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Ballad “Johnie Armstrang” Armstrong

“Johnie Armstrang”
Border Ballad

Sum speikis of lords, sum speikis of lairds,
And sic lyke men of hie degrie;
Of a gentleman I sing a sang,
Sum tyme call’d Laird of Gilnockie.

Sum speikis of lords, sum speikis of lairds,
And sic lyke men of hie degrie;
Of a gentleman I sing a sang,
Sum tyme call’d 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 Eliots and Armstrangs did convene;
They were a gallant cumpanie –
‘We’ll ride and meit our lawful King,
And bring him safe to Gilnockie.

‘Make kinnen and capon ready, then,
And venison in great plentie;
We’ll 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;
The ladies lukit frae 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 weel 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 wi’ thee.’

‘Grant me my life, my liege, my King!
And a bonny gift I’ll gie to thee –
Full four-and-twenty milk-white steids,
Were a’ foaled in ae yeir to me.

‘I’ll gie thee a’ these milk-white steids,
That prance and nicker at a speir;
And as mickle gude Inglish gilt,
As four of 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.’

‘Grant me my life, my liege, my King!
And a bonny gift I’ll gie to thee –
Gude four-and-twenty ganging mills,
That gang thro’ a’ yeir to me.

‘These four-and-twenty mills complete,
Sall gang for thee thro’ 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’ll 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 sisters’ sons,
Sall for thee fecht, tho’ 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 no begin wi’ thee.’

‘Grant me my life, my liege, my King!
And a brave gift I’ll gie to thee –
All between heir and Newcastle town
Sall pay their yearly 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’ll no begin wi’ thee.’

‘Ye lied, ye lied, now, King,’ he says,
‘Altho’ a King and Prince ye be!
For I’ve luved naething in my life,
I weel dare say it, but honesty –

‘Save a fat horse, and a fair woman,
Twa bonny dogs to kill a deir;
But England suld have found me meal and mault,
Gif I had lived this hundred yeir!

‘She suld have found me meal and mault,
And beif and mutton in a’ plentie;
But nevir a Scots wyfe could have said,
That e’er I skaith’d her a pure 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 syde,
In spite of all thy force and thee.

‘Wist England’s King that I was ta’en,
O gin a blythe man he wad be!
For anes I slew his sister’s son,
And on his breist 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 targats 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!

‘O whair got thou these targats, Johnie,
That blink sae brawly abune thy brie?’
‘I gat them in the field fetching,
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, 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!
But and thou live this hundred yeir,
Thy father’s better thou’lt nevir be.

‘Farewell! my bonny Gilnock hall,
Where on Esk side thou standest stout!
Gif I had lived but seven yeirs mair,
I wad hae gilt thee round about.’

Joh murdered was at Carlinrigg,
And all his gallant cumpanie;
But Scotland’s heart was ne’er sae wae,
To see sae mony brave men die –

The trees on which the Armstrangs deed
Wi’ summer leaves were gay,
But lang afore the harvest tide,
They wither’d a’ away.

Because they saved their countrey deir
Frae Englishmen! Nane were sae bauld,
While Johnie lived on the Border syde,
Nane of them durst cum neir his hauld.
References:
“The Illustrated Border Ballads: The Anglo-Scottish Frontier”, by John Marsden

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