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Herod and the Cock / King Pharim

[ Roud 306 ; Child 55 ; Ballad Index C055 ; HerodCock at Old Songs ; VWML CJS2/10/2585 , LEB/2/6/2 , RoudFS/S154706 ; trad.]

The Watersons sang Herod and the Cock in 1965 on their first LP Frost and Fire. It was also included in 1996 on the Topic CD sampler The Season Round. A live version from a Christmas radio programme recorded in December 1980 at Crathorne Hall, Crathorne, North Yorkshire, was published in 2005 on the Watersons’ CD A Yorkshire Christmas.

A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album’s sleeve notes:

A ballad carol, thirty verses long, told of two birds, a crow and a crane (see also Child 55, The Carnal and the Crane), conversing about the story of the Nativity and Herod’s attempt to kill the miraculous baby. Herod and the Cock deals with one incident in this ballad, that has broken away to lead a life of its own in the form of a short carol. It is based on a legend of St. Stephen who proves the birth of Christ by causing the roast chicken in Herod’s dish to rise and crow “Christus natus est” (Stephen is stoned for his pains). The story seems to have come into Europe from the Orient, and spread through Byzantium and Russia into Scandinavia and north-western Europe. The West Midlands—great carol country—seems to have harboured both the long and short forms of the song. Cecil Sharp obtained this version from Worcestershire.

The Watersons also sang the related song King Pharim in 1975 on their album For Pence and Spicy Ale. A.L. Lloyd noted:

Ordinary folk kept alive many gospel legends rejected by the parsons. Among them, the humorous tale of the roasted cock that discomfited Herod by crowing in his face, and the sly trick of the miraculous harvest by which the holy family evaded Herod’s pursuit. Most of the Watersons’ version is as noted by Lucy Broadwood from gipsy men in Surrey. The concluding verses originally appeared on a 19th century broadside, The Carnal and the Crane. The Oxford Book of Carols was the Watersons’ source.

Nowell Sing We Clear sang King Pharim in 1977 on their eponymous first album Nowell Sing We Clear. They sang The Carnal and the Crane and King Herod and the Cock in 1985 on their third album, Nowell Sing We Clear Vol. 3.

John Kirkpatrick et al. sang King Herod and the Cock on the Folkworks project and subsequent 1998 Fellside CD Wassail!. He noted:

Another song of magic and miracles, with a story dating back for centuries. Cecil Sharp collected the song from Mrs Plumb, from Armscote, Worcestershire [VWML CJS2/10/2585, RoudFS/S151117] .

Coope Boyes & Simpson sang King Pharim in 2003 on their No Masters CD Fire and Sleet and Candlelight.

Paul Sartin sang King Herod and the Cock in 2009 on Belshazzar’s Feast’s WildGoose album Frost Bites. He noted:

From Mrs. Plumb of Armscote, Worcestershire, by way of Cecil Sharp, the Oxford Book of Carols and ensemble Magpie Lane. This is one episode of the ancient Carnal and the Crane ballad sequence.

The New Scorpion Band sang King Herod and the Cock / The Miraculous Harvest in 2011 on their CD Nowell Sing We. They noted:

The Herefordshire carol The Carnal and the Crane gave us the title of our first Christmas album. It is followed in an extended narrative sequence by two other songs, which we perform here. King Herod and the Cock was collected by Cecil Sharp from Mrs Plumb at Armscote, Worcestershire. The Miraculous Harvest was collected by Lucy Broadwood in Surrey [VWML LEB/2/6/2] and Ralph Vaughan Williams in Herefordshire [VWML RoudFS/S154706] , on each occasion from gypsy singers. This text is from Vaughan Williams’ version.

Andy Turner sang King Pharim as the 5 December 2014 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week, and he sang King Herod and the Cock as the 28 December 2020 entry of A Folk Song a Week.


The Watersons sing Herod and the Cock

There was a star in David’s land,
In David’s land appeared;
And in king Herod’s bedroom
So bright it did shine there.

The Wise Men they soon spied it,
And they told the king on high,
That a princely babe was born that night,
No man could ever destroy.

If this be true, king Herod said,
That you’ve been telling me,
This roasted fowl that’s in the dish
Shall crow full fences three.*

Well the fowl soon feathered and thrustened well,
By the work of God’s own hand,
Three times that roasted cock did crow
In the dish where he did stand.

*“Fences” is a metonym for the fields they contain, ie. the cock’s crow would be heard three fields away (in Garry Gillard’s opinion)

The Watersons sing King Pharim

King Pharim sat a-musing
And a-musing all alone.
There came a blessed Saviour
And all to him unknown.

Saying “Where did you come from good man,
And where did you then pass?”
It was out of the land of Egypt,
Between an ox and ass.

Well if you come out of Egypt, man,
One thing I fain would know.
Whether a blessed Saviour
Sprang from an Holy Ghost.

For if it is true, is true good man,
What you’ve been telling me,
This roasted cock, that’s in the dish,
Shall crow full fences three.

Well the cock soon feathered and he grew soon well,
By the work of God’s own hand.
Three times that roasted cock did crow
In the dish where he did stand.

Joseph, Jesus, and Mary
Were a-travelling further West
When Mary grew a-tired,
She might sit down and rest.

They travelled further and further,
The weather being so warm,
Until they came upon a husbandman
A-sowing of his corn.

“Come husbandman,” cried Jesus,
“Throw all your seed away
And carry home your ripened corn,
That you’ve been a-sowing this day.”

By there came King Herod,
With his train so furiously,
Enquiring of the husbandman
Whether Jesus had passed by.

Well the truth it must be spoken,
And the truth it must be known.
For Jesus he passed by this way
Just as me seed was sown.

But now I have it rippen
And some laid in my wain
Ready to fetch and carry
Into my barn again.

“Turn back then,” said the captain.
Our labour’s all in vain.
Tis full three quarters of the year
Since he his seed has sown.

So Herod was deceived
By the work of God’s own hand.
No further he proceeded
Into the Holy Land.


Herod and the Cock was transcribed from the singing of the Watersons by Wolfgang Hell. King Pharim was transcribed by Garry Gillard.