Ballad Narrative



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Ballad Narrative

The king writes a letter to Johnie Armstrong, Laird of Gilnockie, summoning him, and the Armstrongs and Elliots gather to make the journey to meet their king. Johnie makes arrangements to entertain the king if he chooses to dine at Gilnockie. He and his men present themselves before the king and the king treats him as an equal. Johnie acknowledges the king as his sovereign and begs for mercy for his loyal men and himself.

The king, however, calls him a traitor and says he has never granted a traitor’s life and will not start now. Johnie offers the king a series of magnificent gifts if he will grant him his life but the king remains adamant. Johnie says that he obtained his wealth by raiding in England and has done no harm to Scots but adds that he can see that it is useless to beg for mercy from a merciless man. He adds that, if he had known how he would be treated, he would have remained in the Border, secure against the king’s forces, and he comments that the King of England will be pleased to hear that he has been captured. The king remarks that Johnie is dressed so sumptuously that he looks like a king and asks where Johnie got the targets in his hat. Johnnie replies that he won them in battle and says ruefully that, if he had only had the opportunity to fight, his meeting with the king would have been long remembered. Johnie blesses his brother and son and says farewell to Gilnockie.

The ballad ends by noting that Johnie and all his gallant company were murdered at Carlinrigg, the place of their execution, and that Scotland mourned the death of so many brave men who had successfully defended the Border against the English.

The Ballad Text


We have provided the word glosses that Scott provided. We have also added some other words, which may not be familiar to a modern reader or listener. The Dictionary of the Scots Language / Dictionar o the Scots Leid is an extremely useful resource for any other words which may prove challenging.

Verse 1

Sum, pron, an unspecified number of people
Sick lykeadj, the same kind, similar
Degrien, a degree in rank or social standing
Sum time, adv, sometimes, from time to time. Also as in once upon a time; once, in the past

Verse 3

Meit, v, meet, meet with

Verse 4

Caponn, originally this was a castrated cockerel, which were reared as a food source. This could refer to that or to a large chicken: either way, this would not be part of a peasant diet, especially coupled with the inclusion of venison.

Verse 5

Mickle, adj, large, much, great

Verse 6

Movitv, moved – here it has the sense of moving as in removing or doffing one’s cap.

Verse 13

Happersn, hoppers, the part of a mill which received the grain before it is ground.

A change to Scott’s glosses

In verse 26, the word “targats” is used.  Sir Walter Scott defined this as “tassells”. However,  the Dictionary of the Scots Language / Dictionar o the Scots Leid provides the definition:  “A disc or medallion of precious metal, sometimes inlaid with jewels, and worn as a pendant ornament on the hat or cap, esp. in the 16th c.” .In this case, this definition would seem to be more appropriate.