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
KEYWORDS: battle borderballad death nobility
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 (21 citations):
Child 161, "The Battle of Otterburn" (5 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #1}
Bronson 161, "The Battle of Otterburn" (2 versions)
Bronson-SingingTraditionOfChildsPopularBallads 161, "The Battle of Otterburn" (1 version: #1)
Percy/Wheatley-ReliquesOfAncientEnglishPoetry I, pp. 35-51+notes on pp. 53-54, "The Battle of Otterbourne" (1 text)
Bell-Combined-EarlyBallads-CustomsBalladsSongsPeasantryEngland, pp. 92-103, "The Battle of Otterburn" (1 text)
Chambers-ScottishBallads, pp. 12-18, "The Battle of Otterbourne" (1 text)
Leach-TheBalladBook, pp. 436-446, "The Battle of Otterburn" (2 texts)
Leach-HeritageBookOfBallads, pp. 63-72, "The Battle of Otterburn" (1 text)
Whitelaw-BookOfScottishBallads, pp. 344-349, "The Battle of Otterbourne" (1 text)
Ritson-AncientSongsBalladsFromHenrySecondToTheRevolution, pp. 83-91, "The Battle of Otterburn" (1 text)
Quiller-Couch-OxfordBookOfBallads 127, "The Battle of Otterburn" (1 text)
Gummere-OldEnglishBallads, pp. 94-104+323-325, "The Battle of Otterburn" (1 text)
HarvardClassics-EnglishPoetryChaucerToGray, pp. 88-93, "The Battle of Otterburn" (1 text)
Brown/Robbins-IndexOfMiddleEnglishVerse, #1620
DigitalIndexOfMiddleEnglishVerse #2713
ADDITIONAL: Rossell Hope Robbins, _Historical Poems of the XIVth and XVth Century_, Columbia University Press, 1959, #26, [[/ 64-74, "The Battle of Otterburn" (1 text)
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}
Karin Boklund-Lagopolou, _I have a yong suster: Popular song and Middle English lyric_, Four Courts Press, 2002, pp. 166-175, "(The Battle of Otterburn)" (1 text)
MANUSCRIPT: London, British Library, MS. Harley 293, folio 52
MANUSCRIPT: London, British Library, MS. Cotton Cleopatra C.IV, folio 64

Roud #3293
cf. "The Hunting of the Cheviot" (subject)
NOTES [485 words]: 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]. A caution, pointed out by Albert B. Friedman, The Ballad Revival, University of Chicago Press, 1961, pp. 33-34, was descended from a Duke of Northumberland. Not from the Percys, but still, the story had personal interest to him.
Even earlier, The Complaynt of Scotland of 1549 refers to separate songs "The hunttis of the cheviot" and "The persee & the mongomrye met"; again, we can't know which song is meant -- although, if both are references to the extant ballads, then "The Percy and Montgomery Met" is "Otterbrn" and "The hunttis of the Cheviot" is that ballad. The Complaynt also mentions "That day, that day, that gentil day," which Child thinks another citation of a Harlaw ballad, but that is disputed. For citations, see James A. H. Murray, editor, The Complaynt of Scotland, volume I (Introduction plus Chapters I-XIII), Early English Text Society, 1872 (I use the 1906 reprint; the Complaynt was published in 1549), pp. lxxxv-lxxvii), - RBW
Last updated in version 5.3
File: C161

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