The Reprisal

The Siege and The Reprisal 

Here are two poems by Walter Laidlaw first published in 'Poetry and Prose' a collection of writings published in 1900.  The author was born at Jedburgh in 1838. 

The first poem describes the taking of Ferniehirst by the English in 1523, led by The Earl of Surrey and Lord Dacre.  Lord Dacre, warden of the English Western March commanded the siege in Lord Surrey's campaign against the Borders and an account sent to Henry VIII of England describes the difficulties encountered in the attack on Ferniehirst Castle. Lord Dacre described Dand Kerr as his 'blude enemie'

The Siege - 1523

Walter Laidlaw

Old Ferniehirst – dour, grim,  and hoary,

Renowned in ancient Border story –

That oft the Southern foes withstood,

Stands frowning ‘midst its ancient wood,

Its lords were wardens at a time

When reiving was not thought a crime;

Those gloomy dungeons, dark and strong,

Still speak o’ barbarous days now gone,

When bold mosstroopers knew no fear,

And Scotland’s foes were prisoned here.

You rugged glen and rocky scaur

Have echoed with the din of war.

When Surrey came forth to invade

A siege on Ferniehirst was made;

On foot the gallant Dacre fought

Till near his ordnance was brought;

But ere the trenches they could gain

Full many a gallant knight was slain.

‘Mid clash of iron yetts and mail

They tried the outer walls to scale.

Brave Dand Kerr waved his brand on high,

While “Forward was his battle cry.

The signal from the turret flashed!

Through tangled brake the clansmen dashed

With deadly Kerr hand on their foes,

Who fell beneath their doughty blows.

Although no signal could be seen

From Cessford Tower or Littledean,

Yet roused were all their kinsmen true,

Led on by Ancrum and Buccleuch;

With hackbut, bow and trusty steel,

They made the Southrons backward reel.

It stirred their patriotic ire

To see that Jethart was on fire.

Above the smoke the flames did rise,

And threw their glare upon the skies.

A mail-clad warrior fast doth ride -

‘Tis Andrew Kerr from Faldonside,

Of visage stern and armour bright,

With native valour joins the fight.

There fought Mark Kerr of Doviston,

And by his side his stalwart son,

Whose hand a blood-stained pennon bore,

Oft borne by his old sires of yore.

With flying banners on they come -

The Douglas, Elliots, Scotts and Home

All bravely fought those walls to shield –

Outnumbered, they were forced to yield.

Though now the foe this victory gains,

Yet still the blood boils in their veins;

Unconquered is that martial spirit

They from brave ancestors inherit.

The Pennon of Lord Dacre carried into battle at Ferniehirst in 1523

The second of these 2 poems commemorates the recapture of Ferniehirst from the English in 1549. First published in Jedburgh in 1900 it was written by Walter Laidlaw and appeared in his book called Poetry and Prose. Each year these verses that capture the imagination of all Men of Jedhart are recited before a 200 strong cavalcade of riders on the second Friday in July at Ferniehirst Castle. This is the high point of the annual Jedhart Festival led by the Jedhart Callant, a young man chosen to represent the locality.

The Reprisal -1549

Walter Laidlaw 

The Castle, razed from tower to floor

Was built and garrisoned once more;

The Scots and French, led on by Kerr,

Courageous and well-trained to war,

On horse, on foot, from far and near,

With Jethart axe and Border spear,

Responded to the bugle-call;

They storm and scale the outer wall;

Though strong the tower, a breach they made,

Through which the English captain said,

“My noble chief, we mercy crave.”

“You’ll get the mercy that you gave,”

The chief replied, and forward sprang;

A deadly conflict then began.

So fierce and furious was the shock,

Helmets were cleaved with every stroke;

Above the clang of sword and spear

Was “Forward” heard and “Jethart’s Here!”

So well the Kerrs their left-hands ply

The dead and dying round them lie,

The castle gained, the battle won,

Revenge and slaughter are begun.

Now trembling for his cruel deeds

In vain for life the foeman pleads,

But why, my muse, such scenes described?

Peace over all doth now preside.

The days of siege and raids are o’er,

The din of war resounds no more;

No sound except the song of bird

Within the forest glade is heard,

While thistles wave and roses bloom

To guard and deck the warrior’s tomb.