Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Sir Walter Scott
The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border
Lesley’s March

"But, O my country! how shall memory trace
Thy glories, lost in either Charles's days,
When through thy fields destructive rapine spread,
Not sparing infants' tears, nor hoary head!
In those dread days, the unprotected swain
Mourn'd, in the mountains, o'er his wasted plain;
Nor longer vocal, with the shepherd's lay,
Were Yarrow's banks, or grove of Endermay."
LANGHORNE - Genius and Valour

Such are the verses in which a modern bard has painted the desolate state of Scotland, during the period highly unfavourable to poetical composition. Yet the civil and religious wars of the seventeenth century have afforded some subjects for traditionary poetry, and the reader is now to be presented with the ballads of that disastrous era. Some prefatory history may not be unacceptable.

That the Reformation was a good and a glorious work, few will be such slavish bigots as to deny. But the enemy came, by night, and sowed tares among the wheat; or rather, the foul and rank soil upon which the seed was thrown, pushed forth, together with the rising crop, a plentiful proportion of pestilential weeds. The morals of the reformed clergy were severe; their learning was usually respectable, sometimes profound; and their eloquences, though often coarse, was vehement, animated, and popular. But they never could forget, that their rise had been achieved by the degradation, if not the fall of the crown; and hence, a body of men, who, in most countries, have been attached to monarchy, were in Scotland, for nearly two centuries, sometimes the avowed enemies, always the ambitious rivals of their prince. The disciples of Calvin could scarcely avoid a tendency to democracy, and the republican form of church government was sometimes hinted at, as not unfit model for the state; at least, the kirkmen laboured to impress upon their followers and hearers the fundamental principle that the church should be solely governed by those, unto whom God had given the spiritual sceptre. The elder Melvine, in a conference with James VI, seized the monarch by the sleeve, and addressing him as God's sillie vassal, told him, "There are two kings and two kingdoms. There is Christ, and his kingdome, the kirke; whose subject King James the Sixth, is, and of whose kingdome he is not a King nor a head, nor a lord, but member; and they whom Christ hath called and commanded to watch ower his kirke, and govern his spiritual kingdome, have sufficient authoritie and power from him so to do; which no Christian king, nor prince, should control or discharge, but fortifie and assist; otherwise they are not faithful subjects to Christ." - CALDERWOOD, p. 329. The delegated theocracy, thus sternly claimed, was exercised with equal rigour. The offences in the King's household fell under their unceremonious jurisdiction, and he was formally reminded of his occasional neglect to say grace before and after meat - his repairing to hear the word more rarely than was fitting - his profane banning and swearing, and keeping of evil company - And, finally, of his queen's carding, dancing, night-walking, and such-like profane pastimes. - CALDERWOOD, p. 313. A curse, direct or implied, was formally denounced against every man, horse, and spear, that should assist the king in his quarrel with the Earl of Gowrie; and from the pulpit, the favourites of the listening sovereign, were likened to Haman, his wife to Herodias, and he himself to Ahab, to Herod, and to Jeroboam.

These effusions of zeal could not be very agreeable to the temper of James; and accordingly, by a course of slow, and often crooked and cunning policy, he laboured to arrange the church government upon a less turbulent and menacing footing. His eyes were naturally turned toward the English hierarchy, which had been modeled by the despotic Henry VIII, into such a form, as to connect indissolubly the interest of the church with that of the regal power. * The Reformation in England, originated in the arbitrary will of the prince; in Scotland, and in all other countries of Europe, it had commenced among insurgents of the lower ranks. Hence, the deep and essential difference which separated the Huguenots, the Lutherans, the Scottish Presbyterians, and, in fine, all the other reformed churches, from that of England. But James, with timidity which sometimes supplies the place of prudence, contented himself with gradually imposing upon the Scottish nation a limited and moderate system of Episcopacy, which, while it gave to a proportion of the churchmen a seat in the council of the nation, induced them to look up to the sovereign, as the power to whose influence they owed their elevation. In other respects, James spared the prejudices of his subject; no ceremonial ritual was imposed upon their consciences; the leading pastors were reconciled by the prospect of preferment; ** the dress and train of the bishops were plain and decent; the system of tithes was placed upon a moderate and unoppressive footing; and, perhaps, on the whole, the Scottish hierarchy contained as few objectionable points as any system of church government in Europe. Had it subsisted to the present day, although its doctrine could not have been more pure, nor its morals more exemplary, than those of the present Kirk of Scotland, yet its degrees of promotion might have afforded greater encouragement to learning, and objects of laudable ambition to those who might dedicate themselves to its service. But the precipitate bigotry of the unfortunate Charles I, was a blow to Episcopacy in Scotland, from which it never perfectly recovered.

It has frequently happened that the virtues of the individual, at least their excesses, (if, indeed, there can be an excess in virtue,) have been fatal to the prince. Never was this more fully exemplified than in the history of Charles I. His zeal for religion, his family affection, the spirit with which he defended his supposed rights, while they do honour to the man, were the fatal shelves upon which the monarchy was wrecked. Impatient to accomplish the total revolution, which his father's cautious timidity had left incomplete, Charles endeavoured at once to introduce into Scotland the church government, and to renew, in England, the temporal domination, of his predecessor, Henry VIII. The furious temper of the Scottish nation first took fire; and the brandished footstool of a prostitute *** gave the signal for civil dissension, which ceased not till the church was buried under the ruins of the constitution; till the nation had stooped to a military despotism; and the monarch to the block of the executioner.

The consequence of Charles' hasty and arbitrary measures was soon evident. The united nobility, gentry, and clergy of Scotland, entered into the SOLEMN LEAGUE AND COVENANT, by which memorable deed, they subscribed and swore a national renunciation of the hierarchy. The walls of the prelatic Jericho (to use the language of the times) were thus leveled with the ground, and the curse of Hiel, the Bethelite, denounced against those who should rebuild them. While the clergy thundered, from the pulpits, against the prelatists and malignants, (by which names were distinguished the scattered and heartless adherents of Charles,) the nobility and gentry, in arms, hurried to oppose the march of the English army, which now advanced toward their Borders. At the head of their defensive forces they placed Alexander Lesly, who, with many of his best officers had been trained to war under the great Gustavus Adolphus. They soon assembled an army of 26,000 men, whose camp, upon Dunse-Law, is thus described by an eyewitness. Mr. Baillie acknowledges, that "it was an agreeable feast to his eyes to survey the place; it is a round hill, about a Scots mile in circle, rising, with very little declivity, to the height of a bow-shot, and the head somewhat plain, and near a quarter of a mile in length and breadth; on the top it was garnished with near forty field-pieces pointed towards the east and south. The colonels, who were mostly noblemen, as Rothes, Cassilis, Eglington, Dalhousie, Lindsay, Lowdon, Boyd, Sinclair, Balcarras, Flemyng, Kirkcudbright, Erskine, Montgomery, Yester, &c., lay in large tents at the head of their respective regiments; their captains, who generally were barons, or chief gentlemen, lay around them: next to these were the lieutenants, who were generally old veterans, and had served in that, or a higher station, over sea; and the common soldiers lay outmost, all in huts of timber, covered with divot, or straw. Every company, which, according to the first plan, did consist of two hundred men, had their colours flying at the captain's tent door, with the Scots arms upon them, and this motto, in golden letters, 'FOR CHRIST'S CROWN AND COVENANT.'"

Against this army, so well arrayed and disciplined, and whose natural hardihood was edged and exalted by a high opinion of their sacred cause, Charles marched at the head of a large force, but divided by the emulation of the commanders, and enervated by the disuse of arms. A faintness of spirit pervaded the royal army, and the King stooped to a treaty with his Scottish subjects. This treaty was soon broken; and, in the following year, Dunse-law, again presented the same edifying spectacle of a Presbyterian army. But the Scots were not contented with remaining there. They passed the Tweed; and the English troops, in a skirmish at Newcastle, showed either more disaffection, or cowardice, than had at any former period disgraced their national character. This war was concluded by the treaty of Rippon; in consequence of which, and of Charles's concessions, made during his subsequent visit to his native country, the Scottish parliament congratulated him on departing "a contented king from a contented people." If such content ever existed, it was of short duration.

The storm, which had been soothed to temporary rest in Scotland, burst forth in England with treble violence. The popular clamour accused Charles, or his ministers, of fetching into Britain, the religion of Rome, and the policy of Constantinople. The Scots felt most keenly the first, and the English the second, of these aggressions. Accordingly, when the civil war of England broke forth, the Scots nation, for a time, regarded it in neutrality, though not with indifference. But, when the success of a Prelatic monarch, against a Presbyterian parliament, was paving the way for rebuilding the system of hierarchy, they could no longer remain inactive. Bribed by the delusive promise of Sir Henry Vane, and Marshall, the parliamentary commissioners, that the Church of England should be "reformed, according to the word of God," which, they fondly believed, amounted to an adoption of presbytery, they agreed to send succours to their brethren of England. Alexander Lesly, who ought to have ranked among the contented subjects, having been raised by the King to the honours of Earl of Leven, was, nevertheless, readily induced to accept the command of this second army. Doubtless, where insurrection is not only pardoned, but rewarded, a monarch has little right to expect gratitude for benefits, which all the world, as well as the receiver, must attribute to fear. Yet something is due to decency; and the best apology for Lesly, is his zeal for propagating Presbyterianism in England, the bait which had caught the whole parliament of Scotland. But, although the Earl of Leven was commander-in-chief, David Lesly, a yet more renowned and active soldier than himself, was major-general of the cavalry, and , in truth, bore away the laurels of the expedition.

The words of the following march, which was played in the van of this Presbyterian crusade, were first published by Allan Ramsay in his Evergreen; and they breathe the very spirit we might expect. Mr. Ritson in his collection of Scottish songs, has favoured the public with the music - which seems to have been adapted to the bagpipes.

The hatred of the old Presbyterians to the organ was apparently invincible. It is here vilified with the name of a 'chest-full of whistles," as the Episcopal Chapel at Glasgow was, by the vulgar, opprobriously termed the Whistling Kirk. Yet, such is the revolution of sentiment upon this, as upon more important points, that reports have lately been current, of a plan to introduce this noble instrument into Presbyterian congregations. + 

The share which Lesly's army bore in the action of Marston Moor, has been exalted, or depressed, as writers were attached to the English or Scottish nations, to the Presbyterian or Independent factions. Mr. Laing concludes with laudable impartiality that the victory was equally due to "Cromwell's iron brigade of disciplined Independents, and to three regiments of Lesly's horse." - Vol. i. p. 244.

* Of this the Covenantors were so sensible, as to trace what they called the Antichristian hierarchy, with its idolatry, superstition, and human inventions "to the prelacy of England, the fountain whence all these Babylonian streams issue unto us." - See their manifesto on entering England, in 1640.
** Many of the preachers, who had been loudest in the cause of presbytery, were induced to accept the bishoprics. Such was, for example, William Cooper, who was created Bishop of Galloway. This recreant Mass John was a hypochondriac, and conceived his lower extremities to be composed of glass.
*** "Out, false loon! wilt thou say the mass at my lug (ear)?" was the well-known exclamation of Margaret Geddes, as she discharged her missile tripod against the Bishop of Edinburgh, who, in obedience to the orders of the privy council, was endeavouring to rehearse the common prayer. Upon a seat more elevated, the said Margaret had shortly before done penance before the congregation, for the sin of fornication; such, at least, is the Tory edition.
+ {An attempt to introduce the organ into one of the churches of Glasgow was made since the above was written - and, as might have been expected, from the choice of the West of Scotland for such an experiment, wholly failed. The Presbytery forthwith silenced the instrument. - ED.}


March! march!
Why the devil do ye na march?
Stand to your arms, my lads.
Fight in good order; 
Front about, ye musketeers all,
Till ye come to the English Border;
Stand till't, and fight like men,
True gospel to maintain.
The parliament's blythe to see us a' coming,
When to the kirk we come,
We'll purge it ilka room,
Frae popish relics, and a' sic innovation,
That a' the world may see,
There's nane in the right but we,
Of the auld Scottish nation.
Jenny shall wear the hood,
Jocky the sark of God;
And the kist-fou of whistles,
That mak sic a cleiro,
Our pipes braw
Shall hae them a',
Whate'er come on it;
Busk up your plaids, my lads!
Cock up your bonnets!
                    Da Capo.

Return to the The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus