Percy's Reliques - The Battle of Otterbourne.

The Battle of Otterbourne.

            The only battle, wherein an Earl of Douglas was slain fighting with a Percy, was that of Otterbourn, which is the subject of this ballad. It is here related with the allowable partiality of an English poet, and much in the same manner as it is recorded in the English Chronicles. The Scottish writers, have, with a partiality at least as excusable, related it no less in their own favour. Luckily we have a very circumstantial narrative of the whole affair from Froissart, a French historian, who appears to be unbiassed. Froissart's relation is prolix; I shall therefore give it, with a few corrections, as abridged by Carte, who has however had recourse to other authorities, and differs from Froissart in some things, which I shall note in the margin.

            In the twelfth year of Richard II., 1388, "The Scots taking advantage of the confusions of this nation, and falling with a party into the West-Marches, ravaged the country about Carlisle, and carried off 300 prisoners. It was with a much greater force, headed by some of the principal nobility, that, in the beginning of August,[ 1] they invaded Northumberland; and, having wasted part of the county of Durham,[ 2] advanced to the gates of Newcastle: where, in a skirmish, they took a 'penon' or colours[ 3] belonging to Henry Lord Percy, surnamed Hotspur, son of the Earl of Northumberland. In their retreat home, they attacked a castle near Otterbourn: and, in the evening of Aug. 9 (as the English writers say, or rather, according to Froissart, Aug. 15), after an unsuccessful assault, were surprised in their camp, which was very strong, by Henry, who at the first onset put them into a good deal of confusion. But James Earl of Douglas rallying his men, there ensued one of the best-fought actions that happened in that age; both armies showing the utmost bravery;[ 4] the Earl Douglas himself being slain on the spot;[ 5] the Earl of Murrey mortally wounded; and Hotspur,[ 6] with his brother Ralph Percy, taken prisoners. These disasters on both sides have given occasion to the event of the engagement's being disputed; Froissart (who derives his relation from a Scotch knight, two gentlemen of the same country, and as many of Foix[ 7]) affirming that the Scots remained masters of the field; and the English writers insinuating the contrary. These last maintain that the English had the better of the day: but night coming on, some of the northern lords, coming with the Bishop of Durham to their assistance, killed many of them by mistake, supposing them to be Scots; and the Earl of Dunbar, at the same time falling on another side upon Hotspur, took him and his brother prisoners, and carried them off while both parties were fighting. It is at least certain, that immediately after this battle the Scots engaged in it made the best of their way home: and the same party was taken by the other corps about Carlisle."

            Such is the account collected by Carte, in which he seems not to be free from partiality: for prejudice must own that Froissart's circumstantial account carries a great appearance of truth, and he gives the victory to the Scots. He however does justice to the courage of both parties; and represents their mutual generosity in such a light, that the present age might edify by the example. "The Englysshmen on the one partye, and Scottes on the other party, are good men of warre, for whan they mete, there is a hard fighte without sparynge. There is no hoo[ 8] betwene them as long as speares, swordes, axes, or dagers wyll endure; but lay on eche upon other: and whan they be well beaten, and that the one party hath obtayned the victory, they than glorifye so in their dedes of armes, and are so joyfull, that suche as be taken, they shall be ransomed or they go out of the felde;[ 9] so that shortely ECHE OF THEM IS SO CONTENTE WITH OTHER, THAT AT THEIR DEPARTVNGE CURTOYSLY THEY WILL SAYE, GOD THANKE YOU. But in fyghtynge one with another there is no playe, nor sparynge." Froissart's Cronycle (as translated by Sir Johan Bourchier Lord Berners), cap. cxlij.

            The following ballad is (in this present edition) printed from an old manuscript in the Cotton Library[ 10] (Cleopatra, c. iv.) and contains many stanzas more than were in the former copy, which was transcribed from a manuscript in the Harleian Collection [No. 293, fol. 52]. In the Cotton manuscript this poem has no title, but in the Harleian copy it is thus inscribed, "A songe made in R. 2. his tyme of the battele of Otterburne, betweene Lord Henry Percye Earle of Northomberlande and the Earle Douglas of Scotlande, anno 1388." But this title is erroneous, and added by some ignorant transcriber of after-times; for, i. The battle was not fought by the Earl of Northumberland, who was absent, but by his son Sir Henry Percy, Knt. surnamed Hotspur. [In those times they did not usually give the title of Lord to an earl's eldest son.] 2. Although the battle was fought in Richard IId's time, the song is evidently of later date, as appears from the poet's quoting the chronicles in Pt. II. ver. 26; and speaking of Percy in the last stanza as dead. It was however written in all likelihood as early as the foregoing song, if not earlier. This perhaps may be inferred from the minute circumstances with which the story is related, many of which are recorded in no chronicle, and were probably preserved in the memory of old people. It will be observed that the authors of these two poems have some lines in common; but which of them was the original proprietor must depend upon their priority; and this the sagacity of the reader must determine.

YT felle abowght the Lamasse tyde,
Whan husbands wynn ther haye,[ 11]
The dowghtye Dowglasse bowynd hym to ryde
In Ynglond to take a praye:

The yerlle of Fyffe,[ 12] withowghten stryffe,
He bowynd hym over Sulway:[ 13]
The grete wolde ever together ryde;
That race they may rue for aye.

Over Ottercap hyll they[ 14] came in,
And so dowyn by Rodelyffecragge,
Upon Grene Leyton they lyghted dowyn,
Styrande many a stagge;[ 15]

And boldely brente Northomberlonde,
And haryed many a towyn;
They dyd owr Ynglyssh men grete range,
To battel that were not bowyn.

Than spake a berne upon the bent,
Of comforte that was not colde,
And sayd, We have brent Northomberlond,
We have all welth in holde.

"Now we have haryed all Bamboroweshyre,
All the welth in the worlde have wee;
I rede we ryde to Newe Castell,
So styll and stalwurthlye."

Uppon the morowe, when it was daye,
The standards schone fulle bryght;
To the Newe Castelle the take the waye,
And thether they cam fulle ryght.

Sir Henry Percy laye at the Newe Castelle,
I telle yow withowtten drede;
He had byn a march-man[ 16] all hys dayes,
And kepte Barwyke upon Twede.

To the Newe Castell when they cam,
The Skottes they cryde on hyght,
"Syr Harye Percy, and thow byste within,
Com to the fylde, and fyght:

"For we have brente Northomberlonde,
Thy eritage good and ryght;
And syne[ 17] my logeyng I have take,
With my brande dubbyd many a knyght."

Sir Harry Percy cam to the walles,
The Skottyssh oste for to se;
"And thow hast brent Northomberlond,
Full sore it rewyth me.

Yf thou hast haryed all Bambarowe shyre,
Thow hast done me grete envye;
For the trespasse thow hast me done,
The tone of us schall dye."

"Where schall I byde the?" sayd the Dowglas,
Or where wylte thow come to me?
"At Otterborne in the hygh way,[ 18]
Ther maist thow well logeed be.

"The roo[ 19] full rekeles ther sche rinnes,
To make the game and glee:
The fawkon and the fesaunt both,
Amonge on the holtes on hee.

"Ther maist thow have thy welth at wyll,
Well looged ther maist be.
Yt schall not be long, or I com the tyll,"
Sayd Syr Harry Percye.

"Ther schall I byde the," sayd the Dowglas,
"By the fayth of my bodye."
"Thether schall I com," sayd Syr Harry Percy;
My trowth I plyght to the."

A pype of wyne he gave them over the walles,
For soth, as I yow saye:
Ther he mayd the Douglas drynke,
And all hys oste that daye.

The Dowglas turnyd him homewarde agayne,
For soth withowghten naye,
He tooke his logeyng at Oterborne
Uppon a Wedyns-day

And ther he pyght hys standerd dowyn,
Hys gettyng more and lesse,
And syne he warned hys men to goo
To chose ther geldyngs gresse.

A Skottysshe knyght hoved upon the bent,
A wache I dare well saye:
So was he ware on the noble Percy
In the dawnynge of the daye.

He prycked to his pavyleon dore,
As faste as he myght ronne,
"Awaken, Dowglas," cryed the knyght,
"For hys love, that syttes yn trone.

"Awaken, Dowglas," cryed the knyght,
"For thow maiste waken wyth wynne:
Yender have I spyed the prowde Percy,
And seven standardes wyth hym."

"Nay by my trowth," the Douglas sayed,
It ys but a fayned taylle:
He durste not loke on my bred banner,
For all Ynglonde so haylle.

"Was I not yesterdaye at the Newe Castell,
That stands so fayre on Tyne?
For all the men the Percy hade,
He cowde not garre me ones to dyne."

He stepped owt at hys pavelyon dore,
To loke and it were lesse;
"Araye yow, lordyngs, one and all,
For here bygynnes no peysse.

"The yerle of Mentaye,[ 20] thow arte my eme,
The forwarde I gyve to the:
The yerlle of Huntlay cawte and kene,
He schall wyth the be.

"The Lorde of Bowghan[ 21] in armure bright
On the other hand he schall be;
Lorde Jhonstone, and Lorde Maxwell,
They to schall be with me.

"Swynton fayre fylde upon your pryde
To batell make yow bowen,
Syr Davy Scotte, Syr Walter Stewarde,
Syr Jhon of Agurstone.


THE Perssy came byfore hys oste,
Wych was ever a gentyll knyght,
Upon the Dowglas lowde can he crye,
I wyll holde that I have hyght:[ 22]

"For thow haste brente Northumberlonde,
And done me grete envye;
For thys trespasse thou hast me done,
The tone of us schall dye."

The Dowglas answerde hym agayne
With grete wurds up on hee,
And sayd, "I have twenty agaynst thy one,"[ 23]
Byholde and thow maiste see."

Wyth that the Percye was greved sore,
For sothe as I yow saye:
[ 24] [He lyghted dowyn upon his fote,
] And schoote his horsse clene away.

Every man sawe that he dyd soo,
That ryall was ever in rowght;
Every man schoote hys horsse him froo,
And lyght hym rowynde abowght.

Thus Syr Hary Percye toke the fylde,
For soth, as I yow saye
Jesu Cryste in hevyn on hyght
Dyd helpe hym well that daye.

But nyne thowzand, ther was no moo;
The cronykle wyll not layne
Forty thowsande Skottes and fowre
That day fowght them agayne.

But when the batell byganne to joyne,
In hast ther came a knyght,
Then letters fayre furth hath he tayne,
And thus he sayd full ryght

"My Lorde, your father he gretes yaw well,
Wyth many a noble knight
He desyres yow to byde
That he may see thys fyght.

"The Baron of Grastoke ys com owt of the west,
Wyth hym a noble companye;
All they loge at your fathers thys nyght,
And the Battel fayne wold they see."

"For Jesu's love," sayd Syr Harye Percy,
"That dyed for yow and me,
Wende to my lorde my Father agayne,
And saye thow saw me not with yee:"

"My trowth ys plyght to yonne Skottysh knyght,
It nedes me not to tayne,
That I schulde byde hym upon thys bent,
And I have hys trowth agayne:

"And if that I wende off thys grownde
For soth unfoughten awaye,
He wolde me call but a kowarde knight
In hys londe another daye.

"Yet had I lever to be rynde and rente,
By Mary that mykel maye;
Then ever my manhod schulde be reprovyd
Wyth a Skotte another daye.

"Wherfore schote, archars, for my sake,
And let scharpe arowes flee:
Mynstrells, playe up for your waryson,
And well quyt it schall be.

"Every man thynke on hys trewe love,
And marke hym to the Trenite:
For to God I make myne avowe
Thys day wyll I not fle."

The blodye Harte in the Dowglas armes,
Hys standerde stode on hye;
That every man myght full well knowe:
By syde stode Starres thre:

The whyte Lyon on the Ynglysh parte,
Forsoth as I yow sayne;
The Lucetts and the Cressawnts both:
The Skotts faught them agayne.[ 25]]

Uppon sent Andrewe lowde cane they crye,
And thrysse they schowte on hyght,
And syne marked them one owr Ynglysshe men,
As I have tolde yow ryght.

Sent George the bryght owr ladyes knyght,
To name they[ 26] were full fayne,
Owr Ynglysshe men they cryde on hyght,
And thrysse the schowtte agayne.

Wyth that scharpe arowes bygan to flee,
I tell yow in sertayne;
Men of armes byganne to joyne;
Many a dowghty man was ther slayne.

The Percy and the Dowglas mette,
That ether of other was fayne;
They schapped together, whyll that the swette,
With swords of fyne Collayne;

Tyll the bloode from their bassonetts ranne,
As the roke doth in the rayne.
"Yelde the to me, sayd the Dowglas,
Or ells thow schalt be slayne:"

"For I see, by thy bryght bassonet,
Thow arte sum man of myght;
And so I do by thy burnysshed brande,
Thow art an yerle, or ells a knyght.[ 27]"

"By my good faythe," sayd the noble Percy,
Now haste thou rede full ryght,
Yet wyll I never yelde me to the,
Whyll I may stonde and fyght."

They swapped together, whyll that they swette,
Wyth swordes scharpe and long;
Ych on other so faste they beette,
Tyll ther helmes cam in peyses dowyn.

The Percy was a man of strenghth,
I tell yow in thys stounde,
He smote the Dowglas at the swordes length,
That he felle to the growynde.

The sworde was scharpe and sore can byte,
I tell yow in sertayne;
To the harte, he cowde hym smyte,
Thus was the Dowglas slayne.

The stonderds stode styll on eke syde,
With many a grevous grone;
Ther the fowght the day, and all the nyght,
And many a dowghty man was slone.

Ther was no freke, that ther wolde flye,
But styffly in stowre can stond,
Ychone hewyng on other whyll they myght drye,
Wyth many a bayllefull bronde.

Ther was slayne upon the Skottes syde,
For soth and sertenly,
Syr James a Dowglas[ 29] ther was slayne,
That daye that he cowde dye.[ 30]

The yerlle of Mentaye he was slayne,
Grysely groned uppon the growynd
Syr Davy Scotte, Syr Walter Steward,
Syr John of Agurstonne.

Syr Charlles Morrey in that place,
That never a fote wold flye
Sir Hughe Maxwell, a lorde he was,
With the Dowglas dyd he dye.

Ther was slayne upon the Skottes syde,
For soth as I yow saye,
Of fowre and forty thowsande Scotts
Went but eyghtene awaye.

Ther was slayne upon the Englysshe syde,
For soth and sertentye,
A gentell knyght, Sir John Fitz-hughe,
Yt was the more petye.

Syr James Harbotell ther was slayne,
For hym ther hartes were sore,
The gentyll Lovelle ther was slayne,
That the Percyes standerd bore.

Ther was slayne uppon the Ynglyssh perte,
For soth as I yow saye;
Of nyne thowsand Ynglyssh men
Fyve hondert cam awaye:

The other were slayne in the felde,
Cryste kepe their sowles from wo,
Seyng ther was so fewe fryndes
Agaynst so many a foo.

Then one[ 32] the morne they mayd them beeres
Of byrch, and haysell graye;
Many a wydowe with wepyng teyres
Ther makes they fette awaye.

Thys fraye bygan at Otterborne,
Bytwene the nyghte and the day:
Ther the Dowglas lost hys lyfe,
And the Percy was lede awaye.[ 33]

Then was ther a Scottyshe prisoner tayne,
Syr Hughe Mongomery was hys name,
For soth as I yow saye,
He borowd the Percy home agayne.[ 34]

Now let us all for the Percy praye
To Jesu most of myght,
To bryng hys sowle to the blysse of heven,
For he was a gentyll knyght.


1. Froissart speaks of both parties (consisting in all of more than 40,000 men) as entering England at the same time; but the greater part by way of Carlisle.

2. And, according to the ballad, that part of Northumberland called Bamboroughshire; a large tract of land so named from the town and castle of Bamborough, formerly the residence of the Northumbrian kings.

3. This circumstance is omitted in the ballad. Hotspur and Douglas were two young warriors much of the same age.

4. Froissart says the English exceeded the Scots in number three to one, but that these had the advantage of the ground and were also fresh from sleep, while the English were greatly fatigued with their previous march.

5. By Henry L. Percy, according to this ballad, and our old English historians, as Stow, Speed, &c. but borne down by numbers, if we may believe Froissart.

6. Hotspur (after a very sharp conflict) was taken prisoner by John Lord Montgomery, whose eldest son, Sir Hugh, was slain in the same action with an arrow, according to Crawford's Peerage (and seems also to be alluded to in the foregoing ballad), but taken prisoner and exchanged for Hotspur, according to this ballad.

7. Froissart (according to the English translation) says he had his account from two squires of England, and from a knight and squire of Scotland, soon after the battle.

8. So in Langham's letter concerning Queen Elizabeth's entertainment at Killingworth Castle, 1575, 12mo. p. 61. "Heer was no ho in devout drinkyng."

9. i.e. They scorn to take the advantage, or to keep them lingering in long captivity.

10. The notice of this MS. I must acknowledge with many other obligations, owing to the friendship of Thomas Tyrwhitt, Esq., late Clerk of the House of Commons.

11. Winn their heaye. Harl. MS. This is the Northumberland phrase to this day: by which they always express "getting in their hay." The orig. MS. reads here winn their way.

12. Robert Stuart, second son of King Robert I I.

13. i.e. "over Solway frith." This evidently refers to the other division of the Scottish army, which came in by way of Carlisle. Bowynd, or Bounde him; i.e. hied him. Vid. Gloss.

14. They: sc. the Earl of Douglas and his party. The several stations here mentioned are well-known places in Northumberland. Ottercap-hill is in the parish of Kirk-Whelpington, in Tynedale-ward. Rodeliffe- (or as it is more usually pronounced Rodeley-) Cragge is a noted cliff near Rodeley, a small village in the parish of Hartburn, in Morpeth-ward: it lies south-east of Ottercap. Green Leyton is another small village in the same parish of Hartburn, and is south-east of Rodeley.-- Both the original MSS. read here corruptly, Hoppertop and Lynton.

15. This line is corrupt in both the MSS. viz. 'Many a styrande stage.' Stags have been killed within the present century on some of the large wastes in Northumberland.

16. Marche-man, i e. a scourer of the Marches.

17. Syne seems here to mean since.

18. Otterbourn is near the old Watling-street road, in the parish of Elsdon. The Scots were encamped in a grassy plain near the river Read. The place where the Scots and English fought is still called Battle-Riggs.

19. Roe-bucks were to be found upon the wastes not far from Hexham in the reign of Geo. I.-- Whitfield, Esq. of Whitfield, is said to have destroyed the last of them.

20. The Earl of Menteith.

21. The Lord Buchan.

22. I will hold to what I have promised.

23. He probably magnifies his strength to induce him to surrender.

24. All that follows, included in brackets, was not in the first edition.

25. The ancient arms of Douglas are pretty accurately emblazoned in the former stanza, and if the readings were, The crowned harte, and Above stode starres thre, it would be minutely exact at this day. As for the Percy family, one of their ancient badges or cognizances was a white lyon, statant, and the silver crescent continues to be used by them to this day: they also give three luces argent for one of their quarters.

26. i.e. the English.

27. Being all in armour, he could not know him.

29. For the names in this page, see the Remarks at the end of this ballad.

30. i.e. he died that day.

31. Our old Minstrel repeats these names, as Homer and Virgil do those of their heroes:-

. . . fortemque Gyam, fortemque Cloanthum, &c. &c.

32. i.e. on.

33. Sc. captive.

34. In the Cotton MS. is the following Note on ver. 164, in an ancient hand:--"Syr Hewe Mongomery takyn prizonar, was delyvered for the restorynge of Perssy."


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