Chevy Chase
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Lesley Nelson-Burns

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This ballad was entered in the Stationers' Register in 1624. The title is alternatively spelled Chevy Chace. The ballad is generally thought to describe the Battle of Otterburn. Some of the verses correspond to the that battle, but not all. The Battle of Otterburn took place in 1388. At that Battle Henry Percy (Hotspur) was captured, not killed. He was killed in 1403 in an uprising against Henry IV.

According to Child another possibility is the border warfare between a Percy and a Douglas in 1435 or 1436. Henry Percy of Northumberland made a raid into Scotland with 4,000 men. He was met by William Douglas, Earl of Angus at Piperden. There were great losses on each side, but the Scots prevailed.

This ballad is a variant of Child Ballad #162 (The Hunting of the Cheviot).

The Hunting of the Cheviot was old and popular as early as the middle of the sixteenth century. It appears in The Complaynt of Scotland (1549). On one published copy of the ballad Rychard Sheale, who described himself as a minstrel living at Tamworth, claims to have written the ballad. Child finds his claim "preposterous in the extreme."

Versions of the ballad were printed repeatedly on broadsides throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was said to be the favorite ballad of the common people. The tune was also used for numerous other ballads.

A footnote of interest: Ben Johnson is quoted as saying he would rather have been the author of Chevy Chase than all of his works.

For a complete list of Child Ballads at this site see Francis J. Child Ballads.

Except for the last verse, these lyrics are from Digital Tradition. They are from Songs of Northern England by Stokoe. They include only 33 verses. There are 63 verses in Child's version, and One Hundred Songs of England says there are 68. I have added the last verse from Songs of England (which is the same as Child's except for spelling) to these lyrics.

God prosper long our noble king,
Our lives and safeties all!
A woeful 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's 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
Ere daylight did appear;

And long before high noon they had
An hundred fat bucks slain:
Then having dined, the drivers went
To rouse the deer again.

Lord Percy to the quarry went
To view the slaughter'd 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 armour bright -
Full twenty hundred Scottish spears
All marching in our sight.

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 we will 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.

Our English archers bent their bows,
Their hearts were good and true;
At the first flight of arrows sent
Full fourscore Scots they slew.

At last these two stout Earls did meet
Like captains of great might;
Like lions wud they laid on load
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.

O yield thee, 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; quoth 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!

O Christ! my very heart doth bleed
With sorrow for thy sake;
For sure a more redoubted knight
Mischance could never take.

A knight among the Scots there was
Who saw Earl Douglas die;
Who straight in wrath did vow revenge
Upon the Lord Percy:

Sir Hugh Montgomery 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 all dread or fear,
And through Earl Percy's body then
He thrust his hateful spear.

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.

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 were slain in Chevy Chase
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 gore
They bore with tbem away;
They kissed their dead a thousand times
When they were clad in clay.

God save our king, and bless this land
With plenty, joy and peace,
And grant henceforth that foule debate
'Twixt noblemen may cease!
Related Links
From One Hundred Songs of England and
The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
See Bibliography for full information.