The Age of Chivalry, by Thomas Bulfinch

Chapter XXXVI.

Chevy Chase.

“The Perse out of Northumberlande,

And a vowe to God mayde he,

That he wold hunte in the mountayns

Off Chyviat within days thre,

In the mauger of doughte Dogles,

And all that ever with him be.”

--PERCY: Reliques of Ancient Poetry.

SCARCELY less famous than Robin Hood as a subject for ballad makers was the battle of Chevy Chase. This battle was one of the many struggles rising out of the never-ending border quarrels between Scotland and England, of which poets are never tired of singing. Sometimes the Earl of Douglas, the great Scotch border-lord, would make an incursion into Northumberland, and then to revenge the insult Lord Percy would come riding over the Tweed into Scotland.

In the battle of Chevy Chase it would seem as if Earl Percy was the aggressor. As a matter of fact it mattered little which began the quarrel at any particular time. The feud was ever smouldering, and needed little to make it burst forth.

The Ballad of Chevy Chase.

God prosper Long our noble king,

Our lives and safetyes all;

A woefull hunting once there did

In Chevy Chase befall.

To drive the deer with hound and horne,

Erle Percy took his way,

The child may rue that is unborne

The hunting of that day.

The stout Erle of Northumberland

A vow to God did make,

His pleasure in the Scottish woods

Three summer days to take;

The cheefest harts in Chevy Chase

To kill and bear away.

These tidings to Erle Douglas came,

In Scotland where he lay,

Who sent Erle Percy present word

He would prevent his sport.

The English Erle not fearing that,

Did to the woods resort,

With fifteen hundred bowmen bold;

All chosen men of might,

Who knew full well in time of neede

To ayme their shafts aright.

The gallant greyhounds swiftly ran

To chase the fallow deere:

On Monday they began to hunt

Ere daylight did appear;

And long before high noon they had

An hundred fat buckes slaine;

Then having dined the drovyers went

To rouse the deer again.

The bowmen mustered on the hill,

Well able to endure;

Their backsides all, with special care,

That day were guarded sure.

The hounds ran swiftly through the woods,

The nimble deere to take,

That with their cryes the hills and dales

An eccho shrill did make.

Lord Percy to the quarry went,

To view the slaughtered deer;

Quoth he, Erle Douglas promised

This day to meet me heere;

But if I thought he would not come,

Noe longer would I stay.

With that a brave young gentleman

Thus to the Erle did say:-

Loe, yonder doth Erle Douglas come,

His men in armour bright;

Full twenty hundred Scottish speres

All marching in our sight;

All men of pleasant Tivydale,

Fast by the river Tweede:

O cease your sports, Erle Percy said,

And take your bowes with speede.

And now with me, my countrymen,

Your courage forth advance;

For there was never champion yett

In Scotland or in France,

That ever did on horseback come,

But if my hap it were,

I durst encounter man for man,

With him to break a spere.

Erle Douglas on his milk-white steede,

Most like a baron bold,

Rode foremost of his company,

Whose armour shone like gold.

Show me, sayd he, whose men you be,

That hunt so boldly heere,

That without my consent doe chase

And kill my fallow deere.

The first man that did answer make

Was noble Percy he;

Who sayd, We list not to declare,

Nor show whose men we be.

Yet we will spend our deerest blood,

Thy cheefest harts to slay.

The Douglas swore a solempne oathe,

And thus in rage did say,

Ere thus I will outbraved be,

One of us two shall dye:

I know thee well an erle thou art;

Lord Percy, soe am I.

But trust me, Percy, pittye it were

And great offence to kill

Any of these our guiltless men,

For they have done no ill.

Let thou and I the battell trye,

And set our men aside.

Accurst be he, Erle Percy sayd,

By whom this is denyed.

Then stept a gallant squier forth,

Witherington was his name,

Who said, I wold not have it told

To Henry our king for shame,

That ere my captaine fought on foot

And I stood looking on.

You be two erles, sayd Witherington,

And I a squier alone:

Ile doe the best that doe I may,

While I have power to stand:

While I have power to wield my sword,

Ile fight with hart and hand.

Our English archers bent their bowes

Their harts were good and trew;

At the first flight of arrowes sent,

Full fourscore Scots they slew.

Yet bides Erle Douglas on the bent,

As cheeftain stout and good,

As valiant captain, all unmoved,

The shock he firmly stood.

His host he parted had in three,

As leader ware and tryd,

And soon his spearmen on his foes

Bare down on every side.

To drive the deere with hound and horne,

Douglas bade on the bent:

Two captaines moved with mickle might

Their speares to shivers went.

Throughout the English archery

They dealt full many a wound;

But still our valiant Englishmen

All firmly kept their ground:

And throwing straight their bowes away,

They grasped their swords so bright:

And now sharp blows, a heavy shower,

On shields and helmets light.

They closed full fast on every side,

No slackness there was found;

And many a gallant gentleman

Lay gasping on the ground.

O Christ! it was a griefe to see,

And likewise for to heare,

The cries of men lying in their gore,

And scattered here and there.

At last these two stout erles did meet,

Like captaines of great might;

Like lyons wood, they layd on lode

And made a cruell fight:

They fought until they both did sweat,

With swords of tempered steele;

Until the blood, like drops of rain,

They trickling down did feele.

Yield thee, Lord Percy, Douglas sayd;

In faith I will thee bringe,

Where thou shalt high advanced be

By James our Scottish king:

Thy ransome I will freely give,

And this report of thee:

Thou art the most courageous knight

That ever I did see.

Noe, Douglas, quoth Erle Percy then,

Thy proffer I do scorne;

I will not yield to any Scott,

That ever yet was borne.

With that there came an arrow keene,

Out of an English bow,

Which struck Erle Douglas to the heart,

A deepe and deadly blow:

Who never spake more words than these,

Fight on, my merry men all;

For why, my life is at an end;

Lord Percy sees my fall.

Then leaving liffe, Erle Percy tooke

The dead man by the hand;

And said, Erle Douglas, for thy life

Wold I have lost my land.

O Christ, my very hart doth bleed

With sorrow for thy sake;

For sure a more redoubted knight

Mischance cold never take.

A knight among the Scotts there was

Who saw Erle Douglas dye,

Who streight in wrath did vow revenge

Upon the Lord Percy.

Sir Hugh Montgomery was he called,

Who, with a spear most bright,

Well mounted on a gallant steed,

Ran fiercely through the fight;

And past the English archers all,

Without all dread and feare;

And through Earl Percy’s body then

He thrust his hatefull speare;

With such a vehement force and might

He did his body gore,

The staff ran through the other side

A large cloth-yard or more.

So thus did both these nobles dye,

Whose courage none could staine:

An English archer then perceived

The noble erle was slaine;

He had a bow bent in his hand,

Made of a trusty tree;

An arrow of a cloth-yard long

Up to the head drew he:

Against Sir Hugh Montgomery,

So right the shaft he sett,

The grey goose-wing that was thereon,

In his hart’s blood was wett.

This fight did last from break of day

Till setting of the sun;

For when they rang the evening-bell

The battle scarce was done.

With stoute Erle Percy there was slaine

Sir John of Egerton,

Sir Robert Ratcliff, and Sir John,

Sir James that bold barron:

And with Sir George and stoute Sir James

Both knights of good account,

Good Sir Ralph Raby there was slaine,

Whose prowese did surmount.

For Witherington my hart is woe,

That ever he slain should be;

For when his legs were hewn in two

He knelt and fought on his knee.

And with Erle Douglas there was slaine

Sir Hugh Montgomery,

Sir Charles Murray, that from the field

One foot wold never flee.

Sir Charles Murray, of Ratcliff too,

His sister’s sonne was he;

Sir David Lamb, so well esteem’d,

Yet saved cold not be,

And the Lord Maxwell in like case

Did with Erle Douglas dye:

Of twenty hundred Scottish speres

Scarce fifty-five did flye.

Of fifteen hundred Englishmen,

Went home but fifty-three;

The rest were slaine in Chevy Chase,

Under the greene woode tree.

Next day did many widowes come,

Their husbands to bewayle;

They washed their wounds in brinish teares,

But all wold not prevayle.

Theyr bodyes, bathed in purple gore,

They bore with them away;

They kist them dead a thousand times,

Ere they were cladd in clay.

The newes was brought to Eddenborrow,

Where Scotland’s king did raigne,

That brave Erle Douglas suddenlye

Was with an arrow slaine.

O heavy newes, King James did say,

Scotland may witness be,

I have not any captain more

Of such account as he.

Like tydings to King Henry came,

Within as short a space,

That Percy of Northumberland

Was slaine in Chevy Chase:

Now God be with him, said the king,

Sith it will noe better be;

I trust I have within my realme,

Five hundred as good as he.

Yet shall not Scotts nor Scotland say,

But I will vengeance take;

Ile be revenged on them all

For brave Erle Percy’s sake.

This vow full well the king performed

After at Humbledowne;

In one day fifty knights were slaine,

With lords of great renowne;

And of the rest of small account,

Did many thousands dye:

Thus ended the hunting of Chevy Chase

Made by the Erle Percy.

God save our king, and bless this land

With plentye, joy, and peace;

And grant henceforth that foule debate

‘Twixt noblemen may cease.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32