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Lullay, lulla thou little tiny child (Coventry Carol)


Sir. Henry Walford Davies


15th Century.

Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. (15th Century). The words are by Robert Croo, and printed by E. Rhys in "Everyman and other Plays".

From A Students'' Hymnal, 1923


Lullay, lulla, thou little tiny child,
by by, luly 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 sing,
by, by lully lullay.

Herod the king in his raging,
charged he hath this day,
his men of night, in his own sight,
all young children to slay.

That woe is me, poor child, for thee!
And every morn and day,
for thy parting not say nor sing
by, by, lully lullay.


Coventry Carol 2 - arr Walford Davies

Created 15-Sep-08

This is one of the earliest polyphonic carols it describes in old English what Mary sang to her child.
"Lully lullay" are now not common English words but in the 1400's and 1500's, they were common slang words meaning " I saw, I saw!".

The "Coventry Carol" is a Christmas carol dating from the 16th Century. The carol was performed in Coventry as part of a mystery play called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. The play depicts the Christmas story from the Gospel of Matthew. This carol presents the Massacre of the Innocents in which Herod orders all male infants in Bethlehem killed. The lyrics of this haunting carol represent a mother's lament for her doomed child. It is the only carol that has survived from this play.

On one occasion this carol was deliberately sung in a cheery, rather upbeat, tempo, with only the first verse performed, thus eliminating any hint of doom or sorrow. This was on the Harry Simeone Chorale's famous 1958 album Sing We Now of Christmas, later reissued as The Little Drummer Boy (it was Simeone's chorale who first made that song famous).

It is notable as a well-known example of a Picardy third. The author is unknown; the oldest known text was written down by Robert Croo in 1534, and the oldest known printing of the melody dates from 1591. There is an alternate setting of the carol by Kenneth Leighton.

Coventry Mystery Plays

The Coventry Mystery Plays, or Coventry Corpus Christi Pageants, are a cycle of medieval mystery plays from Coventry, West Midlands, England, and are perhaps best known as the source of the "Coventry Carol". They should not be confused (though they often are) with the quite separate N-Town plays, sometimes called the Ludus Coventriae cycle from a former mistaken belief that the N-Town was Coventry.

Performances of the Coventry Plays are first recorded in a document of 1392-3, and continued for nearly two centuries; the young Shakespeare almost certainly witnessed them before they were finally suppressed in 1579. In its fullest form the cycle comprised at least ten plays, though only two have survived to the present day. Of these two, the Shearmen and Tailors' Pageant was a nativity play portraying events from the Annunciation to the Massacre of the Innocents, and the Weavers' Pageant dealt with the Purification and the Doctors in the Temple.

The only ancient manuscript of the Shearmen and Tailors' Pageant was destroyed by fire in 1879, but fortunately it had previously been transcribed and published by Thomas Sharp. The plays were most recently edited by Pamela M. King and Clifford Davidson in The Coventry Corpus Christi Plays (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 2000).

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Metasyntactic variable".

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Lullay, lulla thou little tiny child (Coventry Carol) - R. Mather Noel, Noel ('Tis the day, the blessed day) -