- Ministrelsy of the Scottish Border, Vol. I (Battle of Otterbourne.) by Sir Walter Scott
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Ministrelsy of the Scottish Border, Vol. I
Battle of Otterbourne.

by Sir Walter Scott


The following edition of the Battle of Otterbourne, being essentially different from that which is published in the Reliques of Ancient Poetry, Vol. I. and being obviously of Scottish composition, claims a place in the present collection. The particulars of that noted action are related by Froissard, with the highest encomium upon the valour of the combatants on each side. James, Earl of Douglas, with his brother, the Earl of Murray, in 1387 invaded Northumberland, at the head of 3000 men; while the Earls of Fife and Strathern, sons to the king of Scotland, ravaged the western borders of England, with a still more numerous army. Douglas penetrated as far as Newcastle, where the renowned Hotspur lay in garrison. In a skirmish before the walls, Percy's lance, with the pennon, or guidon, attached to it, was taken by Douglas, as most authors affirm, in a personal encounter betwixt the two heroes. The earl shook the pennon aloft, and swore he would carry it as his spoil into Scotland, and plant it upon his castle of Dalkeith. "That," answered Percy, "shalt thou never!"—Accordingly, having collected the forces of the marches, to a number equal, or (according to the Scottish historians) much superior, to the army of Douglas, Hotspur made a night attack upon the Scottish camp, at Otterbourne, about thirty-two miles from Newcastle. An action took place, fought, by moon-light, with uncommon gallantry and desperation. At length, Douglas, armed with an iron mace, which few but he could wield, rushed into the thickest of the English battalions, followed only by his chaplain, and two squires of his body. [99] Before his followers could come up, their brave leader was stretched on the ground, with three mortal wounds: his squires lay dead by his side; the priest alone, armed with a lance, was protecting his master from farther injury. "I die like my forefathers," said the expiring hero, "in a field of battle, and not on a bed of sickness. Conceal my death, defend my standard, [100] and avenge my fall! It is an old prophecy, that a dead man shall gain a field, [101] and I hope it will be accomplished this night."—Godscroft.—With these words he expired; and the fight was renewed with double obstinacy around his body. When morning appeared, however, victory began to incline to the Scottish side. Ralph Percy, brother to Hotspur, was made prisoner by the earl Marischal, and, shortly after, Harry Percy [102] himself was taken by Lord Montgomery. The number of captives, according to Wyntoun, nearly equalled that of the victors. Upon this the English retired, and left the Scots masters of the dear-bought honours of the field. But the bishop of Durham approaching, at the head of a body of fresh forces, not only checked the pursuit of the victors, but made prisoners some of the stragglers, who had urged the chase too far. The battle was not, however, renewed, as the bishop of Durham did not venture to attempt the rescue of Percy. The field was fought 15th August, 1388.—Fordun, Froissard, Hollinshed, Godscroft.

The ground, on which this memorable engagement took place, is now the property of John Davidson, Esq. of Newcastle, and still retains the name of Battle Cross. A cross, erroneously termed Percy's Cross, has been erected upon the spot where the gallant Earl of Douglas is supposed to have fallen. These particulars were communicated to the editor, in the most obliging manner, by the present proprietor of Otterbourne.

The ballad, published in the Reliques, is avowedly an English production; and the author, with a natural partiality, leans to the side of his countrymen; yet, that ballad, or some one similar, modified probably by national prejudice, must have been current in Scotland during the reign of James VI.: for Godscroft, in treating of this battle, mentions its having been the subject of popular song, and proceeds thus: But that, which is commonly sung of the Hunting of Chiviot, seemeth indeed poetical, and a mere fiction, perhaps to stir up virtue; yet a fiction whereof there is no mention, either in the Scottish or English Chronicle. Neither are the songs, that are made of them, both one; for the Scots song made of Otterbourne, telleth the time, about Lammas; and also the occasion, to take preys out of England; also the dividing the armies betwixt the earls of Fife and Douglas, and their several journeys, almost as in the authentic history. It beginneth thus;
"It fell about the Lammas tide,
"When yeomen win their hay,
"The doughty Douglas 'gan to ride,
"In England to take a prey."—

GODSCROFT, ed. Edin. 1743. Vol. I. p. 195.
I cannot venture to assert, that the stanzas, here published, belong to the ballad alluded to by Godscroft; but they come much nearer to his description than the copy published in the first edition, which represented Douglas as falling by the poignard of a faithless page. Yet we learn, from the same author, that the story of the assassination was not without foundation in tradition.—"There are that say, that he (Douglas) was not slain by the enemy, but by one of his own men, a groom of his chamber, whom he had struck the day before with a truncheon, in ordering of the battle, because he saw him make somewhat slowly to. And they name this man John Bickerton of Luffness, who left a part of his armour behind, unfastened, and when he was in the greatest conflict, this servant of his came behind his back, and slew him thereat."—Godscroft, ut supra.—"But this narration," adds the historian, "is not so probable." [103] Indeed, it seems to have no foundation, but the common desire of assigning some remote and extraordinary cause for the death of a great man. The following ballad is also inaccurate in many other particulars, and is much shorter, and more indistinct, than that printed in the Reliques, although many verses are almost the same. Hotspur, for instance, is called Earl Percy, a title he never enjoyed; neither was Douglas buried on the field of battle, but in Melrose Abbey, where his tomb is still shown.

This song was first published from Mr. Herd's Collection of Scottish Songs and Ballads, Edin. 1774: 2 vols. octavo; but two recited copies have fortunately been obtained from the recitation of old persons residing at the head of Ettrick Forest, by which the story is brought out, and completed, in a manner much more correspondent to the true history.

I cannot dismiss the subject of the Battle of Otterbourne, without stating (with all the deference due to the father of this species of literature) a doubt, which occurs to me, as to the account given of "Sir John of Agurstone," one of the Scottish warriors, in the learned and excellent notes subjoined to the ballad, in the Reliques of Ancient Poetry. This personage is there supposed to have been one of the Haggerstons of Haggerston, a Northumbrian family, who, according to the fate of war, were sometimes subjects of Scotland. I cannot, however, think, that at this period, while the English were in possession both of Berwick and Roxburgh, with the intermediate fortresses of Wark, Cornwall, and Norham, the Scots possessed any part of Northumberland, much less a manor which lay within that strong chain of castles. I should presume the person alluded to rather to have been one of the Rutherfords, barons of Edgerstane, or Adgerston, a warlike family, which has long flourished on the Scottish borders, and who were, at this very period, retainers of the house of Douglas. The same notes contain an account of the other Scottish warriors of distinction, who were present at the battle. These were, the earls of Monteith, Buchan, and Huntley; the barons of Maxwell and Johnston; Swinton of that ilk, an ancient family which, about that period, produced several distinguished warriors; Sir David (or rather, as the learned editor well remarks, Sir Walter) Scott of Buccleuch, Stewart of Garlies, and Murray of Cockpool.
Regibus et legibus Scotici constantes,
Vos clypeis et gladiis pro patria pugnantes,
Vestra est victoria, vestra est et gloria,
In cantu et historia, perpes est memoria!


It fell about the Lammas tide,
When the muir-men win their hay,
The doughty earl of Douglas rode
Into England, to catch a prey.

He chose the Gordons and the Graemes,
With them the Lindesays, light and gay;
But the Jardines wald not with him ride,
And they rue it to this day.

And he has burn'd the dales of Tyne,
And part of Bambrough shire;
And three good towers on Roxburgh fells,
He left them all on fire.

And he march'd up to Newcastle,
And rode it round about;
"O wha's the lord of this castle,
"Or wha's the lady o't?"

But up spake proud Lord Percy, then,
And O but he spake hie!
"I am the lord of this castle,
"My wife's the lady gay."

"If thou'rt the lord of this castle,
"Sae weel it pleases me!
"For, ere I cross the border fells,
"The tane of us shall die."

He took a lang spear in his hand.
Shod with the metal free,
And for to meet the Douglas there,
He rode right furiouslie.

But O how pale his lady look'd,
Frae aff the castle wa',
When down, before the Scottish spear,
She saw proud Percy fa',

"Had we twa been upon the green,
"And never an eye to see,
I wad hae had you, flesh and fell [104];
"But your sword sall gae wi' me."

"But gae ye up to Otterbourne,
"And wait there dayis three;
And, if I come not ere three dayis end,
"A fause knight ca' ye me."

"The Otterbourne's a bonnie burn;
"'Tis pleasant there to be;
"But there is nought at Otterbourne,
"To feed my men and me.

"The deer rins wild on hill and dale,
"The birds fly wild from tree to tree;
"But there is neither bread nor kale,
"To fend [105] my men and me.

"Yet I will stay at Otterbourne,
"Where you shall welcome be;
"And, if ye come not at three dayis end,
"A fause lord I'll ca' thee."

"Thither will I come," proud Percy said,
"By the might of Our Ladye!"—
"There will I bide thee," said the Douglas,
"My trowth I plight to thee."

They lighted high on Otterbourne,
Upon the bent sae brown;
They lighted high on Otterbourne,
And threw their pallions down.

And he that had a bonnie boy,
Sent out his horse to grass;
And he that had not a bonnie boy,
His ain servant he was.

But up then spake a little page,
Before the peep of dawn—
"O waken ye, waken ye, my good lord,
"For Percy's hard at hand."

"Ye lie, ye lie, ye liar loud!
"Sae loud I hear ye lie:
For Percy had not men yestreen,
"To dight my men and me."

"But I hae dream'd a dreary dream,
"Beyond the Isle of Sky;
"I saw a dead man win a fight,
"And I think that man was I."

He belted on his good braid sword,
And to the field he ran;
But he forgot the helmet good,
That should have kept his brain.

When Percy wi' the Douglas met,
I wat he was fu' fain!
They swakked their swords, till sair they swat,
And the blood ran down like rain.

But Percy, with his good broad sword,
That could so sharply wound,
Has wounded Douglas on the brow,
Till he fell to the ground.

Then he call'd on his little foot-page.
And said—"Run speedilie,
"And fetch my ain dear sister's son,
"Sir Hugh Montgomery."

"My nephew good," the Douglas said,
"What recks the death of ane!
"Last night I dream'd a dreary dream,
"And I ken the day's thy ain,

"My wound is deep; I fain would sleep;
"Take thou the vanguard of the three,
"And hide me by the braken bush,
"That grows on yonder lilye lee,

"O bury me by the braken bush,
"Beneath the blooming briar;
"Let never living mortal ken,
"That ere a kindly Scot lies here."

He lifted up that noble lord,
Wi' the saut tear in his e'e;
He hid him in the braken bush,
That his merrie men might not see.

The moon was clear, the day drew near,
The spears in flinders flew,
But mony a gallant Englishman,
Ere day the Scotsmen slew.

The Gordons good, in English blood,
They steep'd their hose and shoon;
The Lindsays flew like fire about,
Till all the fray was done.

The Percy and Montgomery met,
That either of other were fain;
They swapped swords, and they twa swat,
And aye the blude ran down between.

"Yield thee, O yield thee, Percy!" he said,
"Or else I vow I'll lay thee low!"
"Whom to shall I yield," said Earl Percy,
"Now that I see it must be so?"

"Thou shalt not yield to lord nor loun,
"Nor yet shalt thou yield to me;
"But yield thee to the braken bush, [106]
"That grows upon yon lilye lee!"

"I will not yield to a braken bush,
"Nor yet will I yield to a briar;
But I would yield to Earl Douglas,
"Or Sir Hugh the Montgomery, if he were here."

As soon as he knew it was Montgomery,
He stuck his sword's point in the gronde;
And the Montgomery was a courteous knight,
And quickly took him by the honde.

This deed was done at Otterbourne,
About the breaking of the day;
Earl Douglas was buried at the braken bush,
And the Percy led captive away.


He chose the Gordons and the Graemes.—P. 64. v. 2.

The illustrious family of Gordon was originally settled upon the lands of Gordon and Huntly, in the shire of Berwick, and are, therefore, of border extraction. The steps, by which they removed from thence to the shires of Aberdeen and Inverness, are worthy notice. In 1300, Adam de Gordon was warden of the marches.—Rymer, Vol. II. p. 870. He obtained, from Robert the Bruce, a grant of the forfeited estate of David de Strathbolgie, Earl of Athol; but no possession followed, the earl having returned to his allegiance.—John de Gordon, his great-grandson, obtained, from Robert II., a new charter of the lands of Strathbolgie, which had been once more and finally forfeited, by David, Earl of Athol, slaine in the battle of Kilblene. This grant is dated 13th July, 1376. John de Gordon who was destined to transfer, from the borders of England to those of the Highlands, a powerful and martial race, was himself a redoubted warrior, and many of his exploits occur in the annals of that turbulent period. In 1371-2, the English borderers invaded and plundered the lands of Gordon, on the Scottish east march. Sir John of Gordon retaliated, by an incursion on Northumberland, where he collected much spoil. But, as he returned with his booty, he was attacked, at unawares, by Sir John Lillburne, a Northumbrian, who, with a superior force, lay near Carham in ambush, to intercept him. Gordon harangued and cheered his followers, charged the English gallantly, and, after having himself been five times in great peril, gained a complete victory; slaying many southerns, and taking their leader and his brother captive. According to the prior of Lochlevin, he was desperately wounded; but
"Thare rays a welle gret renowne,
"And gretly prysyd wes gud Gordown."
Shortly after this exploit, Sir John of Gordon encountered and routed Sir Thomas Musgrave, a renowned English marc-hman whom he made prisoner. The lord of Johnstone had, about the same time, gained a great advantage on the west border; and hence, says Wynton,
He and the Lord of Gordowne
Had a soverane gud renown,
Of ony that war of thare degré,
For full thai war of gret bounté.
Upon another occasion, John of Gordon is said to have partially succeeded in the surprisal of the town of Berwick, although the superiority of the garrison obliged him to relinquish his enterprise.

The ballad is accurate, in introducing this warrior, with his clan, into the host of Douglas at Otterbourne. Perhaps, as he was in possession of his extensive northern domains, he brought to the field the northern broad-swords, as well as the lances of his eastern borderers. With his gallant leader, he lost his life in the deadly conflict. The English ballad commemorates his valour and prudence;
"The Erle of Huntley, cawte and kene."
But the title is a premature designation. The earldom of Huntly was first conferred on Alexander Seaton, who married the grand-daughter of the hero of Otterbourne, and assumed his title from Huntly, in the north. Besides his eldest son Adam, who carried on the line of the family, Sir John de Gordon left two sons, known, in tradition, by the familiar names of Jock and Tam. The former was the ancestor of the Gordons of Pitlurg; the latter of those of Lesmoir, and of Craig-Gordon. This last family is now represented by James Gordon, Esq. of Craig, being the eleventh, in direct descent, from Sir John de Gordon.

The Graemes.

The clan of Graeme, always numerous and powerful upon the border, were of Scottish origin, and deduce the descent of their chieftain, Graeme of Netherby, from John with the bright sword, a son of Malice Graeme, Earl of Menteith, who flourished in the fourteenth century. Latterly, they became Englishmen, as the phrase went, and settled upon the Debateable Land, whence they were transported to Ireland, by James VI., with the exception of a very few respectable families; "because," said his majesty in a proclamation, "they do all (but especially the Graemes) confess themselves to be no meet persons to live in these countries; and also, to the intent their lands may be inhabited by others, of good and honest conversation." But, in the reign of Henry IV., the Graemes of the border still adhered to the Scottish allegiance, as appears from the tower of Graeme in Annandale, Graemes Walls in Tweeddale, and other castles within Scotland, to which they have given their name. The reader is, however, at liberty to suppose, that the Graemes of the Lennox and Menteith, always ready to shed their blood in the cause of their country, on this occasion joined Douglas. With them the Lindsays light and gay.—p. 64. v. 2.

The chief of this ancient family, at the date of the battle of Otterbourne, was David Liudissay, lord of Glenesk, afterwards created Earl of Crawford. He was, after the manner of the times, a most accomplished knight. He survived the battle of Otterbourne, and the succeeding carnage of Homildon. In May, 1390, he went to England, to seek adventures of chivalry; and justed, upon London Bridge, against the lord of Wells, an English knight, with so much skill and success, as to excite, among the spectators, a suspicion that he was tied to his saddle; which he removed, by riding up to the royal chair, vaulting out of his saddle, and resuming his seat without assistance, although loaded with complete armour. In 1392, Lindsay was nearly slain in a strange manner. A band of Catterans, or wild Highlanders, had broken down from the Grampian Hills, and were engaged in plundering the county of Angus. Walter Ogilvy, the sheriff, with Sir Patrick Gray, marched against them, and were joined by Sir David Lindsay. Their whole retinue did not exceed sixty men, and the Highlanders were above three hundred. Nevertheless, trusting to the superiority of arms and discipline, the knights rushed on the invaders, at Gasclune, in the Stormont. The issue was unfortunate. Ogilvy, his brother, and many of his kindred, were overpowered and slain. Lindsay, armed at all points, made great slaughter among the naked Catterans; but, as he pinned one of them to the earth with his lance, the dying mountaineer writhed upwards and, collecting his force, fetched a blow with his broad-sword which cut through the knight's stirrup-leather and steel-boot and nearly severed his leg. The Highlander expired, and Lindsay was with difficulty borne out of the field by his followers—Wyntown. Lindsay is also noted for a retort, made to the famous Hotspur. At a march-meeting, at Haldane-Stank, he happened to observe, that Percy was sheathed in complete armour. "It is for fear of the English horsemen," said Percy, in explanation; for he was already meditating the insurrection, immortalised by Shakespeare. "Ah! Sir Harry," answered Lindsay, "I have seen you more sorely bestad by Scottish footmen than by English horse."—Wyntown. Such was the leader of the "Lindsays light and guy."

According to Froissard, there were three Lindsays in the battle of Otterbourne, whom he calls Sir William, Sir James, and Sir Alexander. To Sir James Lindsay there fell "a strange chance of war," which I give in the words of the old historian. "I shall shewe you of Sir Mathewe Reedman (an English warrior, and governor of Berwick), who was on horsebacke, to save himselfe, for he alone coude nat remedy the mater. At his departynge, Sir James Limsay was nere him, and sawe Sir Mathewe departed. And this Sir James, to wyn honour, followed in chase Sir Mathewe Reedman, and came so nere him, that he myght have stryken hym with hys speare, if he had lyst. Than he said, 'Ah! Sir knyght, tourne! it is a shame thus to fly! I am James of Lindsay. If ye will nat tourne, I shall strike you on the back with my speare.' Sir Mathewe spoke no worde, but struke his hors with his spurres sorer than he did before. In this maner he chased hym more than three myles. And at last Sir Mathewe Reedman's hors foundered, and fell under hym. Than he stept forthe on the erthe, and drewe oute his swerde, and toke corage to defend himselfe. And the Scotte thoughte to have stryken hym on the brest, but Sir Mathewe Reedman swerved fro the stroke, and the speare point entred into the erthe. Than Sir Mathewe strake asonder the speare wyth his swerde. And whan Sir James Limsay sawe howe he had lost his speare, he cast away the tronchon, and lyghted a-fote, and toke a lytell battell-axe, that he carryed at his backe, and handled it with his one hand, quickly and delyverly, in the whyche feate Scottes be well experte. And than he set at Sir Mathewe, and he defended himselfe properly. Thus they journeyed toguyder, one with an axe, and the other with a swerde, a longe season, and no man to lette them. Fynally, Sir James Limsay gave the knyght such strokes, and helde him so shorte, that he was putte out of brethe in such wyse, that he yelded himselfe, and sayde,—'Sir James Limsay, I yeld me to you.'—'Well,' quod he; 'and I receyve you, rescue or no rescue.'—'I am content,' quod Reedman, 'so ye dele wyth me like a good companyon.'—'I shall not fayle that,' quod Limsay, and so put up his swerde. 'Well,' said Reedman, 'what will ye nowe that I shall do? I am your prisoner; ye have conquered me; I wolde gladly go agayn to Newcastell, and, within fiftene dayes, I shall come to you into Scotlande, where as ye shall assigne me.'—'I am content,' quod Limsay; 'ye shall promyse, by your faythe, to present yourselfe, within these foure wekes, at Edinborowe; and wheresoever ye go, to repute yourselfe my prisoner.' All this Sir Mathewe sware, and promised to fulfil."

The warriors parted upon these liberal terms, and Reedman returned to Newcastle. But Lindsay had scarcely ridden a mile, when he met the bishop of Durham, with 500 horse, whom he rode towards, believing them to be Scottish, until he was too near them to escape. The bysshoppe stepte to him, and sayde, 'Limsay, ye are taken; yelde ye to me.'—'Who be you?' quod Limsay. 'I am,' quod he, 'the bysshoppe of Durham.'—'And fro whens come you, sir?' quod Limsay. 'I come fro the battell,' quod the bysshoppe, 'but I strucke never a stroke there. I go backe to Newcastell for this night, and ye shal go with me.'—'I may not chuse,' quod Limsay, 'sith ye will have it so. I have taken, and I am taken; suche is the adventures of armes.' Lindsay was accordingly conveyed to the bishop's lodgings in Newcastle, and here he was met by his prisoner, Sir Matthew Reedman; who founde hym in a studye, lying in a windowe, and sayde, 'What! Sir James Lindsay, what make you here?' Than Sir James came forth of the study to him, and saydc, 'By my fayth, Sir Mathewe, fortune hath brought me hyder; for, as soon as I was departed fro you, I mete by chaunce the bisshoppe of Durham, to whom I am prisoner, as ye be to me. I beleve ye shall not nede to come to Edenborowe to me to mak your fynaunce. I thynk, rather, we shall make an exchange one for another, if the bysshoppe be also contente.'—'Well, sir,' quod Reedman, 'we shall accord ryghte well toguyder; ye shall dine this day with me: the bysshoppe and our men be gone forth to fyght with your men. I can nat tell what we shall know at their retourne.'—'I am content to dyne with you,' quod Limsay."—Froissart's Chronicle, translated by Bourchier, Lord Berners, Vol. I, chap. 146.
O gran bontà de' cavalieri antiqui!
Eran rivali, eran di fè diversi;
E si sentian, de gli aspri colpi iniqui,
Per tutta la persona anco dolersi;
E pur per selve oscure, e calle inqui
Insieme van senza sospetto aversi.


But the Jardines wald not with him ride.—P. 64. v. 2.
The Jardines were a clan of hardy west-border men. Their chief was Jardine of Applegirth. Their refusal to ride with Douglas was, probably, the result of one of those perpetual feuds, which usually rent to pieces a Scottish army.
And he that had a bonny boy,
Sent out his horse to grass.—P. 67. v, 4.
Froissard describes a Scottish host, of the same period, as consisting of "IIII. M. men of armes, knightis, and squires, mounted on good horses; and other X.M. men of warre armed, after their gyse, right hardy and firse, mounted on lytle hackneys, the whiche were never tyed, nor kept at hard meat, but lette go to pasture in the fieldis and bushes."—Cronykle of Froissart, translated by Lord Berners, Chap. xvii.


[99] Their names were Robert Hart and Simon Glendinning. The chaplain was Richard Lundie, afterwards archdean of Aberdeen.—Godscroft. Hart, according to Wintown, was a knight. That historian says, no one knew how Douglas fell.

[100] The banner of Douglas, upon this memorable occasion, was borne by his natural son, Archibald Douglas, ancestor of the family of Cavers, hereditary sheriffs of Teviotdale, amongst whose archives this glorious relique is still preserved. The earl, at his onset, is said to have charged his son to defend it to the last drop of his blood.

[101] This prophecy occurs in the ballad as an ominous dream.

[102] Hotspur, for his ransom, built the castle of Penoon, in Ayrshire, belonging to the family of Montgomery, now earls of Eglintoun.

[103] Wintown assigns another cause for Douglas being carelessly armed.
"The erle Jamys was sa besy,
For til ordane his cumpany;
And on his Fays for to pas,
That reckles he of his armyng was;
The Erle of Mwrrawys Bassenet,
Thai sayd, at that tyme was feryhete."
Book VIII. Chap 7.
The circumstance of Douglas' omitting to put on his helmet, occurs in the ballad.

[104] Fell.—Hide. Douglas insinuates, that Percy was rescued by his soldiers.

[105] Fend.—Support.

[106] Braken.—Fern.
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