Popular Ballads of the Olden Time

The following is from Popular Ballads of the Olden Time: Third Series - Ballads of Scottish Tradition and Romance Selected and Edited by Frank Sidgwick:

The Battle of Otterburn

The Text is given mainly from the Cotton MS., Cleopatra C. iv. (circa 1550). It was printed by Percy in the fourth edition of the Reliques; in the first edition he gave it from Harleian MS. 293, which text also is made use of here. A separate Scottish ballad was popular at least as early as 1549, and arguments to prove that it was derived from the English ballad are as inconclusive as those which seek to prove the opposite.

The Story--The battle of Otterburn was fought on Wednesday, August 19, 1388. The whole story is given elaborately by Froissart, in his usual lively style, but is far too long to be inserted here. It may, however, be condensed as follows.

The great northern families of Neville and Percy being at variance owing to the quarrels of Richard II. with his uncles, the Scots took the advantage of preparing a raid into England. Earl Percy, hearing of this, collected the Northumbrian powers; and, unable to withstand the force of the Scots, determined to make a counter-raid on the east or west of the border, according as the Scots should cross. The latter, hearing of the plan through a spy, foiled it by dividing their army into two parts, the main body under Archibald Douglas being directed to Carlisle. Three or four hundred picked men-at-arms, with two thousand archers and others, under James, Earl of Douglas, Earl of March and Dunbar, and the Earl of Murray, were to aim at Newcastle, and burn and ravage the bishopric of Durham. With the latter alone we are now concerned.

With his small army the Earl of Douglas passed rapidly through Northumberland, crossed the Tyne near Brancepeth, wasted the country as far as the gates of Durham, and returned to Newcastle as rapidly as they had advanced. Several skirmishes took place at the barriers of the town: and in one of these Sir Henry Percy (Hotspur) was personally opposed to Douglas. After an obstinate struggle the Earl won the pennon of the English leader, and boasted that he would carry it to Scotland, and set it high on his castle of Dalkeith. 'That,' cried Hotspur, 'no Douglas shall ever do, and ere you leave Northumberland you shall have small cause to boast.' 'Your pennon,' answered Douglas, 'shall this night be placed before my tent; come and win it if you can.' But the Scots were suffered to retreat without any hostile attempts on the part of the English, and accordingly, after destroying the tower of Ponteland, they came on the second day to the castle of Otterburn, situated in Redesdale, about thirty-two miles from Newcastle. The rest may be read in the ballad.

'Of all the battayles,' says Froissart, 'that I have made mention of here before, in all thys hystorye, great or small, thys battayle was one of the sorest, and best foughten, without cowards or faint hertes: for ther was nother knyght nor squyre but that dyde hys devoyre, and fought hand to hand.'

Yt fell abowght the Lamasse tyde,
  Whan husbondes Wynnes ther haye,
The dowghtye Dowglasse bowynd hym to ryde,       ['bowynd,' hied]
  In Ynglond to take a praye.

The yerlle of Fyffe, wythowghten stryffe,
  He bowynd hym over Sulway;
The grete wolde ever to-gether ryde;
  That raysse they may rewe for aye.              ['raysse,' raid]

Over Hoppertope* hyll they cam in,
  And so down by Rodclyffe crage;
Vpon Grene Lynton they lyghted dowyn,
  Styrande many a stage.

[* 'Hoppertope,' Ottercap (now Ottercaps) Hill, in the parish of Kirk Whelpington, Tynedale Ward, Northumberland. 'Rodclyffe crage' (now Rothby Crags), a cliff near Rodeley, south-east of Ottercap. 'Grene Lynton,' a corruption of Green Leyton, south-east of Rodely.--Percy]

And boldely brente Northomberlond,
  And haryed many a towyn;
They dyd owr Ynglyssh men grete wrange,
  To battell that were not bowyn.

Than spake a berne vpon the bent,                              ['berne,' man]
  Of comforte that was not colde,
And sayd, 'We have brente Northomberlond,
  We have all welth in holde.

'Now we have haryed all Bamborowe schyre,
  All the welth in the world have wee;
I rede we ryde to Newe Castell,
  So styll and stalworthlye.'

Upon the morowe, when it was day,
  The standerds schone full bryght;
To the Newe Castell the toke the waye,
  And thether they cam full ryght.

Syr Henry Perssy*1 laye at the New Castell,
  I tell yow wythowtten drede;
He had byn a march-man*2 all hys dayes,
  And kepte Barwyke upon Twede.

[*1 Sir Henry Percy (Hotspur), killed at Shrewsbury fifteen years after Otterburn]

[*2 'march-man,' borderer. Percy is said to have been appointed Governor of Berwick and Warden of the Marches in 1385]

To the Newe Castell when they cam,
  The Skottes they cryde on hyght,
'Syr Hary Perssy, and thow byste within,
  Com to the fylde, and fyght.

'For we have brente Northomberlonde,
  Thy erytage good and ryght,
And syne my logeyng I have take,
  Wyth my brande dubbyd many a knyght.'

Syr Harry Perssy cam to the walles,
  The Skottyssch oste for to se,
And sayd, 'And thow hast brente Northomberlond,
  Full sore it rewyth me.

'Yf thou hast haryed all Bamborowe schyre,
  Thow hast done me grete envye;
For the trespasse thow hast me done,
  The tone of vs schall dye.'                ['The tone,' one or other]

'Where schall I byde the?' sayd the Dowglas,
  'Or where wylte thow com to me?'
'At Otterborne, in the hygh way,
  Ther mast thow well logeed be.

'The roo full rekeles ther sche rinnes,
  To make the game and glee;
The fawken and the fesaunt both,
  Amonge the holtes on hye.

[* 'I have harde say that Chivet Hills stretche the XX miles. Theare is greate plente of Redde Dere, and Roo Bukkes.'--Leland's Itinerary.]

'Ther mast thow haue thy welth at wyll,
  Well looged ther mast be;
Yt schall not be long or I com the tyll,'          ['the tyll' = thee till, to thee]
  Sayd Syr Harry Perssye.

'Ther schall I byde the,' sayd the Dowglas,
  'By the fayth of my bodye':
'Thether schall I com,' sayd Syr Harry Perssy,
  'My trowth I plyght to the.'

A pype of wyne he gaue them over the walles,
  For soth as I yow saye;
Ther he mayd the Dowglasse drynke,
  And all hys ost that daye.

The Dowglas turnyd hym homewarde agayne,
  For soth withowghten naye;
He toke his logeyng at Oterborne,
  Vpon a Wedynsday.

And ther he pyght hys standerd dowyn,        ['pyght,' fixed]
  Hys gettyng more and lesse,
And syne he warned hys men to goo
  To chose ther geldynges gresse.

A Skottysshe knyght hoved vpon the bent,
  A wache I dare well saye;
So was he ware on the noble Perssy
  In the dawnyng of the daye.

He prycked to hys pavyleon-dore,
  As faste as he myght ronne;
'Awaken, Dowglas,' cryed the knyght,
  'For hys love that syttes in trone.

'Awaken, Dowglas,' cryed the knyght,
  'For thow maste waken wyth wynne;           ['wynne,' pleasure]
Yender haue I spyed the prowde Perssye,
  And seven stondardes wyth hym.'

'Nay by my trowth,' the Dowglas sayed,
  'It ys but a fayned taylle;
He durst not loke on my brede banner
  For all Ynglonde so haylle.

'Was I not yesterdaye at the Newe Castell,
  That stondes so fayre on Tyne?
For all the men the Perssy had,
  He coude not garre me ones to dyne.'          [i.e. he could not give me my fill (of defeat)]

He stepped owt at his pavelyon-dore,
  To loke and it were lesse:                              [i.e. to see if it were false]
'Araye yow, lordynges, one and all,
  For here begynnes no peysse.

'The yerle of Mentaye, thow arte my eme,                 ['eme,' uncle]
  The fowarde I gyve to the:
The yerlle of Huntlay, cawte and kene,                      ['cawte,' wary]
  He schall be wyth the.

'The lorde of Bowghan, in armure bryght,
  On the other hand he schall be;
Lord Jhonstoune and Lorde Maxwell,
  They to schall be with me.

'Swynton, fayre fylde vpon your pryde!
  To batell make yow bowen
Syr Davy Skotte, Syr Water Stewarde,
  Syr Jhon of Agurstone!'

The Perssy cam byfore hys oste,
  Wych was ever a gentyll knyght;
Vpon the Dowglas lowde can he crye,
  'I wyll holde that I haue hyght.                    ['hyght,' promised]

'For thou haste brente Northomberlonde,
  And done me grete envye;
For thys trespasse thou hast me done,
  The tone of vs schall dye.'

The Dowglas answerde hym agayne,
  Wyth grett wurdes vpon hye,
And sayd, 'I have twenty agaynst thy one,
  Byholde, and thou maste see.'

Wyth that the Perssy was grevyd sore,
  For soth as I yow saye:
He lyghted dowyn vpon his foote,
  And schoote hys horsse clene awaye.           ['schoote,' dismissed]

Every man sawe that he dyd soo,
  That ryall was ever in rowght;                      [i.e. who was ever royal among the rout]
Every man schoote hys horsse hym froo,
  And lyght hym rowynde abowght.

Thus Syr Hary Perssye toke the fylde,
  For soth as I yow saye;
Jhesu Cryste in hevyn on hyght
  Dyd helpe hym well that daye.

But nyne thowzand, ther was no moo,
  The cronykle wyll not layne;             ['layne,' lie; so 40.2]
Forty thowsande of Skottes and fowre
  That day fowght them agayne.

But when the batell byganne to joyne,
  In hast ther cam a knyght;
The letters fayre furth hath he tayne,
  And thus he sayd full ryght:

'My lorde your father he gretes yow well,
  Wyth many a noble knyght;
He desyres yow to byde
  That he may see thys fyght.

'The Baron of Grastoke ys com out of the west,
  With hym a noble companye;
All they loge at your fathers thys nyght,
  And the batell fayne wolde they see.'

'For Jhesus love,' sayd Syr Harye Perssy,
  'That dyed for yow and me,
Wende to my lorde my father agayne,
  And saye thow sawe me not wyth yee.

'My trowth ys plyght to yonne Skottysh knyght,
  It nedes me not to layne,
That I schalde byde hym upon thys bent,
  And I have hys trowth agayne.

'And if that I weynde of thys growende,                   [i.e. if I wend off this ground]
  For soth, onfowghten awaye,
He wolde me call but a kowarde knyght
  In hys londe another daye.

'Yet had I lever to be rynde and rente,                       [i.e. I had rather be flayed]
  By Mary, that mykkel maye,
Then ever my manhood schulde be reprovyd
  Wyth a Skotte another daye.

'Wherefore schote, archars, for my sake,
  And let scharpe arowes flee:
Mynstrell, playe up for your waryson,                        ['waryson,' reward]
  And well quyt it schall bee.

'Every man thynke on hys trewe-love,
  And marke hym* to the Trenite;
For to God I make myne avowe
  Thys day wyll I not flee.'

[* 'marke hym,' commit himself (by signing the cross)]

The blodye harte in the Dowglas armes,
  Hys standerde stood on hye,
That every man myght full well knowe;
  By syde stode starrės thre.

The whyte lyon on the Ynglyssh perte,
  For soth as I yow sayne,
The lucettes and the cressawntes both;
  The Skottes faught them agayne.

Vpon Sent Androwe lowde can they crye,
  And thrysse they schowte on hyght,
And syne merked them one owr Ynglysshe men,
  As I haue tolde yow ryght.

Sent George the bryght, owr ladyes knyght,
  To name they were full fayne:
Owr Ynglyssh men they cryde on hyght,
  And thrysse the schowtte agayne.

Wyth that scharpe arowes bygan to flee,
  I tell yow in sertayne;
Men of armes byganne to joyne,
  Many a dowghty man was ther slayne.

The Perssy and the Dowglas mette,
  That ether of other was fayne;
They swapped together whyll that the swette,
  Wyth swordes of fyne collayne*:

[* 'collayne,' of Cologne steel. Cp. 'myllan,' Hunting of the Cheviot, 31.4]

Tyll the bloode from ther bassonnettes ranne,
  As the roke doth in the rayne;                      ['roke,' reek, vapour]
'Yelde the to me,' sayd the Dowglas,
  'Or elles thow schalt be slayne.

'For I see by thy bryght bassonet,
  Thow arte sum man of myght;
And so I do by thy burnysshed brande;
  Thow arte an yerle, or elles a knyght.'

'By my good faythe,' sayd the noble Perssye,
  'Now haste thou rede full ryght;
Yet wyll I never yelde me to the,
  Whyll I may stonde and fyght.'

They swapped together whyll that they swette,
  Wyth swordės scharpe and long;
Ych on other so faste thee beette,
  Tyll ther helmes cam in peyses dowyn.

The Perssy was a man of strenghth,
  I tell yow, in thys stounde;                           ['stounde,' moment of time, hour]
He smote the Dowglas at the swordes length
  That he fell to the growynde.

The sworde was scharpe, and sore can byte,
  I tell yow in sertayne;
To the harte he cowde hym smyte,
  Thus was the Dowglas slayne.

The stonderdes stode styll on eke a syde,
  Wyth many a grevous grone;
Ther the fowght the day, and all the nyght,
  And many a dowghty man was slayne.

Ther was no freke that ther wolde flye,
  But styffely in stowre can stond,
Ychone hewyng on other whyll they myght drye,                 ['drye' = dree, endure]
  Wyth many a bayllefull bronde.

Ther was slayne vpon the Skottės syde,
  For soth and sertenly,
Syr James a Dowglas ther was slayne,
  That day that he cowde dye.

The yerlle of Mentaye he was slayne,
  Grysely groned upon the growynd;              ['grysely,' frightfully, grievously]
Syr Davy Skotte, Syr Water Stewarde,
  Syr Jhon of Agurstoune.

Syr Charllės Morrey in that place,
  That never a fote wold flee;
Syr Hewe Maxwell, a lord he was,
  Wyth the Dowglas dyd he dye.

Ther was slayne upon the Skottės syde,
  For soth as I yow saye,
Of fowre and forty thowsande Scottes
  Went but eyghtene awaye.

Ther was slayne upon the Ynglysshe syde,
  For soth and sertenlye,
A gentell knyght, Syr Jhon Fechewe,
  Yt was the more pety.

Syr James Hardbotell ther was slayne,
  For hym ther hartes were sore;
The gentyll Lovell ther was slayne,
  That the Perssys standerd bore.

Ther was slayne upon the Ynglyssh perte,
  For soth as I yow saye,
Of nyne thowsand Ynglyssh men
  Fyve hondert cam awaye.

The other were slayne in the fylde;
  Cryste kepe ther sowlles from wo!
Seyng ther was so fewe fryndes
  Agaynst so many a foo.

Then on the morne they mayde them beerys
  Of byrch and haysell graye;
Many a wydowe, wyth wepyng teyres,
  Ther makes they fette awaye.                       ['makes,' mates]

Thys fraye bygan at Otterborne,
  Bytwene the nyght and the day;
Ther the Dowglas lost hys lyffe,
  And the Perssy was lede awaye.

Then was ther a Scottysh prisoner tayne,
  Syr Hewe Mongomery was hys name;
For soth as I yow saye,
  He borowed the Perssy home agayne.          ['borowed,' ransomed, set free]

Now let us all for the Perssy praye
  To Jhesu most of myght,
To bryng hys sowlle to the blysse of heven,
  For he was a gentyll knyght.

Johnie Armstrong

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