Johnie Armstrong

No: 169; variant: 169B

  1. IS there never a man in all Scotland, From the highest state to the lowest degree, That can shew himself now before the king? Scotland is so full of their traitery.
  2. Yes, there is a man in Westmerland, And John Armstrong some do him call; He has no lands nor rents coming in, Yet he keeps eightscore men within his hall.
  3. He has horse and harness for them all, And goodly steeds that be milk-white, With their goodly belts about their necks, With hats and feathers all alike.
  4. The king he writ a lovely letter, With his own hand so tenderly, And has sent it unto John Armstrong, To come and speak with him speedily.
  5. When John he looked the letter upon, Then, Lord! he was as blithe as a bird in a tree: ‘I was never before no king in my life, My father, my grandfather, nor none of us three.
  6. ‘But seeing we must [go] before the king, Lord! we will go most valiantly; You shall every one have a velvet coat, Laid down with golden laces three.
  7. ‘And you shall every one have a scarlet cloak, Laid down with silver laces five, With your golden belts about your necks, With hats [and] brave feathers all alike.’
  8. But when John he went from Guiltknock Hall! The wind it blew hard, and full sore it did rain: ‘Now fare you well, brave Guiltknock Hall! I fear I shall never see thee again.’
  9. Now John he is to Edenborough gone, And his eightscore men so gallantly, And every one of them on a milk-white steed, With their bucklers and swords hanging down to the knee.
  10. But when John he came the king before, With his eightscore men so gallant to see, The king he moved his bonnet to him; He thought he had been a king as well as he.
  11. ‘O pardon, pardon, my soveraign leige, Pardon for my eightscore men and me! For my name it is John Armstrong, And a subject of yours, my leige,’ said he.
  12. ‘Away with thee, thou false traitor! No pardon I will grant to thee, But, to-morrow before eight of the clock, I will hang thy eightscore men and thee.’
  13. O how John looked over his left shoulder! And to his merry men thus said he: I have asked grace of a graceless face, No pardon here is for you nor me.
  14. Then John pulld out a nut-brown sword, And it was made of mettle so free; Had not the king moved his foot as he did, John had taken his head from his body.
  15. ‘Come, follow me, my merry men all, We will scorn one foot away to fly; It never shall be said we were hung like doggs; No, wee’l fight it out most manfully.’
  16. Then they fought on like champions bold—- For their hearts was sturdy, stout, and free—- Till they had killed all the kings good guard; There was none left alive but onely three.
  17. But then rise up all Edenborough, They rise up by thousands three; Then a cowardly Scot came John behind, And run him thorow the fair body.
  18. Said John, Fight on, my merry men all, I am a little hurt, but I am not slain; I will lay me down for to bleed a while, Then I’le rise and fight with you again.
  19. Then they fought on like mad men all, Till many a man lay dead on the plain; For they were resolved, before they would yield, That every man would there be slain.
  20. So there they fought couragiously, ‘Till most of them lay dead there and slain, But little Musgrave, that was his foot-page, With his bonny grissell got away untain.
  21. But when he came up to Guiltknock Hall, The lady spyed him presently: ‘What news, what news, thou little foot-page? What news from thy master and his company?’
  22. ‘My news is bad, lady,’ he said, ‘Which I do bring, as you may see; My master, John Armstrong, he is slain, And all his gallant company.
  23. ‘Yet thou are welcome home, my bonny grisel! Full oft thou hast fed at the corn and hay, But now thou shalt be fed with bread and wine, And thy sides shall be spurred no more, I say.’
  24. O then bespoke his little son, As he was set on his nurses knee: ‘If ever I live for to be a man, My fathers blood revenged shall be.’