghtes anone
To sle the chylderne euerychone
This cruell kynge this tyranny
This tyranny dyd put in vre
Bytwene a day and yeres too
All men chylderne he dyd sloo
Of Cryst for to be sure.
Yet Herode myssed his cruell pray
His cruell pray as was goddes wyll
Joseph with Mary than dyd fle
With Chryst to Egypt gone was she
All this whyle this tyrantes
This tyrantes wolde not conuert
But innocentes yonge
That lay sokynge
They thryst to the herte.
This Herode sought the chyldren
This chyldren yonge, with corage fell
But in doynge thys vengeaunce
His owne sone was slayne by chaunce
Alas I thynke the moders were wo
The moders were wo it was grete skyl
What motherly payne
To se them slayne
In cradels lyeng styll:
But god hymn selfe hath theym electe
Hath theym electe, in heuyn to dwell.
For they were bathed in theyr blode
For theyr baptym forsoth it stode
Alas agayne what hartes had they
What harts had they those babes kyll
With swerdes whan they hym caught
In cradels they lay and laught
And neuer thought yll.
Source: William Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (London: Richard Beckley, 1833).
From notes on this page (where you can see a more modern set of English words):
This is one of many songs which relate to the Holy Innocents, whose feast day is December 28. For more, please see The Hymns Of The Holy Innocents.
This Carol was printed in a volume bearing the title of “Christmas carolles newly Inprinted. [Woodcut of Our Saviour crucified between two thieves.] Imprinted at London in the Powltry, by Richard Kele, dwelling a the longe shope undere sayne Myldredes Chyrch,” which was probably published between the years 1546 and 1552, during which time Kele lived at the Long shop in the Poultry, and at the sign of the Eagle near unto Stocks Market in Lombard Street. Seven of the carols contained in Kele's publication were included by the late Dr. Bliss in a small volume of Bibliographical Miscellanies which he printed in 1813, and from this volume, (which is now very scarce, the impression having been limited to 104 copies,) the present copy is taken.
The circumstances of Herod's own child being slain in the massacre was believed for centuries. How or when the tradition arose is uncertain, but the circumstance is mentioned by Macrobius, who wrote inn the fifth century, in connection with a witticism of the Emperor Augustus Caesar, who, on hearing the report, said, it was better to be Herod's pig than his son; in allusion to Herod's position as King of the Jews. In “The trades of Chester at Whitsuntide, one of Herod's soldiers kills a child in the arms of a woman, who tells him it is the king's son, who had been placed at nurse with her. She rushes to Herod and acquaints him of the murder, on hearing of which he rages, becomes made, and dies; and a demon comes and carries him into the place of torment.
Kele's carols were also reprinted in Edward Bliss Reed's Christmas Carols Printed In The Sixteenth Century (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1932).