James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

September 9

Edinburgh after Flodden

By William E. Aytoun (1813–1865)

  • From “Lays of the Scottish Cavaliers”
  • At this place in Northumberland the English under the Earl of Surrey defeated the Scots under James IV. on Sept. 9, 1513. The king and many of his nobles were killed.

  • NEWS of battle!—news of battle!

    Hark! ’tis ringing down the street:

    And the archways and the pavement

    Bear the clang of hurrying feet.

    News of battle? Who hath brought it?

    News of triumph? Who should bring

    Tidings from our noble army,

    Greetings from our gallant King?

    All last night we watched the beacons

    Blazing on the hills afar,

    Each one bearing, as it kindled,

    Message of the opened war.

    All night long the northern streamers

    Shot across the trembling sky:

    Fearful lights, that never beckon

    Save when kings or heroes die.

    News of battle! Who hath brought it?

    All are thronging to the gate;

    “Warder—warder! open quickly!

    Man—is this a time to wait?”

    And the heavy gates are opened:

    Then a murmur long and loud,

    And a cry of fear and wonder

    Bursts from out the bending crowd.

    For they see in battered harness

    Only one hard-stricken man,

    And his weary steed is wounded,

    And his cheek is pale and wan.

    Spearless hangs a bloody banner

    In his weak and drooping hand—

    God! can that be Randolph Murray,

    Captain of the city band?

    Round him crush the people, crying,

    “Tell us all—oh, tell us true!

    Where are they who went to battle,

    Randolph Murray, sworn to you?

    Where are they, our brothers—children?

    Have they met the English foe?

    Why art thou alone, unfollowed?

    Is it weal, or is it woe?”

    Like a corpse the grisly warrior

    Looks from out his helm of steel;

    But no word he speaks in answer,

    Only with his armèd heel

    Chides his weary steed, and onward

    Up the city streets they ride;


    Through the streets the death-word rushes,

    Spreading terror, sweeping on—

    “Jesu Christ! our King has fallen—

    O great God, King James is gone!

    Holy Mother Mary, shield us,

    Thou who erst did lose thy Son!

    O the blackest day for Scotland

    That she ever knew before!

    O our King—the good, the noble,

    Shall we see him never more?

    Woe to us and woe to Scotland,

    O our sons, our sons and men!

    Surely some have ’scaped the Southron

    Surely some will come again!”

    Till the oak that fell last winter

    Shall uprear its shattered stem—

    Wives and mothers of Dunedin—

    Ye may look in vain for them!

    But within the Council Chamber

    All was silent as the grave,

    Whilst the tempest of their sorrow

    Shook the bosoms of the brave.

    Well indeed might they be shaken

    With the weight of such a blow:

    He was gone—their prince, their idol,

    Whom they loved and worshipped so!

    Like a knell of death and judgment

    Rung from heaven by angel hand,

    Fell the words of desolation

    On the elders of the land.

    Hoary heads were bowed and trembling,

    Withered hands were clasped and wrung:

    God had left the old and feeble,

    He had ta’en away the young.

    Then the Provost he uprose,

    And his lip was ashen white,

    But a flush was on his brow,

    And his eye was full of light.

    “Thou hast spoken, Randolph Murray,

    Like a soldier stout and true;

    Thou hast done a deed of daring

    Had been perilled but by few.

    For thou hast not shamed to face us,

    Nor to speak thy ghastly tale,

    Standing—thou, a knight and captain—

    Here, alive within thy mail!

    Now, as my God shall judge me,

    I hold it braver done,

    Than hadst thou tarried in thy place,

    And died above my son!

    Thou needst not tell it: he is dead.

    God help us all this day!

    But speak—how fought the citizens

    Within the furious fray?

    For, by the might of Mary,

    ’Twere something still to tell

    That no Scottish foot went backward

    When the Royal Lion fell!”

    “No one failed him! He is keeping

    Royal state and semblance still;

    Knight and noble lie around him,

    Cold on Flodden’s fatal hill.

    Of the brave and gallant-hearted,

    Whom ye sent with prayers away,

    Not a single man departed

    From his monarch yesterday.

    Had you seen them, O my masters!

    When the night began to fall,

    And the English spearmen gathered

    Round a grim and ghastly wall!

    As the wolves in winter circle

    Round the leaguer on the heath,

    So the greedy foe glared upward,

    Panting still for blood and death.

    But a rampart rose before them,

    Which the boldest dared not scale;

    Every stone a Scottish body,

    Every step a corpse in mail!

    And behind it lay our monarch

    Clenching still his shivered sword:

    By his side Montrose and Athole,

    At his feet a Southern lord.

    All so thick they lay together,

    When the stars lit up the sky,

    That I knew not who were stricken,

    Or who yet remained to die,

    Few there were when Surrey halted,

    And his wearied host withdrew;

    None but dying men around me,

    When the English trumpet blew.

    Then I stooped, and took the banner,

    As ye see it, from his breast,

    And I closed our hero’s eyelids,

    And I left him to his rest.

    In the mountains growled the thunder,

    As I leaped the woeful wall,

    And the heavy clouds were settling

    Over Flodden, like a pall.”