Percy's Reliques - The Rising in the North.

The Rising in the North.

††††††††††† The subject of this ballad is the great northern insurrection in the 12th year of Elizabeth, 1569; which proved so fatal to Thomas Percy, the seventh Earl of Northumberland.

††††††††††† There had not long before been a secret negotiation entered into between some of the Scottish and English nobility, to bring about a marriage between Mary Queen of Scots, at that time a prisoner in England, and the Duke of Norfolk, a nobleman of excellent character and firmly attached to the Protestant religion. This match was proposed to all the most considerable of the English nobility, and among the rest to the Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland, two noblemen very powerful in the north. As it seemed to promise a speedy and safe conclusion of the troubles in Scotland, with many advantages to the crown of England, they all consented to it, provided it should prove agreeable to Queen Elizabeth. The Earl of Leicester (Elizabeth's favourite) undertook to break the matter to her; but before he could find an opportunity, the affair had come to her ears by other hands, and she was thrown into a violent flame. The Duke of Norfolk, with several of his friends, was committed to the Tower, and sumnmonses were sent to the northern Earls instantly to make their appearance at court. It is said that the Earl of Northumberland, who was a man of a mild and gentle nature, was deliberating with himself whether he should not obey the message, and rely on the queen's candour and clemency, when he was forced into desperate measures by a sudden report at midnight, Nov. 14, that a party of his enemies were come to seize on his person.[ 1] The earl was then at his house at Topcliffe in Yorkshire. When rising hastily out of bed, he withdrew to the Earl of Westmoreland, at Brancepeth, where the country came in to them, and pressed them to take arms in their own defence. They accordingly set up their standards, declaring their intent was to restore the ancient religion, to get the succession to the crown firmly settled, and to prevent the destruction of the ancient nobility, &c. Their common banner[ 2] (on which was displayed the cross, together with the five wounds of Christ,) was borne by an ancient gentleman, Richard Norton, Esq. of Norton-Conyers: who with his sons (among whom Christopher, Marmaduke, and Thomas, are expressly named by Camden,) distinguished himself on this occasion. Having entered Durham, they tore the Bible, &c. and caused mass to be said there: they then marched on to Clifford-moor near Wetherby, where they mustered their men. Their intention was to have proceeded to York; but, altering their minds, they fell upon Barnard's castle, which Sir George Bowes held out against them for eleven days. The two earls, who spent their large estates in hospitality, and were extremely beloved on that account, were masters of little ready money; the Earl of Northumberland bringing with him only 8000 crowns, and the Earl of Westmoreland nothing at all for the subsistence of their forces, they were not able to march to London, as they at first intended. In these circumstances, Westmoreland began so visibly to despond, that many of his men slunk away, though Northumberland still kept up his resolution, and was master of the field till December 13, when the Earl of Sussex, accompanied with Lord Hunsdon and others, having marched out of York at the head of a large body of forces, and being followed by a still larger army under the command of Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick, the insurgents retreated northward towards the borders, and there dismissing their followers, made their escape into Scotland. Though this insurrection had been suppressed with so little bloodshed, the Earl of Sussex and Sir George Bowes, marshal of the army, put vast numbers to death by martial law, without any regular trial. The former of these caused at Durham sixty-three constables to be hanged at once. And the latter made his boast, that for sixty miles in length, and forty in breadth, betwixt Newcastle and Wetherbye, there was hardly a town or village wherein he had not executed some of the inhabitants. This exceeds the cruelties practised in the West after Monmouth's rebellion: but that was not the age of tenderness and humanity.

††††††††††† Such is the account collected from Stow, Speed, Camden, Guthrie, Carte, and Rapin; it agrees in most particulars with the following ballad, which was apparently the production of some northern minstrel, who was well affected to the two noblemen. It is here printed from two manuscript copies, one of them in the Editor's folio collection. They contained considerable variations, out of which such readings were chosen as seemed most poetical and consonant to history.

LISTEN, lively lordings all,
Lithe and listen unto mee,
And I will sing of a noble earle,
The noblest earle in the north countrže.

Earle Percy is into his garden gone,
And after him walkes his faire ladže;[ 3]
"I heard a bird sing in mine eare,
That I must either fight, or flee."

"Now heaven forefend, my dearest lord,
That ever such harm should hap to thee:
But goe to London to the court,
And faire fall truth and honestie."

"Now nay, now nay, my ladye gay,
Alas! thy counsell suits not mee;
Mine enemies prevail so fast,
That at the court I may not bee."

"O goe to the court yet, good my lord,
And take thy gallant men with thee:
If any dare to doe you wrong,
Then your warrant they may bee."

"Now nay, now nay, thou lady faire,
The court is full of subtiltže
And if I goe to the court, ladye,
Never more I may thee see."

"Yet goe to the court, my lord, she sayes,
And I myselfe will ryde wi' thee:
At court then for my dearest lord,
His faithfull borrowe I will bee."

"Now nay, now nay, my lady deare;
Far lever had I lose my life,
Than leave among my cruell foes
My love in jeopardy and strife.

"But come thou hither, my little foot-page,
Come thou hither unto mee,
To Maister Norton[ 4] thou must goe
In all the haste that ever may bee.

"Commend me to that gentleman,
And beare this letter here fro mee;
And say that earnestly I praye,
He will ryde in my companie."

One while the little foot-page went,
And another while he ran;
Untill he came to his journeys end,
The little foot-page never blan.

When to that gentleman he came,
Down he kneeled on his knee;
And tooke the letter betwixt his hands,
And lett the gentleman it see.

And when the letter it was redd
Affore that goodlye companye,
I wis, if you the truthe wold know,
There was many a weeping eye.

He sayd, "Come thither, Christopher Norton,
A gallant youth thou seemest to bee;
What doest thou counsell me, my sonne,
Now that good erle's in jeopardy?"

"Father, my counselle's fair and free;
That erle he is a noble lord,
And whatsoever to him you bight,
I wold not have you breake your word."

"Gramercy, Christopher, my sonne,
Thy counsell well it liketh mee,
And if we speed and scape with life,
Well advanced shalt thou bee.

Come you hither, my nine good sonnes,
Gallant men I trowe you bee:
How many of you, my children deare,
Will stand by that good erle and mee?"

Eight of them did answer make,
Eight of them spake hastilie,
"O father, till the daye we dye
We'll stand by that good erle and thee."

"Gramercy now, my children deare,
You showe yourselves right bold and brave
And whethersoe'er I live or dye,
A fathers blessing you shall have.

"But what sayst thou, O Francis Norton,
Thou art mine eldest sonn and heire:
Somewhat lyes brooding in thy breast;
Whatever it bee, to mee declare."

"Father, you are an aged man,
Your head is white, your bearde is gray;
It were a shame at these your yeares
For you to ryse in such a fray."

"Now fye upon thee, coward Francis,
Thou never learnedst this of mee:
When thou wert yong and tender of age,
Why did I make soe much of thee?"

"But, father, I will wend with you,
Unarm'd and naked will I bee;
And he that strikes against the crowne,
Ever an ill death may he dee."

Then rose that reverend gentleman,
And with him came a goodlye band
To join with the brave Erle Percy,
And all the flower o' Northumberland.

With them the noble Nevill came,
The Erle of Westmorland was hee:
At Wetherbye they mustred their host,
Thirteen thousand faire to see.

Lord Westmorland his ancyent raisde,
The Dun Bull he rays'd on hye,
And three Dogs with golden collars
Were there sett out most royallye.[ 5]

Erle Percy there his ancyent spred,
The Halfe-Moone shining all soe faire:[ 6]
The Nortons ancyent had the crosse,
And the five wounds our Lord did Beare.

Then Sir George Bowes he straitwaye rose,
After them some spoyle to make:
Those noble erles turn'd backe againe,
And aye they vowed that knight to take.

That baron he to his castle fled,
To Barnard castle then fled hee.
The uttermost walles were eathe to win,
The earles have wonne them presentlie.

The uttermost walles were lime and bricke;
But thoughe they won them soon alone,
Long e'er they wan the innermost walks,
For they were cut in rocke of stone.

Then newes unto leeve London came
In all the speede that ever might bee,
And word is brought to our royall queene
Of the rysing in the North countrie.

Her grace she turned her round about,
And like a royall queene shee swore,[ 7]
I will ordayne them such a breakfast,
As never was in the North before.

Shee caus'd thirty thousand men be rays'd,
With horse and harneis faire to see;
She caused thirty thousand men be raised,
To take the earles i' th' North countrie.

Wi' them the false Erle Warwick went,
Th' Erle Sussex and the Lord Hunsden
Untill they to Yorke castle came
I wiss, they never stint ne blan.

Now spred thy ancyent, Westmorland,
Thy dun bull faine would we spye:
And thou, the Erle o' Northumberland,
Now rayse thy half moone up on hye.

But the dun bulle is fled and gone,
And the halfe moone vanished away:
The Erles, though they were brave and bold,
Against soe many could not stay.

Thee, Norton, wi' thine eight good sonnes,
They doom'd to dye, alas! for ruth!
Thy reverend lockes thee could not save,
Nor them their faire and blooming youthe.

Wi' them full many a gallant wight
They cruellye bereav'd of life:
And many a childe made fatherlesse,
And widowed many a tender wife.


1. This circumstance is overlooked in the ballad.

2. Besides this, the ballad mentions the separate banners of the two noblemen.

3. This was Anne, daughter of Henry Somerset, Earl of Worcester.

4. It is well known that the fate of the Nortons forms the theme of Wordsworth's White Doe of Rylstone.-- Editor.

5. Dun Bull, &c.] The supporters of the Nevilles, Earls of Westmoreland, were Two Bulls Argent, ducally collar'd Gold, armed Or, &c. But I have not discovered the device mentioned in the ballad, among the badges, &c. given by that house. This however is certain, that, among those of the Nevilles, Lords Abergavenny (who were of the same family), is a dun cow with a golden collar: and the Nevilles of Chyte in Yorkshire (of the Westmoreland branch) gave for their crest, in 1513, a dog's (grey-hound's) head erased. So that it is not improbable but Charles Neville, the unhappy Earl of Westmoreland here mentioned, might on this occasion give the above device on his banner. After all, our old minstrel's verses here may have undergone some corruption; for in another ballad in the same folio manuscript, and apparently written by the same hand, containing the sequel of this Lord Westmoreland's history, his banner is thus described, more conformable to his known bearings:

Sett me up my faire dun bull,
Wi' th' gilden hornes, hee beares all soe hye.

6. The Halfe-Moone, &c.] The Silver Crescent is a well-known crest or badge of the Northumberland family, It was probably brought home from some of the Crusades against the Saracens. In an ancient pedigree in verse, finely illuminated on a roll of vellum, and written in the reign of Henry VII. (in possession of the family), we have this fabulous account given of its original. The author begins with accounting for the name of Gernon or Algerman, often borne by the Percies; who, he says, were

". . . Gernons fyrst named of Brutys bloude of Troy:
Which valliantly fyghtynge in the land of PersŤ (Persia)
At pointe terrible ayance the miscreants on nyght,
An hevynly mystery was schewyd hym, old bookys reherse;
In hys scheld did schyne a MONE veryfying her lyght,
Which to all the ooste yave a perfytte syght,
To vaynquys his enemys, and to deth them persue:
And therefore the PersŤs [Percies] the Cressant doth renew."

††††††††††† In the dark ages no family was deemed considerable that did not derive its descent from the Trojan Brutus; or that was not distinguished by prodigies and miracles.

7. This is quite in character: her majesty would sometimes swear at her nobles, as well as box their ears.


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