This is an epic ballad about the Battle of Otterburn (or Chevy Chase) and provides a more readable version of the classic ballad. The battle itself was fought in 1388 between two Border families, Percy (from England) and Douglas (from Scotland). On being mortally wounded the leader of the Scots army, Douglas, instructed his men to hide his body beneath so as not to discourage his army from fighting. The Scots went on to triumph and when the English leader Henry Percy was forced to surrender to the bush under which Douglas was lying, the battle became famous for being won by a dead man.
This song is taken from 'The Northumberland Garland', one of 4 volumes of songs collected by Joseph Ritson in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century and published under the collective title of 'The Northern Garlands'. The book was published in London by R. Triphook in 1810 and is held by the Robinson Library of Newcastle University. The 4 volumes are entitled respectively, - 'The Bishopric Garland; or Durham Minstrel', 'The Yorkshire Garland', 'The Northumberland Garland', and 'The North Country Chorister' and were sold previous to the publication of The Northern Garlands as separate publications. The Northumberland Garland was first published in Newcastle in 1793 and reprinted in London in 1809.
The collector, Joseph Ritson, was born on the 2nd October, 1752 at Stockton-upon-Tees. After studying law under a Ralph Bradley Esq., Ritson settled in London where he commenced practice as a surveyor. He did however 'keep an affection for the north which prompted him to compile, between 1783 and 1802 several collections of verse relating to Durham, Yorkshire and Northumberland. Here were printed, sometimes for the first time, but in most cases from broadsides and other printed sources, 'Elsie Marley', 'Rookhope Ryde', 'The Battle of Otterburn' ... [etc.] (Frank Rutherford; The collecting and publishing of Northumbrian folk-song; Archaeologia Aeliana 4 XLII). This is not only an important collection in its own right, but was also one of the main sources used in the compilation of the Northumbrian Minstrelsy, the first large-scale regional survey of song to be made in Britain.