Caput Apri Defero

Arms of Queen's College, Oxford: Argent, three eagles displayed gules, beaked and legged or, on the breast of the first, a mullet of six points of the last.
Arms of The Queen’s College, Oxford: Argent, three eagles displayed gules, beaked and legged or, on the breast of the first, a mullet of six points of the last.

The Boar’s Head at Oxford.

The ancient ceremony of serving up a boar’s head in the hall of Queen’s College, Oxford, at Christmas, is still observed with much pomp and ceremony. The boar’s head is borne on the shoulders of two of the college servants, preceded by the Provost and Fellows of the society, and followed by a procession of choristers and singing men, who sing the following ballad, the Precentor of Queen’s taking the solo part:–

The boar’s head in hand bring I,
Bedeck’d with bays and rosemary,
And I pray you my masters be merry.
Quot estis in convivio,
Caput estis in convivio
Reddens laudes Domino.

The boar’s head, as I understand,
Is the rarest dish in all the land:
Which thus bedeck’d with a gay garland,
Let us servire cantico
Caput apri defero,
Reddens laudes Domino.

Our stewards hath provided this
In honour of the King of Bliss,
Which on this day to be served is
In Reginensi Atrio,
Caput apri defero,
Reddens laudes Domino.

After the ceremony, the decorations of bays, rosemary, holly, artificial flowers, &c. are distributed among the visitors, the monster head is then placed upon the high table, and the members of the society proceed to dine. The origin of serving up the boar’s head at Queen’s College is somewhat obscure, but we glean from Pointer’s Oxon[i]ensis Academia that “it is in memory of a noble exploit, as tradition goes, by a scholar (a tabarder) of this College in killing a wild boar in Shotover Wood.” Having wandered into the wood, which is not far from Oxford, with a copy of Aristotle in his hand, and being attacked by a wild boar, who came at him with extended jaws, intending to make but a mouthful of him, he was enabled to conquer him by thrusting the Aristotle down the boar’s throat crying, “Græcum Est!” The animal, of course, fell prostrate at his feet, was carried in triumph to the College, and no doubt served up with an “old song,” as Mr Pointer says, in memory of this “noble exploit.”

— John Timbs, Notabilia, or Curious and Amusing Facts about Many Things, London: Griffith and Farran, 1872.

Published by Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organised the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Personal queries should be directed to me at eccentricbliss dot com.

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