IF courtly poetry fell into decadence with the fifteenth-century inheritors of the Chaucerian tradition, a more popular lyric held its own, mainly by virtue of the carol. The term is of French origin, and philologists differ as to whether it owes its derivation to the Greco-Latin chorus, through chorea, a dance, or choraules, the flute-playing accompanist of a dance, or to corolla, a little crown or garland. In either case, the sense of a 'ring' is there, although the alternative 'ryng-sangis' first emerges with Gavin Douglas in the sixteenth century.
The French carole was a dance-song. Its beginnings have been traced by the learning of M. Gaston Paris, M. Alfred Jeanroy, and M. Jean Bédier to the twelfth century, when the courtly life of castle and manor in northern France was beginning to differentiate itself from the more homogeneous society of the eleventh century, and to develop a literature which was not as yet dominated by the amour courtois of Provence, with its eternal triangle of the woman, the lover, and the jealous husband. This is also the period of the poems variously called romances, chansons d'histoire, and chansons de toile. M. Jeanroy thinks that these themselves may have been danced. They were certainly also sung by women at their needlework. The first mention of a carole appears to be in the Anglo-Norman Wace's account, about. 1155, of King Arthur's wedding. Here the women carolent and the men behourdent, 'jesting' while they watch the performance. So, too, in another early poem quoted by M. Jeanroy,
Les dames main a main se tiennent,
Et tout ainsi come elles viennent
Se prent chacune a sa compaigne,
Ne nus hons ne s'i accompaigne.3