*Johnie Armstrong

JOHNIE ARMSTRONG

Ballads: Scottish and English. With illustr. by J. Lawson
By Ballads

*Johnie Armstrong of Gilnockie, the hero of the following ballad, is a noted personage, both in history and tradition. He was, it would seem from the ballad, a brother of the laird of Mangertoun, chief of the name. His place of residence was at the Hallows, a few miles from Langholm, where its ruins still serve to adorn a scene, which, in natural beauty, has few equals in Scotland. At the head of a desperate band of freebooters, this Armstrong is said to have spread the terror of his name almost as far as Newcastle, and to have levied blackmail, or protection and forbearance money, for many miles round. James V., of whom it was long remembered by his grateful people that he made the * rush-bush keep the cow,’ about 1529, undertook an expedition through, the border counties, to suppress the turbulent spirit of the march men. But, before setting out upon his journey, he took the precaution of imprisoning the different Border chieftains, who were the chief protectors of the marauders. The Earl of Bothwell was forfeited, and confined in Edinburgh Castle. The lords of Home and Maxwell, the lairds of Buccleuch, Fairniherst, and Johnston, with many others, were also committed to ward. Cockburn of Henderland, and Adam Scott of Tushielaw, called the King of the Border, were publicly executed. The king then marched rapidly forward, at the head of a flying army of ten thousand men, through Ettrick forest and Ewsdale. The evil genius of our Johnie Armstrong, or, as others say, the private advice of some courtiers, prompted him to present himself before James, at the head of thirty-six horse, arrayed in all the pomp of Border chivafry. Pitscottie uses nearly the words of the ballad in describing the splendour of his equipment, and his high expectations of favour from the king. * But James, looking upon him sternly, said to his attendants, What wants that knave that a king should have? and ordered him and his followers to instant execution.’—’But John Armstrong,’ continues this minute historian, ‘made great offers to the king: that he should sustain himself, with forty gentlemen, ever ready at his service, on their own cost, without wronging any Scotchman; secondly, that there was not a subject in England, duke, earl, or baron, but, within a certain day, he should bring him to his majesty, either quick or dead. At length he, seeing no hope of favour, said very proudly, “It is folly to seek grace at a graceless face: but,” said he, “had I known this, I should have lived upon the Border in despite of king Harry and you both; for I know king Harry would down-weigh my best horse with gold to know that I were condemned to die this day. —Pitscottie.Johnie, with all his retinue, was accordingly hanged upon growing trees, at a place called Carlenrig chapel, about ten miles above Hawick, on the high road to Langholm. The country people believe, that, to manifest the injustice of the execution, the trees withered away. Armstrong and his followers were buried i» a deserted churchyard, where their graves are still shown. As this Border hero was a person of great note in his way, he is frequently alluded to by the writers of the time. Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, in the curious play published by Mr Pinkerton, from the Bannatyne MS., introduces a pardoner, or knavish dealer in reliques, who produces, among his holy rarities—

‘The cordis, baith grit and lang,
Quhilt hangit Johnie Armistrang,

Of gude hemp, soft and sound.
Gude haly pepill, I stand ford,
Whaevir beis hangit in this cord,

Neidis never to be drowned ! *

Pinkerton’s Scottish Poems.

In The Comfilaynt of Scotland, John Armtstrangis* dance, mentioned as a popular tune, has probably some reference to our hero. The common people of the high parts of Teviotda’e, Liddesdale, and the country adjacent, hold the memory of Johnie Armstrong in very high respect . They affirm also, that one of his attendants broke through the king’s guard, and carried to Gilnockie Tower the news of the bloody catastrophe. ‘This song was first published by Allan Ramsay, in his Evergreen, who says he copied it from the mouth of a gentleman called Armstrong, who was in the sixth genetation from this John. The reciter assured him that this was the genuine old ballad, the common one false.”—

Scotfs Minstrelsy.

SOME speikis of lords, some speikis of lairds,

And sic lyke men of hie degrie;
Of a gentleman I sing a sang,

Sum tyme called laird of Gilnockie.

The king he wrytes a luving letter,

With his ain hand sae tenderly,
And he hath sent it to Johnie Armstrang,

To cum and speik with him speedily.

The Elliots and Armstrangs did convene;

They were a gallant companie—
“We ‘ll ride and meit our lawful king,

And bring him safe to Gilnockie.”

“Make kinnen1 and capon ready then,

And venison in great plentie;
We 1l welcum here our royal king;

I hope he ‘ll dine at Gilnockie!”

They ran their horse on the Langholme howm,
And brak their spears wi’ mickle main ;2

The ladies lukit frae their loft windows—
“God bring our men weel back agen!”

When Johnie cam’ before the king,

Wi’ a’ his men, sae brave to see,
The king he movit his bonnet to him;

He ween’d he was a king as well as he.

“May I find grace, my sovereign liege,

Grace for my loyal men and me?
For my name it is Johnie Armstrang,

And subject of yours, my liege,” said he.

“Away, away, thou traitor strang!

Out o’ my sight soon mayst thou be!

I grantit nevir a traitor’s life,

And now I ‘ll not begin with thee.”

“Grant me my life, my liege, my king!

And a bonnie gift I ‘ll gie to thee—

Full four-and-twenty milk-white steids,

Were a’ foaled in ae year to me.

“I ‘ll gie thee a’ these milk-white steids,

That prance and nicker at a speir;

And as mickle gude English gilt

As four o’ their braid backs dow bear.”

“Away, away, thou traitor strang!

Out o’ my sight soon mayst thou be!

I grantit nevir a traitor’s life,

And now I ‘ll not begin wi’ thee 1″

“Grant me my life, my liege, my king
And a bonnie gift I ‘ll gie to thee—

Gude four-and-twenty ganging mills,
That gang through a’ the yeir to me.

“These four-and-twenty mills complete,
Sall gang for thee through a’ the yeir;

And as mickle of gude reid wheit
As a’ their happers dow to bear.”

“Away, away, thou traitor strang!

Out o’ my sight soon mayst thou be!

I grantit nevir a traitor’s life,

And now I ’11 not begin wi’ thee.”

“Grant me my life, my liege, my king!

And a great gift I ‘ll gie to thee—

Bauld four-and-twenty sister’s sons,

Sall for thee fecht, though a’ should flee!”

“Away, away, thou traitor strang!

Out o’ my sight soon mayst thou be!

I grantit nevir a traitor’s life,

And now I’ll not begin wi’ thee.”

“Grant me my life, my liege, my king!

And a brave gift I ’11 gie to thee—

All between heir and Newcastle town

Sall pay their yeirly rent to thee.”

“Away, away, thou traitor strang!

Out o’ my sight soon mayst thou be!

I grantit nevir a traitor’s life,

And now I ’11 not begin wi’ thee.”

“Ye lied, ye lied, now, king,” he says,
“Although a king and prince ye be!

For I ‘ve luved naething in my life,
I weel dare say, but honesty—

“Save a fat horse, and a fair woman,

Twa bonnie dogs to kill a deir;

But England suld have found me meal and mault,

Gif I had lived this hundred yeir 1

Sche suld have found me meal and mault,

And beef and mutton in a’ plentie;

But nevir a Scots wyfe could have said,

That e’er I skaithed her a puir flee.

“To seik het water beneith cauld ice,

Surely it is a greit folie—
I have asked grace at a graceless face,

But there is nane for my men and me!

“But had I kenn’d ere I cam frae hame,
How thou unkind wadst been to me!

I wad have keepit the Border side,
In spite of all thy force and thee.

“Wist England’s king that I was ta’en,
Oh gin a blythe man he wad be!
. For anes I slew his sister’s son,

And on his briest-bane brak a trie.”

John wore a girdle about his middle,
Imbroidered ower wi’ burning gold,

Bespangled wi’ the same metal;
Maist beautiful was to behold—,

There hang nine targets at Johnie’s hat,
And ilk ane worth three hundred pound—

“What wants that knave that a king suld have,

But the sword of honour and the crown I

“Oh whar got thou these targets, Johnie, 

That blink sae brawly abune thy brie?”

“I gat them in the field fechting,

Where, cruel king, thou durst not be.

“Had I my horse, and harness gude,

And riding as I wont to be,
It suld have been tauld this hundred yeir,

The meeting of my king and me!

“God be with thee, Kirsty,2 my brother!

Lang live thou laird of Mangertoun;

Lang mayst thou live on the border syde,

Ere thou see thy brother ride up and down!

“And God be with thee, Kirsty, my son,
Where thou sits on thy nurse’s knee l

But and thou live this hundred yeir,
Thy father’s better thou ‘It nevir be.

u Farewell! my bonnie Gilnock hall,
Where on Esk side thou standest stout l

Gif I had lived but seven yeirs mair,
I wad hae gilt thee round about.”

John murder’d was at Carlinrigg,

And all his gallant companie;
But Scotland’s heart was ne’er sae wae,

To see sae mony brave men dee—

Because they saved their country deir
Frae Englishmen! Nane were sae bauld

While Johnie lived on the border syde,
Nane of them durst cum neir his hauld.

 

 

Submitted by; Mark Elliott 6/16/2013

 

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