The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, by Walter Scott

Johnie Armstrang.

There will be such frequent occasion, in the course of this volume, to mention the clan, or sept, of the Armstrongs, that the editor finds it necessary to prefix, to this ballad, some general account of that tribe.

The Armstrongs appear to have been, at an early period, in possession of great part of Liddesdale, and of the Debateable Land. Their immediate neighbourhood to England, rendered them the most lawless of the Border depredators; and, as much of the country possessed by them was claimed by both kingdoms, the inhabitants, protected from justice by the one nation, in opposition to the other, securely preyed upon both.111 The chief was Armstrong of Mangertoun; but, at a later period, they are declared a broken clan, i.e. one which had no lawful head, to become surety for their good behaviour. The rapacity of this clan, and of their allies, the Elliots, occasioned the popular saying, “Elliots and Armstrongs ride thieves all.”— But to what Border-family of note, in former days, would not such an adage have been equally applicable? All along the river Liddel may still be discovered the ruins of towers, possessed by this numerous clan. They did not, however, entirely trust to these fastnesses; but, when attacked by a superior force, abandoned entirely their dwellings, and retired into morasses, accessible by paths known to themselves alone. One of their most noted places of refuge was the Tarras Moss, a desolate and horrible marsh, through which a small river takes its course. Upon its banks are found some dry spots, which were occupied by these outlaws, and their families, in cases of emergency. The stream runs furiously among huge rocks, which has occasioned a popular saying —

Was ne’er are drown’d in Tarras, nor yet in doubt,

For e’er the head can win down, the harns (brains) are out.

The morass itself is so deep, that, according to an old historian, two spears tied together would not reach the bottom. In this retreat, the Armstrongs, anno 1588, baffled the Earl of Angus, when lieutenant on the Border, although he reckoned himself so skilful in winding a thief, that he declared, “he had the same pleasure in it, as others in a hunting a hare.” On this occasion he was totally unsuccessful, and nearly lost his relation, Douglas of Ively, whom the freebooters made prisoner. —Godscroft Vol. II. p. 411.

111 In illustration of this position, the reader is referred to a long correspondence betwixt Lord Dacre and the Privy Council of England, in 1550, concerning one Sandye Armstrang, a partizan of England, and an inhabitant of the Debateable Land, who had threatened to become a Scottishman, if he was not protected by the English warden against the Lord Maxwell. — See Introduction to Nicholson and Burn’s History of Cumberland and Westmoreland.]

Upon another occasion the Armstrongs were less fortunate. They had, in one of their incursions, plundered the town of Haltwhistle, on the borders of Cumberland. Sir Robert Carey, warden of the west marches, demanded satisfaction from the king of Scotland, and received for answer, that the offenders were no subjects of his, and that he might take his own revenge. The English warden, accordingly entered Llddesdale, and ravaged the lands of the outlaws; on which occasion, Sim of the Cat-hill (an Armstrong) was killed by one of the Ridleys of Haltwhistle. This incident procured Haltwhistle another visit from the Armstrongs, in which they burnt great part of the town, but not without losing one of their leaders, by a shot from a window.

“The death of this young man (says Sir Robert Carey) wrote (wrought) so deep an impression upon them (the outlaws), as many vowes were made, that, before the end of next winter, they would lay the whole Border waste. This (the murder) was done about the end of May (1598). The chiefe of all these outlaws was old Sim of Whittram.112 He had five or six sonnes, as able men as the Borders had. This old man and his sonnes had not so few as two hundred at their commands, that were ever ready to ride with them to all actions, at their beck.

112 Whittram is a place in Liddesdale. It is mistaken by the noble editor for Whithern, in Galloway, as is Hartwesel (Haltwhistle, on the borders of Cumberland) for Twisel, a village on the English side of the Tweed, near Wark.]

The high parts of the marsh (march) towards Scotland were put in a mighty fear, and the chiefe of them, for themselves and the rest, petitioned to mee, and did assure mee, that, unless I did take some course with them, by the end of that summer, there was none of the inhabitants durst, or would, stay in their dwellings the next winter, but they would fley the countrey, and leave their houses and lands to the fury of the outlawes. Upon this complaint, I called the gentlemen of the countrey together, and acquainted them with the misery that the highest parts of the marsh towards Scotland were likely to endure, if there were not timely prevention to avoid it, and desired them to give mee their best advice what course were fitt to be taken. They all showed themselves willing to give mee their best counsailles, and most of them were of opinion, that I was not well advised to refuse the hundred horse that my Lord Euers had; and that now my best way was speedily to acquaint the quene and counsaile with the necessity of having more soldiers, and that there could not be less than a hundred horse sent downe for the defence of the countrey, besides the forty I had already in pay, and that there was nothing but force of soldiers could keep them in awe: and to let the counsaile plainly understand, that the marsh, of themselves, were not able to subsist, whenever the winter and long nights came in, unlesse present cure and remedy were provided for them. I desired them to advise better of it, and to see if they could find out any other meanes to prevent their mischievous intentions, without putting the quene and countrey to any further charge. They all resolved that there was no second meanes. Then I told them my intention what I meant to do, which was, that myselfe, with my two deputies, and the forty horse that I was allowed, would, with what speede wee could, make ourselves ready to go up to the Wastes, and there wee would entrench ourselves, and lye as near as wee could to the outlawes; and, if there were any brave spirits among them, that would go with us, they should be very wellcome, and fare and lye as well as myselfe: and I did not doubte before the summer ended, to do something that should abate the pride of these outlawes. Those, that were unwilling to hazard themselves, liked not this motion. They said, that, in so doing, I might keep the countrey quiet the time I lay there; but, when the winter approached, I could stay there no longer, and that was the theeves’ time to do all their mischiefe. But there were divers young gentlemen, that offered to go with mee, some with three, some with four horses, and to stay with mee as long as I would there continue. I took a list of those that offered to go with mee, and found, that, with myself, my officers, the gentlemen, and our servants, wee should be about two hundred good men and horse; a competent number, as I thought, for such a service.

The day and place was appointed for our meeting in the Wastes, and, by the help of the foot of Liddisdale113 and Risdale, wee had soone built a pretty fort, and within it wee had all cabines made to lye in, and every one brought beds or matresses to lye on. There wee stayed, from the middest of June, till almost the end of August. We were betweene fifty and sixty gentlemen, besides their servants and my horsemen; so that wee were not so few as two hundred horse. Wee wanted no provisions for ourselves nor our horses, for the countrey people were well payed for any thing they brought us; so that wee had a good market every day, before our fort, to buy what we lacked. The chiefe outlawes, at our coming, fled their houses where they dwelt, and betooke themselves to a large and great forest (with all their goodes), which was called the Tarras. It was of that strength, and so surrounded with bogges and marish grounds, and thicke bushes and shrubbes, as they feared not the force nor power of England nor Scotland, so long as they were there. They sent me word, that I was like the first puffe of a haggasse,114 hottest at the first, and bade me stay there as long as the weather would give me leave. They would stay in the Tarras Wood till I was weary of lying in the Waste; and when I had had my time, and they no whit the worse, they would play their parts, which should keep mee waking the next winter. Those gentlemen of the countrey that came not with mee, were of the same minde; for they knew (or thought at least), that my force was not sufficient to withstand the furey of the outlawes. The time I stayed at the fort I was not idle, but cast, by all meanes I could, how to take them in the great strength they were in. I found a meanes to send a hundred and fifty horsemen into Scotland (conveighed by a muffled man,115 not known to any of the company), thirty miles within Scotland, and the businesse was carried so, that none in the countrey tooke any alarm at this passage. They were quietly brought to the back-side of the Tarras, to Scotland-ward. There they divided themselves into three parts, and tooke up three passages which the outlawes made themselves secure of, if from England side they should at any time be put at.

113 The foot of Liddisdale were the garrison of King James, in the castle of Hermitage, who assisted Carey on this occasion, as the Armstrongs were outlaws to both nations.]

114 A haggis, (according to Burns, “the chieftain of the pudding-race,”) is an olio, composed of the liver, heart, &c. of a sheep, minced down with oatmeal, onions, and spices, and boiled in the stomach of the animal, by way of bag. When the bag is cut, the contents, (if this savoury dish be well made) should spout out with the heated air. This will explain the allusion.]

115 A Muffled Man means a person in disguise; a very necessary precaution for the guide’s safety; for, could the outlaws have learned who played them this trick, beyond all doubt it must have cost him dear.]

They had their scoutes on the tops of hills, on the English side, to give them warning if at any time any power of men should come to surprise them. The three ambushes were safely laid, without being discovered, and, about four o’clock in the morning, there were three hundred horse, and a thousand foote,116 that came directly to the place where the scoutes lay. They gave the alarm; our men brake down as fast as they could into the wood. The outlawes thought themselves safe, assuring themselves at any time to escape; but they were so strongly set upon, on the English side, as they were forced to leave their goodes, and betake themselves to their passages towards Scotland. There was presently five taken of the principall of them. The rest, seeing themselves, as they thought, betrayed, retired into the thicke woodes and bogges,117 that our men durst not follow them for fear of loosing themselves. The principall of the five, that were taken, were two of the eldest sonnes of Sim of Whitram. These five they brought to mee to the fort, and a number of goodes, both of sheep and kine, which satisfied most part of the countrey, that they had stolen them from.

116 From this it would appear, that Carey, although his constant attendants in his fort consisted only of 200 horse, had, upon this occasion by the assistance, probably, of the English and Scottish royal garrisons, collected a much greater force.]

117 There are now no trees in Liddesdale, except on the banks of the rivers, where they are protected from the sheep. But the stumps and fallen timber, which are every where found in the morasses, attest how well the country must have been wooded in former days.]

“The five, that were taken, were of great worth and value amongst them; insomuch, that, for their liberty, I should have what conditions I should demand or desire. First, all English prisoners were set at liberty. Then had I themselves, and most part of the gentlemen of the Scottish side, so strictly bound in bondes to enter to mee, in fifteen dayes warning, any offendour, that they durst not, for their lives, break any covenant that I made with them; and so, upon these conditions, I set them at liberty, and was never after troubled with these kind of people. Thus God blessed me in bringing this great trouble to so quiet an end; wee brake up our fort, and every man retired to his owne house.”—Carey’s Memoirs, p. 151.

The people of Liddesdale have retained, by tradition, the remembrance of Carey’s Raid, as they call it. They tell, that, while he was besieging the outlaws in the Tarras they contrived, by ways known only to themselves, to send a party into England, who plundered the warden’s lands. On their return, they sent Carey one of his own cows, telling him, that, fearing he might fall short of provision during his visit to Scotland, they had taken the precaution of sending him some English beef. The anecdote is too characteristic to be suppressed.

From this narrative, the power and strength of the Armstrongs, at this late period, appear to have been very considerable. Even upon the death of Queen Elizabeth, this clan, associated with other banditti of the west marches to the number of two or three hundred horse, entered England in a hostile manner, and extended their ravages as far as Penrith. James VI., then at Berwick, upon his journey to his new capital, detached a large force, under Sir William Selby, captain of Berwick, to bring these depredators to order. Their raid, remarkable for being the last of any note occurring in history, was avenged in an exemplary manner. Most of the strong-holds upon the Liddel were razed to the foundation, and several of the principal leaders executed at Carlisle; after which we find little mention of the Armstrongs in history. The precautions, adopted by the Earl of Dunbar, to preserve peace on the borders, bore peculiarly hard upon a body of men, long accustomed to the most ungoverned licence. They appear, in a great measure, to have fallen victims to the strictness of the new enactments. —Ridpath, p. 703. —Stow, 819. —Laing, Vol. I. The lands, possessed by them in former days, have chiefly come into the hands of the Buccleuch family, and of the Elliots; so that, with one or two exceptions, we may say, that, in the country which this warlike clan once occupied, there is hardly left a land-holder of the name. One of the last border reivers was, however, of this family, and lived within the beginning of the last century. After having made himself dreaded over the whole country, he at last came to the following end: One — a man of large property, having lost twelve cows in one night, raised the country of Tiviotdale, and traced the robbers into Liddesdale, as far as the house of this Armstrong, commonly called Willie of Westburnflat, from the place of his residence, on the banks of the Hermitage water. Fortunately for the pursuers he was then asleep; so that he was secured, along with nine of his friends, without much resistance. He was brought to trial at Selkirk; and, although no precise evidence was adduced to convict him of the special fact (the cattle never having been recovered), yet the jury brought him in guilty on his general character, or, as it is called in our law, on habite and repute. When sentence was pronounced, Willie arose; and, seizing the oaken chair in which he was placed, broke it into pieces by main strength, and offered to his companions, who were involved in the same doom, that, if they would stand behind him, he would fight his way out of Selkirk with these weapons. But they held his hands, and besought him to let them die like Christians. They were accordingly executed in form of law. This was the last trial at Selkirk. The people of Liddesdale, who (perhaps not erroneously) still consider the sentence as iniquitous, remarked, that — the prosecutor, never throve afterwards, but came to beggary and ruin, with his whole family.

Johnie Armstrong, of Gilnockie, the hero of the following ballad, is a noted personage, both in history and tradition. He was, it would seem from the ballad, a brother of the laird of Mangertoun, chief of the name. His place of residence (now a roofless tower) was at the Hollows, a few miles from Langholm, where its ruins still serve to adorn a scene, which, in natural beauty, has few equals in Scotland. At the head of a desperate band of freebooters, this Armstrong is said to have spread the terror of his name almost as far as Newcastle, and to have levied black mail, or protection and forbearance money, for many miles around. James V., of whom it was long remembered by his grateful people, that he made the “rush-bush keep the cow,” about 1529, undertook an expedition through the border counties, to suppress the turbulent spirit of the marchmen. But, before setting out upon his journey, he took the precaution of imprisoning the different border chieftains, who were the chief protectors of the marauders. The Earl of Bothwell was forfeited, and confined in Edinburgh castle. The lords of Home and Maxwell, the lairds of Buccleuch, Fairniherst, and Johnston, with many others, were also committed to ward. Cockburn of Henderland, and Adam Scott of Tushielaw, called the King of the Border, were publicly executed. —Lesley, p. 430. The king then marched rapidly forward, at the head of a flying army of ten thousand men, through Ettrick Forest, and Ewsdale. The evil genius of our Johnie Armstrong, or, as others say, the private advice of some courtiers, prompted him to present himself before James, at the head of thirty-six horse, arrayed in all the pomp of border chivalry, Pitscottie uses nearly the words of the ballad, in describing the splendour of his equipment, and his high expectations of favour from the king. “But James, looking upon him sternly, said to his attendants, ‘What wants that knave that a king should have?’ and ordered him and his followers to instant execution.”—“But John Armstrong,” continues this minute historian, “made great offers to the king. That he should sustain himself, with forty gentlemen, ever ready at his service, on their own cost, without wronging any Scottishman: Secondly, that there was not a subject in England, duke, earl, or baron, but, within a certain day, he should bring him to his majesty, either quick or dead.118 At length he, seeing no hope of favour, said very proudly, ‘It is folly to seek grace at a graceless face; but,’ said he, ‘had I known this, I should have lived upon the borders in despite of King Harry and you both; for I know King Harry would down-weigh my best horse with gold, to know that I were condemned to die this day.’—Pitscottie’s History, p. 145. Johnie, with all his retinue, was accordingly hanged upon growing trees, at a place called Carlenrig chapel, about ten miles above Hawick, on the high road to Langholm. The country people believe, that, to manifest the injustice of the execution, the trees withered away. Armstrong and his followers were buried in a deserted church-yard, where their graves are still shewn.

118 The borderers, from their habits of life, were capable of most extraordinary exploits of this nature. In the year 1511, Sir Robert Ker of Cessford, warden of the middle marches of Scotland, was murdered at a border-meeting, by the bastard Heron, Starhead, and Lilburn. The English monarch delivered up Lilburn to justice in Scotland, but Heron and Starhead escaped. The latter chose his residence in the very centre of England, to baffle the vengeance of Ker’s clan and followers. Two dependants of the deceased, called Tait, were deputed by Andrew Ker of Cessford to revenge his father’s murder. They travelled through England in various disguises till they discovered the place of Starhead’s retreat, murdered him in his bed, and brought his head in triumph to Edinburgh, where Ker caused it to be exposed at the cross. The bastard Heron would have shared the same fate, had he not spread abroad a report of his having died of the plague, and caused his funeral obsequies to be performed. —Ridpath’s History, p. 481. —See also Metrical Account of the Battle of Flodden, published by the Rev. Mr. Lambe.]

As this border hero was a person of great note in his way, he is frequently alluded to by the writers of the time. Sir David Lindsay of the Mount, in the curious play published by Mr. Pinkerton, from the Bannatyne MS., introduces a pardoner, or knavish dealer in reliques, who produces, among his holy rarities —

— The cordis, baith grit and lang,

Quhilt hangit Johnnie Armistrang,

Of gude hempt, soft and sound,

Gude haly pepill, I stand ford,

Wha’evir beis hangit in this cord,

Neidis nevir to be drowned!

Pinkerton’s Scottish Poems, Vol. II. p. 69.

In The Complaynt of Scotland, John Armistrangis’s dance, mentioned as a popular tune, has probably some reference to our hero.

The common people of the high parts of Tiviotdale, Liddesdale, and the country adjacent, hold the memory of Johnie Armstrong in very high respect. They affirm also, that one of his attendants broke through the king’s guard, and carried to Gilnockie Tower the news of the bloody catastrophe.

This song was first published by Allan Ramsay, in his Evergreen, who says, he copied it from the mouth of a gentleman, called Armstrong, who was in the sixth generation from this John. The reciter assured him, that this was the genuine old ballad; the common one false. By the common one, Ramsay means an English ballad upon the same subject, but differing in various particulars, which is published in Mr. Ritson’s English Songs, Vol. II. It is fortunate for the admirers of the old ballad, that it did not fall into Ramsay’s hands, when he was equipping with new sets of words the old Scottish tunes in his Tea–Table Miscellany. Since his time it has been often reprinted.

Johnie Armstrang

Sum speikis of lords, sum speikis of lairds,

And sick lyke men of hie degrie;

Of a gentleman I sing a sang,

Sum tyme called laird of Gilnockie.

The king he wrytes a luving letter,

With his ain hand sae tenderly,

And he hath sent it to Johnie Armstrang,

To cum and speik with him speedily.

The Eliots and Armstrangs did convene;

They were a gallant cumpanie —

“We’ll ride and meit our lawful king,

And bring him safe to Gilnockie.”

“Make kinnen119 and capon ready then,

And venison in great plentie;

We’ll wellcum here our royal king;

I hope he’ll dine at Gilnockie!”

They ran their horse on the Langhome howm,

And brak their speirs wi’ mickle main;

The ladies lukit frae their loft windows —

“God bring our men weel back agen!”

When Johnie cam before the king,

Wi’ a’ his men sae brave to see,

The king he movit his bonnet to him;

He ween’d he was a king as well as he.

“May I find grace, my sovereign liege,

Grace for my loyal men and me?

For my name it is Johnie Armstrang,

And subject of your’s, my liege,” said he.

“Away, away, thou traitor strang!

Out o’ my sight soon may’st thou be!

I grantit nevir a traitor’s life,

And now I’ll not begin wi’ thee.”

“Grant me my life, my liege, my king!

“And a bonny gift I’ll gie to thee —

“Full four and twenty milk-white steids,

“Were a’ foaled in ae yeir to me.

“I’ll gie thee a’ these milk-white steids,

“That prance and nicker120 at a speir;

“And as mickle gude Inglish gilt121,

“As four of their braid backs dow122 bear.”

“Away, away, thou traitor strang!

“Out o’ my sight soon may’st thou be!

“I grantit never a traitor’s life,

“And now I’ll not begin wi’ thee!”

“Grant me my life, my liege, my king!

“And a bonny gift I’ll gie to thee —

“Gude four and twenty ganging123 mills,

“That gang thro’ a’ the yeir to me.

“These four and twenty mills complete,

“Sall gang for thee thro’ a’ the yeir;

“And as mickle of gude reid wheit,

“As a’ their happers dow to bear.”

“Away, away, thou traitor strang!

“Out o’ my sight soon may’st thou be!

“I grantit nevir a traitor’s life,

“And now I’ll not begin wi’ thee.”

“Grant me my life, my liege, my king!

“And a great gift I’ll gie to thee —

“Bauld four and twenty sister’s sons,

“Sall for thee fecht, tho’ a’ should flee!”

“Away, away, thou traitor strang!

“Out o’ my sight soon may’st thou be!

“I grantit nevir a traitor’s life,

“And now I’ll not begin wi’ thee.”

“Grant me my life, my liege, my king!

“And a brave gift I’ll gie to thee —

“All between heir and Newcastle town

“Sall pay their yeirly rent to thee.”

“Away, away, thou traitor strang!

“Out o’ my sight soon may’st thou be!

“I grantit nevir a traitor’s life,

“And now I’ll not begin wi’ thee.”

“Ye lied124, ye lied, now king,” he says.

“Altho’ a king and prince ye be!

For I’ve luved naething in my life,

“I weel dare say it, but honesty —

“Save a fat horse,” and a fair woman,

“Twa bonny dogs to kill a deir;

“But England suld have found me meal and mault,

“Gif I had lived this hundred yeir!

“Sche suld have found me meal and mault,

“And beif and mutton in a’ plentie;

“But nevir a Scots wyfe could have said,

“That e’er I skaithed her a pure flee.

“To seik het water beneith cauld ice,

“Surely it is a greit folie —

“I have asked grace at a graceless face,

“But there is mine for my men and me!

“But, had I kenn’d ere I cam frae hame,

“How thou unkind wadst been to me!

“I wad have keepit the border side,

“In spite of al thy force and thee.

“Wist England’s king that I was ta’en,

“O gin a blythe man he wad be!

“For anes I slew his sister’s son,

“And on his breist bane brake a trie.”

John wore a girdle about his middle,

Imbroidered ower wi’ burning gold,

Bespangled wi’ the same metal;

Maist beautiful was to behold.

There hang nine targats125 at Johnie’s hat,

And ilk are worth three hundred pound —

“What wants that knave that a king suld have,

But the sword of honour and the crown!

“O whair got thou these targats, Johnie,

“That blink126 sae brawly abune thy brie?”

“I gat them in the field fechting,

“Where, cruel king, thou durst not be.

“Had I my horse, and harness gude,

“And riding as I wont to be,

“It suld have been tald this hundred yeir,

“The meeting of my king and me!

“God be with thee, Kirsty,127 my brother!

“Lang live thou laird of Mangertoun!

“Lang may’st thou live on the border syde,

“Ere thou see thy brother ride up and down!

“And God be with thee, Kirsty, my son,

“Where thou sits on thy nurse’s knee!

“But and thou live this hundred yeir,

“Thy father’s better thou’lt nevir be.

“Farewell! my bonny Gilnock hall,

“Where on Esk side thou stand est stout!

“Gif I had lived but seven yeirs mair,

“I wad hae gilt thee round about.”

John murdered was at Carlinrigg,

And all his gallant cumpanie;

But Scotland’s heart was ne’er sae wae,

To see sae mony brave men die —

Because they saved their countrey deir,

Frae Englishmen! Nane were sae bauld,

Whyle Johnie lived on the border syde,

Nane of them durst cum neir his hauld.

119 Kinnen— Rabbits.]

120 Nicker— Neigh.]

121 Gilt — Gold.]

122 Dow— Able to.]

123 Ganging— Going.]

124 Lied— Lye.]

125 Targats— Tassels.]

126 Blink sae brawly— Glance so bravely.]

127 Christopher.]

Supplement to the Ballad of Johnie Armstrang.

The editor believes, his readers will not be displeased to see a Bond of Manrent, granted by this border freebooter to the Scottish warden of the west marches, in return for the gift of a feudal casualty of certain lauds particularized. It is extracted from Syme’s Collection of Old Writings, MS. penes Dr. Robert Anderson, of Edinburgh.

Bond of Manrent.

Be it kend till all men, be thir present letters, me, Johne Armistrang, for to be bound and oblist, and be the tenor of thir present letters, and faith and trewth in my body, lelie and trewlie, bindis and oblissis me and myn airis, to are nobil and michtie lord, Robert Lord Maxwell, wardane of the west marches of Scotland, that, forasmikle as my said lord has given and grantit to me, and mine airis perpetuallie, the nonentries of all and hail the landis underwritten, that is to say, the landis of Dalbetht, Shield, Dalblane, Stapil–Gortown, Langholme, and — with their pertindis, lyand in the lordship of Eskdale, as his gift, maid to me, therupon beris in the self: and that for all the tyme of the nonentres of the samyn. Theirfor, I, the said Johne Armistrang, bindis and oblissis me and myne airis, in manrent and service to the said Robert Lord Maxwell, and his airis, for evermair, first and befor all uthirs, myne allegiance to our soverane lord, the king, allanerly except; and to be trewe, gude, and lele servant to my said lord, and be ready to do him service, baith in pece and weir, with all my kyn, friends, and servants, that I may and dowe to raise, and be and to my said lord’s airis for evermair. And sall tak his true and plane part in all maner of actions at myn outer power, and sall nouther wit, hear, nor se my said lordis skaith, lak, nor dishonestie, but we sall stop and lett the samyn, and geif we dowe not lett the samyn, we sall warn him thereof in all possible haist; and geif it happenis me, the said Johne Armistrang, or myne airis, to fail in our said service and manrent, any maner of way, to our said lord (as God forbid we do), than, and in that caiss, the gift and nonentres maid be him to us, of the said landis of Dalbetht, Schield, Dalblane, Stapil–Gortown, Langholme, and — with the pertinentis to be of no avale, force, nor effect; but the said lord and his airis to have free regress and ingress to the nonentres of the samyn, but ony pley or impediment. To the keeping and fulfilling of all and sundry the premisses, in form above writtin, I bind and obliss me and my airis foresaids, to the said lord and his airis for evermare, be the faithis treuthis in our bodies, but fraud or gile. In witness of the whilk thing, to thir letters of manrent subscrievit, with my hand at the pen, my sele is hangin, at Drumfries, the secund day of November, the yeir of God, Jaiv and XXV. yeiris.

JOHNE ARMISTRANG, with my hand

at the pen.

The lands, here mentioned, were the possessions of Armstrong himself, the investitures of which not having been regularly renewed, the feudal casualty of non-entry had been incurred by the vassal. The brother of Johnie Armstrang is said to have founded, or rather repaired, Langholm castle, before which, as mentioned in the ballad, verse 5th, they “ran their horse,” and “brake their spears,” in the exercise of border chivalry. —Account of the Parish of Langholm, apud Macfarlane’s MSS. The lands of Langholm and Staplegorton continued in Armstrong’s family; for there is, in the same MS. collection, a similar bond of manrent, granted by “Christofer Armistrang, calit Johne’s Pope,” on 24th January, 1557, to Lord Johne Lord Maxwell, and to Sir Johne Maxwell of Terreglis, knight, his tutor and governor, in return for the gift of “the males of all and haill the landis whilk are conteint in ane bond made by umquhile Johne Armistrang, my father, to umquhile Robert, Lord Maxwell, gudshore to the said Johne, now Lord Maxwell.” It would therefore appear, that the bond of manrent, granted by John Armstrong, had been the price of his release from the feudal penalty arising from his having neglected to procure a regular investiture from his superior. As Johnie only touched the pen, it appears that he could not write.

Christopher Armstrong, above-mentioned, is the person alluded to in the conclusion of the ballad —“God be with thee, Kirsty, my son.” He was the father, or grandfather, of William Armstrong, called Christie’s Will, a renowned freebooter, some of whose exploits the reader will find recorded in the third volume of this work.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/s/scott/walter/minstrelsy-of-the-scottish-border/chapter5.html

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