Sir Andrew Barton

A poem by Frank Sidgwick

The Text is taken from the Percy Folio MS., but the spelling is modernised. There is another version, extant in broadsides to be found in nearly all the large collections; this, when set beside the Folio MS. text, provides a remarkable instance of the loss a ballad sustained by falling into the hands of the broadside-printers. The present text, despite the unlucky hiatus after st. 35, is a splendid example of an English ballad, which cannot be earlier than the sixteenth century. There is a fine rhythm throughout, and, as Child says, 'not many better passages are met with in ballad poetry than that which tells of the three gallant attempts on the mainmast tree (stt. 52-66).'

The Story told in the ballad is a piece of history, and belongs originally to the beginning of the sixteenth century. Andrew Barton was one of three sons of John Barton, a Scots trader whose ship had been plundered by the Portuguese in 1476; letters of reprisal were granted to the brothers Barton, and renewed to them in 1506 'as no opportunity had occurred of effectuating a retaliation.' It seems, however, that this privilege was abused, at least by Andrew, who was reported in June 1511 to Henry VIII. as seizing English ships under the pretext that they were Portuguese. The king did not send Lord Charles Howard, as the ballad states--Lord Charles was not born till twenty-five years afterwards--but Sir Thomas and Sir Edward Howard set out against the pirate by Henry's leave. They took two ships, not one, the meeting with Henry Hunt (st. 18) being the ballad-maker's invention. Lord Charles's fraudulent use of the 'white flag' in st. 37 is supported by Bishop Lesley's partisan account of the engagement, written c. 1570. The time-scheme of the ballad is unusually vague: it begins 'in midsummer-time,' and the punitive expedition starts on 'the day before midsummer even'--i.e. June 19, which agrees with the chronicles. The fight takes place within the week; but Lord Charles does not get home until December 29 (st. 71). Hall's chronicle says that they returned on August 2.

Lord Charles Howard was created Earl of Nottingham in 1596; but the adoption of this into the ballad (st. 78) dates only our text. It is quite probable that it existed in a previous version with names and facts more correctly stated.


As it befell in midsummer-time,
When birds sing sweetly on every tree,
Our noble king, King Henry the Eighth,
Over the river of Thames passed he.

He was no sooner over the river,
Down in a forest to take the air,
But eighty merchants of London city
Came kneeling before King Henry there.

'O ye are welcome, rich merchants,
Good sailors, welcome unto me!'
They swore by the rood they were sailors good,
But rich merchants they could not be.

'To France nor Flanders dare we not pass,
Nor Bordeaux voyage we dare not fare,
And all for a false robber that lies on the seas,
And robs us of our merchant's-ware.'

King Henry was stout, and he turned him about,
And swore by the Lord that was mickle of might;
'I thought he had not been in the world throughout
That durst have wrought England such unright.'

But ever they sighed, and said, alas!
Unto King Henry this answer again;
'He is a proud Scot that will rob us all
If we were twenty ships and he but one.'

The king looked over his left shoulder,
Amongst his lords and barons so free;
'Have I never a lord in all my realm
Will fetch yond traitor unto me?'

'Yes, that dare I!' says my lord Charles Howard,
Near to the king whereas he did stand;
'If that your Grace will give me leave,
Myself will be the only man.'

'Thou shalt have six hundred men,' saith our king,
'And choose them out of my realm so free,
Besides mariners and boys,
To guide the great ship on the sea.'

'I'll go speak with Sir Andrew,' says Charles, my lord Howard,
'Upon the sea, if he be there;
I will bring him and his ship to shore,
Or before my prince I will never come near.'

The first of all my lord did call,
A noble gunner he was one;
This man was three score years and ten,
And Peter Simon was his name.

'Peter,' says he, 'I must sail to the sea,
To seek out an enemy; God be my speed!
Before all others I have chosen thee;
Of a hundred gunners thou'st be my head.'

'My lord,' says he, 'if you have chosen me
Of a hundred gunners to be the head,
Hang me at your main-mast tree
If I miss my mark past three pence bread.'

The next of all my lord he did call,
A noble bowman he was one;
In Yorkshire was this gentleman born,
And William Horsley was his name.

'Horsley,' says he, 'I must sail to the sea,
To seek out an enemy; God be my speed!
Before all others I have chosen thee;
Of a hundred bowmen thou'st be my head.'

'My lord,' says he, 'if you have chosen me
Of a hundred bowmen to be the head,
Hang me at your main-mast tree
If I miss my mark past twelve pence bread.'

With pikes, and guns, and bowmen bold,
This noble Howard is gone to the sea
On the day before mid-summer even,
And out at Thames' mouth sailed they.

They had not sailed days three
Upon their journey they took in hand,
But there they met with a noble ship,
And stoutly made it both stay and stand.

'Thou must tell me thy name,' says Charles, my lord Howard,
'Or who thou art, or from whence thou came,
Yea, and where thy dwelling is,
To whom and where thy ship does belong.'

'My name,' says he, 'is Harry Hunt,
With a pure heart and a penitent mind;
I and my ship they do belong
Unto the New-castle that stands upon Tyne.'

'Now thou must tell me, Harry Hunt,
As thou hast sailed by day and by night,
Hast thou not heard of a stout robber?
Men call him Sir Andrew Barton, knight.'

But ever he sighed and said, 'Alas!
Full well, my lord, I know that wight;
He robbed me of my merchant's-ware,
And I was his prisoner but yesternight.

'As I was sailing upon the sea,
And Bordeaux voyage as I did fare,
He clasped me to his arch-board,
And robbed me of all my merchant's-ware.

'And I am a man both poor and bare,
And every man will have his own of me,
And I am bound towards London to fare,
To complain to my prince Henry.'

'That shall not need,' says my lord Howard;
'If thou canst let me this robber see,
For every penny he hath taken thee fro,
Thou shalt be rewarded a shilling,' quoth he.

'Now God forfend,' says Henry Hunt,
'My lord, you should work so far amiss:
God keep you out of that traitor's hands!
For you wot full little what a man he is.

'He is brass within, and steel without,
And beams he bears in his top-castle strong;
His ship hath ordnance clean round about;
Besides, my lord, he is very well manned.

'He hath a pinnace is dearly dight,
Saint Andrew's cross, that is his guide;
His pinnace bears nine score men and more,
Besides fifteen cannons on every side.

'If you were twenty ships, and he but one,
Either in arch-board or in hall,
He would overcome you every one,
And if his beams they do down fall.'

'This is cold comfort,' says my lord Howard,
'To welcome a stranger thus to the sea;
I'll bring him and his ship to shore,
Or else into Scotland he shall carry me.'

'Then you must get a noble gunner, my lord,
That can set well with his eye,
And sink his pinnace into the sea,
And soon then overcome will he be.

'And when that you have done this,
If you chance Sir Andrew for to board,
Let no man to his top-castle go;
And I will give you a glass, my lord,

'And then you need to fear no Scot,
Whether you sail by day or by night;
And to-morrow, by seven of the clock,
You shall meet with Sir Andrew Barton, knight.

'I was his prisoner but yesternight,
And he hath taken me sworn,' quoth he;
'I trust my Lord God will me forgive
And if that oath then broken be.

'You must lend me six pieces, my lord,' quoth he,
'Into my ship, to sail the sea,
And to-morrow, by nine of the clock,
Your honour again then will I see.'

And the hatch-board where Sir Andrew lay
Is hatched with gold dearly dight:
'Now by my faith,' says Charles, my lord Howard,
'Then yonder Scot is a worthy wight!

'Take in your ancients and your standards,
Yea, that no man shall them see,
And put me forth a white willow wand.
As merchants use to sail the sea.'

But they stirred neither top nor mast,
But Sir Andrew they passed by.
'What English are yonder,' said Sir Andrew,
'That can so little courtesy?

'I have been admiral over the sea
More than these years three;
There is never an English dog, nor Portingale,
Can pass this way without leave of me.

'But now yonder pedlars they are past,
Which is no little grief to me;
Fetch them back,' says Sir Andrew Barton,
'They shall all hang at my mainmast tree.'

With that the pinnace it shot off,
That my lord Howard might it well ken;
It struck down my lord's foremast,
And killed fourteen of my lord his men.

'Come hither, Simon,' says my lord Howard,
'Look that thy words be true thou said;
I'll hang thee at my mainmast tree
If thou miss thy mark past twelve pence bread.'

Simon was old, but his heart it was bold;
He took down a piece, and laid it full low;
He put in chain yards nine,
Besides other great shot less and moe.

With that he let his gunshot go;
So well he settled it with his eye,
The first sight that Sir Andrew saw,
He saw his pinnace sunk in the sea.

When he saw his pinnace sunk,
Lord! in his heart he was not well.
'Cut my ropes, it is time to be gone;
I'll go fetch yond pedlars back myself!'

When my lord Howard saw Sir Andrew loose,
Lord! in his heart that he was fain.
'Strike on your drums, spread out your ancients;
Sound out your trumpets, sound out amain!'

'Fight on, my men,' says Sir Andrew Barton,
'Weet, howsoever this gear will sway,
It is my lord Admiral of England
Is come to seek me on the sea.'

Simon had a son; with shot of a gun,
Well Sir Andrew might it ken,
He shot it at a privy place,
And killed sixty more of Sir Andrew's men.

Harry Hunt came in at the other side,
And at Sir Andrew he shot then;
He drove down his foremast tree,
And killed eighty more of Sir Andrew's men.

'I have done a good turn,' says Harry Hunt,
'Sir Andrew is not our king's friend;
He hoped to have undone me yesternight,
But I hope I have quit him well in the end.'

'Ever alas!' said Sir Andrew Barton,
'What should a man either think or say?
Yonder false thief is my strongest enemy,
Who was my prisoner but yesterday.

'Come hither to me, thou Gordon good,
And be thou ready at my call,
And I will give thee three hundred pound
If thou wilt let my beams down fall.'

With that he swarved the mainmast tree,
So did he it with might and main;
Horsley, with a bearing arrow,
Strake the Gordon through the brain.

And he fell into the hatches again,
And sore of this wound that he did bleed;
Then word went through Sir Andrew's men
That the Gordon he was dead.

'Come hither to me, James Hamilton,
Thou art my sister's son, I have no more;
I will give thee six hundred pound
If thou will let my beams down fall.'

With that he swarved the mainmast tree,
So did he it with might and main;
Horsley, with another broad arrow,
Strake the yeoman through the brain.

That he fell down to the hatches again;
Sore of his wound that he did bleed.
Covetousness gets no gain,
It is very true as the Welshman said.

But when he saw his sister's son slain,
Lord! in his heart he was not well.
'Go fetch me down my armour of proof,
For I will to the top-castle myself.

'Go fetch me down my armour of proof,
For it is gilded with gold so clear;
God be with my brother, John of Barton!
Amongst the Portingales he did it wear.'

But when he had his armour of proof,
And on his body he had it on,
Every man that looked at him
Said, gun nor arrow he need fear none.

'Come hither, Horsley,' says my lord Howard,
'And look your shaft that it go right;
Shoot a good shoot in the time of need,
And for thy shooting thou'st be made a knight.'

'I'll do my best,' says Horsley then,
'Your honour shall see before I go;
If I should be hanged at your mainmast,
I have in my ship but arrows two.'

But at Sir Andrew he shot then;
He made sure to hit his mark;
Under the spole of his right arm
He smote Sir Andrew quite through the heart.

Yet from the tree he would not start,
But he clinged to it with might and main;
Under the collar then of his jack
He strake Sir Andrew through the brain.

'Fight on, my men,' says Sir Andrew Barton,
'I am hurt, but I am not slain;
I'll lay me down and bleed awhile,
And then I'll rise and fight again.

'Fight on, my men,' says Sir Andrew Barton,
'These English dogs they bite so low;
Fight on for Scotland and Saint Andrew
Till you hear my whistle blow!'

But when they could not hear his whistle blow,
Says Harry Hunt, 'I'll lay my head
You may board yonder noble ship, my lord,
For I know Sir Andrew he is dead.'

With that they boarded this noble ship,
So did they it with might and main;
They found eighteen score Scots alive,
Besides the rest were maimed and slain.

My lord Howard took a sword in his hand,
And smote off Sir Andrew's head;
The Scots stood by did weep and mourn,
But never a word durst speak or say.

He caused his body to be taken down,
And over the hatch-board cast into the sea,
And about his middle three hundred crowns:
'Wheresoever thou lands, it will bury thee.'

With his head they sailed into England again,
With right good will and force and main,
And the day before New Year's Even
Into Thames' mouth they came again.

My lord Howard wrote to King Henry's grace,
With all the news he could him bring:
'Such a New Year's gift I have brought to your Grace
As never did subject to any king.

'For merchandise and manhood,
The like is not to be found:
The sight of these would do you good,
For you have not the like in your English ground.'

But when he heard tell that they were come,
Full royally he welcomed them home;
Sir Andrew's ship was the king's New Year's gift;
A braver ship you never saw none.

Now hath our king Sir Andrew's ship,
Beset with pearls and precious stones;
Now hath England two ships of war--
Two ships of war, before but one.

'Who holp to this?' says King Henry,
'That I may reward him for his pain.'
'Harry Hunt, and Peter Simon,
William Horsley, and I the same.'

'Harry Hunt shall have his whistle and chain,
And all his jewels, whatsoever they be,
And other rich gifts that I will not name,
For his good service he hath done me.

'Horsley, right thou'st be a knight,
Lands and livings thou shalt have store;
Howard shall be Earl of Nottingham,
And so was never Howard before.

'Now Peter Simon, thou art old;
I will maintain thee and thy son;
Thou shalt have five hundred pound all in gold
For the good service that thou hast done.'

Then King Henry shifted his room.
In came the Queen and ladies bright;
Other errands had they none
But to see Sir Andrew Barton, knight.

But when they see his deadly face,
His eyes were hollow in his head;
'I would give a hundred pound,' says King Henry,
'The man were alive as he is dead!

'Yet for the manful part that he hath played,
Both here and beyond the sea,
His men shall have half a crown a day
To bring them to my brother, King Jamie.'

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