The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, by Walter Scott

Dick O’ the Cow.

This ballad, and the two which immediately follow it in the collection, were published, 1784, in the Hawick Museum, a provincial miscellany, to which they were communicated by John Elliot, Esq. of Reidheugh, a gentleman well skilled in the antiquities of the western border, and to whose friendly assistance the editor is indebted for many valuable communications.

These ballads are connected with each other, and appear to have been composed by the same author. The actors seem to have flourished, while Thomas, Lord Scroope, of Bolton, was warden of the west marches of England, and governor of Carlisle castle; which offices he acquired upon the death of his father, about 1590; and retained it till the union of the crowns.

Dick of the Cow, from the privileged insolence which he assumes, seems to have been Lord Scroope’s jester. In the preliminary dissertation, the reader will find the border custom of assuming noms de guerre particularly noticed. It is exemplified in the following ballad, where one Armstrong is called the Laird’s Jock (i.e. the laird’s son Jock), another Fair Johnie, a third Billie Willie (brother Willie), &c. The Laird’s Jock, son to the laird of Mangerton, appears, as one of the men of name in Liddesdale, in the list of border clans, 1597.

Dick of the Cow is erroneously supposed to have been the same with one Ricardus Coldall, de Plumpton, a knight and celebrated warrior, who died in 1462, as appears from his epitaph in the church of Penrith. —Nicolson’s History of Westmoreland and Cumberland, Vol. II. p. 408.

This ballad is very popular in Liddesdale; and the reciter always adds, at the conclusion, that poor Dickie’s cautious removal to Burgh under Stanemore, did not save him from the clutches of the Armstrongs; for that, having fallen into their power several years after this exploit, he was put to an inhuman death. The ballad was well known in England, so early as 1556. An allusion to it likewise occurs in Parrot’s Laquei Ridiculosi, or Springes for Woodcocks; London, 1613.

Owenus wondreth, since he came to Wales,

What the description of this isle should be,

That nere had seen but mountains, hills, and dales.

Yet would he boast, and stand on pedigree,

From Rice ap Richard, sprung from Dick a Cow,

Be cod, was right gud gentleman, looke ye now!

Epigr. 76.

Dick O’ the Cow.

Now Liddesdale has layen lang in,

There is na riding there at a’;

The horses are grown sae lither fat,

They downa stur out o’ the sta.’

Fair Johnie Armstrang to Willie did say —

“Billie, a riding we will gae;

England and us have been lang at feid;

Ablins we’ll light on some bootie.”

Then they are come on to Hutton Ha’;

They rade that proper place about;

But the laird he was the wiser man,

For he had left nae gear without.

For he had left nae gear to steal,

Except sax sheep upon a lee:

Quo’ Johnie —“I’d rather in England die,

“Ere thir sax sheep gae to Liddesdale wi’ me.”

“But how ca’ they the men we last met,

Billie, as we cam owre the know?”

“That same he is an innocent fule,

And men they call him Dick o’ the Cow,”

“That fule has three as good kye o’ his ain,

As there are in a’ Cumberland, billie,” quo he:

“Betide me life, betide me death,

These kye shall go to Liddesdale wi’ me.”

Then they have come on to the pure fule’s house,

And they hae broken his wa’s sae wide;

They have loosed out Dick o’ the Cow’s three ky,

And ta’en three co’erlets frae his wife’s bed.

Then on the morn when the day was light,

The shouts and cries rase loud and hie:

“O haud thy tongue, my wife,” he says,

“And o’ thy crying let me be!

“O had thy tongue, my wife,” he says,

“And o’ thy crying let me be;

And ay where thou hast lost ae cow,

In gude suith I shall bring thee three.”

Now Dickie’s gane to the gude Lord Scroope,

And I wat a dreirie fule was he;

“Now hand thy tongue, my fule,” he says,

“For I may not stand to jest wi’ thee.”

“Shame fa’ your jesting, my lord!” quo’ Dickie,

“For nae sic jesting grees wi’ me;

Liddesdale’s been in my house last night,

And they hae awa my three kye frae me.

“But I may nae langer in Cumberland dwell,

To be your puir fule and your leal,

Unless you gi’ me leave, my lord,

To gae to Liddesdale and steal.”

“I gie thee leave, my fule!” he says;

“Thou speakest against my honour and me,

Unless thou gie me thy trowth and thy hand,

Thou’lt steal frae nane but whae sta’ frae thee.”

“There is my trowth, and my right hand!

My head shall hang on Hairibee;

I’ll ne’er cross Carlisle sands again,

If I steal frae a man but whae sta’ frae me.”

Dickie’s ta’en leave o’ lord and master;

I wat a merry fule was he!

He’s bought a bridle and a pair of new spurs,

And pack’d them up in his breek thie.

Then Dickie’s come on to Pudding-burn house,

E’en as fast as he might drie;

Then Dickie’s come on to Pudding-burn,

Where there were thirty Armstrangs and three.

“O what’s this come o’ me now?” quo’ Dickie;

“What mickle wae is this?” quo’ he;

“For here is but ae innocent fule,

And there are thirty Armstrangs and three!”

Yet he has come up to the fair ha’ board,

Sae weil he’s become his courtesie!

“Weil may ye be, my gude Laird’s Jock!

But the deil bless a’ your cumpanie.

“I’m come to plain o’ your man, fair Johnie Armstrang

And syne o’ his billie Willie,” quo he;

“How they’ve been in my house last night,

And they hae ta’en my three kye frae me.”

“Ha!” quo’ fair Johnie Armstrang, “we will him hang.”

“Na,” quo’ Willie, “we’ll him slae.”

Then up and spak another young Armstrang,

“We’ll gie him his batts,174 and let him gae.”

But up and spak the gude Laird’s Jock,

The best falla in a’ the cumpanie:

“Sit down thy ways a little while, Dickie,

And a piece o’ thy ain cow’s hough I’ll gie ye.”

But Dickie’s heart it grew sae grit,

That the ne’er a bit o’t he dought to eat —

Then was he aware of an auld peat-house,

Where a’ the night he thought for to sleep.

Then Dickie was aware of an auld peat-house,

Where a’ the night he thought for to lye —

And a’ the prayers the pure fule prayed

Were, “I wish I had amends for my gude three kye!”

It was then the use of Pudding-burn house,

And the house of Mangerton, all hail,

Them that cam na at the first ca’,

Gat nae mair meat till the neist meal.

The lads, that hungry and weary were,

Abune the door-head they threw the key;

Dickie he took gude notice o’ that,

Says —“There will be a bootie for me.”

Then Dickie has into the stable gane,

Where there stood thirty horses and three;

He has tied them a’ wi’ St. Mary’s knot,

A’ these horses but barely three.

He has tied them a’ wi’ St. Mary’s knot,

A’ these horses but barely three;

He’s loupen on ane, ta’en another in hand,

And away as fast as he can hie.

But on the morn, when the day grew light,

The shouts and cries raise loud and hie —

“Ah! whae has done this?” quo’ the gude Laird’s Jock,

“Tell me the truth and the verity!”

“Whae has done this deed?” quo’ the gude Laird’s Jock;

“See that to me ye dinna lie!”

Dickie has been in the stable last night,

And has ta’en my brother’s horse and mine frae me.”

“Ye wad ne’er be tald,” quo’ the gude Laird’s Jock;

“Have ye not found my tales fu’ leil?

Ye ne’er wad out o’ England bide,

Till crooked, and blind, and a’ would steal.”

“But lend me thy bay,” fair Johnie can say;

“There’s nae horse loose in the stable save he;

And I’ll either fetch Dick o’ the Cow again,

Or the day is come that he shall die.”

“To lend thee my bay!” the Laird’s Jock can say,

“He’s baith worth gowd and gude monie;

Dick o’ the Cow has awa twa horse;

I wish na thou may make him three.”

He has ta’en the laird’s jack on his back,

A twa-handed sword to hang by his thie;

He has ta’en a steil cap on his head,

And gallopped on to follow Dickie.

Dickie was na a mile frae aff the town,

I wat a mile but barely three,

When he was o’erta’en by fair Johnie Armstrang,

Hand for hand, on Cannobie lee.

“Abide, abide, thou traitour thief!

The day is come that thou maun die.”

Then Dickie look’t owre his left shoulder,

Said —“Johnie, hast thou nae mae in cumpanie?

“There is a preacher in our chapell,

And a’ the live lang day teaches he:

When day is gane, and night is come,

There’s ne’er ae word I mark but three.

“The first and second is — Faith and Conscience;

The third — Ne’er let a traitour free:

But, Johnie, what faith and conscience was thine,

When thou took awa my three ky frae me?

“And when thou had ta’en awa my three ky,

Thou thought in thy heart thou wast not weil sped,

Till thou sent thy billie Willie ower the know,

To take thrie coverlets off my wife’s bed!”

Then Johnie let a speir fa’ laigh by his thie,

Thought well to hae slain the innocent, I trow;

But the powers above were mair than he,

For he ran but the puir fule’s jerkin through.

Together they ran, or ever they blan;

This was Dickie the fule and he!

Dickie could na win at him wi’ the blade o’ the sword,

But fell’d him wi’ the plummet under the e’e.

Thus Dickie has fell’d fair Johnie Armstrang,

The prettiest man in the south country ——

“Gramercy!” then can Dickie say,

“I had but twa horse, thou hast made me thrie!”

He’s ta’en the steil jack aff Johnie’s back,

The twa-handed sword that hang low by his thie;

He’s ta’en the steil cap aff his head —

“Johnie, I’ll tell my master I met wi’ thee.”

When Johnie wakened out o’ his dream,

I wat a dreirie man was he:

“And is thou gane? Now, Dickie, than

The shame and dule is left wi’ me.

“And is thou gane? Now, Dickie, than

The deil gae in thy cumpanie!

For if I should live these hundred years,

I ne’er shall fight wi’ a fule after thee.”—

Then Dickie’s come hame to the gude Lord Scroope,

E’en as fast as he might his;

“Now, Dickie, I’ll neither eat nor drink,

Till hie hanged thou shalt be.”

“The shame speed the liars, my lord!” quo’ Dickie;

“This was na the promise ye made to me!

For I’d ne’er gane to Liddesdale to steal,

Had I not got my leave frae thee.”

“But what garr’d thee steal the Laird’s Jock’s horse?

And, limmer, what garr’d ye steal him?” quo’ he;

“For lang thou mightst in Cumberland dwelt,

Ere the Laird’s Jock had stown frae thee.”

“Indeed I wat ye lied, my lord!

And e’en sae loud as I hear ye lie!

I wan the horse frae fair Johnie Armstrong,

Hand to hand, on Cannobie lee.

“There is the jack was on his back;

This twa-handed sword hang laigh by his thie,

And there’s the steil cap was on his head;

I brought a’ these tokens to let thee see.”

“If that be true thou to me tells,

(And I think thou dares na tell a lie,)

I’ll gie thee fifteen punds for the horse,

Weil tald on thy cloak lap shall be.

“I’ll gie thee are o’ my best milk ky,

To maintain thy wife and children thrie;

And that may be as gude, I think,

As ony twa o’ thine wad be.”

“The shame speed the liars, my lord!” quo’ Dickie;

“Trow ye aye to make a fule o’ me?

I’ll either hae twenty punds for the gude horse,

Or he’s gae to Mortan fair wi’ me.”

He’s gien him twenty punds for the gude horse,

A’ in goud and gude monie;

He’s gien him ane o’ his best milk ky,

To maintain his wife and children thrie.

Then Dickie’s come down thro’ Carlisle toun,

E’en as fast as he could drie;

The first o’ men that he met wi’

Was my lord’s brother, bailiff Glozenburrie.

“Weil be ye met, my gude Ralph Scroope!”

“Welcome, my brother’s fule!” quo’ he:

“Where didst thou get fair Johnie Armstrong’s horse?”

“Where did I get him? but steal him,” quo’ he.

“But wilt thou sell me the bonny horse?

And, billie, wilt thou sell him to me?” quo’ he:

“Aye; if thoul’t tell me the monie on my cloak lap:

“For there’s never ae penny I’ll trust thee.”

“I’ll gie thee ten punds for the gude horse,

Weil tald on thy cloak lap they shall be;

And I’ll gie thee ane o’ the best milk ky,

To maintain thy wife and children thrie.”

“The shame speid the liars, my lord!” quo’ Dickie;

“Trow ye ay to make a fule o’ me!

I’ll either hae twenty punds for the gude horse,

Or he’s gae to Mortan fair wi’ me.”

He’s gien him twenty punds for the gude horse,

Baith in goud and gude monie;

He’s gien him ane o’ his best milk ky,

To maintain his wife and children thrie.

Then Dickie lap a loup fu’ hie,

And I wat a loud laugh laughed he —

“I wish the neck o’ the third horse were broken,

If ony of the twa were better than he!”

Then Dickie’s come hame to his wife again;

Judge ye how the poor fule had sped!

He has gien her twa score English punds,

For the thrie auld coverlets ta’en aff her bed.

“And tak thee these twa as gude ky,

I trow, as a’ thy thrie might be;

And yet here is a white-footed nagie,

I trow he’ll carry baith thee and me.

“But I may nae langer in Cumberland bide;

The Armstrongs they would hang me hie.”

So Dickie’s ta’en leave at lord and master,

And at Burgh under Stanmuir there dwells he.

174 Gie him his batts— Dismiss him with a beating.]

Notes on Dick O’ the Cow.

Then Dickie’s come on to Pudding-burn house. — P. 205. v, 3.

This was a house of strength, held by the Armstrongs. The ruins at present form a sheep-fold, on the farm of Reidsmoss, belonging to the Duke of Buccleuch.

He has tied them a’ wi’ St. Mary’s knot. — P. 207. v. 4.

Hamstringing a horse is termed, in the border dialect, tying him with St. Mary’s Knot. Dickie used this cruel expedient to prevent a pursuit. It appears from the narration, that the horses, left unhurt, belonged to Fair Johnie Armstrang, his brother Willie, and the Laird’s Jock, of which Dickie carried off two, and left that of the Laird’s Jock, probably out of gratitude for the protection he had afforded him on his arrival.

Hand for hand, on Cannobie lee. — P. 209. v. 1.

A rising-ground on Cannobie, on the borders of Liddesdale.

Ere the Laird’s Jock had stown frae thee. — P. 211. v. 4.

The commendation of the Laird’s Jock’s honesty seems but indifferently founded; for, in July 1586, a bill was fouled against him, Dick of Dryup, and others, by the deputy of Bewcastle, at a warden-meeting, for 400 head of cattle taken in open forray from the Drysike in Bewcastle: and, in September 1587, another complaint appears at the instance of one Andrew Rutledge of the Nook, against the Laird’s Jock, and his accomplices, for 50 kine and oxen, besides furniture, to the amount of 100 merks sterling. See Bell’s MSS., as quoted in the History of Cumberland and Westmoreland. In Sir Richard Maitland’s poem against the thieves of Liddesdale, he thus commemorates the Laird’s Jock:

They spuilye puir men of thair pakis,

They leif them nocht on bed nor bakis;

Baith hen and cok,

With reil and rok,

The Lairdis Jock

All with him takis.

Those, who plundered Dick, had been bred up under an expert teacher.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:29