The delightful As I Out Rode This Enderes* Night is a companion carol to the well-known and very popular Lully, Lullay, also known as the Coventry Carol. Both carols were included in the Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors. The pageant was a mystery play regularly performed in the English city of Coventry from the early 15th Century until around the middle of the 16th Century (the time of the Protestant Reformation in England under King Henry VIII). The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors also included a third carol beginning with the line Down from Heaven, from Heaven so High.
The mystery plays of medieval Europe were traditionally created and performed by craft guilds based in the larger cities. These mystery plays focused on the representation of stories from the Bible. They told of subjects such as the Creation, the Nativity, the Passion and the Last Judgment. They were often performed together in cycles which could last for days. The name mystery is used in the sense of miracle.
The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors depicted the Christmas story, covering events from the Annunciation through to the Massacre of the Innocents. Lully, Lullay refers to the latter event in which Herod ordered all male infants under the age of two, in Bethlehem, to be killed. It takes the form of a lullaby sung by mothers of the doomed children.
As I Out Rode and Down from Heaven referred to the angel’s announcement to shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem concerning the birth of the Christ child and their subsequent visit to the manger where they found the baby with Mary and Joseph.
Within the context of the pageant, the shepherds, after having heard the angels sing “gloria in excelsis Deo”, decide to go to Bethlehem to worship the child and they sing their first song As I out rode. They hasten to town, greet Mary, and present simple gifts to the child – a pipe, a hat and a pair of mittens. Mary thanks the shepherds and promises to pray for them. Before departing, they sing their second song Down from Heaven.
Today, the two shepherds’ songs (which essentially have the same metre and the same chorus) are often combined into a single carol with the title As I Out Rode This Enderes Night or The Coventry Shepherds’ Carol.
This new SATB arrangement (the original was scored for treble, tenor and bass) incorporates an additional three verses, the lyrics of which are an adaptation of the dialogue from the pageant that came between the two songs of the shepherds.
It should also be noted that, in some places, the Tenor and Bass parts cross over. This somewhat unusual convention has been retained in this arrangement in order to remain faithful to the original manuscript.
* enderes is possibly derived from the old Saxon word “endenehes” meaning “the last”.