Battle of Otterburn, The [Child 161]

DESCRIPTION: As armies under Earls Douglas of Scotland and Percy (aka Hotspur) of Northumberland battle, the dying Douglas asks Montgomery to conceal his corpse under a bush. Percy refuses to surrender to the bush but does yield to Montgomery
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: c. 1550
KEYWORDS: battle borderballad death nobility
HISTORICAL REFERENCES:
1388 - Battle of Otterburn. Scots under Douglas attack England. Although Douglas is killed in the battle, the Scots defeat the English and capture their commander Harry "Hotspur" Percy
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland)
REFERENCES (14 citations):
Child 161, "The Battle of Otterburn" (5 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #1}
Bronson 161, "The Battle of Otterburn" (2 versions)
BronsonSinging 161, "The Battle of Otterburn" (1 version: #1)
Percy/Wheatley I, pp. 35-51+notes on pp. 53-54, "The Battle of Otterbourne" (1 text)
Bell-Combined, pp. 92-103, "The Battle of Otterburn" (1 text)
ChambersBallads, pp. 12-18, "The Battle of Otterbourne" (1 text)
Leach, pp. 436-446, "The Battle of Otterburn" (2 texts)
Leach-Heritage, pp. 63-72, "The Battle of Otterburn" (1 text)
Whitelaw-Ballads, pp. 344-349, "The Battle of Otterbourne" (1 text)
OBB 127, "The Battle of Otterburn" (1 text)
Gummere, pp. 94-104+323-325, "The Battle of Otterburn" (1 text)
HarvClass-EP1, pp. 88-93, "The Battle of Otterburn" (1 text)
DT 161, OTTRBURN*
ADDITIONAL: Michael Brander, _Scottish and Border Battles and Ballads_, 1975 (page references to the 1993 Barnes & Noble edition), pp. 43-47, "The Battle of Otterburn" (1 text, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #1, #2}

Roud #3293
CROSS-REFERENCES:
cf. "The Hunting of the Cheviot" (subject)
NOTES: Needless to say, despite texts such as Child's "A" and "C," it was not Harry "Hotspur" Percy who killed Douglas at Otterburn. It is likely that Douglas's raid would not have been so successful had not the English been divided; as often happened, the Percies of Northumberland were feuding with the other great border family, the Nevilles (of Raby and Westmoreland).
Scottish sources are not really clear what was happening here. Stephen Boardman, in The Early Stewart Kings, notes that the Scots and French were creating a semi-coordinated attack on the English, with the inept government of Richard II not really able to do much about it (John of Gaunt had recently conducted a very damaging raid on Scotland, but the war in France was going badly).
It appears that the Scots sent down two armies, one into Cumbria toward Carlisle and one toward Northumberland.
It has been theorized that the two Scottish armies were supposed to meet for an attack on Carlisle. But Douglas decided to go his own way. Without Douglas's troops, the western army ended up turning back. Possible, but hard to prove. For that matter, it might have been the other way: The western army might have been intended to turn east; Boardman argues that all our Scottish sources are biased by a political quarrel in Scotland between pro- and anti-Douglas factions.
Indeed, the death of Douglas almost certainly caused Scotland more harm than his victory gained them; apart from pushing Richard II of England to try harder to defeat them, the Earl had no son, and the quarrels over the Douglas succession led to many political difficulties.
Sir Philip Sidney, in his Apologie for Poetrie of 1595, write, "I neuer heard the olde song of Percy and Duglas (sic.), that I found mot my heart mooued more then with a Trumpet." It is not possible, however, to tell whether this is a reference to "The Battle of Otterburn" [Child 161] or "The Hunting of the Cheviot" [Child 162]. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.1
File: C161

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List

Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2016 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.