78  John ARMSTRONG's Last Good-Night [Pepys 2.133]

Author: Anonymous

Recording: John ARMSTRONG'S  Last Good-Night

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Song History

The earliest surviving version of this highly successful ballad may be the one that appears in John Mennes’ song-collection, Wit restord (1658). The first surviving broadside dates from around the same time, making it difficult to say with certainty which of the two texts is the older (of course, there may also have been earlier versions, now lost). Numerous editions of the ballad were published in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It continued to appear regularly in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, particularly in songbooks, and it has also been noted as a folk-song in Scotland, England and America (the ballad is Child number 169).

A sense of the ballad’s prominence in early-modern culture is conveyed by two eighteenth-century anecdotes. James Boswell reported that he once heard his companion, Samuel Johnson, mutter repetitively a line from the ballad– ‘And ran him through the fair body’ – while the two toured the Hebrides in 1773. At the time, they were visiting the room in which a famous stabbing had occurred in the 1560s, and Boswell remarked that contemplation of this historical killing had brought the song into Johnson’s mind, ‘by association of ideas’. And in 1759, Oliver Goldsmith recalled with great fondness the time in his childhood when ‘an old dairy-maid sung me into tears with Johny Armstrong’s Last Good Night’. In comparison to this, he considered the singing of the great opera singers of his adult years to be nothing but ‘dissonance’. The fact that Goldsmith was raised in Ireland demonstrates how widely the song had travelled by this date.

John Armstrong was a well-documented historical figure from the parish of Canonbie in what is now the county of Dumfries (the ballad’s reference to Westmorland, an English county some way to the south, appears to be unfounded). This places Armstrong right in the politically problematic border country between England and Scotland, and it was here that he was executed by James V of Scotland in 1530. In his lifetime, Armstrong was widely considered an outlaw, and he led a large lawless gang that terrorised the region. George Buchanan, a Scottish historian who died in 1582, described Armstrong as the chief thief of the borders and a man to whom even the powerful English paid ‘a certain Tribute’ (effectively protection money).

The Armstrong of the song forms a dramatic contrast to this menacing figure, being admirably brave and gallant. In the ballad, he died not because he was a thorn in the side of all authority, whether Scottish of English, but because he was duped by a dishonourable monarch. The ballad revises the historical record in several ways: it places the meeting between Armstrong and the king in Edinburgh, though it actually occurred at Caerlanrig in Teviotdale, close to Armstrong’s home patch; it exaggerates the size of Armstrong’s retinue and states that he and his men were killed in combat, when in actual fact they were captured and executed; and it implies that Armstrong’s force only lost the fight because thousands of Edinburgh’s citizens rose up to reinforce the royal troops, a suggestion for which there seems to be no basis. Commenting on Armstrong’s brave death as described in the ballad, one eighteenth-century commentator wrote, ‘Our Poet, I suppose, thought the Gallows was too low a Death for his Heroe’.

The decision of the ballad-makers to view Armstrong through a heroicising filter was, of course, questionable, but the success of the song indicates that it was also a stroke of genius. The possibility that this was a clear-headed and purposeful strategy is suggested by a verse that appears in the songbook version of the ballad, published in 1658, but not in the broadside itself. This verse explains that the king felt the need to deal with Armstrong because he was a ‘bold out-law’ who had ‘robbed all the north country’. By concealing Armstrong’s offences, the ballad-makers magnified his heroism.

The song, like its hero, criss-crosses the Anglo-Scottish border, reflecting the uncertain medieval history of Dumfriesshire as part of the ’Debateable Land’. Armstrong, a ’reiver’ who stole goods and extorted money wherever he could, is an ambivalent figure and thus highly malleable. Some part of the song’s success may rest on the fact that it reflects this ambivalence, rather than trying to fix Armstrong’s identity. The first verse seems to set the scene in Scotland, but the second verse describes Armstrong as ‘a man in Westmorland’. At no point is England mentioned in the ballad, though the man who kills Armstrong from behind is described as ‘A cowar[d]ly Scot’. The hero is not clearly identified in terms of nationality, and listeners or readers can therefore pull him in either direction, according to taste. The absence of information about Armstrong’s alleged crimes and the grounds for the king’s decision to execute him adds to this strategic vagueness. Although Johny fronts up as a gallant hero, he has no back-story.

The consequences of this indeterminacy in the subsequent history of the song are mixed and intriguing. A chapbook version of the tale presents Armstrong clearly as a patriotic Englishman and sworn enemy of the Scots (see Related texts). On the other hand, a remodelled version of the ballad, first visible to us in the early eighteenth century, portrays him unmistakably as a Scot. In this version of our song, the spurious reference to Westmorland is dropped and the language is heavily Scotticised. A skilful new opening line – ‘Sum speiks of Lords, sum speiks of lairds’ – sets the tone nicely. When Armstrong dies, we are told clearly that Scotland grieves deeply for him and his brave men because ‘they savd their Country deir,/ Frae Englishmen’.

The appeal of all this to eighteenth-century Scots was presumably intensified by the claim of the text’s editor, Allan Ramsay, that he had copied it down from the mouth of one of Armstrong’s direct descendants. Ramsay’s reciter also insisted that his song was ‘the genuine Ballad’ while the ‘vulgar’ or ‘common’ ballad – in other words the one we have recorded – was ‘false’. In truth, the two texts share many details and much language, and they are more like variants of the same song than separate compositions. Not surprisingly, Joseph Ritson included the ballad both in his Select collection of English songs (1783) and in his Scottish songs (1794). Logically enough, the English broadside appeared in the first book and the Scottish version in the second.

This tussle goes on to the present day, though a quick search of the internet seems to indicate that Scottish claims to the song are nowadays stated more forcefully than English ones. A decisive yank in this cultural tug-of-war was administered by Walter Scott and others, who worked hard to further romanticise and Scotticise Armstrong and his ballad during the nineteenth century. The strength of the Scottish claim today is reflected in the fact that a play about Armstrong, written by John Arden and first staged in 1964, was written in a lowland Scottish dialect.

Other factors in the song’s early modern popularity might also be considered. The ballad presents some strong writing and several compelling moments that appear in all versions and that also infiltrated more ‘respectable’ prose accounts of this historical episode (these moments include the hero’s realisation that, in negotiating with the king, he has ‘asked grace of a graceless face’).

There are also some interesting connections to other hit ballads: Armstrong’s madly brave declaration that ‘I will lay me down for to bleed a while’ before fighting again comes straight from A True Relation of the Life and Death of Sir Andrew Barton; and the curious references in the final verses to ‘Little Musgrove’, the footpage, and his horse, ‘Grissel’, seem to nod towards The lamentable Ditty of Little Mousgrove and An Excellent Ballad of Patient Grissel (though quite what consumers made of these nods is anybody’s guess).

The authors’ construction of a colourful, swash-buckling, borderland brand of masculinity is also striking, suggesting further connections with titles such as A Memorable Song on the unhappy hunting in Chevy-Chase. In the Armstrong ballad, the extent to which this manliness is bound up with sartorial finery and public display is very striking (Johny’s ‘merry men’ are no strangers to velvet, lace and feathers).

Finally, we might wonder how the ballad played out during the long background to the English and Scottish Acts of Union in 1706-07. Cromwell’s attempts to achieve union in the 1660s, abandoned at the Restoration, were followed by almost fifty years of sporadic negotiations, and the ballad was popular throughout this period. Presumably, Armstrong might have served either as a cautionary example of the dangers of lawless disunity or as a nostalgic symbol of the old, chivalric heroism that was in danger of being lost. The ballad’s combination of escapism and topicality was presumably a factor in its appeal.

Christopher Marsh


John Arden, Armstrong’s last goodnight (Glasgow, 1965).

James Boswell, The journal of a tour to the Hebrides, with Samuel Johnson (revised 2nd edn., 1785), p. 37.

Broadside ballads from the Bodleian Library: http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/

George Buchanan, The history of Scotland (1582; translated from Latin, 1690), p. 57.

Francis James Child, The English and Scottish popular ballads, 5 vols. (Cambridge, 1882-94), vol. 3, pp. 367-72.

William Drummond, The history of the lives of the five James’s (Edinburgh, 1711), p. 99.

English Broadside Ballad Archive: https://ebba.english.ucsb.edu/

English Short Title Catalogue.

Oliver Goldsmith, The bee (1759), p. 51.

James Kinsley, The Oxford book of ballads (Oxford, 1969), pp. 520-25.

Madden Collection, Garlands, vol. 2, nos. 443-45, Cambridge University Library.

Maureen Meikle, ‘Armstrong, John [Johnie], of Gilnockie (d. 1530)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography.

John Mennes, Wit restord in several select poems not formerly publish’t (1658), pp. 30-33.

Ambrose Philips, A collection of old ballads (1723), pp. 170-74.

Allan Ramsay, The ever green, 2 vols. (1724), vol. 2, pp. 190-96.

Joseph Ritson, A select collection of English songs, 3 vols. (1783), vol. 2, pp. 322-26, and Scottish song in two volumes (1794), vol. 2, pp. 7-13.

Hyder E. Rollins, An analytical index to the ballad-entries (1557-1709) in the Registers of the Company of Stationers of London (1924; Hatboro, Pennsylvania, 1967), nos. 1300 and 1301.

Walter Scott, Minstrelsy of the Scottish border, 3 vols. (3rd edn., 1806), vol. 1, pp. 105-30.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library, https://www.vwml.org/ (Roud no. 76).

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Featured Tune History

‘To a pretty new Northern Tune’ (standard name: Johny Armstrong)

The purpose of this section is to provide brief notes on the melody followed by detailed evidence relating to  its career, paying particular attention to the ‘echoes’ (inter-song associations and connections) that may have been set up if it was nominated for the singing of more than one ballad. In the list presented in the ‘Songs and Summaries’ section below, we have endeavored to include as many of the black-letter ballads that used the tune as possible, under any of its variant names. Titles from our chart of best-sellers are presented in bold type (these are also in colour when there is a link to the relevant ballad page on the website). It should be noted that it is extremely difficult to date many ballads precisely and the chronological order in which the songs are listed is therefore very approximate (we have drawn on previous attempts to date the ballads, making adjustments when additional evidence can be brought into play).  In most cases, we list the earliest surviving edition of a ballad, though in many instances there may have been earlier versions, now lost.

Versions and variations

A piece for flute, entitled ‘Armstrong’s Farewell’, appears in James Oswald’s Caledonian Pocket Companion (c. 1770). Simpson was doubtful about the relevance of the tune to the ballad, John ARMSTRONG’s Last Good-Night, because of the long intervening period between the two sources and the complexity of the music in its instrumental arrangement. He does not appear to have noticed, however, that nineteenth-century versions of this song about a Scottish hero were sung to a melody that is clearly a much simpler version of the one provided by Oswald. This at least strengthens the argument for a strong link between the tune and the text, and it may well be the case that the melody was also used in the seventeenth century, though not apparently written down. Our recording is based on a tune that was transcribed by William Stenhouse in 1853, after he learned it from Robert Jastie, the town piper in Jedburgh (see Bronson, below).

Echoes (an overview)

The tune of ‘Johny Armstrong’ was clearly well-known as a result of its use on this hit song, but it was named only occasionally on other black-letter ballads. Just three additional titles are listed below, all of which take the central theme of betrayal from John ARMSTRONG's Last Good-Night and carry it off in a different direction.

Where the pirate Armstrong is betrayed by the Scottish king and slain when he asks for a pardon, the protagonists in the subsequent songs have all been let down by lovers. We have a wife, a maiden and a young man, each expressing the anguish that accompanies abuse or abandonment. It seems certain that the mood of tragic heroism that the tune carried as a result of its attachment to John Armstrong added unseen layers of significance to the romantic songs (and the romance is prefigured in John ARMSTRONG's Last Good-Night when the deceitful king summons the pirate with ‘a loving letter’, written ‘with his own hand so tenderly’).

There are also some direct textual connections between the songs. John ARMSTRONG's Last Good-Night includes a verse that opens, ‘Come follow me my merry men all’, and this is echoed in The West-Country Damosels Complaint by the words, ‘Her Sister called up her merry men all’, again at the start of a verse. There are several repetitive rhyme patterns linking the ballads, and three verses from different songs connect ‘more’ and ‘store’ in lines two and four:

‘If that I meet with a constant Lass,/ what need I care for wealth or store;/ I can prove as true, as Hero was,/ I can Love again, but you no more’ (The Lovers Farewel)

‘When first we both together came,/ Then we had gold and silver store,/ But the gold is gone, and the silver’s spent,/ and now we must to work for more’ (The married wives Complaint)

‘O Constancy in her thourt lost,/ now let Women boast no more,/ Shes fled to the Elizium Coast,/ and with her carryed the store’ (The West-Country Damosels Complaint)

The effect of such echoes may have been to reinforce the connections between the songs that were already suggested by the shared tune and the thematic affinities.

[See 'Postscript', below, for additional notes on this melody].

Songs and Summaries

John ARMSTRONG's Last Good-Night. [D]eclaring how John Armstrong and his eightscore men fought a bloody bout with the Scottish King at Edinborough. To a pretty new Northern Tune (composed before 1658; W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1687-88). Pepys 2.133; EBBA 20753. Gender – masculinity; History – recent, heroism, villainy; Violence – interpersonal, punitive; Politics – controversy, domestic, power, court; Royalty – criticism; Bodies – clothing, injury; Death – warfare; Places – Scottish, English; Emotions – suspicion, excitement; Environment – animals, weather. Johny Armstrong and his men are summoned to see the Scottish king in Edinburgh, hoping to be awarded a pardon for their raiding activities in the border lands, but instead they are slain after a brutal fight.

The West-Country Damosels Complaint: OR, The Faithful Lovers last Farewel... To the Tune of, Johny Armstrong (P. Brooksby, 1670-98). Euing 384; EBBA 32004. Gender – courtship, masculinity, femininity; Morality – romantic/sexual, familial; Family – siblings; Emotions – disdain, shame, horror; Death – heartbreak, grief; Bodies – looks/physique; Environment – animals, birds, flowers/trees, buildings. A young woman dies a miserable death, and the man who has abused her follows her to the grave when he realises the enormity of his sin.

The married wives Complaint of her unkind Husband; OR, A Caution for Maids to beware how they marry... To a very pleasant new tune, or, jonny armstrong, or, True love rewarded with Loyalty (P. Brooksby, 1670-98). Douce 2(151b). Gender – marriage, masculinity, femininity; Family – children/parents; Morality – familial, romantic/sexual; Violence – domestic, interpersonal; Recreation – alcohol; Employment – female; Emotions – frustration, sorrow; Economy – household, money; Bodies – nourishment. The wife of a lazy, irresponsible and abusive husband laments her situation and advises unmarried maidens to beware of marriage.

The Lovers Farewel to his Unconstant Mistris... To a New Tune, much in request; Or, Johny Arm-strong (Fr. Coles, Tho. Vere, Jo. Wright, and Jo. Clarke, 1675-80). Douce 2(139a). Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Emotions – anger, disdain, hope; Morality – romantic/sexual; Bodies – looks/physique.  A young man, treated with disdain by a woman, tells the world that he is glad to be free from her and will now seek a true and constant lover instead.


This tune does not appear to have been nominated on surviving white-letter ballads of the period, nor for the singing of additional songs that were published in book form.

Christopher Marsh


Bertrand Harris Bronson, The traditional tunes of the Child Ballads, 4 vols. (1959-72), vol. 3, pp.140-42.

James Oswald, Caledonian Pocket Companion (c. 1770), vol. 2, p. 75.

Claude Simpson, The British broadside ballad and its music (New Brunswick, 1966), pp. 401-03.

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Featured Woodcut History

Standard woodcut name: Marching soldiers

The purpose of this section is to provide evidence relating to  the career of the image under discussion, paying particular attention to the ‘reflections’ (inter-song associations and connections) that may have been set up if it was chosen to illustrate more than one ballad. The list given below includes all ballads from the Pepys and Roxburghe collections that feature this woodcut or a close variant (these are the two largest collections, including approximately 3300 sheets, in total). References to ballads from other collections occur only when the featured edition of the song under consideration here (or the featured edition of another song from our list) comes from such a source. Ballads from our chart of best-sellers are presented in bold type, and they also appear in colour where there is a link to another song in the database. Please note, however, that the editions of hit songs listed below are not necessarily those for which digital images are presented on this website. Cross-references to other examples of our featured woodcuts are also presented in bold. It is extremely difficult to date many ballads precisely and the chronological order in which the songs are listed is therefore very approximate (we have drawn on previous attempts to date the ballads, making adjustments when additional evidence can be brought into play).

Reflections (an overview)

This image was used occasionally in the 1680s, appearing on songs about soldiers and warfare (not surprisingly). In John ARMSTRONG’s Last Good-Night, the focus is squarely on the battling men, and viewers presumably overlooked the discrepancy between the text, which speaks of men on horseback, and the picture, which gives us only foot-soldiers. The other ballad that is listed below concentrates instead on the sadness of women when their sweethearts go away to fight. The picture appeared on most editions of the Armstrong ballad, and it seems that a single woodblock produced all surviving woodcuts.

Songs and summaries:

THE White-Chappel Maids Lamentation For the loss of their Sweet-hearts, upon the Souldiers Departing to the Army to fight for the King (C. Dennisson, 1685).  Pepys 3.338; EBBA  21353.  Gender – courtship, femininity, masculinity; Employment – sailors/soldiers; Politics – foreign affairs; Emotions – sorrow, pride, patriotism; Places - English.  England’s maids lament the departure of their sweethearts to fight for king and country but are nevertheless full of admiration for their bravery (picture placement: the soldiers appear beneath the title, and a young woman gestures in their direction).

John ARMSTRONG's Last Good-Night. [D]eclaring how John Armstrong and his eightscore men fought a bloody bout with the Scottish King at Edinborough (W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger, 1687-88). Pepys 2.133; EBBA 20753. Gender – masculinity; History – recent, heroism, villainy; Violence – interpersonal, punitive; Politics – controversy, domestic, power, court; Royalty – criticism; Bodies – clothing, injury; Death – warfare; Places – Scottish, English; Emotions – suspicion, excitement; Environment - animals, weather. Johny Armstrong and his men are summoned to see the Scottish king in Edinburgh, hoping to be awarded a pardon for their raiding activities in the border lands, but instead they are slain after a brutal fight (picture placement: the scene appears beneath the title, and there are no other woodcuts).

Christopher Marsh

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Related Texts

As with a number of other successful songs, John Armstrong’s Last Good-Night is closely related to a chapbook that told the same story. This was The pleasant and delightful history of Johny Armstrong, and the earliest surviving edition was published around 1700. It is very obviously related directly to the ballad, and the full text of John Armstrong’s Last Good-Night is included in the closing pages. It seems probable that the chapbook was an expansion of the ballad, though we cannot rule out the possibility that there was an earlier, now lost, edition of the chapbook and that the relationship actually worked the other way round.

In comparison to the ballad, the prose version presents Armstrong much more decisively and consistently as a ‘bold English man’. He is a friend to the English crown and a rebel against the Scottish king. Armstrong’s problems with the latter arise when the Scottish victory at Bannockburn means that, very reluctantly, he must become a subject of the Scottish crown. The king is equally unhappy about the situation, given Armstrong’s record as an enemy of Scotland, and the fate of our hero is therefore sealed. The fact that the Battle of Bannockburn actually occurred in 1314, two centuries before Johny roamed the borderlands, is not something that troubles the authors.

The chapbook also presents a much more expansive account of Armstrong’s alleged virtues than is found in the ballad. He is not only brave but jolly, charitable, beloved and even industrious. The problem of explaining how Armstrong acquired immense wealth with minimal income from lands or rents runs through all accounts of his life, and the chapbook insists that he worked legitimately in the timber and cattle trades, rather than as an intimidating outlaw.

The chapbook fills out the ballad-narrative in other ways too, and all the changes are designed to reflect well on Armstrong. His military prowess, for example, was honed against Turks and Saracens in the Holy Land. He chooses a wife for her virtue rather than her wealth, and then helps her impoverished father out by bringing twenty of his own cooks and scullions to the enormously grand wedding. And even a temporary failure of his manliness – he weeps when bidding farewell to his wife and child – serves to humanise the hero rather than undermine him.

The chapbook’s authors thus play fast and loose with all aspects of Armstrong’s history, situating his story in the vague, distant, medieval past that was evidently beloved by the consumers of cheap print. We should not be too scornful of this, for the chapbook was sufficiently successful to be issued repeatedly during the eighteenth century. The writers knew their audience, and they also showed considerable skill in contextualising certain rather cryptic verses from the ballad. In particular, the song’s opening lines are spoken in the chapbook by the king and, for this reason, they seem to make rather more sense (this might also indicate, of course, that the ballad was based on the chapbook rather than vice versa).

In addition to the chapbook, we might consider another song of the Restoration period as a spin-off from John Armstrong’s Last Good-Night. This was A pleasant new ballad, shewing how Sir John Armstrong and Nathaniel Musgrave fell in love with the Lady Dacres Daughter of the North. It retains the borderland setting but transfers our hero to a new scenario involving conflict and tragedy in love. The texts of the two songs are entirely different, though the reference in A pleasant new ballad to Armstrong’s ‘merry men’ may have been designed to hint at a connection. Of course, there is a consistency problem here, for Armstrong dies differently in the second song, slain by a romantic rival rather than by forces supporting the Scottish king.

Christopher Marsh

Texts (in approximate chronological order)

Anon, John ARMSTRONG’s Last Good-Night... To a pretty Northern Tune, called, Fare you well guilt Knock-hall (registered 1658; earliest extant edition, c. 1658).

Anon, A pleasant new ballad, shewing how Sir John Armstrong and Nathaniel Musgrave fell in love with the Lady Dacres Daughter of the North... To a new Northern Tune (1663-74).

Anon, The pleasant and delightful history of Johny Armstrong (c. 1700).

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John ARMSTRONG’s Last Good-Night.

[D]eclaring how John Armstrong and his eightscore men fought a bloody bout with the Scot-/tish King at Edenborough.  To a pretty new Northern Tune.

[Play each verse by clicking anywhere within its text]


IS there never a man in all Scotland,

from the highest estate, to the lowest degree

That can shew himself now before the King,

Scotland is so full of treachery.


Yes there is a man in Westmorland,

and Jonny Armstrong they do him call,

He has no lands nor Rents coming in,

yet he keeps eightscore men within his hall.


He has Horse and Harness for them all,

and goodly steeds that be milk=white,

With their goodly belts about their Necks,

with Hats and Feathers all alike.


The King he writes a loving letter,

and with his own hand so tenderly,

And hath sent it unto Johnny Armstrong,

to come and speak with him speedily.


When John he looked this letter upon,

good lord he lookt as blith as a bird in a tree,

I was never before a King in my life,

my father, my grandfather, nor none of us three


But seeing we must go before the king,

Lord we will goe most gallantly,

Ye shall every one have a Velvet Coat,

laid down with Golden Laces three.


The second Part, to the same Tune.


ANd ye shall every one have a scarlet Cloak,

laid down with silver laces five,

With your golden belts about your necks,

with Hats and brave Feathers all alike.


But when John he went from Giltknock-hall,

the wind it blew hard & full fast it did rain,

Now fare thee well thou Giltknock-hall,

I fear I shall never see thee again.


Now Johnny is to Edenborough gone,

with his eightscore men so gallantly,

And every one of them on a milk=white steed,

with their bucklers and Swords hanging to their Knee.


But when John came the King before,

with his eightscore men so gallant to see,

The King he mov’d his Bonnet to him,

he thought he had been a King as well as he.


O pardon, pardon, my Soveraign Leige,

pardon for my eightscore men and me,

For my name it is Johnny Armstrong,

and a subject of yours, my Leige, said he.


Away with thee thou false Traytor,

no pardon will I grant to thee,

But to morrow morning by eight of the clock

I will hang up thy eightscore men and thee.


Then Johnny lookt over his left shoulder,

and to his merry men thus said he,

I have asked grace of a graceless face,

no pardon there is for you or me.


Then John pull’d out his nut=brown Sword,

and it was made of mettle so free,

Had not the King mov’d his foot as he did,

John had taken his head from his fair body.


Come follow me my merry men all,

we will scorn one foot for to flye,

It shall ne’r be said we were hung like dogs,

we will fight it out so manfully.


Then they fought on like Champions bold,

for their hearts were sturdy, stout and free,

Till they had killed all the Kings good guard,

there was none left alive but two or three.


But then rose up all Edenborough,

they rose up by thousands three,

A cowarly Scot came John behind,

and run him thorow the fair body.


Said John fight on my merry men all,

I am a little wounded but am not slain,

I will lay me down for to bleed a while,

then I’le rise and fight with you again.


Then they fought on like mad men all,

till many a man lay dead upon the plain,

For they were resolved before they would yield

that every man would there be slain.


So there thy fought couragiously,

till most of them lay dead there and slain,

But little Musgrove that was his Foot-page,

with his bonny Grissel got away untain.


But when he came to Guilt knock-hall,

the Lady spied him presently,

What news, what news, thou little Foot-page,

what news from thy Master and his company.


My news is bad, Lady he said,                                   

which I do bring, as you may see,

My Master Johnny Armstrong is slain,

and all his gallant company.


Yet thou art welcome home my bonny Grissel,

full oft thou hast been fed with corn and hay

But now thou shalt be fed with bread and wine

and thy sides shall be spur’d no more I say.


O then bespake his little Son,

as he sat on his Nurses knee,

If ever I live to be a man,

my fathers death reveng’d shall be.

Printed for W. Thackeray, and T. Passinger.

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This ballad is included according to the criteria for List A (see Methodology). The evidence presented here is accurate, to the best of our knowledge, as of 1st January 2024.

Shirburn ballads: not included.

Appearances on Ballad Partners' lists: Coles, Vere, Wright and Clarke, 1675; and Thackeray, 1689 (as 'Johny Armstrong').

Other registrations with Stationers' Company: 1658.

No. of known editions c.1560-1711: 9

No. of extant copies: 11

New tune-titles generated: 'Johny Armstrong' (1 ballad).

Specially-commissioned woodcuts: none known.

Vaughan Williams Memorial Library databases: 104 references, with occasional evidence of later collection as a folk-song (Roud no. 76).

POINTS: 0 + 10 + 5 + 18 + 11 + 2 + 0 + 10 = 56

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This box will be used to highlight any new information on this song that might come to light after the launch of the website.

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