The Raid

The Raid of the Kers

By James Hogg

(The Ettrick Shepherd)

Written at Altrive Lake on the 11th November 1830, this version was taken from Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, where it was first published in the July – December Issue 1830, Magazine 168, Volume 28.  It's a long ballad but so very good I just had to include it here so scroll on down and enjoy.  

James Hogg is regarded as one of our greatest Scottish writers. Born in 1770, he shared his birthdate with Robbie Burns. He was a close friend of Sir Walter Scott, who greatly admired his work.  Hogg died in 1835. 

This bold and reckless sally of the Kers into the heart of Northumberland took place on September 29th 1549, and originated in some quarrel and jealousy between the two Wardens.  But it was without the consent of Sir Andrew Kerr of Cessford, the Scottish Warden, as it afterwards satisfactorily appeared though, it is to be said,  not without his knowledge.

I have done my best to explain many of the words you may find difficult and if you look to the left margin as you read you can click on words, rather than interrupting the flow.

Tam Ker rode o’er by the Maiden Crags,

And down the Osway burn rode he

With fifty warriors in his train,

A brave and goodly sight to see.

Their armour was light, but their brands were bright

And their bonnets were steel across the crown

And whenever they spied an Englishman

They galloped at him and put him down.

“Ride light, ride light, my kinsmen true

“Till since the daylight close her e’e

“If we can pass the Biddleston Tower

“A harried Warden there shall be.

“He reaved the best of my brother’s steeds,

“And slew his men on the Five Stane brae.

“I’d lay my head this night in pawn

“To drive his boasted beaves away.

“For at Thropton he has a goodly herd

“Just newly come from the low country,

“And at Rothbury there are a hunder’ head

“All fat and fair on  Kimside Lea

“Mark Ker ride you by Allanton Ford

“As you were riding a race to won,

“And aye when the Warders challenge give

“Say you are riding to Withrington

“For he is their boasted Warden now,

“And his name will bear you on your way,

“And mark where the beaves frae the seaside lie

“As lang as there’s ony hue o’ day.

“And as ye see danger, or ye see nane

This yu maun do to guide us right,

At every cross that ye come to

Set up a black clout or a white.

Mark Ker he bit his lip and laugh,

When his cousin gave him this queer command

For Mark never kend what danger meant

When belted wi’ his noble brand.

He had nae black clouts in his pouch

His kinsmen of his faes to warn,

But he tore his sark from aff his back

And hung a rag on every cairn.

A Warder at Foxton called him to stand

In the name of St George and England’s King,

Saying “ sancy Scot, where ride you here

On this side of the Border ring.”

“To Withrington”, Mark Ker replied,

“With words important and express”,

“Sir Scot that will not pass with me

”Your warrants seals I take no less.”

“My word’s my warrant” Mark Ker replied,

“And passes current where ‘er I go”

“No Sir I must be satisfied

“You pass not English Yeoman so !

Mark Ker he gave his shoulder a hitch

As if a wasp had stung him there,

“Then here’s my warrant thou saucy wight

“Dispute it further if you dare.”

Mark Ker pulled out his noble brand

The English loon his falchion keen,

Two daughty rounds these gallants had

E’re aught but gleams of fire were seen.

But at the third they cross’d and reel’d

And at a fierce and furious turn

Off flies the English warder’s head

And tottled into Foxton burn.

Beshrew thy heart the Scotsman cried

For thine was heart and hand of steel

I never weaned that an Englishman

Could wield his weapon half sae weel.

I may thank Heaven for my success

For I was at my utmost strain,

And had I missed that perilous blow

I’d ne’er seen Faldonside again.

The Captain of Biddleston, he will trust

To thee this night for gallant deed

But the Scots will sweep by ford and keep

For his warder lies without his head.

Mark Ker  rode on, and Mark Ker  rode on,

But never a hoof or a horn saw he,

Till he came to a ford of Larbottle burn

Where a dainty drove lay on the lea.

He tethered his horse at the Auldwood back,

And down by Park Elliot he tried to pass,

He tried to speak in the English tongue,

But a most confounded speak it was.

Until he met with a comely May,

Who seem’d at his approach full fair,

Says he “Feggh Dame, I’ve lost me way,

I pray thee set me won again.”

“Good man if thou hast lost thy way

Sae have I mine which I may rue,

It’s a dangerous place to journey in

For me and nae less sae for you.”

“A hundred warriors stark and stern

Surround these fields on Kimside Lea,

For a Scottish raid has crossed the fell

And a bloody night it’s like to be.”

“But drop that gruesome uncouth tongue,

A tongue that’s hateful unto me,

For I’ve been long a captive here

But love this night has set me free.”

“I am come to join the gallant Kerrs,

I ken you are ane of their companye,

And if you will take me in your charge

I’ll play my part as well as thee”

Mark Ker he clasp’d her by the neck

And kissed her well frae ear to ear,

“My bonny lass you will play your part

Better at Faldonside than here.”

But now betide me weel or woe

I’ll o’er the Border guide your way

I’ll mount you on my own good steed

Shift for another as I may.

Then up there came a warrior stern

A Yeoman frae the Bamborough toon,

“Go get aloof, “ he fiercely cried,

“Thou clod-pate with thy lemon loon.”

“Whoy mon thou lackest coghteosye

Thughe wey can dwo thy bwound no ill

I won’t nwot bwodge ane foot fwor thee

Till I have sworted her my fill

“Go off! Across the river go

And take the baggage on thy back”

The Warder said, and as he spake

He gave Mark Ker an ugly thwack

Mark Ker he gave his shoulder a hitch

A dangerous hitch to friend or foe,

For all his kinsmen marked it weel

And knew it followed by a blow.

Beshrew thy hand thy savey knave

Thou pudding headed Southern drone.

Darest thou presume to touch a Ker,

Or even the ground his feet stand on.”

“A Ker! A K…!” roared the Southern loon,

But ere a second time t’was cried

His head was stotting on the green

Whilst still the tongue to word it tried.

“Aye blab it now!” said Ker, “and gang

Raving of Kers unto the deil!

He gets nauaght but a dunce for aince

A vulgar mushroom-head’it chiel.”

He dressed the maid in the dead man’s clase,

So wide they scarcely would hang on

And mounted her on the Southron steed

And away to the Auldwood back theyre gone.

One short blast on his bugle horn

Was answered readily and near,

“Aha” quo he, “now for a stoure,

The wail of all the Borders here.

“But blessings on thee for a dear sweet lass

For had I no forgather’d wi’ thee

We had been surrounded every man

And slaughter’d on the Kimside lea.”

“Now we’s hae buffing for our lives

And lang afore the break of day

Some brave pock puddings shall bite the bent

And growl their murky souls away.”

In the lowest dell of Larbottle burn

The Kers their council held that night

And oft they blessed the friendly May

Who warn’d them of the English might.

With twenty of the fleetest steeds

Mounted by gallant gentlemen

Tam Ker began the deadly fray

Between the Auldwood and the Fen.

But the Kers were aye the deadliest foes

That e’er to Englishmen were known

For they were all bred left handed men

And fence against them there was none.

They hew’d down all that with them met

Yet would not quit their vantage dell

But they made a din that shook the hills

With horn, with hallo, and with yell.

Then the English circle gather’d out

Hasting and puffing to the fray

When Mark Ker round with thirty men

And slily slipped the beeves away.

Now fie! Lay on! My kinsmen true

And thresh them on with goud and flail

We’s gar them ply their hooves for aince

Along the links of Coquet dale.

“Lay on them lads and dinna spare

We maun perforce their mettle try

If ony lubber lag behind

E’en cut his neck and let him lie.”

“The English bullocks are ours to win,

The English good and gear the same

And never let’s spare a Southron’s life

For the Kers with them are lawfu’ game.”

Till past the middle of the night

Tam Ker maintain’s th’ unequal fray.

But then the halloo rose behind

That the lusty drove was all away.

“Fie, let us ride!” cried Withrington,

“Else we are shamed for ever mair,

let’s first regain that lordly prey

Then fight the Scotsmen if they dare.”

And away and away went the Englishmen

With whip and spur most furiouslye,

The loss of as muckle good fat beef

Was the soirest loss their hearts could dree.

Tam Ker and his men came up behind

Right sair forespent as men could be.

But every laggard that they came to

They popp’d him off right cannilye.

As Mark Kerr cross’d over the Foxton burn

The headless warder nought could tell,

“Ha, billy!”, quo’ Mark, “had ye been hale

We had na cross’d the ford sae weel.”

There up came the gallant Withrington

Wi’ the foremost of his companye,

“Whoever drives this prey”, he cried,

“I charge him give it up to me.”

“Tis I Mark Ker of Faldonside,

And the drove is mine as you may see

And I’ll take the drove to Auld-Town-burn

In spite of all thy men and thee.”

Then rank reaver, thou surly loon,

I have sworn the doom of thee and thine

And ere thou cross the Border fell

Thou shalt cross above this breast of mine.”

“I’ll count little of that brave Withrington

But if with me thou’lt wield a brand

If thou won’st my sword, or bringst me down

The drove is thine, by this right hand.”

“Take that right hand then in the strife

And here’s my pledge as I shall thrive.”

“Ha! The Kers have a right hand of their own

Which they will not change for man alive.”

“And before this Kerr hand as it is,

Brave Withrington I tell to thee,

I never met with an Englishman

Could stand before it minutes three.”

“Tis false and saucy as thyself

Wait here but till the peep of day

Could I but see my weapon’s point

Thou shouldst not bear the brag away.”

“I’ll wait myself brave Withrington

But thus to stop my gallant prey

I have no right or power to grant

So now or never if you may.

Then Withrington pulled out his sword,

And Ker his long and deadly brand,

And such a combat there ensued

As ne’er was in Northumberland

And round and round and round they fought

While fire flaughts gleam’d in sparkles sheen

Till the wan faces of the group

Of eager onlookers were seen

And round and round and round they fought

Till the blood drops fell like heavy rain,

And many a haughty word there past

But the one on the other could not gain.

Full sore it grieveth me to say,

But truth must by a foe be said,

Before the dawning of the day

Mark Ker upon the field lay dead.

His last words were, “War to the hilt

Though I am finally down, what then?

Let this suffice that in my life

I’ve slain a hundred Englishmen.”

By this time Tam of Mossburnford

Was pelting on the English rear,

And thirty men come fresh before

Who rush’d on without dread or fear.

“Foul play, foul play!” was the rousing word,

“Down with the beef tubs, bluff and blown,

Let their right haffets dree the sword,

Ker and the devil, down with them, down!”

Dreadful and fatal was the strife,

For when the sun rose o’er the sea

They were all scatter’d o’er the field

Oft one to one, or one to three.

There was no rule, nor standards there,

Bravery and hatred ruled alone,

For foemen’s life was all the strife,

Yielding or quarter there was none.

There were one hundred Englishmen

At night around the Kimside lea

Now they had vanish’d from the field

There was not one to fight or flee.

The weary wounded Scots went on,

Still with their drove, full hard bested,

For word had gone to Biddleston Tower

That wakened the Captain from his bed.

He mounted his horse and gallop’d forth,

His troopers gathering at the word,

And the first man that he met with

Was burly Tam of Mossburnford.

“Turn, Captain Biddlestone, turn and flee

Thy arm was never a match for mine

I’ll hold at bay thy men and thee

Till I’m across the Border line.”

“There shalt thou never be again

Thou miscreated burly bear,

Have at thee now, for, fight or feign

I’ll have thy head upon this spear.”

He rade at Tam with furious aim,

Thinking to run his body through

But little drem’d of the left hand skelp

That nicket the Captain clean in two.

His horse went on with gallant speed

Still the brave Captain never fell

Without the right arm and the head

Lock’d to his horse he rode full well.

Tam Ker he graned a hollow laugh

When he saw the Captain scouring on,

And the Scotsmen flying him before

As if the devil came them upon.

The first three men of the English troop

Tam laid them level with the plain,

But three broad arrows pierced his breast,

And there brave Mossburnford was slain.

“Alas!” quoth John of Borthwickshiels,

“Since our two champions both are dead

Let’s quit the strife and ride for life

The day is lost without remede.”

Bit Andrew of Littledean him gainsaid

And bade fight on and never fear,

So they held the drove, and flying fought,

Though gall’d by bowmen in the rear.

But still they fought, and still they fought

And fought and drove full valiantly

But the fell-men gather’d with the day

And gall’d their flanks full grievously.

When they came to the Shillmoor burn

They lost all hopes the prey to keep,

So they hacked their neck sinews in twain

And left them lying in a heap.

They fought their way by the Blindburnshiel

By bowmen gall’d from every brae

And a remnant ran to the Blackhill Peel

About the noontide of the day.

When darkness wrapt the band around,

The Kers arass’d their foemen sore,

Their left hand blows could not be borne,

Death spread behind and dread before.

But in the broad eye of the day

The little band of kinsmen true

Were all exposed like other men

To arrows from each bank and cleuch.

Of one and fifty buirdly Kers

The very prime men of the clan

There were only seventeen return’d

And they were wounded every man

Oh! Many a virgin tear was shed

And pour was many a widow’s wail,

But every heart mourned for Mark Ker

The bravest knight of the Border dale.

There were four and forty Englishmen

Lay round him dead on Foxton brae

And Withrington was wounded sore

And carried from the field away.

And the lovely May, the Scottish maid,

Lay by Mark Ker upon the lea

While their heart’s blood together stream’d

It was a grievous sight to see.

O! never was such a luckless raid

Or such a rash and reckless plea

For the Kers were all born gentlemen

All men of name and high degree.

That raid it fell on St Michaels eve,

When the dark harvest nights began,

But the Kers no more o’ercame that day

While they remained a warlike clan.

Blest be the man, who first did plan

The thankless task when it begun

And blest Anne Stuart’s royal name

Who joined our countries into one.

Now we can ride the Border side

And brethren meet at every turn,

But then the mood was hang and head

To ravish, pillage, slay and burn.

God prosper all the Border dales

On both sides of our ancient line

And never may rankling grudge prevail

For doughty deeds of Auld-lang-syne.

Due to the huge file size for 'The Raid o' The Kerrs ' poem I made the decision to read it myself and I  have now recorded and produced the first 50 CDs .