Jock o’ the Side


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“Jock o’ the Side”  appeared in the Minstrelsy from the 1st edition in 1802, and appears in all the editions covered by this project. It is the 11th ballad in the 1802 edition. In his prefatory notes to this ballad, Scott includes a statement regarding the editorial stance he took regarding the three Armstrong rescue ballads, namely “Jock of the Side”, “Kinmont Willie” and “Archie o’ Cawfield”: “As, however, there are several verses which in recitation are common to all these three songs, the Editor, to prevent unnecessary and disagreeable repetition, has used the freedom of appropriating them to that in which they seem to have the best poetic effect.” (MSB 1802 i 154). It should be noted, however, that the Minstrelsy version closely follows that which was published in Caw's Poetical Museum of 1784, although Scott omits the final verse and the refrains.


This ballad shares several characteristics with both “Kinmont Willie” and “Archie o’ Cawfield”. However, apart from the rescue, none share all characteristics. Like “Archie o’ Cawfield”, the rescuers in “Jock o’ the Side” ride easily through the water while riding to their goal, but  are faced with water in spate on the return. The Armstrong rescuers are instructed to conceal the armour and not to appear liked armed riders. Similarly, some of the 40 riders in “Kinmont Willie” disguise themselves, presumably to conceal the numbers involved in the rescue party. Both of these rescuers bring a means to scale the walls, but while those in “Kinmont Willie” have ladders which allow access to the castle, the “tree” used in “Jock o’ the Side” is too short and has to be  abandoned and access to Newcastle is gained by forcing their way in. In “Archie o’ Cawfield”, the town is accessed directly and only the tolbooth gate requires forcing.

The main difference in “Jock o’ the Side” is that the porter at Newcastle is killed: the character of Buccleuch, in “Kinmont Willie”, is adamant that no man will be killed and there is no mention at all of any enemy opposition in “Archie o’ Cawfield” apart from the pursuers.


History and Speculative Incidents

Unlike the events celebrated in “Kinmont Willie”, there is no specific incident which “Jock o’ the Side” has been traditionally associated with. However, there are several incidents, many decades apart but both notorious at the respective time, which may have fed into the presentation of the ballad.

The three ballads “Kinmont Willie”, “Jock o’ the Side” and “Archie o’ Ca’field” all contain two water crossings. The initial crossing is without incident, but the return crossing is fraught, as the water has risen and is in spate in all three versions.
While this convention occurs more notably in “Clyde’s Waters”, there is an incident referred to in letters of 1528, which involved a group referred to as “outlaws” (28 Jan.R. O. St. P. IV. 486), which included Will Charlton, Harry (or James) Noble, Roger Armstrong and Archibald Dodd. On the 20th/21st of January 1528, they had been riding, robbing “dyverse persons and taken a preste awaye with them presoner”, but had been pursued by the constable of Langley, one Thomas Erryngton. While Noble and Charlton were killed during the pursuit, Armstrong and Dodd were taken , condemned for March Treason at a Warden court on the 27th of the month and hanged in chains – Armstrong at Newcastle and Dodd at Alnwick. The Earl of Northumberland states that these places of execution were specifically chosen: Armstrong “for the outrageous crymes … comyted and done aboute Newcastell” (Hodgson p. 379) and Dodd “at Alnwike, where he had most offended” (Hodgson p. 379). Letters between the Earl of Northumberland, Cardinal Wolsey and Henry VIII pertaining to this incident can be found John Hodgson's History of Northumberland and extracts may be found here.

The reason why the outlaws were captured was the state of the Tyne, as noted in Northumberland’s letter to Cardinal Wolsey:

The water of Tyne was that nyght one great flode, so that the theves couth not passe the same at no fordes; but were dryven of necessite to a brygge within a lordship of mine called Adom-brigge, which by my comaundment was barred, chayned and lokked faste, so that the said theves couthe not passe with theire horses over the same; but were constrayned to leve theire horses behynde theyme and to flee away a foote” (p. 379).

The whole incident, noted Northumberland, created no little unrest – “the said conflicte and overthrawe of the said theves spredde abroad in the countrey, and also the noyse and spech of the countrey, that if the erle of Angwyshe wold not deliver unto me the kynge’s rebellious prsioners, syded and assisted in Scotland, that I would invade Nedesdale [? Ledisdale] where they were kept, and destroy and burn all the howses and holdes there” (Hodgson 379-80). Satisfaction was achieved, as the rest of the gang gave themselves up – how willingly we will never know – to Northumberland.


The other incidents which may be related to the narrative, concern Armstrongs, and both refer to events which include Whitfields. The name Whitfield is  assigned to the victim mentioned in the first verse of the ballad in the Percy MS version, although Furnivall noted that the first i may have been a t. Other variants of the name include Windfield and Wingfield, as well as the Winfield of the Minstrelsy.

In 1597, Sir William Bowes wrote to Robert Cecil regarding the recurrent problem of Liddesdale:

Some of the principal Ellots and Armstrongs, breaking their faith to Buccleuch formerly to enter as pledges, have stirred up in him an earnest desire of revenge, besides recovery of his liberty by regaining these pledges. Finding this disposition in him before my last going to Scotland, and hearing from time to time of the outrages in the Queen's people “by these wretches – namely, the killinge of Mr Whitfeilde, and then instantly foure within my brothers office of Tyndale, I caused a platt to be sett betweene Baclugh and my said brother, to tame these outlawes, that Baclughe should restrayne all his freinds, and suffer our men to scourge the rest.” Though this purpose was discovered by some Scottish thieves coming into England to steal that night, yet the Ellots and Armstrongs were “so proude, and contemninge poore decayed Tyndale,” that though they rose to the fray, they removed not their goods, and my brother took 200 of their cattle, “and slewe three, whereof the principall killer of Mr Whitfeild was one.” (CBP II p. 514).

The Whytfield referred to by Bowes was Nicholas Whytfield, the bailiff of Hexham.

The second of the incidents involves the Whithaugh Armstrongs and  took place in 1599. A letter drafted by the friends and family of the English participants of a fray set out their version of events:

Upon Sunday 13th May Mr Rydley and his friends hearing that certain Scotsmen to the number of 12 were to come to a tryst in the West March of England, he having friends “murdered downe bye the  sayd Scotes men,” took his friends and men with him to the number of 40, and thought to apprehend them on English ground. But the Scots having intelligence of his design, came 200 strong and more, 3 or 4 miles into England, “and ther did most crewelly murder Mr William Rydley of Willimontswyk, with two other of his frendes, and wounding John Whitfeild hir Majestes officer soe grevously, which we think it is unpossable he should leave” (CBP II 604).

On May 18th of that year, Henry Woodrington wrote to Sir Robert Carey regarding this:

 Mr Rydley knowing the continual haunt and receipt of the great thieves and arch murderers of Scotland, especially them of Whythaugh, had with the Captain of Bewcastle, went about by some means to catch them in English ground, to avoid offence by entering Scotland: and hearing that there was “a football playing and after that a drynking hard at Bewcastle house” betwixt 6 of those Armstrongs and 6 of Bewcastle, he assembled his friends and lay in wait for them. But the Scots having secret intelligence, suddenly came on them and have cut Mr Rydley and Mr Nychol Welton’s throats, slain one Robson tenat of her Majesty’s, and taken 30 prsioners, mostly her tenants except Francis Whyfield – and  many sore hurt, especially John Whytfeild “whose bowells came out but are sowed up agayne, and is thought shall hardly escape, but as yet lyveth.” (CBP II p. 605).

Woodrington names Simon Armstrong of Whithaugh is named as the murderer of Rydley in this letter, which must have further complicated the issue – this Simon Armstrong was the son in law to Thomas Musgrave, Captain of Bewcastle, married on a bastard daughter, but who lived in Musgrave’s house.

It should also be noted that Woodrington presents William Ridley and Nichol Weldon /  Welton in a positive light: he refers to them both as “Mr.”, and while their social situation may allow for this, another aspect to their characters is presented in a letter of 1597 from Ralph Eure to Burghley, which states that “Nicholas Weldon of Weldon gentleman, is a most notorious thief, murderer, &c., yet is received in the Middle Marches, and rides in company with William Fenwick, keeper of Tindale … William Ridley called “Black Will”, the like, and we find that though a fugitive, he returned and took a dwelling in Tindale under the charge of the said lord warden and keeper” (CBP II p. 338).

This is an interesting incident, when it is taken in conjunction with the “Jock o’ the Side” text. There are suggestions that this may be the incident referred to, but there are several points which must be considered. The name of the victim is Whitfield in the Percy MS version, although it is Winfield / Wingfield in Caw’s version – which is Scott’s source – and other versions is Percy Papers, all of which are contained in Child’s  The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. Both of these incidents give a potential time-frame – between 1597 and 1599. Taking the other ballad characters, which have historical parallels, it may be interesting to view them within the same timescale.

While none of these incidents themselves provide a full event regarding the ballad’s narrative – which does seem to be an interpretation of the rescue of William Armstrong of Kinmont – the local reaction to the events may have helped to eventually  impress them upon the narrative of one ballad, to provide a more satisfactory ending that having an Armstrong hanging in chains in Newcastle.


The Characters

There are no individuals, whom the ballad characters can be directly associated with. However, the names which appear in the ballad are notorious riding names.


Jock o’ the Side

There are several references to men with the identifier “Side” or “Syde” in extant documents. A “list of principal offenders”, which can be dated around 1552, included in Bell’s MS and reproduced in Nicolson and Burn’s The Historyand Antiquities of the Counties of Westmorland and Cumberland includes “John of the Side (Gleed John)” (Nicolson and Burn I p. lxxxii). R B Armstrong includes references to a “John Armstrong of the Syde” riding in the early 1560s (History of Liddesdale &c. Appendix, pp. Ciii, civ. Nos lxv and lxvi)., and as late as 1601, another reference may be found in a letter written for Richard Lowther, the English West March Deputy Warden:

The names of the outlaws under the Laird of Buccleuch’s charge, which his majesty has commanded to be given up to Lord Scrope and Sir Robert Carey and their deputies: as neither Buccleuch nor his deputies will be answerable for them – viz.

LIDDESDALE : —Andrew Armstrong, of Whithaugh, Francis and John Armstrongs his brothers: all three, sons to the “auld laird of Whithaughe.” Sym Armstrong of the Rone, Archie and Sandy Armstrongs his brothers, all three ” are sons to Sym of Whithaughe.” Archie Armstrong called “whitehead,” John and Sym Armstrongs his brothers, Alexander's Archie and his brother, ” all these are of the house of Whithaughe.” Sym Armstrang of Caffield,  Thom Rannik his man, Androw Tayler, John of the Whisgills, John Hill, “the Lordis Geordie,” John of the Syde, Symis Archie. Robert Scott of Hayning. (CBP II 743)

It should be noted that Haining was a warden deputy. This entry is interesting, as there is also mention of the “Caffield” Armstrongs, and a related ballad to “Jock o' the Side” is “Archie o' Ca'field”


Mangerton Tower (remains)Mangerton  Tower was a stronghold of one of the main branches of the Armstrong family and the seat of the laird of that faction.

The character of the Laird of Mangerton also appears in “Johnie Armstrong”, but if this ballad is related to the historically documented events where Whitfields were attacked and killed by Armstrong factions, then this would be a much later Armstrong laird, most probably Simon Armstrong. However, this may have created confusion with singers or collectors, as at that time, the Laird of Whithaugh was also called Simon.

If the timescale is widenened to accommodate references to other notable Armstrongs, in the years between c. 1552 and 1601, there were three lairds of Mangerton: Archibald, the 8th Laird, Simon , the 9th laird and Archibald the 10th Laird, but none can be directly associated with any of the incidents which may have influenced the presentation of the narrative of this ballad.


Hobbie Noble

One of the main characters, Hobbie Noble, has provided no little speculation over the years.  It should be noted here that Scott is most probably in error in assigning the name “Halbert” to the character. “Hobie”, “Hobbie” or “Hob” is a familair contraction of “Robert”, and it appears regularly in the letters and lists published in the Calendar of Border Papers.

One Hobbe Noble is listed in Thomas Musgrave’s missive of 1583, as living “hard by the howse of Bewcastell” (CBP II p. 124), and Musgrave goes on to list a number of men, many of them of the name Noble, who “all dwell within the demayne of Bewcastell.” (CBP I p. 124).

On 1st March 1596, in declaration discussing the cessation of certain feuds, John Forster notes that the Nobles are “lawfull and leige subjectes of Scotland” (CBP II p. 111). However, in a jury verdict dated 30 April 1597, the Nobles are listed among “notorious felons” among the English Borderers (CBP II p. 312).

Cross-border alliances were frequent enough, especially among the Armstrongs, and we should bear in mind that in the late 1590s, there was no little concern over the Captain of  Bewcastle’s association with the Armstrongs, most notably those of Whithaugh (see below).

What remains constant in the three ballads which are connected – “Kinmont Willie”, “Jock o' the Side” and “Archie o' Ca'field” – is that one of  the characters who effects the rescue of the victim is not related to the him: it is Red Rowan in “Kinmont Willie”, Hobbie Noble in “Jock o' the Side” and Jock(ie) Hall in  “Archie o' Ca'field”.

This character also appears in the emponymous ballad “Hobbie Noble”, which operates somewhat as a sequel to “Jock o’ the Side”.


The Laird’s Jock

The Laird’s Jock is  cited in “Sir Richard Maitland’s Complaynt Aganis the Thievis of Liddesdail”, which Scott includes as Appendix II in the 1802 edition:

Thay spuilye puir men of their pakis,
Thay leif them nocht on bed nor bakis;
Baith hen and cok,
With reil and rok,
The Lairdis Jok
All with him takis.

Maitland's poem is thought to date from the 1560s.  A rider with the name The Laird’s Jock is also mentioned in Thomas Musgrave’s missive to Lord Burghley, which states that he lives “under Denyshill besides Kyrsope in Denisborne” (CBP I  121), and the location is noted on the “platt” created for Lord Burghley in 1590, lying on the Tinisburne. A character with this to-name also appears in “Dick o’ the Cow”.

The Laird’s Wat

R. B. Armstrong noted, as cited by Child, “I do not say there never was a Laird’s Wat, but I do not recollect having met with an Armstrong called Walter during the 16th century” (Child III p. 554, footnote to ballad no. 187). There are certainly no Wat, Wattie or Walter Armstrongs listed in the Calendar of Border Papers, and it does not seem to be a name the Armstrongs favoured. The character exists as a foil for the bravery of the other characters.


Image attribution:

Mangerton Tower – © Copyright Walter Baxter and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

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