Johnnie Cope

DESCRIPTION: "Cope sent a letter frae Dunbar, Said, 'Charlie, meet me, an ye daur, And I'll learn ye the art o' war." Prince Charles accepts the challenge; Cope makes sure his horse is ready to fly. Quickly defeated, Cope is the first to escape to (Dunbar/Berwick)
AUTHOR: Adam Skirving?
EARLIEST DATE: 1803 (_Scots Musical Museum_ #234)
KEYWORDS: Jacobites battle abandonment humorous royalty
Sept 21, 1745 - Battle of Prestonpans. Bonnie Prince Charlie's Highland army routs the first real Hannoverian force it encounters
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland) Canada(Ont)
REFERENCES (11 citations):
Hogg2 58, "Johnny Cope"; Hogg2 59, "Johnny Cope" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Whitelaw-Song, p. 129, "Johnnie Cope" (1 text)
GreigDuncan1 125, "Johnny Cope" (1 fragment, 1 tune)
Fowke-Ontario 24, "Johnny Cope" (1 text, 1 tune)
Winstock, pp. 47-49, "Johnny Cope" (1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: James Kinsley, Burns: editor, Complete Poems and Songs (shorter edition, Oxford, 1969) #297, pp. 413-415, "Johnie Cope" (1 text, 1 tune, from 1790)
James Johnson, Editor, _The Scots Musical Museum_ [1853 edition], volume III, #234, pp. 242-243, "Johnie Cope" (1 text, 1 tune)
Kenneth Norman MacDonald, "The Gesto Collection of Highland Music," 1895 (reprinted 1997 by Llanerch Publishers), pp. 95-96, "Hey! Johnny Cope" (1 tune)
Reginald Nettel, _Seven Centuries of Popular Song_, Phoenix House, 1956, p. 135, "(no title)" (1 text, probably imcomplete)
Michael Brander, _Scottish and Border Battles and Ballads_, 1975 (page references to the 1993 Barnes & Noble edition), pp. 207-208, "Johnnie Cope" (1 text, 1 tune)

Roud #2315
Bodleian, Harding B 11(139), "Johnny Cope" ("Cope sent a letter frae Dunbar"), W. and T. Fordyce (Newcastle), 1832-1842; also Harding B 11(138), 2806 c.16(120), Johnson Ballads 3189, 2806 d.31(7), Firth b.28(26b), Harding B 20(82), "Johnny Cope"
Murray, Mu23-y1:119, "Johnny Cope," unknown, unknown

cf. "Tranent Muir" (subject: the Battle of Presonpans) and references there
cf. "The Barns o' Beneuchies" (tune)
cf. "The Frostit Corn" (tune)
cf. "The Buchan Turnpike" (tune)
cf. "Riel Sits In His Chamber o' State (The Marching Song; Capture of For Garry, or Riel's Retreat)" (tune)
The Barns o' Beneuchies (File: Ord231)
The Frostit Corn (File: GrD3436)
The Buchan Turnpike (File: GrD3460)
Riel Sits In His Chamber o' State (The Marching Song; Capture of Fort Garry, or Riel's Retreat) (File: Macl07)
Jemmie Forrest (broadside NLScotland, L.C.Fol.178.A.2(106), "Jemmie Forrest," unknown, 1842?; same broadside as L.C.Fol.74(219a), ABS.10.203.01(151))
Hey Johnnie Cope
NOTES [588 words]: This song, with its slanging lyrics and sprightly tune, is extremely well known (the first two histories of the Forty-Five Rebellion I checked both title their chapters on Prestonpans "Hey Johnnie Cope"), but traditional collections are few and far between. It seems to have survived mostly in texts that borrow the tune. (Were people agraid to sing it?)
The song is not as accurate as might be desired. The two armies, although both desired battle, almost blundered into each other. Tactics were minimal; the Jacobites -- having made the one sound strategic move of the battle by making a night march through a swamp into the loyalist rear -- took the field, charged, and routed the army of Lieutenant-General John Cope.
This is not as surprising as it sounds. Cope's army was in most respects inferior. Although theoretically composed of "regulars," in fact the troops were mostly raw. Nor were the units cohesive; it was a company from here and a battalion from there; officers and units had not worked together.
And the army was small. Reid, p. 32, offers evidence implying that the Hannoverian army was only about 2000 strong. It had a few artillery pieces, mostly in rather bad state -- but with no one except two officers to man them, and no ammunition, they played little part in the battle.
Nor is there evidence that Cope (1688-1760) was a coward; his courageous conduct at Dettingen (1743) had earned him a knighthood. If he had a problem, it was lack of brains, not of courage. He assuredly tried to stem the rout. But the disaster was too complete.
The versions I've heard of the song can't seem to agree whether he fled to Berwick or Dunbar. Magnusson, p. 594, reports that "Cope and his aide-de-camp could do nothing but gallop of southwards to Lauder and Coldstream and on to the safety of Berwick-upon-Tweed next day. Here, it is alleged (incorrectly), he had the humiliation of being the first general ever to bring to his superiors the news of his own defeat."
Cope was "examined" by a board -- in effect, a court martial. But Magnusson, p. 594, notes that their verdict on Prestonpans was that Cope "did his Duty as an Officer, both before, at, and after the Action: and that his personal Behavior was without Reproach."
The image in the song of Charles drawing his sword to lead his men in battle is almost true. According to McLynn, p. 151, Charles wanted to lead from the front at Prestonpans (a rather Charles-ish thing to do really; he was a far better man-on-horseback than actual general). And he did address his army -- his speech supposedly ended, "Gentlemen, I have thrown away the scabbard; with God's help I will make you a free and happy people." But his officers forced him to stay in the rear.
I can't help but note one great irony. In the British army, according to Baynes/Laffin, p. 105, "Johnnie Cope" is used to sound reveille for a number of Scottish regiments. Among them: The Black Watch, which had soldiers on the losing side at Prestonpans.
For another song on Prestonpans, with a similar take but some different details, see "Tranent Muir." Fowke-Ontario, p. 174, attributes both Prestonpans songs to one Adam Skirving (1718-1803), but offers no evidence that I can see. Of course, it might be that Skirving wanted his composition kept quiet in order to stay out of trouble. - RBW
The Burns version is Hogg2 58. The Bodleian and Murray broadsides are Hogg2 59.
Hogg2: "Both sets of 'Johnie Cope' are taken from Gilchrist's collection -- a work in two volumes, published lately...." - BS
Bibliography Last updated in version 4.2
File: DTjohnco

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 2018 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.