Bold Archer


Jon admits “I think this is the only song I’ve learnt from Harrry Cox – off The Bonny Labouring Boy double CD. Much as I enjoyed listening to it, this was the only one that demanded to be learnt. Evidently John Kirkpatrick thought the same as he recorded it with Brass Monkey shortly after I learnt it. It feels like it’s a very old song – makes me think of Border Reivers.”

One from the Child collection #188 in fact and a very near relative of #187 Jock O The Side, which shares the same plot line with different protagonists and location. There are also distinct similarities to #186 Kinmont Willie. This one does indeed seem to be about the Border Raiders or Reivers and there are numerous title and name variants, which suggests the singers changing the details to suit their circumstances. I found this…

This ballad was communicated to Bishop Percy in 1780 and appeared in Scot’s Minstrelsy in 1791.

According to one tradition Archie was Archibald Armstrong. Child relates the tune to Jock o the Side. In some of the variants the brothers are referred to as Halls, sometimes Jock, Archie and Dick. The Halls of Scotland were often complained of for stealing oxen and appear in the records of 1579. They occupied the area of Cafield, just west of Langholm in Wauchopedale.

The History of Dumfries tells of the feud between the Halls or Armstrongs and the Maxwells. There is a Dumfries ballad which relates a battle between the Maxwells and Johnstones. It began when the Maxwells took Johnstone’s chief and confined him in jail. At night a band of Johnstones marched into Dumfries, surprised the jailers and rescued their manacled leader. Maxwells, hearing the alarm overtook them near the banks of the Locher. The river was flooded but they managed to cross in pursuit. However, the Johnstones doubled back and surprised them by appearing on the bank of the river the Maxwells had just left! So the “bloodthirsty warriors raged and shook their weapons at each other across the stream; but the flood rolled on as if in mockery of their threatenings, and the one part at length galloped off in triumph while the other was compelled to return in disgrace.”

You may also like a look at this link that has more on the lawless border region. Quite why the borders so anarchic isn’t made clear, although I suppose the most obvious explanation may well be their remoteness form the English throne and a reluctance to throw the resources that Hadrian had at the region. Add simmering racial tensions between Scots and English and a bit of cross-border-plunder was probably par for the course.



7 Responses to “Bold Archer”

  1. Jane Ramsden says:

    Not mad keen on the song, but the history link made for riveting reading. The romance is only in the excitement of the distant story, for it makes for bl@@dy imagery otherwise. Great subject for song though!

  2. Phil says:

    I liked Tony Rose’s rendition but could never work out what was going on it or even who was on whose side. This more sedate reading makes it a bit clearer!

  3. Jane Ramsden says:

    Another raider reprisal song by Swan Arcade, ‘The Baron of Brackley’, can be found at this YouTube link:

    The notes read: From the Child Ballads, a sobering tale of medieval Scottish married life.

    “It is believed the incident occurred in September 1666, but what the ballad does not tell us is that it is a reprisal raid by John Farquharson of Inverey on John Gordon of Brackley for a cattle raid.” This is around 70 years after the history in your link, Skyman, & they were still at it!

    From Dee side came Inverey whistlin’ and playin’
    And he is to Brackley’s gates ere the day is dawnin’
    Saying, Baron O’Brackley oh are ye within?
    There are sharp swords at your gates, to gar your bluid spin

    Oh rise up my husband and turn back your kye
    For the lads frae Dunmurray are driving them by
    Oh how might I rise up and turn them again
    For where I have one man I’m sure he has ten

    If I had a husband the like I have nane
    He’d no lie in his bed and watch his kye ta’en
    Then up spake the baron, said gi’e me my sword
    There’s nae a man in Scotland but I’ll brave at a word

    Then the baron were buskit to ride o’er the close
    A gallanter Gordon ne’er mounted a horse
    Saying, kiss me, my Peggy, dinna think me tae blame
    For I maun go oot, love, and I’ll never come hame

    There rode wi’ false Inverey full thirty and three
    But along wi’ bonny Brackley just his brother and he
    Twa gallanter Gordons did ne’er the sword draw
    But against three and thirty, wae’s me, what is twa?

    Wi’ swords and wi’ daggers they did him surround
    And they pierced bonny Brackley wi’ monys a wound
    Tae the banks o the Dee, tae the sides of the Spey
    Oh the Gordons will mourn him and will ban Inverey

    Oh came ye from Brackley’s yetts, oh came ye by there?
    And saw ye his Peggy a-rivin’ her hair
    Aye, I came by Brackley’s yetts, I came by there
    And I saw his bonny Peggy she was makin’ good cheer

    She was rantin’, she was dancin’, she was singin’ wi’ joy
    And she swears this same nicht she will feast Inverey
    She laughed wi’ him, danced wi’ him, welcomed him in
    And lay wi’ him till morning he who slew her good man

    There’s grief in the kitchen, there’s mirth in the hall
    For the Baron o Brackley lies dead and awa’
    Then up spake his son on his own nurse’s knee
    “If I live to be a man ’tis avenged I’ll be.”

    (Difficult enough to grasp the history… with all this dialect, can’t hardly understand a folkin’ word either! Hahahaha!)

  4. Joe Offer says:

    This song has evolved in many directions. I learned it from a Kingston Trio recording as “The Escape of Old John Webb (Billy Broke Locks)”:

    Good song.

  5. Diana says:

    Another piece of history, perhaps not completely factual admittedly, but based on some truth. Have been on Mainly Norfolk and found various versions there, but I did come across a lovely word on Tony Rose’s version – “drippingly”.

    All in all another fine song.

  6. Diana says:

    @Muzza: my comment of yesterday was moderated and passed inspection – you may care to read it – sseing you showed interest in the song.

  7. Linda says:

    Can recommend Mike Harding again tonight.

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