John Speller's Web Pages St. John's College Boar's Head CarolCarols

John Speller's Web Pages - Boar's Head Carols

St. John's College Boar's Head Carol
A particularly secular boar's head carol used at the "Christmas Prince" festivities at St. John's College, Oxford in 1607. Meleager was a hero from Calydon who undertook a boar hunt in Homer's epic.

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The boar's head festival is known to have been widespread in England since at least the twelfth century. The custom dates from to pre-Christian days. The Druids killed a boar at the winter solstice and offered its head in sacrifice to Freya, the goddess of peace and plenty, who was said to ride upon a boar with golden bristles. Hence it was sometimes customary to gild the head. The lemon placed in the boar's mouth was a Norse symbol of plenty. An orange or an apple was sometimes substituted. The common practice in England of eating sucking pig at Christmas is a related custom. Those who wish to understand what a boar hunt was and why boar's heads figured so prominently in the life of our ancestors should read T. H. White's Once and Future King, which will prove in any case to be most entertaining. The roasted boar's head came to be the centerpiece of a Christmas feast, most famously at The Queen's College in Oxford, but more or less everywhere else as well. A favorite dish was Head Cheese, made originally from the boar's head, but known in these benighted times when wild boars are hard to come by as Pork Cheese or Fromage de tÍte du porc. Here is a typical recipe:


Fresh pig's head
4 shallots
4 carrots
4 onions
1 leek
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp margery
1 tsp thyme
1 chopped bay leaf
1 tsp salt (optional)
10 ground black peppercorns
4 cloves


Split the head in half and remove the ears. Pour boiling water over the skin. Scrape off any imperfections.
Finely chop the shallots.
Chop the carrots, onions and leek.
Peel the garlic.
Place the pig's head, carrots, onions, leek and garlic into a large pan, cover with cold water and bring to a boil over moderate heat.
Skim off any froth and add the margery, thyme and bay leaf. Cook over low heat for several hours until until the meat comes off the bones. Mash with a fork and thoroughly mix.
Add the shallots and parsley, and stir thoroughly. Refrigerate until needed.


The procession into the Hall with the boar's head, generally flanked by a couple of acolytes was accompanied by a carol, and I have adduced a number of these here (see right hand menu). There also seems to have been some kind of theatrical performance associated with the boar's head festival, and poet-laureate Thomas Warton (1728-1790) notes that in the college records that his college, Trinity, Oxford, made a disbursement 1559 in connection with a performance involving a "Christmas Prince." A similar performance took place at St. John's College, Oxford, in 1607.

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