Durham Field

A poem by Frank Sidgwick

The Text is another of the lively battle-pieces from the Percy Folio, put into modern spelling, and no other version is known or needed. The battle of Durham, which the minstrel says (27.1, 64.2) was fought on a morning of May, and (64.3,4) within a month of Creçy and Poictiers,[1] actually took place on October 17, 1346. Stanza 18 makes the king say to Lord Hamilton that they are of 'kin full nigh'; and this provides an upper limit for the date of the ballad, as James Hamilton was married to Princess Mary, sister of James III., in 1474.

[Footnote 1: Creçy was fought on August 26, 1346; Poictiers on September 19, 1356.]

The Story.--We have as authorities for the history of the battle both Scottish and English chronicles, but the ballad, as might be expected, follows neither very closely. Indeed it is not easy to reconcile the Scottish account with the English. David Bruce, the young king of Scotland, seized the opportunity afforded by Edward III.'s absence in France at the siege of Calais to invade England with a large army. They were met at Durham by an English force in three divisions, led (according to the English chronicle) by (i) the Earl of Angus, Henry Percy, Ralph Neville, and Henry Scrope, (ii) the Archbishop of York, and (iii) Mowbray, Rokeby, and John of Copland. The Scots were also in three divisions, which were led (says the Scottish version) by King David, the Earl of Murray and William Douglas, and the Steward of Scotland and the Earl of March respectively. The English chronicle puts John of Douglas with the Earl of Murray, and the Earl of Buchan with King David.

The ballad, therefore, that calls Angus 'Anguish' (11.1) and puts him on the side of the Scots, as well as Neville (17.1), and apparently confuses the two Douglases (14 and 21), is not more at variance with history than is to be expected, and in the present case is but little more vague than the historical records themselves.

'Vaughan' (13.1) may be Baughan or Buchan, though it is doubtful whether there was an Earl of Buchan in 1346. 'Fluwilliams' (41.3) is perhaps a form of Llewellyn (Shakespeare spells it Fluellen), but this does not help to identify that lord.


Lordings, listen and hold you still;
Hearken to me a little [spell];
I shall you tell of the fairest battle
That ever in England befell.

For as it befell in Edward the Third's days,
In England, where he ware the crown,
Then all the chief chivalry of England
They busked and made them boun.

They chosen all the best archers
That in England might be found,
And all was to fight with the King of France,
Within a little stound.

And when our king was over the water,
And on the salt sea gone,
Then tidings into Scotland came
That all England was gone.

Bows and arrows they were all forth,
At home was not left a man
But shepherds and millers both,
And priests with shaven crowns.

Then the King of Scots in a study stood,
As he was a man of great might;
He sware he would hold his Parliament in leeve London,
If he could ride there right.

Then bespake a squire, of Scotland born,
And said, 'My liege, apace,
Before you come to leeve London,
Full sore you'll rue that race.

'There been bold yeomen in merry England,
Husbandmen stiff and strong;
Sharp swords they done wear,
Bearen bows and arrows long.'

The King was angry at that word;
A long sword out he drew,
And there before his royal company
His own squire he slew.

Hard hansel had the Scots that day,
That wrought them woe enough,
For then durst not a Scot speak a word
For hanging at a bough.

'The Earl of Anguish, where art thou?
In my coat-armour thou shalt be,
And thou shalt lead the forward
Thorough the English country.

'Take thee York,' then said the King,
'In stead whereas it doth stand;
I'll make thy eldest son after thee
Heir of all Northumberland.

'The Earl of Vaughan, where be ye?
In my coat-armour thou shalt be;
The high Peak and Derbyshire
I give it thee to thy fee.'

Then came in famous Douglas,
Says 'What shall my meed be?
And I'll lead the vanward, lord,
Thorough the English country.'

'Take thee Worcester,' said the King,
'Tewkesbury, Kenilworth, Burton upon Trent;
Do thou not say another day
But I have given thee lands and rent.

'Sir Richard of Edinburgh, where are ye?
A wise man in this war!
I'll give thee Bristow and the shire
The time that we come there.

'My lord Nevill, where been ye?
You must in these wars be;
I'll give thee Shrewsbury,' says the King,
'And Coventry fair and free.

'My lord of Hamilton, where art thou?
Thou art of my kin full nigh;
I'll give thee Lincoln and Lincolnshire,
And that's enough for thee.'

By then came in William Douglas,
As breme as any boar;
He kneeled him down upon his knees,
In his heart he sighed sore.

Says 'I have served you, my lovely liege,
These thirty winters and four,
And in the Marches between England and Scotland,
I have been wounded and beaten sore.

'For all the good service that I have done,
What shall my meed be?
And I will lead the vanward
Thorough the English country.'

'Ask on, Douglas,' said the King,
'And granted it shall be.'
'Why then, I ask little London,' says Will Douglas,
'Gotten if that it be.'

The King was wrath, and rose away;
Says 'Nay, that cannot be!
For that I will keep for my chief chamber,
Gotten if it be.

'But take thee North Wales and Westchester,
The country all round about,
And rewarded thou shalt be,
Of that take thou no doubt.'

Five score knights he made on a day,
And dubb'd them with his hands;
Rewarded them right worthily
With the towns in merry England.

And when the fresh knights they were made,
To battle they busk them boun;
James Douglas went before,
And he thought to have won him shoon.

But they were met in a morning of May
With the communalty of little England;
But there scaped never a man away,
Through the might of Christës hand.

But all only James Douglas;
In Durham in the field
An arrow struck him in the thigh;
Fast flings he towards the King.

The King looked toward little Durham,
Says 'All things is not well!
For James Douglas bears an arrow in his thigh,
The head of it is of steel.

'How now, James?' then said the King,
'How now, how may this be?
And where been all thy merry men
That thou took hence with thee?'

'But cease, my King,' says James Douglas,
'Alive is not left a man!'
'Now by my faith,' says the King of the Scots,
'That gate was evil gone.

'But I'll revenge thy quarrel well,
And of that thou may be fain;
For one Scot will beat five Englishmen,
If they meeten them on the plain,'

'Now hold your tongue,' says James Douglas,
'For in faith that is not so;
For one Englishman is worth five Scots,
When they meeten together tho.

'For they are as eager men to fight
As a falcon upon a prey;
Alas! if ever they win the vanward,
There scapes no man away.'

'O peace thy talking,' said the King,
'They be but English knaves,
But shepherds and millers both,
And priests with their staves.'

The King sent forth one of his heralds of armes
To view the Englishmen.
'Be of good cheer,' the herald said,
'For against one we be ten.'

'Who leads those lads,' said the King of Scots,
'Thou herald, tell thou me.'
The herald said 'The Bishop of Durham
Is captain of that company.

'For the Bishop hath spread the King's banner,
And to battle he busks him boun.'
'I swear by St. Andrew's bones,' says the King,
'I'll rap that priest on the crown.'

The King looked towards little Durham,
And that he well beheld,
That the Earl Percy was well armed,
With his battle-axe entered the field.

The King looked again towards little Durham,
Four ancients there see he;
There were two standards, six in a valley,
He could not see them with his eye.

My lord of York was one of them,
My lord of Carlisle was the other,
And my lord Fluwilliams,
The one came with the other.

The Bishop of Durham commanded his men,
And shortly he them bade,
That never a man should go to the field to fight
Till he had served his God.

Five hundred priests said mass that day
In Durham in the field,
And afterwards, as I heard say,
They bare both spear and shield.

The Bishop of Durham orders himself to fight
With his battle-axe in his hand;
He said 'This day now I will fight
As long as I can stand!'

'And so will I,' said my lord of Carlisle,
'In this fair morning gay.'
'And so will I,' said my lord Fluwilliams,
'For Mary, that mild may.'

Our English archers bent their bows
Shortly and anon;
They shot over the Scottish host
And scantly touched a man.

'Hold down your hands,' said the Bishop of Durham,
'My archers good and true.'
The second shoot that they shot,
Full sore the Scots it rue.

The Bishop of Durham spoke on high
That both parties might hear,
'Be of good cheer, my merrymen all,
The Scots flien and changen their cheer.'

But as they saiden, so they diden,
They fell on heapës high;
Our Englishmen laid on with their bows
As fast as they might dree.

The King of Scots in a study stood
Amongst his company;
An arrow struck him thorough the nose,
And thorough his armoury.

The King went to a marsh-side
And light beside his steed;
He leaned him down on his sword-hilts
To let his nose bleed.

There followed him a yeoman of merry England,
His name was John of Copland;
'Yield thee, traitor!' says Copland then,
'Thy life lies in my hand.'

'How should I yield me,' says the King,
'And thou art no gentleman?'
'No, by my troth,' says Copland there,
'I am but a poor yeoman.

'What art thou better than I, sir King?
Tell me, if that thou can!
What art thou better than I, sir King,
Now we be but man to man?'

The King smote angrily at Copland then,
Angrily in that stound;
And then Copland was a bold yeoman,
And bore the King to the ground.

He set the King upon a palfrey,
Himself upon a steed;
He took him by the bridle-rein,
Towards London he gan him lead.

And when to London that he came,
The King from France was new come home,
And there unto the King of Scots
He said these words anon.

'How like you my shepherds and my millers?
My priests with shaven crowns?'
'By my faith, they are the sorest fighting men
That ever I met on the ground.

'There was never a yeoman in merry England
But he was worth a Scottish knight.'
'Ay, by my troth,' said King Edward, and laugh,
'For you fought all against the right.'

But now the prince of merry England
Worthily under his shield
Hath taken the King of France,
At Poictiers in the field.

The prince did present his father with that food,
The lovely King of France,
And forward of his journey he is gone.
God send us all good chance!

'You are welcome, brother!' said the King of Scots to the King of France,
'For I am come hither too soon;
Christ leve that I had taken my way
Unto the court of Rome!'

'And so would I,' said the King of France,
'When I came over the stream,
That I had taken my journey
Unto Jerusalem!'

Thus ends the battle of fair Durham,
In one morning of May,
The battle of Creçy, and the battle of Poictiers,
All within one monthës day.

Then was wealth and welfare in merry England,
Solaces, game, and glee,
And every man loved other well,
And the king loved good yeomanry.

But God that made the grass to grow,
And leaves on greenwood tree,
Now save and keep our noble King,
And maintain good yeomanry!

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