Monday, July 5, 2010

Johnnie Armstrang

On July 5, 1530, Johnny Armstrong the Border reiver and a number of his followers were hanged at Carlenrig, after having been tricked by King James V of Scotland into believing he wished to hunt with them.  In reality, seventeen year old  James wanted to establish his primacy over the Borders.  'Black Jok' Armstrang was know for extorting black rent as protection money from those who lived nearby.  The memory of Armstrong's hanging lives on in a ballad Walter Scott included in his "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border".  From that collection, some history, and the ballad:

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 JohnArmstrong," 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.  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.


* * * * *

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 kinnen 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 nicker at a speir;
"And as mickle gude Inglish gilt,
"As four of their braid backs dow 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 ganging 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 lied, 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 targats 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 blink 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, 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.

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