Saturday, July 3, 2010

"Johnie Armstrong," anonymous ballad

Johnie Armstrong

1  THERE dwelt a man in faire Westmerland,
        Ionnë Armestrong men did him call,
    He had nither lands nor rents coming in,
        Yet he kept eight score men in his hall.

2  He had horse and harness for them all,
        Goodly steeds were all milke-white;
    O the golden bands an about their necks,
        And their weapons, they were all alike.

3  Newes then was brought unto the king
        That there was sicke a won as hee,
    That livëd lyke a bold out-law,
        And robbëd all the north country.

4  The king he writt an a letter then,
        A letter which was large and long;
    He signëd it with his owne hand,
        And he promised to doe him no wrong.

5  When this letter came Ionnë untill,
        His heart it was as blythe as birds on the tree:
    ‘Never was I sent for before any king,
        My father, my grandfather, nor none but mee.

6  ‘And if wee goe the king before,
        I would we went most orderly;
    Every man of you shall have his scarlet cloak,
        Laced with silver laces three.

7  ‘Every won of you shall have his velvett coat,
        Laced with sillver lace so white;
    O the golden bands an about your necks,
        Black hatts, white feathers, all alyke.’

8  By the morrow morninge at ten of the clock,
        Towards Edenburough gon was hee,
    And with him all his eight score men;
        Good lord, it was a goodly sight for to see!

9  When Ionnë came befower the king,
        He fell downe on his knee;
    ‘O pardon, my soveraigne leige,’ he said,
        ‘O pardon my eight score men and mee!’

10  ‘Thou shalt have no pardon, thou traytor strong,
          For thy eight score men nor thee;
      For to-morrow morning by ten of the clock,
          Both thou and them shall hang on the gallow-tree.’

11  But Ionnë looke’d over his left shoulder,
          Good Lord, what a grevious look looked hee!
      Saying, Asking grace of a graceles face —
          Why there is none for you nor me.

12  But Ionnë had a bright sword by his side,
          And it was made of the mettle so free,
      That had not the king stept his foot aside,
          He had smitten his head from his faire boddë.

13  Saying, Fight on, my merry men all,
          And see that none of you be taine;
      For rather then men shall say we were hange’d,
          Let them report how we were slaine.

14  Then, God wott, faire Eddenburrough rose,
          And so besett poore Ionnë rounde,
      That fowerscore and tenn of Ionnës best men
          Lay gasping all upon the ground.

15  Then like a mad man Ionnë laide about,
          And like a mad man then fought hee,
      Untill a falce Scot came Ionnë behinde,
          And runn him through the faire boddee.

16  Saying, Fight on, my merry men all,
          And see that none of you be taine;
      For I will stand by and bleed but awhile,
          And then will I come and fight againe.

17  Newes then was brought to young Ionnë Armestrong,
          As he stood by his nurses knee,
      Who vowed if ere he live’d for to be a man,
          O the treacherous Scots revengd hee’d be.

Source of the text - English and Scottish Popular Ballads, edited from the collection of Francis James Child by Helen Child Sargent and George Lyman Kittredge. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1904, pp. 413-415.

TJB: Rule-of-law as thuggery-tragedy; still, this border-reiver song spends its energy on costume, headcount, time of day & transmission of news.

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