The Battle of Otterburn
(Child#161) adapted from various versions by Andrew Calhoun, recorded on Rhymer's Tower: Ballads of the Anglo-Scottish Border.
“I have never heard the old song of Percy and Douglas but I found not my heart more moved than with a trumpet.” -Sir Philip Sydney
Otterburn is 32 miles NW of Newcastle. This battle was fought in 1388. A burn is a brook or creek.
It fell about first harvest time,
When husbandmen bring in their hay,
Earl Douglas rode to the English woods,
in vengeance bound to fetch a prey.
He has chosen the Earl of March,
With the gallant Murrays for the fray,
The loyal Dunbars and the Earl of Fife,
And Sir Hugh Montgomery upon a grey.
Over Hoppertop Hill they rode,
And followed on by Rodcliff crag,
Upon Green Lynton they lighted down,
And put to flight there many a stag.
They have harried Northumberland,
And so have they the Bambrough shire,
And the Otter Dale, they have burnt it hale,
And set the fields all into fire.
They lighted high on Otterburn,
Upon the grassy slope so brown;
They sent their horses out to graze,
And put their tents up and pallets down.
At night there came a bonny boy,
That served one of Earl Douglas’ kin;
“Methinks I see an English force,
A-coming on to hem us in.”
“Was I not yesterday at the New Castell,
That stands so fair upon theTyne?
For all the men that Percy had,
He’s only one to ten of mine.”
Earl Douglas belted on his good broad sword,
And called his captains to the fray;
The English host came marching forth,
With seven standards in array.
By the light of the harvest moon,
With trumpet blasts and groans of pain,
The men of arms began to join,
And many a gallant man was slain.
When Douglas with Sir Percy met,
They swacked their swords of fine collaine,
They traded blows with might and main,
Till sweat and blood ran like the rain.
“Yield ye to me,” bold Douglas said,
“For I see thou art some gentle knight,
“I’ll never yield,” the noble Percy said,
“Not while I yet may stand and fight.”
Then Percy drove with all his strength,
And so he gave a grievous wound;
He smote Earl Douglas at the sword’s length
Till he lay gasping on the ground.
Earl Douglas called on his little foot-page,
And bid him, “Run speedily,
And fetch my own dear sister’s son,
I mean Sir Hugh Montgomery.”
Earl Douglas to Montgomery said,
“Take thou the vanguard now for me,
And lay me under yon bracken-bush,
That neither friend nor foe may see.
“For I dreamed a dead man shall win the field,
I hope in God it shall be I!
Up with my banner, Cry ‘Douglas!’ then,
Avenge me now, and win the day.”
There was no man on either side
But held his ground while he could stand,
Each one hewing on foes while he might,
A baleful blade at every hand.
Then Percy and Montgomery met,
And swapped their swords so long and sharp,
Fast on his head Montgomery beat,
Till Percy’s helmet came apart
“Yield, now,” Montgomery cried,
“Or else I vow I’ll lay thee low.”
“Whom to shall I yield,” the noble Percy said,
“Now that I see it must be so?”
“O yield thee to yon bracken-bush,
That grows upon yon lily lea;
For there lies beneath yon bracken-bush,
What oft has conquered more than thee.”
The battle won at Otterburn,
Between the night’s end and the day,
They bore Douglas’ corpse from the bracken bush,
And Percy captive was led away.