The "Coventry Carol" is a Christmas carol dating from
the 16th century. The carol was performed in Coventry
in England as part of a mystery play called The Pageant
of the Shearmen and Tailors. The play depicts the
Christmas story from chapter two in the Gospel of
Matthew (Chapter 2). The carol refers to the Massacre
of the Innocents, in which Herod ordered all male
infants under the age of two in Bethlehem to be 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.
The oldest known text was written down by Robert Croo
in 1534, and the oldest known printing of the melody
dates from 1591 however, the author is unknown. As a
town's plays and songs were once valuable commodities,
the original copy of the play was kept by the town
council for safe keeping, but, disappeared.
Fortunately, the Coventry antiquarian Thomas Sharp
saved copies in two volumes dating from the 1800s.
While it's a little too dark to land on everyone's
Christmas carol A-list, it is tempered in this
arrangement with Viola & Concert (Pedal) Harp.