Johnie Armstrong

A poem by Frank Sidgwick

The Text is taken from Wit Restor'd, 1658, where it is called A Northern Ballet. From the same collection comes the version of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard given in First Series, p. 19. The version popularly known as Johnny Armstrong's Last Good-Night, so dear to Goldsmith, and sung by the Vicar of Wakefield, is a broadside found in most of the well-known collections.

The Story of the ballad has the authority of more than one chronicle, and is attributed to the year 1530. James V., in spite of the promise 'to doe no wrong' in his large and long letter, appears to have been incensed at the splendour of 'Jonnë's' retinue. It seems curious that the outlaw should have been a Westmoreland man; but the Cronicles of Scotland say that 'from the Scots border to Newcastle of England, there was not one, of whatsoever estate, but paid to this John Armstrong a tribute, to be free of his cumber, he was so doubtit in England.' Jonnë's offer in the stanza 16.3,4, may be compared to the similar feat of Sir Andrew Barton.


There dwelt a man in faire Westmerland,
Jonnë Armestrong men did him call,
He had nither lands nor rents coming in,
Yet he kept eight score men in his hall.

He had horse and harness for them all,
Goodly steeds were all milke-white;
O the golden bands an about their necks,
And their weapons, they were all alike.

Newes then was brought unto the king
That there was sicke a won as hee,
That livëd lyke a bold out-law,
And robbëd all the north country.

The king he writt an a letter then,
A letter which was large and long;
He signëd it with his owne hand,
And he promised to doe him no wrong.

When this letter came Jonnë untill,
His heart it was as blyth as birds on the tree:
'Never was I sent for before any king,
My father, my grandfather, nor none but mee.

'And if wee goe the king before,
I would we went most orderly;
Every man of you shall have his scarlet cloak,
Laced with silver laces three.

'Every won of you shall have his velvett coat,
Laced with sillver lace so white;
O the golden bands an about your necks,
Black hatts, white feathers, all alyke.'

By the morrow morninge at ten of the clock,
Towards Edenburough gon was hee,
And with him all his eight score men;
Good lord, it was a goodly sight for to see!

When Jonnë came befower the king,
He fell downe on his knee;
'O pardon, my soveraine leige,' he said,
'O pardon my eight score men and mee.'

'Thou shalt have no pardon, thou traytor strong,
For thy eight score men nor thee;
For to-morrow morning by ten of the clock,
Both thou and them shall hang on the gallow-tree.'

But Jonnë looked over his left shoulder,
Good Lord, what a grevious look looked hee!
Saying, 'Asking grace of a graceles face--
Why there is none for you nor me.'

But Jonnë had a bright sword by his side,
And it was made of the mettle so free,
That had not the king stept his foot aside,
He had smitten his head from his faire boddë.

Saying, 'Fight on, my merry men all,
And see that none of you be taine;
For rather than men shall say we were hange'd,
Let them report how we were slaine.'

Then, God wott, faire Eddenburrough rose,
And so besett poore Jonnë rounde,
That fowerscore and tenn of Jonnë's best men
Lay gasping all upon the ground.

Then like a mad man Jonnë laide about,
And like a mad man then fought hee,
Untill a falce Scot came Jonnë behinde,
And runn him through the faire boddee.

Saying, 'Fight on, my merry men all,
And see that none of you be taine;
For I will stand by and bleed but awhile,
And then will I come and fight againe.'

Newes then was brought to young Jonnë Armestrong
As he stood by his nurse's knee,
Who vowed if ere he live'd for to be a man,
O' the treacherous Scots reveng'd hee'd be.

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