Johnnie Armstrang

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Melody -
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Traditional border ballad

Some speak of lords, some speak of lairds,
And sic like men of high degree;
Of a gentleman I sing a sang,
Some time call'd Laird of Gilnockie.

2. The king he writes a loving letter,
With his ain hand sae tenderlie,
And he hath sent it to Johnnie Armstrang,
To come and speak with him speedilie.

3. The Elliots and Armstrangs did convene,
They were a gallant companie:
"We'll ride and meet our lawful king,
And bring him safe to Gilnockie.

4. "Make kinnen and capon ready, then,
And venison in great plentie;
We'll welcome here our royal king;
I hope he'll dine at Gilnockie!"

5. They ran their horse on the Langholm howm,
And brake their spears with meikle main;
The ladies lookit frae their loft windows
"God bring our men weel hame again!"

6. When Johnnie came before the king,
With all his men sae brave to see,
The king he moved his bonnet to him;
He ween'd he was a king as well as he.

7. "May I find grace, my sovereign liege,
Grace for my loyal men and me?
For my name it is Johnnie Armstrang,
And a subject of yours, my liege," said he.

8. "Away, away, thou traitor strang!
Out of my sight soon may'st thou be!
I granted never a traitor's life,
And now I'll not begin with thee."

9. "Grant me my life, my liege, my king!
And a bonnie gift I'll gi'e to thee;
Full four-and-twenty milk-white steeds,
Were all foal'd in ae year to me.

10. "I'll gi'e thee all these milk-white steeds,
That prance and nicher at a spear;
And as meikle gude Inglish gilt,
As four of their braid backs dow bear."

11. "Away, away, thou traitor strang!
Out of my sight soon may'st thou be!
I granted never a traitor's life,
And now I'll not begin with thee."

12. "Grant me my life, my liege, my king!
And a bonnie gift I'll gi'e to thee:
Gude four-and-twenty ganging mills,
That gang thro' all the year to me.

13. "These four-and-twenty mills complete,
Shall gang for thee thro' all the year;
And as meikle of gude red wheat,
As all their happers dow to bear."

14. "Away, away, thou traitor strang!
Out of my sight soon may'st thou be!
I granted never a traitor's life,
And now I'll not begin with thee."

15. "Grant me my life, my liege, my king!
And a great gift I'll gi'e to thee:
Bauld four-and-twenty sisters' sons
Shall for thee fecht, tho' all shou'd flee."

16. "Away, away, thou traitor strang!
Out of my sight soon may'st thou be!
I granted never a traitor's life,
And now I'll not begin with thee."

17. "Grant me my life, my liege, my king!
And a brave gift I'll gi'e to thee:
All between here and Newcastle town
Shall pay their yearly rent to thee."

18. "Away, away, thou traitor strang!
Out of my sight soon may'st thou be!
I granted never a traitor's life,
And now I'll not begin with thee."

19. "Ye lied, ye lied, now, king," he says,
"Altho' a king and prince ye be!
For I've loved naething in my life,
I weel dare say it, but honestie.

20. "Save a fat horse, and a fair woman,
Twa bonnie dogs to kill a deer;
But England shou'd have found me meal and mault,
Gif I had lived this hundred year.

21. "She shou'd have found me meal and mault,
And beef and mutton in all plentie;
But never a Scots wife cou'd have said,
That e'er I skaith'd her a puir flee.

22. "To seek het water beneath cauld ice,
Surely it is a great follie:
I have ask'd grace at a graceless face,
But there is nane for my men and me.

23. "But had I kenn'd, ere I came frae hame,
How unkind thou wou'dst been to me,
I wou'd ha'e keepit the Border side,
In spite of all thy force and thee.

24. "Wist England's king that I was ta'en,
Oh, gin a blythe man he wou'd be!
For ance I slew his sister's son,
And on his breast-bane brak a tree."

25. John wore a girdle about his middle,
Embroider'd o'er with burning gold,
Bespangled with the same metal,
Maist beautiful was to behold.

26. There hang nine targats at Johnnie's hat,
An ilk ane worth three hundred pound:
"What wants that knave that a king shou'd have,
But the sword of honour and the crown?

27. "Oh, where got thee these targats, Johnnie.
That blink sae brawly aboon thy brie?"
"I gat them in the field fechting,
Where, cruel king, thou durst not be.

28. "Had I my horse and harness gude,
And riding as I wont to be,
It shou'd have been tauld this hundred year,
The meeting of my king and me!

29. "God be with thee, Kirsty, my brother,
Lang live thou laird of Mangertoun!
Lang may'st thou live on the Border side,
Ere thou see thy brother ride up and down!

30. "And God he with thee, Kirsty, my son,
Where thou sits on thy nurse's knee!
But an thou live this hundred year,
Thy father's better thou'lt never be.

31. "Farewell, my bonnie Gilnock hall,
Where on Esk side thou standest stout!
Gif I had lived but seven years mair,
I wou'd ha'e gilt thee round about."

32. John murder'd was at Carlinrigg,
And all his gallant companie;
But Scotland's heart was ne'er sae wae,
To see sae mony brave men die;

33. Because they saved their country dear
Frae Englishmen! Nane were sae bauld
While Johnnie lived on the Border side,
Nane of them durst come near his hauld.


Armstrang of Gilnockie was a brother of the laird of Mangertoun. He had a kind of Robin Hood reputation on the Scottish Border, as one who only robbed the English. Pitscottie's account of his slaying by James V. (1529) reads as if the ballad were his authority, and an air for the subject is mentioned in the COMPLAINT OF SCOTLAND. In Sir Herbert Maxwell's HISTORY OF DUMFRIES AND GALLOWAY is an excellent account of the historical facts of the case. - A Collection of Ballads by Andrew Lang.

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