Percy's Reliques - The more modern Ballad of Chevy Chace.

The more modern Ballad of Chevy Chace.

            At the beginning of Book i. we gave the old original song of CHEVY-CHACE. The reader has here the more improved edition of that fine heroic ballad. It will afford an agreeable entertainment to the curious to compare them together, and to see how far the latter bard has excelled his predecessor, and where he has fallen short of him. For though he has everywhere improved the versification, and generally the sentiment and diction; yet some few passages retain more dignity in the ancient copy; at least the obsoleteness of the style serves as a veil to hide whatever may appear too familiar or vulgar in them. Thus, for instance, the catastrophe of the gallant Witherington is in the modern copy exprest in terms which never fail at present to excite ridicule: whereas in the original it is related with a plain and pathetic simplicity, that is liable to no such unlucky effect: See the stanza, which, in modern orthography, &c. would run thus:

"For Witherington my heart is woe,
That ever he slain should be:
For when his legs were hewn in two,
He knelt and fought on his knee."

            So again the stanza which describes the fall of Montgomery is some what more elevated in the ancient copy:

"The dint it was both sad and sore,
He on Montgomery set:
The swan-feathers his arrow bore
With his heart's blood were wet."

            We might also add, that the circumstances of the battle are more clearly conceived, and the several incidents more distinctly marked in the old original, than in the improved copy. It is well known that the ancient English weapon was the long-bow, and that this nation excelled all others in archery; while the Scottish warriors chiefly depended on the use of the spear: this characteristic difference never escapes our ancient bard, whose description of the first onset is to the following effect:

            "The proposal of the two gallant earls to determine the dispute by single combat being over-ruled; the English, says he, who stood with their bows ready bent, gave a general discharge of their arrows, which slew seven score spearmen of the enemy: but notwithstanding so severe a loss, Douglas like a brave captain kept his ground. He had divided his forces into three columns, who as soon as the English had discharged their first volley, bore down upon them with their spears, and breaking through their ranks reduced them to close fighting. The archers upon this dropt their bows and had recourse to their swords, and there followed so sharp a conflict, that multitudes on both sides lost their lives." In the midst of this general engagement, at length, the two great earls meet, and after a spirited rencounter agree to breathe; upon which a parley ensues, that would do honour to Homer himself.

            Nothing can be more pleasingly distinct and circumstantial than this: whereas, the modern copy, though in general it has great merit, is here unluckily both confused and obscure. Indeed the original words seem here to have been totally misunderstood. "Yet bydys the yerl Douglas upon the bent," evidently signifies, "Yet the earl Douglas abides in the field:" whereas the more modern bard seems to have understood by bent, the inclination of his mind, and accordingly runs quite off from the subject:[ 1]

"To drive the deer with hound and horn
Earl Douglas had the bent."

            One may also observe a generous impartiality in the old original bard, when in the conclusion of his tale he represents both nations as quitting the field, without any reproachful reflection on either: though he gives to his own countrymen the credit of beng the smaller number.

"Of fifteen hundred archers of England
Went away but fifty and three;

Of twenty hundred spearmen of Scotland,
But even five and fifty."

            He attributes flight to neither party, as hath been done in the modern copies of this ballad, as well Scotch as English. For, to be even with our latter bard, who makes the Scots to flee, some reviser of North Britain has turned his own arms against him, and printed an edition at Glasgow, in which the lines are thus transposed:

"Of fifteen hundred Scottish spears
Went hame but fifty-three:
Of twenty hundred Englishmen
Scarce fifty-five did flee."

            And to countenance this change he has suppressed the two stanzas between ver. 240 and 249. From that edition I have here reformed the Scottish names which in the modern English ballad appeared to be corrupted.

            When I call the present admired ballad modern, I only mean that it is comparatively so; for that it could not be writ much later than the time of Queen Elizabeth, I think may be made appear; nor yet does it seem to be older than the beginning of the last century.[ 2] Sir Philip Sidney, when he complains of the antiquated phrase of Chevy Chace, could never have seen this improved copy, the language of which is not more ancient than he himself used. It is probable that the encomiums of so admired a writer excited some bard to revise the ballad, and to free it from those faults he had objected to it.  That it could not be much later than that time, appears from the phrase doleful dumps; which in that age carried no ill sound with it, but to the next generation became ridiculous. We have seen it pass uncensured in a sonnet that was at that time in request, and where it could not fail to have been taken notice of, had it been in the least exceptionable (see above, Book ii. Song 5. ver. 2.): yet, in about half a century after it was become burlesque.-- See Hudibras, Part i. c. iii. ver. 95.

            This much premised, the reader that would see the general beauties of this ballad set in a just and striking light, may consult the excellent criticism of Mr. Addison.[ 3] With regard to its subject, it has already been considered. The conjectures there offered will receive confirmation from a passage in the Memoirs of Carey, Earl of Monmouth, 8vo. 1759, p. 165; whence we learn that it was an ancient custom with the borderers of the two kingdoms, when they were at peace, to send to the Lord Wardens of the opposite Marches for leave to hunt within their districts. If leave was granted, then towards the end of summer they would come and hunt for several days together "with their grey-hounds for deer:" but if they took this liberty unpermitted, then the Lord Warden of the border so invaded, would not fail to interrupt their sport and chastise their boldness. He mentions a remarkable instance that happened while he was Warden, when some Scotch gentlemen coming to hunt in defiance of him, there must have ensued such an action as this of Chevy Chace, if the intruders had been proportionably numerous and well armed: for, upon their being attacked by his men at arms, he tells us, "some hurt was done, tho' he had given especiall order that they should shed as little blood as possible." They were in effect overpowered and taken prisoners, and only released on their promise to abstain from such licentious sporting for the future.

            The following text is given from the Editor's folio MS., compared with two or three others printed in black-letter. In the second volume of Dryden's Miscellanies may be found a translation of Chevy-Chace into Latin rhymes. The translator, Mr. Henry Bold, of New College, undertook it at the command of Dr. Compton, Bishop of London; who thought it no derogation to his episcopal character, to avow a fondness for this excellent old ballad. See the preface to Bold's Latin songs, 1685, &c.

GOD prosper long our noble king,
Our liffes and safetyes all;
A woefull hunting once there did
In Chevy-Chace befall;

To drive the deere with hound and horne,
Erle Percy took his way,
The child may rue that is unborne,
The hunting of that day.

The stout Erle of Northumberland
A vow to God did make,
His pleasure in the Scottish woods
Three summers days to take;

The cheefest harts in Chevy-chace
To kill and beare away:
These tydings to Erle Douglas came,
In Scotland where he lay:

Who sent Erle Percy present word,
He wold prevent his sport.
The English erle, not fearing that,
Did to the woods resort

With fifteen hundred bow-men bold;
All chosen men of might,
Who knew full well in time of neede
To ayme their shafts arright.

The gallant greyhounds swiftly ran,
To chase the fallow deere;
On Munday they began to hunt,
Ere day-light did appeare;

And long before high noone they had
An hundred fat buckes slaine;
Then having dined, the drovyers went
To rouze the deare againe.

The bow-men mustered on the hills
Well able to endure;
Theire backsides all, with speciall care,
That day were guarded sure.

The hounds ran swiftly through the woods,
The nimble deere to take,[ 4]
That with their cryes the hills and dales
An eccho shrill did make.

Lord Percy to the quarry went,
To view the slaughter'd deere;
"Quoth he, Erle Douglas promised
This day to meet me heere:

"But if I thought he wold not come,
Noe longer wold I stay."
With that, a brave younge gentleman
Thus to the Erle did say:

"Loe, yonder doth Erle Douglas come,
His men in armour bright;
Full twenty hundred Scottish speres
All marching in our sight;

"All men of pleasant Tivydale,
Fast by the river Tweede."
"O cease your sports," Erle Percy said,
"And take your bowes with speede:

"And now with me, my countrymen,
Your courage forth advance;
For there was never champion yett,
in Scotland nor in France,

"That ever did on horsebacke come,
But if my hap it were,
I durst encounter man for man,
With him to break a spere."

Erle Douglas on his milke-white steede,
Most like a baron bolde,
Rode foremost of his company,
Whose armour shone like gold.

"Show me," sayd hee, "whose men you bee,
That hunt soe boldly heere,
That, without my consent, doe chase
And kill my fallow-deere."

The first man that did answer make
Was noble Percy hee;
Who sayd, "Wee list not to declare,
Nor shew whose men wee bee:

"Yet wee will spend our deerest blood,
Thy cheefest harts to slay."
Then Douglas swore a solempne oathe,
And thus in rage did say,

"Ere thus I will out-braved bee,
One of us two shall dye
I know thee well, an erle thou art;
Lord Percy, soe am I.

"But trust me, Percy, pittye it were,
And great offence to kill
Any of these our guiltlesse men,
For they have done no ill.

"Let thou and I the battell trye,
And set our men aside.
Accurst bee he," Erle Percy sayd,
"By whome this is denyed."

Then stept a gallant squier forth,
Witherington was his name,
Who said, "I wold not have it told
To Henry our king for shame,

"That ere my captaine fought on foote,
And I stood looking on.
You be two erles," sayd Witherington,
"And I a squier alone:

"Ile doe the best that doe I may,
While I have power to stand:
While I have power to weeld my sword
Ile fight with hart and hand."

Our English archers bent their bowes,
Their harts were good and trew;
Att the first flight of arrowes sent,
Full four-score Scots they slew.

[ 5][Yet bides Earl Douglas on the bent,
] As Chieftain stout and good.
As valiant Captain, all unmov'd
The shock he firmly stood.

His host he parted had in three,
As Leader ware and try'd,
And soon his spearmen on their foes
Bare down on every side.

Throughout the English archery
They dealt full many a wound:
But still our valiant Englishmen
All firmly kept their ground:

And throwing strait their bows away,
They grasp'd their swords so bright:
And now sharp blows, a heavy shower,
On shields and helmets light.]

They closed full fast on every side,
Noe slackness there was found;
And many a gallant gentleman
Lay gasping on the ground.

O Christ! it was a griefe to see,
And likewise for to heare,
The cries of men lying in their gore,
And scattered here and there.

At last these two stout erles did meet,
Like captaines of great might:
Like lyons wood, they layd on lode,
And made a cruell fight:

They fought untill they both did sweat,
With swords of tempered steele;
Untill the blood, like drops of rain,
They trickling downe did feele.

"Yeeld thee, Lord Percy," Douglas sayd
"In faith I will thee bringe,
Where thou shalt high advanced bee
By James our Scottish king:

"Thy ransome I will freely give,
And this report of thee,
Thou art the most couragious knight,
That ever I did see."

"Noe, Douglas," quoth Erle Percy then,
"Thy proffer I doe scorne;
I will not yeelde to any Scott,
That ever yett was borne."

With that, there came an arrow keene
Out of an English bow,
Which struck Erle Douglas to the heart,
A deepe and deadlye blow:

Who never spake more words than these,
"Fight on, my merry men all;
For why, my life is at an end;
Lord Percy sees my fall."

Then leaving liffe, Erle Percy tooke
The dead man by the hand;
And said, "Erle Douglas, for thy life
Wold I had lost my land!

"O Christ! my verry hart doth bleed
With sorrow for thy sake;
For sure, a more redoubted knight
Mischance cold never take."

A knight amongst the Scotts there was
Which saw Erle Douglas dye,
Who streight in wrath did vow revenge
Upon the Lord Percye:

Sir Hugh Mountgomery was he call'd,
Who, with a spere most bright,
Well-mounted on a gallant steed,
Ran fiercely through the fight;

And past the English archers all,
Without all dread or feare;
And through Earl Percyes body then
He thrust his hatefull spere;

With such a vehement force and might
He did his body gore,
The staff ran through the other side
A large cloth-yard, and more.

So thus did both these nobles dye,
Whose courage none could staine
An English archer then perceiv'd
The noble erle was slaine;

He had a bow bent in his hand,
Made of a trusty tree;
An arrow of a cloth-yard long
Up to the head drew hee:

Against Sir Hugh Mountgomerye,
So right the shaft he sett,
The grey goose-winge that was thereon,
In his harts bloode was wette.

This fight did last from breake of day,
Till setting of the sun;
For when they rung the evening-bell,[ 6]
The battel scarce was done.

With stout Erle Percy there was slaine
Sir John of Egerton,[ 7]
Sir Robert Ratcliff, and Sir John,
Sir James that bold barren:

And with Sir George and stout Sir James,
Both knights of good account,
Good Sir Ralph Raby there was slaine,
Whose prowesse did surmount.

For Witherington needs must I wayle,
As one in doleful dumpes;[ 8]
For when his leggs were smitten off,
He fought upon his stumpes.

And with Erle Douglas, there was slaine
Sir Hugh Montgomerye,
Sir Charles Murray, that from the feeld
One foote wold never flee.

Sir Charles Murray, of Ratcliff, too,
His sisters sonne was bee;
Sir David Lamb, so well esteem'd,
Yet saved cold not bee.

And the Lord Maxwell in like case
Did with Erle Douglas dye:
Of twenty hundred Scottish speres,
Scarce fifty-five did flye.

Of fifteen hundred Englishmen,
Went home but fifty-three;
The rest were slaine in Chevy-Chace,
Under the greene woode tree.

Next day did many widowes come,
Their husbands to bewayle;
They washt their wounds in brinish teares,
But all wold not prevayle.

Theyr bodyes, bathed in purple gore,
They bare with them away:
They kist them dead a thousand times,
Ere they were cladd in clay.

The news was brought to Eddenborrow,
Where Scottlands king did raigne,
That brave Erle Douglas suddenlye
Was with an arrow slaine.

"O heavy newes," King James did say,
"Scotland may witnesse bee,
I have not any captaine more
Of such account as hee."

"Like tydings to King Henry came,
Within as short a space,
That Percy of Northumberland
Was slaine in Chevy-Chace:

"Now God be with him," said our king,
"Sith it will noe better bee;
I trust I have, within my realme,
Five hundred as good as hee:

"Yett shall not Scotts nor Scotland say,
But I will vengeance take:
I'll be revenged on them all,
For brave Erie Percyes sake."

This vow full well the king perform'd
After, at Humbledowne;
In one day, fifty knights were slayne,
With lords of great renowne

And of the rest, of small acount,
Did many thousands dye:
Thus endeth the hunting of Chevy-Chase,
Made by the Erle Percy.

God save our king, and bless this land
With plenty, joy, and peace;
And grant henceforth, that foule debate
Twixt noblemen may cease!

*** Since the former impression of these volumes, hath been published a new edition of Collins's Peerage, 1779, &c. nine vols. 8vo. which contains, in volume ii, p. 344, an historical passage, which may be thought to throw considerable light on the subject of the preceding ballad: viz.

            "In this . . . . year, 1436, according to Hector Boethius, was fought the Battle of Pepperden, not far from the Cheviot Hills, between the Earl of Northumberland [2d Earl, son of Hotspur] and Earl William Douglas, of Angus, with a small army of about four thousand men each, in which the latter had the advantage. As this seems to have been a private conflict between these two great chieftains of the borders, rather than a national war, it has been thought to have given rise to the celebrated old ballad of Chevy-Chace; which to render it more pathetic and interesting, has been heightened with tragical incidents wholly fictitious." See Ridpath's Border Hist. 4to. p. 401.

            The surnames in the foregoing ballad are altered, either by accident or design, from the old original copy, and in common editions extremely corrupted. They are here rectified, as much as they could be. Thus,

            Ver. 202. Egerton.] This name is restored (instead of Ogerton, com. ed.) from the Editor's folio manuscript. The pieces in that manuscript appear to have been collected, and many of them composed (among which might be this ballad), by an inhabitant of Cheshire: who was willing to pay a compliment here to one of his countrymen, of the eminent family de or of Egerton (so the name was first written) ancestors of the present Duke of Bridgewater; and this he could do with the more propriety, as the Percies had formerly great interest in that county: at the fatal battle of Shrewsbury all the flower of the Cheshire gentlemen lost their lives fighting in the cause of Hotspur.

            Ver. 203. Ratcliff.] This was a family much distinguished in Northumberland. Edw. Radcliffe, mil. was sheriff of that county in 17 of Henry VII, and others of the same surname afterwards.-- See Fuller, p. 313. Sir George Ratcliff, Knt. was one of the commissioners of inclosure in 1552.-- See Nicholson, p. 330. Of this family was the late Earl of Derwentwater, who was beheaded in 1715. The Editor's folio MS. however reads here, "Sir Robert Harcliffe and Sir William."

            The Harcleys were an eminent family in Cumberland.-- See Fuller, p. 224. Whether this may be thought to be the same name, I do not determine.

            Ver. 204. Baron.] This is apparently altered (not to say corrupted) from Hearone.

            Ver. 207. Raby.] This might be intended to celebrate one of the ancient possessors of Raby Castle, in the county of Durham. Yet it is written Rebbye, in the fol. manuscript, and looks like a corruption of Rugby or Rokeby, an eminent family in Yorkshire. It will not be wondered that the Percies should be thought to bring followers out of that county, where they themselves were originally seated, and had always such extensive property and influence.

            Ver. 215. Murray.] So the Scottish copy. In the com. edit. it is Carrel or Currel; and Morrell in the fol. manuscript.

            Ver. 217. Murray.] So the Scot. edit. The common copies read Murrel. The folio manuscript gives the line in the following peculiar manner,

"Sir Roger Heuer of Harcliffe too."

            Ver. 219. Lamb.] The folio manuscript has

"Sir David Lambwell, well esteemed."

This seems evidently corrupted from Lwdale or Liddell, in the old copy of the ballad.


1. In the present edition, instead of the unmeaning lines here censured, an insertion is made of four stanzas modernized from the ancient copy.

2. A late writer has started a notion that the modern copy "was written to be sung by a party of English, headed by a Douglas in the year 1524; which is the true reason why, at the same time that it gives the advantage to the English soldiers above the Scotch, it gives so lovely and so manifestly superior a character to the Scotch commander above the English."-- See Say's Essay on the Numbers of Paradise Lost, 4to. 1745, p. 167.

            This appears to me a groundless conjecture: the language seems too modern for the date above mentioned; and, had it been printed even so early as Queen Elizabeth's reign, I think I should have met with some copy wherein the first line would have been,

God prosper long our noble queen,

as was the case with The Blind Beggar of Bednal Green. See Vol. 1 book v. no. 10.

3. In the Spectator, No. 70. 74.

4. The Chiviot Hills and circumjacent wastes are at present void of deer, and almost stript of their woods: but formerly they had enough of both to justify the description attempted here and in the ancient Ballad of "Chevy-Chase." Leyland, in the reign of Hen. VIII., thus describes this county: "In Northumberland, as I heare say, be no forests, except Chivet Hills; where is much brushe-wood, and some Okke; grownde ovargrowne with Linge, and some with Mosse. I have harde say that Chivet Hills stretchethe xx miles. There is greate plente of redde-dere, and roo bukkes."-- Itinerary, vol. vii. p. 56. This passage, which did not occur when the older ballad (book i. no. i.) was printed off, confirms the accounts there given of the "stagge" and the "roe."

5. The four stanzas here inclosed in brackets, which are borrowed chiefly from the ancient copy, are offered to the reader instead of the following lines, which occur it the editor's fol MS.

"To drive the deere with hound and horne,
Douglas bade on the bent;
Two captaines moved with mickle might
Their speres to shivers went."

6. Sc. the Curfew bell, usually rung at 8 o'clock: to which the modernizer apparently alludes, instead of the Evensong-bell, or bell for vespers of the original author, before the Reformation.

7. For the surnames, see the note above.

8. i.e. "I, as one in deep concern, must lament." The construction here has generally been misunderstood. The old MS. reads wofull dumpes.


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