Percy's Reliques - The Ancient Ballad of Chevy-Chase.

The Ancient Ballad of Chevy-Chase.

            The fine heroic song of CHEVY-CHASE has ever been admired by competent judges. Those genuine strokes of nature and artless passion which have endeared it to the most simple readers, have recommended it to the most refined; and it has equally been the amusement of our childhood, and the favourite of our riper years.

            Mr. Addison has given an excellent critique[l] on this very popular ballad, but is mistaken with regard to the antiquity of the common received copy; for this, if one may judge from the style, cannot be older than the time of Elizabeth, and was probably written after the elogium of Sir Philip Sydney: perhaps in consequence of it. I flatter myself I have here recovered the genuine antique poem; the true original song, which appeared rude even in the time of Sir Philip, and caused him to lament that it was so evil-apparelled in the rugged garb of antiquity.

            This curiosity is printed, from an old manuscript, at the end of Hearne's preface to Gul. Newbrigiensis Hist. 1719, 8vo. vol i. To the MS. copy is subjoined the name of the author, RYCHARD SHEALE;[ 2] whom Hearne had so little judgment as to suppose to be the same with a R. Sheale, who was living in 1588. But whoever examines the gradation of language and idiom in the following volumes, will be convinced that this is the production of an earlier poet. It is indeed expressly mentioned among some very ancient songs in an old book entituled, The Complaint of Scotland,[ 3] (fol. 42), under the title of the HUNTIS OF CHEVET, where the two following lines are also quoted:

The Perssee and the Mongumrye mette,[ 4]
That day, that day, that gentil day:[ 5]

which though not quite the same as they stand in the ballad, yet differ not more than might be owing to the author's quoting from memory. Indeed, whoever considers the style and orthography of this old poem will not be inclined to place it lower than the time of Henry VI.: as on the other hand the mention of James the Scottish King,[ 6] with one or two anachronisms, forbids us to assign it an earlier date. King James I., who was prisoner in this kingdom at the death of his father,[ 7] did not wear the crown of Scotland till the second year of our Henry VI.,[ 8] but before the end of that long reign a third James had mounted the throne[ 9]. A succession of two or three Jameses, and the long detention of one of them in England, would render the name familiar to the English, and dispose a poet in those rude times to give it to any Scottish king he happened to mention.

            So much for the date of this old ballad: with regard to its subject, although it has no countenance from history, there is room to think it had originally some foundation in fact. It was one of the Laws of the Marches frequently renewed between the two nations, that neither party should hunt in the other's borders, without leave from the proprietors or their deputies.[ 10] There had long been a rivalship between the two martial families of Percy and Douglas, which, heightened by the national quarrel, must have produced frequent challenges and struggles for superiority, petty invasions of their respective domains and sharp contests for the point of honour; which would not always be recorded in history. Something of this kind, we may suppose, gave rise to the ancient ballad of the HUNTING A' THE CHEVIAT.[ 11] Percy earl of Northumherland had vowed to hunt for three days in the Scottish border without condescending to ask leave from earl Douglas, who was either lord of the soil, or lord warden of the marches. Douglas would not fail to resent the insult, and endeavour to repel the intruders by force: this would naturally produce a sharp conflict between the two parties; something of which, it is probable, did really happen, though not attended with the tragical circumstances recorded in the ballad: for these are evidently borrowed from the Battle of Otterbourn,[ 12] a very different event, but which aftertimes would easily confound with it. That battle might be owing to some such previous affront as this of Chevy-Chase, though it has escaped the notice of historians. Our poet has evidently jumbled the two subjects together: if indeed the lines[ 13] in which this mistake is made, are not rather spurious, and the after-insertion of some person who did not distinguish between the two stories.

            Hearne has printed this ballad without any division of stanzas, in long lines, as he found it in the old written copy: but it is usual to find the distinction of stanzas neglected in ancient MSS.; where, to save room, two or three verses are frequently given in one line undivided. See flagrant instances in the Harleian Catalog. No. 2253, s. 29, 34, 61, 70, & passim.


THE Persè owt of Northombarlande,
And a vowe to God mayd he,
That he wolde hunte in the mountains
Off Chyviat within dayes thre,
In the mauger of doughtè Dogles,
And all that ever with him be.

The fattiste hartes in all Cheviat
He sayd he wold kill, and cary them away:
"Be my feth," sayd the dougheti Doglas agayn,
"I wyll let that hontyng yf that I may."

Then the Persè owt of Banborowe cam,
With him a myghtye meany;
With fifteen hondrith archares bold
The wear chosen out of shyars thre.[ 15]

This begane on a Monday at morn
In Cheviat the hillys so he;
The chyld may rue that ys un-born,
It was the mor pittè.

The dryvars thorowe the woodès went
For to reas the dear;
Bomen bickarte uppone the bent
With ther browd aras cleare.

Then the wyld thorowe the woodes went
On every sydè shear;
Grea-hondes thorowe the greves glent
For to kyll thear dear.

The begane in Chyviat the hyls above
Yerly on a Monnyn day;
Be that it drewe to the oware off none
A hondrith fat hartes ded ther lay.

The blewe a mort uppone the bent,
The semblyd on sydis shear;
To the quyrry then the Persè went
To se the bryttlyng off the deare.

He sayd, It was the Duglas promys
This day to meet me hear;
But I wyste he wold faylle verament:
A gret oth the Persè swear.

At the laste a squyar of Northornbelonde
Lokyde at his hand full ny,
He was war ath the doughetie Doglas comynge:
With him a myghtè meany,

Both with spear, 'byll,' and brande:
Yt was a myghti sight to se.
Hardyar men both off hart nar hande
Wear not in Christiantè.

The wear twenty hondrith spear-men good
Withouten any fayle;
The wear borne a-long be the watter a Twyde
Yth, bowndes of Tividale.

"Leave off the brytlyng of the dear," he sayde,
"And to your bowys tayk good heed
For never sithe ye wear on your mothars borne
Had ye never so mickle need."

The dougheti Dogglas on a stede
He rode att his men beforne;
His armor glytteryde as dyd a glede;
A bolder barne was never born.

"Tell me what men ye ar," he says,
"Or whos men that ye be:
Who gave youe leave to hunte in this
Chyviat chays in the spyt of me?"

The first mane that ever him an answear mayd,
Yt was the good lord Persè:
"We wyll not tell the 'what men we ar," he says,
"Nor whos men that we be;"
But we wyll hount hear in this chays
In the spyte of thyne and of the.

"The fattiste hartes in all Chyviat
We have kyld, and cast to carry them a-way."
"Be my troth," sayd the doughtè Dogglas agayn,
"Ther-for the ton of us shall de this day."

Then sayd the doughtè Doglas
Unto the lord Persè:
"To kyll all thes giltless men,
Alas! it wear great pittè.

"But, Persè, thowe art a lord of lande,
I am a yerle callyd within my countrè;
Let all our men uppone a parti stande;
And do the battell off the and of me."

"Nowe Cristes cors on his crowne," sayd the lord Persè,
"Who-soever ther-to says nay.
Be my troth, doughtè Doglas," he says,
"Thow shalt never se that day;"

"Nethar in Ynglonde, Skottlonde, nar France,
Nor for no man of a woman born,
But and fortune be my chance,
I dar met him on man for on.

Then bespayke a squyar off Northombarlonde,
Ric. Wytharynton[ 16] was his nam;
"It shall never be told in Sothe-Ynglonde," he says,
To Kyng Henry the fourth for sham.

"I wat youe byn great lordes twa,
I am a poor squyar of lande;
I wyll never se my captayne fyght on a fylde,
And stande my-selffe, and looke on,
But whyll I may my weppone welde,
I wyll not fayl both harte and hande."

That day, that day, that dredfull day:
The first Fit[ 17] here I fynde.
And youe wyll here any mor a' the hountyng a' the Chyviat,
Yet ys ther mor behynde.


THE Yngglishe men bade ther bowys yebent,
Ther hartes were good yenoughe;
The first of arros that the shote off,
Seven skore spear-men the sloughe.

Yet bydys the yerle Doglas uppon the bent,
A captayne good yenoughe,
And that was sene verament,
For he wrought hom both woo and wouche.

The Dogglas pertyd his ost in thre,
Lyk a cheffe cheften off pryde,
With suar speares off myghttè tre
The cum in on every syde.

Thrughe our Yngglishe archery
Gave many a wounde full wyde;
Many a doughete the garde to dy,
Which ganyde them no pryde.

The Yngglyshe men let thear bowys be,
And pulde owt brandes that wer bright;
It was a hevy syght to se
Bryght swordes on basnites lyght.

Thorowe ryche male, and myne-ye-ple
Many sterne the stroke downe streght:
Many a freyke, that was full free,
Ther undar foot dyd lyght.

At last the Duglas and the Persè met,
Lyk to captayns of myght and mayne;
The swapte togethar tyll the both swat
With swordes, that were of fyn myllàn.

Thes worthè freckys for to fight
Ther-to the wear full fayne,
Tyll the bloode owte off thear basnetes sprente,
As ever dyd heal or rayne.

"Holde the, Persè," sayd the Doglas,
"And i' feth I shall the brynge
Wher thowe shalte have a yerls wagis
Of Jamy our Scottish kynge.

"Thoue shalte have thy ransom fre,
I hight the hear this thinge,
For the manfullyste man yet art thowe,
That ever I conqueryd in filde fightyng."

"Nay then," sayd the lord Persè,
I tolde it the beforne,
That I wolde never yeldyde be
To no man of a woman born."

With that ther cam an arrowe hastely
Forthe off a mightie wane,[ 18]
Hit hathe strekene the yerle Duglas
In at the brest bane.

Thoroue lyvar and longs hathe
The sharp arrowe ys gane,
That never after in all his lyffe days,
He spake mo wordes but ane,
That was,[ 19] "Fyghte ye, my merry men, whyllys ye may,
For my lyff days ben gan."

The Persè leanyde on his brande,
And sawe the Duglas de;
He tooke the dede man be the hande,
And sayd, "Wo ys me for the!

"To have savyde thy lyffe I wold have pertyd with
My landes for years thre,
For a better man of hart, nare of hande
Was not in all the north countrè.

Off all that se a Skottishe knyght,
Was callyd Sir Hewe the Mongon-byrry,
He sawe the Duglas to the deth was dyght;
He spendyd a spear, a trusti tre:

He rod uppon a corsiare
Throughe a hondrith archery;
He never styntyde, nar never blane,
Tyll he cam to the good lord Persè.

He set uppone the lord Persè
A dynte, that was full soare;
With a suar spear of a myghte tre
Clean thorow the body he the Persè bore,

A' the tothar syde, that a man myght se,
A large cloth yard and mare:
Towe bettar captayns wear nat in Christiante,
Then that day slain wear thare.

An archer off Northomberlonde
Say slean was the lord Persè,
He bar a bende-bow in his hande,
Was made off trusti tre:

An arow, that a cloth yarde was lang,
To th' hard stele halyde he;
A dynt, that was both sad and soar,
He sat on Sir Hewe the Mongon-byrry.

The dynt yt was both sad and soar,
That he of Mongon-byrry sete;
The swane-fethars, that his arrowe bar,
With his hart blood the wear wete.[ 20]

Ther was never a freake wone foot wold fle,
But still in stour dyd stand,
Heawing on yche othar, whyll the myght dre,
With many a bal-ful brande.

This battell begane in Chyviat
An owar befor the none,
And when even-song bell was rang
The battell was nat half done.

The tooke on on ethar hand
Be the lyght off the mone;
Many hade no strenght for to stande,
In Chyviat the hyllys abone.

Of fifteen hondrith archars of Ynglonde
Went away but fifti and thre
Of twenty hondrith spear-men of Skotlonde,
But even five and fifti

But all wear slayne Cheviat within:
The hade no strengthe to stand on hie;
The chylde may rue that ys un-borne,
It was the mor pittè.

Thear was slayne with the lord Persè
Sir John of Agerstone,[ 21]
Sir Roger, the hinde Hartly,
Sir Wyllyam the bold Hearone.

Sir Jorg the worthè Lovele
A knyght of great renowen,
Sir Raff, the ryche Rugbè
With dyntes wear beaten dowene.

For Wetharryngton my harte was wo,
That ever he slayne shulde be;
For when both his leggis wear hewyne in to,
Yet he knyled and fought on hys kne.

Ther was slayne with the dougheti Douglas
Sir Hewe the Mongon-byrry,
Sir Davye Lwdale, that worthè was,
His sistars son was he:

Sir Charles a Murrè, in that place,
That never a foot wolde fle;
Sir Hewe Maxwell, a lorde he was,
With the Duglas dyd he dey.

So on the morrowe the mayde them byears
Off byrch, and hasell so gray;
Many wedous with wepyng tears[ 22]
Cam to fach ther makys a-way.

Tivydale may carpe off care,
Northombarlond may mayk grat mone,
For towe such captayns, as slayne wear thear,
On the march perti shall never be none.

Word ys commen to Edden-burrowe,
To Jamy the Skottishe kyng,
That dougheti Duglas, lyff-tenant of the Merches,
He lay slean Chyviot with-in.

His handdes dyd he weal and wryng,
He sayd, "Alas, and woe ys me!"
Such another captayn Skotland within,
He sayd, y-feth shuld never be.

Worde ys commyn to lovly Londone
Till the fourth Harry our kyng,
That lord Persè, leyff-tennante of the Merchis,
He lay slayne Chyviat within.

"God have merci on his soll," sayd kyng Harry,
"Good lord, yf thy will it be!
I have a hondrith captayns in Ynglonde," he sayd,
As good as ever was hee:
But Persè, and I brook my lyffe,
Thy deth well quyte shall be."

As our noble kyng made his a-vowe,
Lyke a noble prince of renowen,
For the deth of the lord Persè,
He dyd the battel of Hombyll-down

Wher syx and thritte Skottish knyghtes
On a day wear beaten down:
Glendale glytteryde on ther armor bryght,
Over castill, towar, and town.

This was the hontynge off the Cheviat;
That tear begane this spurn:
Old men that knowen the grownde well yenoughe,
Call it the Battell of Otterburn.

At Otterburn began this spurne
Uppon a monnyn day:
Ther was the dougghte Doglas slean,
The Persè never went away.

Ther was never a tym on the March partes
Sen the Doglas and the Persè met,
But yt was marvele, and the redde blude ronne not,
As the reane doys in the stret.

Jhesue Christ our balys bete,
And to the blys us brynge!
Thus was the hountynge of the Chevyat:
God send us all good ending!

*** The style of this and the following ballad is uncommonly rugged and uncouth, owing to their being writ in the very coarsest and broadest northern dialect.

            The battle of Hombyll-down, or Humbledon, was fought Sept. 14, 1402 (anno 3 Hen. IV.), wherein the English, under the command of the Earl of Northumberland, and his son Hotspur, gained a complete victory over the Scots. The village of Humbledon is one mile northwest from Wooler, in Northumberland. The battle was fought in the field below the village, near the present turnpike road, in a spot called ever since Red-Riggs. Humbledon is in Glendale Ward, a district so named in this county, and mentioned above in ver. 163.


1. Spectator, No. 70, 74.

2. Subscribed after the usual manner of our old poets, expliceth (explicit) quoth Rychard Sheale.

3. One of the earliest productions of the Scottish press, now to be found. The title page was wanting in the copy here quoted; but it is supposed to have been printed in 1540.-- See Ames.

4. See Pt. 2. v. 25.

5. See Pt. 1. v. 104.

6. Pt. 2. v. 36, 140.

7. Who died Aug. 5, 1406, in the 7th year of our Hen. IV.

8. James I. was crowned May 22, 1424; murdered Feb. 21, 1436-7.

9. In 1460. Hen. VI. was deposed 1461; restored and slain, 1471.

10. Item . . . . Concordatum est, quod, . . . NULLUS unius partis vel alterius ingrediatur terras, boschas, forrestas, warrenas, loca, dominia quæcunque alicujus partis alterius subditi, causa venandi, piscandi, aucupandi, disportum aut solatium in eisdem, aliave quæcunque de causa, ABSQUE LICENTIA ejus . . . ad quem . . . loca . . . pertinent, aut de deputatis suis prius capt. et obtent. -- Vide Bp. Nicholson's Leges Marchiarum, 1705, 8vo. pp. 27, 51.

11. This was the original title. See the ballad, Pt. 1. v. 101. Pt. 2. v. 165.

12. See the next ballad.

13. Vide Pt. 2. v. 167.

14. See ver. 100.

15. By these "shyars thre" is probably meant three districts in Northumberland, which still go by the name of shires, and are all in the neighbourhood of Cheviot. These are Islandshire, being the district so named from Holy-Island; Norehamshire, so called from the town and castle of Noreham, or Norham; and Bamboroughshire, the ward or hundred belonging to Baamborough-castle and town.

16. This is probably corrupted in the manuscript for Rog. Widdrington, who was at the head of the family in the reign of King Edward III. There were several successively of the names of Roger and Ralph, but none of the name of Richard, as appears from the genealogies in the Heralds' office.

17. Vid. Glos

18.Wane, i.e. ane, one, sc. man. an arrow came from a mighty one: from a mighty man.

19. This seems to have been a gloss added.

20. This incident is taken from the battle of Otterbourne; in which Sir Hugh Montgomery, Knt. (son of John Lord Montgomery) was slain with an arrow. Vid. Crawford's Peerage.

21. For these names see the remarks at the end of the next ballad.

22. A common pleonasm. (See the next poem, Fit 2d. ver. 155.) So Harding, in his Chronicle, chap. 140. fol. 148, describing the death of Richard I., says:

He shrove him then unto abbots thre
With great sobbyng . . . and wepyng teares.

            So likewise Cavendish, in his Life of Cardinal Wolsey, chap. 12. P. 31, 4to. "When the Duke heard this, he replied with weeping teares," &c.


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