Holly and the Ivy, The

DESCRIPTION: "The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown, Of all the trees that are in the wood, The holly bears the crown." The holly's attributes are detailed; each ties to a reason Mary bore Jesus
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1861 (Sylvester's "Christmas Carols")
KEYWORDS: religious Christmas Jesus nonballad MiddleEnglish
FOUND IN: Britain(England(West))
REFERENCES (32 citations):
Dearmer/VaughnWilliams/Shaw-OxfordBookOfCarols 38, "The Holly and the Ivy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 383, "The Holly And The Ivy" (1 text)
Bronson 54, "The Cherry Tree Carol" (version #29 contains a scrap of "The Holly and the Ivy")
Karpeles-TheCrystalSpring 103, "The Holly and the Ivy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Wells-TheBalladTree, pp. 199-200, "The Holly and the Ivy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Rickert-AncientEnglishChristmasCarols, pp. 267-268, "The Holly and the Ivy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Tobitt-TheDittyBag, pp. 104-105, "The Holly and the Ivy" (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #228, "The Holly and the Ivy" (1 text)
Ian Bradley, _The Penguin Book of Carols_ (1999), #78, "The Holly and the Ivy" (1 text)
Roy Palmer, _The Folklore of Warwickshire_, Rowman and Littlefield, 1976, p. 145, "(The Holly and the Ivy)" (1 text)
RELATED: Versions of "Holly and Ivy Had a Great Party" --
Rickert-AncientEnglishChristmasCarols, p. 262, "Holly and Ivy Made a Great Party" (1 text)
Greene-TheEarlyEnglishCarols, p. xcix, "(Holvyr and Hevvy mad a gret party)" (1 text, which he does not consider a carol and does not include in his catalog)
Sidgwick/Chambers-EarlyEnglishLyrics CXXXIX, p. 237, "(no title)" (1 text)
Brown/Robbins-IndexOfMiddleEnglishVerse, #1225
DigitalIndexOfMiddleEnglishVerse #2038
ADDITIONAL: Maxwell S. Luria & Richard Hoffman, _Middle English Lyrics_, a Norton Critical Edition, Norton, 1974 pp, 136-137, #148 (no title) (1 text)
Celia and Kenneth Sisam, _The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse_, Oxford University Press, 1970; corrected edition 1973, #219, p. 480, "Holly and Ivy" (1 text)
Rossell Hope Robbins, Secular Lyrics of the XIVth and XVth Century , Oxford University Press, 1952,#50, pp. 45-46, "Holly and Ivy" (1 text)
MANUSCRIPT: {MSEngPoetE1}, Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Eng. Poet. e.1 (Bodley 29734), folio 30
RELATED: Versions of "Nay, Ivy, It Shall Not Be, Iwys" --
Greene-TheEarlyEnglishCarols, #135, pp. 93-94, "(no title)" (2 texts, of which "A" is this although "B" is a "The Holly Bears a Berry" forerunner)
Sidgwick/Chambers-EarlyEnglishLyrics CXLI, pp, 239-240, "(no title)" (1 text)
Rickert-AncientEnglishChristmasCarols, p. 264, "A Song on the Ivy and the Holly" (1 text)
Brown/Robbins, Index of Middle English Verse , #1226 [This number also used for a "Holly Bears a Berry" forerunner]
DigitalIndexOfMiddleEnglishVerse #2039 [This number also used for a "Holly Bears a Berry" forerunner]
ADDITIONAL: Richard Greene, editor, _A Selection of English Carols_, Clarendon Mdieval and Tudor Series, Oxford/Clarendon Press, 1962, #34A, p. 92, "(Nay, Ivy, nay, hyt shal not be, iwys)" (1 text)
Celia and Kenneth Sisam, _The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse_, Oxford University Press, 1970; corrected edition 1973, #202, p. 451, "Holly and his Merry Men" (1 text)
Roman Dyboski, Songs, Carols, and Other Miscellaneous Poems from the Balliol Ms. 354, Richard Hill's Commonplace Book , Kegan Paul, 1907 (there are now multiple print-on-demand reprints), #99, pp. 116-117, "[The Holly and the Ivy]" (1 text, with an additional text on p. 189)
MANUSCRIPT: {MSRichardHill}, The Richard Hill Manuscript, Oxford, Balliol College MS. 354, folio 251
MANUSCRIPT: London, British Library, MS. Harley 5396, folio 275

Roud #514
cf. "The Holly Bears a Berry" (theme, lyrics)
cf. "Nay, nay, Ive, it may not be, iwis" (Holly-and-ivy lyric, from Richard Hill's manuscript; see Roman Dyboski, _Songs, Carols, and Other Miscellaneous Poems from the Balliol Ms. 354, Richard Hill's Commonplace Book_, #99, pp. 116-117, with a variant text on pp. 189-190) (lyrics); this might possibly be the ancestor of "The Holly and the Ivy," but they are very different as they now stand
NOTES [1642 words]: This clearly derives from the same roots as "The Holly Bears a Berry," and a strong case could be made that they should be considered one song. [Indeed, Kennedy lumps them. - PJS. As does Roud. - RBW] As, however, both are circulated in fairly fixed forms, I decided to separate them.
Jenkins, p. 32, for some reason quotes this song in connection with the 1464 marriage of England's King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. She does not, however, justify the connection in any way I can see.
Simpson/Roud, p. 182, declare the holly "the most popular plant for Christmas decorations," and say that its folklore associations are primarily positive -- although some said it should not be brought into the house except at Christmastide. It was often planted by churches to guard against witches. They declare that it has been considered unlucky to cut down a holly tree since at least the fifteenth century.
Pickering, p. 140, mentions a legend that the cross of Jesus was made of holly, and that its berries became red in remembrance of his blood; supposedly they had previously been yellow.
Rickert-AncientEnglishChristmasCarols, who on pp. 262-268 has six holly-and-ivy songs, thinks it is a relic of nature worship and thinks there was a ritual in which young men played holly and girls ivy. Robbins, #51-52, pp. 46-47, has two more, and suggests (p. 242) that his song in praise of ivy is derived from a poem of praise to the Virgin Mary.
Opie/Tatem, p. 201, note that holly and ivy were often considered paired plants, either as a married couple or as rivals for dominance. According to Binney, p. 177, the holly was considered male and the ivy female. GreeneSelection, p. 33, quotes this interesting early verse about their rivalry (also in Rickert-AncientEnglishChristmasCarols, p. 262; Sisam, #219, p. 480; Boklund-Lagopolou, p. 209; Robbins, #50, pp. 45-46, with orthographic variants):
Holvyr [holly] and Heyvy [ivy] mad a gret party,
Ho xuld [should] have the maystre [mastery]
In londes qwer [where] thei goo.
Wells-TheBalladTree, pp. 198-199, quotes a "Holly Bears a Berry" ancestor which also seems to refer to this sort of rivalry (different version in Rickert-AncientEnglishChristmasCarols, pp. 265-266, which refers to both holly and ivy bearing berries; also in Ritson-AncientSongsBalladsFromHenrySecondToTheRevolution, pp. 114-115):
Nay, Ivy, hyt shal not be, iwys;
Let Holy hafe the mastry, as the manner ys.
This is found in the Richard Hill manuscript among others, so it may have had traditional currency. Parker, p. 81, says that the song is "not specifically [treated as] a Christmas carol." He suggests, "Perhaps the song was meant to be sung in mixed company as a sort of dancing 'challenge' to the ladies. It is followed in the manuscript by another song which, while it doesn't mention Christmas specifically, could be used at Christmas festivities; 'Bon jour a vous' challenges all comers to a song contest...."
Greene, p. xcix, suggests that both "Holver and Heivy made a grete party" and "Nay, Ivy, hyt shal not be, iwys" might be game-songs, the latter perhaps being one in which Ivy is excluded from the hall, i.e. loses the game. Whether true or not, he thinks it quite possible that both are true folk songs. I would probably give them separate listings except that it is possibly to list them here.
GreeneSelection mentions an old Kentish custom of burning effigies of the "Holly-boy" and "Ivy-girl" at Shrovetide. Thus the linkage is widespread both in time and in space.
GreeneSelection, p. 34, points out that palm was generally not available in Britain, so ivy was often substituted on Palm Sunday. This gives another sort of link between holly and ivy: Holly was the plant associated with Jesus's birth, and Ivy with his passion.
The history of this song is vexed even if you ignore the link with "The Holly Bears a Berry." GreeneSelection's #93 (p. 160)=Hirsh-MedievalLyric-MiddleEnglishLyricsBalladsCarols #50 begins
Grene groweth the holy,
So doth the ive
Thow wynter blastys blow never so hye,
Grene growth the holy.
(See also Douglas Gray, The Oxford Book of Late Medieval Verse and Prose, Oxford University Press, 1985, p. 175, "Green Groweth the Holly").
The song is a farewell to "myne owne lady... my specyall." It appears in British Library MS. Additional 31922, and is credited to none other than Henry VIII. GreeneSelection, p. 49, suggests that Henry was turning the holly and ivy "from Christmas decorations into symbols of evergreen love." This obviously implies that they had been Christmas symbols from at least the early sixteenth century. On the other hand, Simpson/Roud, p. 183, declare that holly could be used in love divination, which might be the real reason Henry spoke of it. And ivy, according to p. 150 of Pickering, will bring dreams of future lovers if placed under the pillow.
Simpson/Roud, p. 195, and GreeneSelection, #34A (p. 92), both quote a fifteenth century item from British Library MS. Harley 5396:
Holy stond in the hall, fayre to behold;
Ivy dtond without the dore, she ys ful sore a-cold.
Holy and hys mery men, the dawnsyn and they syng;
Ivy and hur maydenys, they wepyn and they wryng.
Sisam, #202, p. 451, gives the title of this as "Holly and his Merry Men" and opens it with the chorus "Nay, Ivy, nay, it shal not be y-wis; Let Holy have the maistry, as the maner is."
These verses are very similar to GreeneSelection's #34B, from (Oxford), Balliol College MS. 354 (the Richard Hill manuscript), of the sixteenth century, which however is clearly related to "The Holly Bears a Berry":
Holy berith beris, beris rede ynouwgh;
The thristilcock, the popyngay daunce in every bow.
Welaway, sory ivy, whoat fowles hast thiw,
But the sory howlet, that syntigh, 'How, how?'
Vry berith beris as black as any slo;
Ther commeth the woode-colver and fedith her of tho.
She liftith up her tayll, and she cakkes or she go;
She would not for [a] hundred poundes serve Holy soo.
GreeneSelection's #35 and #36, and Sisam's #220, p. 480, are other fifteenth century carols in praise of ivy.
Another early carol, GreeneSelection's #7, "Letanundus exultet fidelys chorus, Allelluia," from the fifteenth century, does not mention holly or ivy in the text, but there are inscriptions at the beginning and end mentioning the two plants.
For the whole range of Middle English Holly and Ivy carols, see Greene-TheEarlyEnglishCarols #136-137, plus the Ivy carols #138-#139.
Boklund-Lagopolou, pp. 209-211, quotes several of these holly-and-ivy carols, with discussion, observing on p. 211 that the holly (masculine) usually tops the ivy (feminine) -- but noting that most of these songs were taken down by men. She speculates that, if women had done more of the collecting, the ivy might have been more successful!
Turner, p. 348, suggests that the competition of the holly and the ivy might be compared to another medieval contest, that of the Flower and the Leaf. "The game of the flower and the leaf involved choosing sides and debating and defending certain values. Most commonly the flower and the leaf was a gender comparison, with the flower associated with women and the lead with men" (Turner, p. 347).
This competition is mentioned by Chaucer in the so-called "F" prologue to the "Legend of Good Women": "Whether ye ben with the leef or with the flour" (F prologue, line 72; Chaucer/Benson, p. 590). Chaucer/Benson, p. 1061, explains, "Courtiers in England and France, as part of their May Day festivities, playfully divided themselves into two parties, defenders respectively of the flower and the leaf." The game is also mentioned in Gower's Confessio Amantis, 8.2468. There was also a somewhat later poem, appropriately entitled "The Floure and the Leafe," 595 lines as given by Pearsall, pp. 4-21. Our only copy was that printed by Speght in his 1598 collected works of Chaucer, although it is not by Chaucer (Pearsall, p. 1).
Pearsall, pp. 1-2, explains that the poem "takes its origin from the real or supposed courtly cult of the Flower and the Lead to which Chaucer refers i the Prologue to The Legend of Good Women and to which Deschamps had referred before him (and Charles d'Orleans after, in the English poems written in his captivity, 1415-1440). Knights and ladies would declare their adherence to the Flower or the Leaf and maintain the propriety of their choice with no doubt elegant and sophisticated casuistry. The poet of FL gives a fresh twist to the debate by moralizing adherence to the Flower and the Leaf in terms of a contrast between perseverance and fidelity in love and fashionable fickleness and flirtation, and between honor and valor in battle and idleness. This contrast is developed in the poem with a wealth of allegorical and metaphorical suggestion. Te flower, which is fading and transitory... is contrasted with the leaf (of certain evergreen trees, especially the laurel), which is enduring; the nightingale (female), which sings of faithful and betrayed love, is contrasted with the more light-hearted goldfinsh (male)," etc. The poem probably dates 1460-1480 (Pearsall, p. 1).
Turner's belief (p. 348) is that "The flower and the leaf was directly echoed in the holly and the ivy, where the hard, prickly holly represented the male, the malleable ivy the female."
It's an interesting notion, but I'm not sure I buy the connection -- on several counts. First, in the songs, the holly and the ivy are in direct contest; although the songs declare a winner, there is generally no debate. Second, although the Flower and the Leaf can be documented slightly earlier (Chaucer wrote the "F" prologue before 1395), there are enough old Holly-and-Ivy songs that I don't really believe that the Flower and the Leaf is older. And, third, there is no evidence that the Flower and the Leaf games were played by any but the nobility and gentry. - RBW
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