The Ballad: The Battle of Bothwell Bridge

The Battle of Bothwell-Bridge
“O billie, billie, bonny billie,
   Will ye go to the wood wi’ me?
We’ll ca’ our horse hame masterless,
   An’ gar them trow slain men are we.”

“O no, O no!” says Earlstoun,
   “For that’s the thing that mauna’ be;
For I am sworn to Bothwell Hill,
   Where I maun either gae or die.”

So Earlstoun rose in the morning,
   An’ mounted by the break o’ day;
An’ he has join’d our Scottish lads,
   As they were marching out the way.

“Now, farewell father, and farewell mother,
   An’ fare ye weel my sisters three;
An’ fare ye well my Earlstoun,
   For thee again I’ll never see!”

So they’re awa’ to Bothwell Hill,
   An waly they rode bonnily!
When the duke o’ Monmouth saw them comin,
   He went to view their company.

“Ye’re welcome, lads,” then Monmouth said,
   “Ye’re welcome, brave Scots lads, to me;
And sae are ye, brave Earlstoun,
   The foremost o’ your company!

“But yield your weapons ane an’ a,
   O yield your weapons, lads, to me;
For, gin ye’ll yield your weapons up,
   Ye’se a’ gae hame to your country.”

Out up then spak a Lennox lad,
   And waly but he spak bonnily!
“I winna yield my weapons up,
   To you nor nae man that I see.”

Then he set up the flag o’ red,
   A’ set about wi’ bonny blue;
“Since ye’ll no cease, and be at peace,
   See that ye stand by ither true.”

They stell’d their cannons on the height,
   And showr’d their shot down in the how;
An’ beat our Scots lads even down,
   Thick they lay slain on every know.

As e’er you saw the rain down fa’,
   Or yet the arrow frae the bow;
Sae our Scottish lads fell even down,
   An’ they lay slain on every know.

“O, hold your hand,” then Monmouth cry’d,
   “Gie quarters to yon men for me!”
But wicked Claverhouse swore an oath,
   His cornet’s death reveng’d sud be.

“O hold your hand,” then Monmouth cry’d,
   “If ony thing you’ll do for me;
Hold up your hand, you cursed Græme,
   Else a rebel to our king ye’ll be.”

Then wicked Claverhouse turn’d about,
   I wot an angry man was he;
And he has lifted up his hat,
   And cry’d, “God bless his majesty!”

Then he’s awa to London town,
   Ay e’en as fast as he can dree;
Fause witnesses he has wi’ him ta’en,
   An’ ta’en Monmouth’s head frae his body.

Alang the brae beyond the brig,
   Mony brave man lies cauld and still;
But lang we’ll mind, and sair we’ll rue,
   The bloody battle of Bothwell-hill.


Notes for The Battle of Bothwell-Bridge

There are several levels of information contained within language used in traditional ballads. Much is that of the narrative, but there may be other important points of information which can refer to cultural or historic practices, or may refer to the emotional condition of the characters.

Literal statements may actually indicate a different action, which cannot fully presented due to the constraints of ballad language and the invasive nature a full description would have on the actual narrative of the story within the ballad.

Developed euphemisms may be used to indicate but not state a more visceral event than that which seems to be referred to. In the Minstrelsy, Scott seems to have resorted to at least one of these, and may have invented it.

Sometimes, such information may be presented through the use of supranarrative functions, which operate as an effective shorthand code, implying actions, emotions or the likelihood of a certain outcome, which would not be easily described concisely or within the bounds of a ballad’s verses.

Several forms of these language structures, formulas and formulaic language have been developed within the tradition, in order to contain a full emotive response from a listener, who would often share the knowledge with the singer. To help interpret the subtleties which exist within some ballads, we have provided a list of interpretative points to help pinpoint important moments of action or response within these ballads,  or to better explain certain phrases within the narrative or the dialogue

And remember, if words ever seem confusing on the page – always try reading them aloud.


Verse 1

O billie, billie, bonny billie

This is an affectionate reference, used towards a brother or a close friend

Verse 2 


This character is a fictional parallel to Alexander Gordon of Earlston, a noted Covenanter.

Verse 3

Our Scottish lads

This line may be interpreted in one of two ways: if a stress was put on “our”, then a division of “us” and “them” is created. However, this ballad is pro-Covenanter and, as such, the use of “Scottish” may be an attempt to appropriate the Scottish nationality for the Covenanting side, implying that the enemies are not Scots (which is a fallacy)

Verse 4

An’ fare ye weel my sisters three

The inclusion of three sisters is a standard ballad construct. It should not be taken as a historic reference.

My Earlstoun

This is a reference to Earlston’s estates: due to his Covenanting sympathies, they were seized by the crown.

Verse 6 & 7


 “Ye’re welcome, lads,” then Monmouth said,

   “Ye’re welcome, brave Scots lads, to me;

And sae are ye, brave Earlstoun,

   The foremost o’ your company!


“But yield your weapons ane an’ a,

   O yield your weapons, lads, to me;

For, gin ye’ll yield your weapons up,

   Ye’se a’ gae hame to your country.”

These verses contain reference to the attempted settlement the more moderate factions among the Covenanters attempted to make with the Government force, led by Monmouth. In this ballad, although he is the enemy, Monmouth is presented sympathetically and is used as a foil for the negative character of Claverhouse.

Verse 8

Ou the spak a Lennox lad (check Cameronian links)

Verse 9

 Then he set up the flag o’ red,

   A’ set about wi’ bonny blue;

Blue was the colour favoured by the Covenanters for their banners.

Verse 10 & 11

There is no mention about the holding of the bridge for several hours by the Covenanters. The battle is presented as a near massacre.

Verse 12

Monmouth is presented as being relatively humane. Claverhouse’s retort is a reference to the events of the battle of Drumclog, represented in the ballad The Battle of Loudon Hill. John Graham of Claverhouse was reviled by the Covenanters, hence the description “wicked” being attributed to the character in the ballad. However, actions attributed to him, which afforded the feared and hated image presented by the Covenanting faction, may have more to do with the times than with any extreme views held by Claverhouse : his wife, Jean Cochrane, was from a staunch Covenanting family and their marriage in 1674 damaged his military career for a short while. A book of his letters offers some insight into his character.

Verse 14 

Claverhouse had nothing to do with the death of Monmouth. The Protestant Duke of Monmouth was executed for an attempt to depose his uncle, the Catholic James VII. His execution was a grisly and inefficient affair – it took five strikes to execute him, and it is said that a knife was finally used to remove his head from his body.

Verse 15

Given the disasterous aftermath of Bothwell-Bridge, the reflective lament of the last verse is understandable