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Johnie Armstrong was a powerful border chieftain hanged by the 17 year old Scottish King James V in 1530. Featuring one of the great speeches in balladry, this version of the ballad was collected from his family six generations after his death.

lyrics

Some speaks of lords, some speaks of lairds,
And such like men of high degree
Of a gentleman I sing a song,
John Armstrong, Laird of Gilnockie.

The king wrote Johnie a friendly letter,
With a promise of grace for his men and he,
And bid him come to Carlenrig,
To meet with him most speedily.

The Eliots and Armstrongs did convene,
They were a gallant company;
“We’ll ride and meet our lawful king,
And bring him safe to Gilnockie.

“Make rabbit and capon ready then,
And venison in all plenty;
We’ll welcome home our royal king,
I hope he’ll dine at Gilnockie.”

John wore a girdle about his middle,
Embroidered with the burning gold,
Nine costly jewels hung from his hat,
Most beautiful was he to behold.

John rode unarmed to Carlenrig,
With forty brave and loyal men.
The ladies looked from their loft-windows,
“God bring our men well back again!”

When Johnie came before the young king,
With all his men so brave to see;
The king he moved his bonnet to him,
He thought he were a king as well as he.

“May I find grace, my sovereign liege,
A grace for my loyal men and me?
For my name it is Johnie Armstrong,
I’m subject of yours, my liege,” said he.

“Where got this Johnie those costly jewels,
That blink so bonny above the brow?
What wants yon knave that a king should have,
But the sword of honour and the crown!

“I’ll hang thee for a traitor thief,
With all thy loyal company,
I granted never a traitor’s life,
And now I’ll not begin with thee.”

“Grant me my life, my liege, my king,
And a bonny gift I will give to thee;
Full four-and-twenty milk-white steeds
Were all foaled in a year to me.

“I’ll give thee all these milk-white steeds,
That prance and nicker on command
And as much of good English gold
As four of their broad backs can stand.”

“Away, away, thou traitor strong! Out of my sight thou soon shall be!
I granted never a traitor’s life, And now I’ll not begin with thee.”

“Grant me my life, my liege, my king, And a great gift I’ll give to thee;
Good four-and-twenty working mills, That go through all the year for me.

“These four-and-twenty mills complete
Shall go for thee through all the year,
And as much of good red wheat
As all their hoppers are able to bear.”

“Away, away, thou traitor thief!
Out of my sight thou soon shall be!
I granted never a traitor’s life,
And now I’ll not begin with thee.”

“Grant me my life, my liege, my king,
And a brave gift I’ll give to thee;
Bold four-and-twenty sister’s sons,
Shall for the fight, though all should flee.

“These four and twenty sisters sons,
That ride all o’er the border country
And all between here and Newcastle town,
Shall pay their yearly rent to thee.”

“Away, away, thou traitor thief!
Out of my sight thou soon shall be!
I granted never a traitor’s life,
And now I’ll not begin with thee.”

“Ye lied, ye lied, now, king,” says Johnie,
“Although a king and prince ye be,
For I loved nothing in all my life,
I dare well say it, but honesty;

“But a fat horse, and a fair woman,
Two bonny dogs to kill a deer:
But England provided my meal and malt,
If I had lived a hundred year!

“She should have found me meal and malt,
And beef and mutton in all plenty;
But never a Scots wife could have said
That ever I harmed her one poor flea.

“To seek hot water beneath cold ice
Surely it is a great folly
I have asked grace at a graceless face,
But there is none for my men and me.

“Knew England’s king that I were taken
O what a blithe man would he be!
For he would down weigh my best horse with gold,
To see me here condemned by thee.

“Had I my horse, and my harness good,
And riding as I’m wont to be,
It should have been told this hundred year
The meeting of my king and me.

“God be with thee, Thomas, my brother,
Long live thou Laird of Mangerton!
Long mayst thou live on the border-side
Ere thou see thy brother ride up and down.

“And God be with thee, Kirsty, my son,
Where thou sits on thy nurses knee!
But if thou live this hundred year
Thy father’s better thou’lt never be.

“Farewell, my bonny Gilnock hall,
Where on Esk-side thou standest stout
If I had lived but seven years more,
I would have gilded thee round about.”

Johnie was hanged at Carlinrigg,
With all his gallant company.
But Scotland’s heart was never so sad,
To see so many brave men die

Because they saved their country dear
From Englishmen; none were so bold;
While Johnie lived on the border-side,
None of them dared come near his hold.

credits

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tags: folk Chicago

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Andrew Calhoun Chicago, Illinois

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