The only surviving source for the anonymous Coventry Carol
is a facsimile of a manuscript dating from 1591, which appeared in Thomas Sharp’s Dissertation on the Pageants at Coventry
in 1825. The carol forms a section of a scene in which Herod’s soldiers arrive to slay the innocent children as part of the Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. The Coventry plays were seen by royalty: in 1456, by Margaret, queen of Henry VI; by Richard III in 1484 and by Henry VII in 1492. The tune is thought to date from the 1580s, although the text is by Robert Croo and dates from 1534.
from notes by William McVicker © 2002