Gateway to the Classics: Historic Poems and Ballads by Rupert S. Holland
Historic Poems and Ballads by  Rupert S. Holland


T HIS is a very old English ballad, and the author of it is unknown. The title actually means the hunt or chase among the Cheviot Hills which divide England and Scotland. According to the story there had long been keen rivalry between the families of Percy, Earl of Northumberland in England, and of the Scotch Earl of Douglas. Each made continual raids into the other's territory. One day Earl Percy vowed that he would hunt for three days in the Scotch border, or Cheviot Hills, without asking leave of Douglas. He set out to do this, but as soon as the hunt begins the ballad mixes with it an account of the Battle of Otterburn, which was fought by English and Scotch in 1388 in the county of Northumberland, and which resulted in a Scotch victory.

The poem describes both the hunt and the battle, but many of the facts are incorrectly given. Earl Percy's son, Henry, known as Hotspur, killed Earl Douglas at Otterburn, although here Douglas is described as being killed by the arrow of an English archer. The English king is called Henry, and the Scotch James, but in 1388 Richard II was king of England, and Robert II king of Scotland. In return for the English defeat at Otterburn, they did, as the poem states, win a great victory over the Scotch at Humbledown in Northumberland in 1402.

Many of these old ballads contain curious mixtures of several poems, made into one years after the events described. This is a very good example of such a combination, and one of the best of the old popular narratives in rhyme.



God prosper long our noble king,

Our lives and safeties all;

A woful hunting once there did

In Chevy-Chase befall.

To drive the deer with hound and horn

Earl Percy took his way;

The child may rue that is unborn

The hunting of that day.

The stout earl of Northumberland

A vow to God did make,

His pleasure in the Scottish woods

Three summer days to take—

The chiefest harts in Chevy-Chase

To kill and bear away.

These tidings to Earl Douglas came,

In Scotland where he lay;

Who sent Earl Percy present word

He would prevent his sport.

The English earl, 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 need

To aim their shafts aright.

The gallant greyhounds swiftly ran

To chase the fallow deer;

On Monday they began to hunt

When daylight did appear;

And long before high noon they had

A hundred fat bucks slain;

Then having dined, the drovers went

To rouse the deer again.

The bowmen mustered on the hills,

Well able to endure;

And all their rear, with special care,

That day was guarded sure.

The hounds ran swiftly through the woods,

The nimble deer to take,

That with their cries the hills and dales

An echo shrill did make.

Lord Percy to the quarry went,

To view the slaughtered deer;

Quoth he," Earl Douglas promised

This day to meet me here;

"But if I thought he would not come,

No longer would I stay;"

With that a brave young gentleman

Thus to the earl did say:

"Lo, yonder doth Earl Douglas come,

His men in armor bright;

Full twenty hundred Scottish spears

All marching in our sight;

"All men of pleasant Teviotdale,

Fast by the river Tweed;"

"Then cease your sports," Earl Percy said,

"And take your bows with speed;

"And now with me, my countrymen,

Your courage forth advance;

For never was there champion yet,

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 spear."

Earl Douglas on his milk-white steed,

Most like a baron bold,

Rode foremost of his company,

Whose armor shone like gold.

"Show me," said he, "whose men you be,

That hunt so boldly here,

That, without my consent, do chase

And kill my fallow-deer."

The first man that did answer make,

Was noble Percy he—

Who said, "We list not to declare,

Nor show whose men we be:

"Yet will we spend our dearest blood

Thy chiefest harts to slay."

Then Douglas swore a solemn oath,

And thus in rage did say:

"Ere thus I will out-braved be,

One of us two shall die;

I know thee well, an earl thou art—

Lord Percy, so am I.

"But trust me, Percy, pity it were,

And great offence, to kill

Any of these our guiltless men,

For they have done no ill.

"Let you and me the battle try,

And set our men aside."

"Accursed be he," Earl Percy said,

"By whom this is denied."

Then stepped a gallant squire forth,

Witherington was his name,

Who said, "I would not have it told

To Henry, our king, for shame,

"That e'er my captain fought on foot,

And I stood looking on.

You two be earls," said Witherington,

"And I a squire alone;

"I'll do the best that do I may,

While I have power to stand;

While I have power to wield my sword,

I'll fight with heart and hand."

Our English archers bent their bows—

Their hearts were good and true;

At the first flight of arrows sent,

Full fourscore Scots they slew.

Yet stays Earl Douglas on the bent,

As chieftain stout and good;

As valiant captain, all unmoved,

The shock he firmly stood.

His host he parted had in three,

As leader ware and tried;

And soon his spearmen on their foes

Bore down on every side.

Throughout the English archery

They dealt full many a wound;

But still our valiant Englishmen

All firmly kept their ground.

And throwing straight their bows 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.

In truth, it was a grief to see

How each one chose his spear,

And how the blood out of their breasts

Did gush like water clear.

At last these two stout earls did meet;

Like captains of great might,

Like lions wode, they laid on lode,

And made a cruel fight.

They fought until they both did sweat,

With swords of tempered steel,

Until the blood, like drops of rain,

They trickling down did feel.

"Yield thee, Lord Percy," Douglas said;

"In faith I will thee bring

Where thou shalt high advanced be

By James, our Scottish king.

"Thy ransom I will freely give,

And this report of thee,

Thou art the most courageous knight

That ever I did see."

"No, Douglas," saith Earl Percy then,

"Thy proffer I do scorn;

I will not yield to any Scot

That ever yet was born."

With that there came an arrow keen

Out of an English bow,

Which struck Earl Douglas to the heart,

A deep 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 life, Earl Percy took

The dead man by the hand;

And said, "Earl Douglas, for thy life

Would I had lost my land.

"In truth, my very heart doth bleed

With sorrow for thy sake;

For sure a more redoubted knight

Mischance did never take."

A knight amongst the Scots there was

Who saw Earl Douglas die,

Who straight in wrath did vow revenge

Upon the Earl Percy.

Sir Hugh Mountgomery was he called,

Who, with a spear full bright,

Well mounted on a gallant steed,

Ran fiercely through the fight;

And past the English archers all,

Without a dread or fear;

And through Earl Percy's body then

He thrust his hateful spear;

With such vehement force and might

He did his body gore,

The staff ran through the other side

A large cloth-yard and more.

So thus did both these nobles die,

Whose courage none could stain.

An English archer then perceived

The noble earl was slain.

He had a bow bent in his hand,

Made of a trusty tree;

An arrow of a cloth-yard long

To the hard head haled he.

Against Sir Hugh Mountgomery

So right the shaft he set,

The gray goose wing that was thereon

In his heart's blood was wet.

This fight did last from break of day

Till setting of the sun:

For when they rung the evening-bell,

The battle scarce was done.

With stout Earl Percy there were slain

Sir John of Egerton,

Sir Robert Ratcliff, and Sir John,

Sir James, that bold baron.

And with Sir George and stout Sir James,

Both knights of good account,

Good Sir Ralph Raby there was slain,

Whose prowess did surmount.

For Witherington my heart is wo

That ever he slain should be,

For when his legs were hewn in two,

He knelt and fought on his knee.

And with Earl Douglas there was slain

Sir Hugh Mountgomery,

Sir Charles Murray, that from the field

One foot would never flee.

Sir Charles Murray of Ratcliff, too—

His sister's son was he;

Sir David Lamb, so well esteemed,

But saved he could not be.

And the Lord Maxwell in like case

Did with Earl Douglas die:

Of twenty hundred Scottish spears,

Scarce fifty-five did fly.

Of fifteen hundred Englishmen,

Went home but fifty-three;

The rest in Chevy-Chase were slain,

Under the greenwood tree.

Next day did many widows come,

Their husbands to bewail;

They washed their wounds in brinish tears,

But all would not prevail.

Their bodies, bathed in purple blood,

They bore with them away;

They kissed them dead a thousand times,

Ere they were clad in clay.

The news was brought to Edinburgh,

Where Scotland's king did reign,

That brave Earl Douglas suddenly

Was with an arrow slain:

\'Oh, heavy news," King James did say;

"Scotland can witness be

I have not any captain more

Of such account as he."

Like tidings to King Henry came

Within as short a space,

That Percy of Northumberland

Was slain in Chevy-Chase:

"Now God be with him," said our king,

"Since 'twill no better be;

I trust I have within my realm

Five hundred as good as he:

"Yet shall not Scots or Scotland say

But I will vengeance take:

I'll be revenged on them all,

For brave Earl Percy's sake."

This vow full well the king performed

After at Humbledown;

In one day fifty knights were slain,

With lords of high renown;

And of the best, of small account,

Did many hundreds die:

Thus endeth the hunting of Chevy-Chase,

Made by the Earl Percy.

God save the king, and bless this land,

With plenty, joy, and peace;

And grant, henceforth, that foul debate

'Twixt noblemen may cease!

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