The Christmas Story – The Massacre of the Innocents

Today, 28th December, in medieval and pre-Reformation England was traditionally celebrated as the Feast Day of the Massacre of the Holy Innocents – the day when Herod the Great, hearing of Jesus’s birth, ordered the execution of all Bethlehem’s young male children.  My post today is Medieval/early modern England words and pictures of that biblical event.

Arundel 157 f.5 Flight into Egypt
Flight into Egypt and the Slaughter of the Innocents from Prayer
(England, S. E. (St Albans), c.1240) shelfmark Arundel 157 f.5.

Royal 2 B VII f.132 Massacre of the Innocents
Herod, with half-drawn sword, sitting amidst the Massacre of the Innocents
from The Queen Mary Psalter (England (London/Westminster or East Anglia?),
between 1310 and 1320) shelfmark Royal 2 B VII f.132.

Royal 6 E VI f.8 Biblical cycle
Four miniatures: 1. the Annunciation to the Shepherds; 2. the Adoration of the Magi;
3. the Massacre of the Innocents; 4. the Presentation in the Temple
from Omne Bonum (Absolucio-Circumcisio)
(England, S. E. (London), c. 1360-c. 1375) shelfmark Royal 6 E VI f.8.

Stowe 12 f.25v Massacre of the Innocents
Herod overseeing the massacre of the innocents by knights, with a partial bar border including a dancing, hooded grotesque, at the reading for the feast of Holy Innocents
on 28 December from The Stowe Breviary
(England, E. (Norwich), between 1322 and 1325) shelfmark Stowe 12 f.25v.


The Coventry Carol
Lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
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 might, in his own sight,
All children young, to slay.

Then woe is me, poor Child, for Thee,
And ever mourn and say;
For Thy parting, nor say nor sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Words originally written by Robert Croo in 1534


All images are from the British Library’s collection of Medieval Manuscripts and are marked as being Public Domain Images and therefore free of all copyright restrictions in accordance with the British Library’s Reuse Guidance Notes for the Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts.


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You may also be interested in the following posts
– Christmas in a Tudor town
– Medieval Christmas Stories
– Images from the British Library’s online images from the early modern period
– Images from the medieval illuminated manuscripts

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One Response to The Christmas Story – The Massacre of the Innocents

  1. Pingback: Christmas Advent Calendar from the Front: 8 December | Essex Voices Past

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