15th of August – Feast of the Assumption

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. St Alipius, bishop and confessor, 5th century. St Mac-cartin, Aid or Aed, bishop and confessor in Ireland, 506. St Arnoul or Arnulphus, confessor and bishop of Soissons, 1087.

Born. – Gilles Menage, miscellaneous writer (Dictionnaire Etymologique), 1613, Angers; Frederick William I. of Prussia, 1688; Napoleon Bonaparte, French emperor, 1769, Ajaccio, France; Sir Walter Scott, poet and novelist, 1771, Edinburgh.
Died. – Honorius, Roman emperor, 423; St Stephen, first king of Hungary, 1038, Buda; Alexius Comnenus, Greek emperor, 1118; James, Earl of Douglas, 1388, Otterburn; Gerard Noodt, distinguished jurist, 1725, Leyden; Nicolas Hubert de Mongault, translator of Cicero’s Letters, 1746, Paris.


The famous old ballad of Chevy Chase is subject to twofold confusion. There are two, if not three, wholly different versions of the ballad; and two wholly independent incidents mixed up by an anachronism. The battle of Otterbourne was a real event. In 1388, the border chieftains carried on a ruthless warfare. The Scots ravaged the country about Carlisle, and carried off many hundred prisoners. They then crossed into Northumberland, and committed further ravages. On their return home, they attacked a castle at Otterbourne, close to the Scottish border but they were here overtaken, on the 15th of August, by an English force under Henry Percy, surnamed Hotspur, son of the Earl of Northumberland. James, Earl of Douglas, rallied the Scots; and there ensued a desperately fierce battle. The earl was killed on the spot; Lord Murray was mortally wounded; while Hotspur and his brother, Ralph Percy, were taken prisoners. It appears, moreover, that nearly fifty years after this battle, a private conflict took place between Hotspur’s son and William, Earl of Douglas There was a tacit understanding among the border families, that none should hunt in the domains of the others without permission; but the martial families of Percy and Douglas being perpetually at feud, were only too ready to break through this rule. Percy crossed the Cheviots on one occasion to hunt without the leave of Douglas, who was either lord of the soil or warden of the marches; Douglas resisted him, and a fierce conflict ensued, the particulars of which were not historically recorded. Now, it appears that some ballad-writers of later date mixed up these two events in such a way as to produce a rugged, exciting story out of them. The earliest title of the ballad was, The Hunting a’ the Cheviat; this underwent changes until it came simply to Chevy Chase. In the Rev. George Gilfillan’s edition of Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, the oldest known version of the ballad is copied from Hearne, who printed it in 1719 from an old manuscript, to which the name of Rychard Sheale was attached. Hearne believed this to be one Richard Sheale, who was living in 1588; but Percy, judging from the language and idiom, and from an allusion to the ballad in an old Scottish prose work, printed about 1548, inferred that the poet was of earlier date. Various circumstances led Percy to believe that the ballad was written in the time of henry VI. As given by Hearne and Percy, the Hunting a’ the Cheviat occupies forty-five stanzas, mostly of four lines each, but some of six, and is divided into two ‘Fits’ or Sections. The ruggedness of the style is sufficiently shewn in the first stanza: 

‘The Persè owt of Northombarlande, 
    And a vowe to God mayde he, 
 That he wolde hunte in the mountayns 
    Off Chyviat within dayes thre, 
 In the mauger1 of doughtè Dogles, 
    And all that ever with him be.’ 

The ballad relates almost wholly to the conflict arising out of this hunting, and only includes a few incidents which are known to haveoccurred at the battle of Otterbourne – such as the death of Douglas and the captivity of Hotspur. One of the stanzas runs thus: 

‘Worde ys commyn to Eaden-burrowe, 
    To Jamy the Skottishe kyng, 
 That dougheti Duglas, leyff-tennante of the Merchis, 
    He lay slayne Cheviat within.’ 

Percy printed another version from an old manuscript in the Cotton Library. There is also another manuscript of this same version, but with fewer stanzas, among the Harleian Collection. This ballad is not confined to the incidents arising out of the hunting by Percy, but relates to the raids and counter-raids of the border-chieftains. Indeed, it accords much better with the historical battle of Otterbourne than with the private feud between the Douglas and the Percy. It consists of seventy stanzas, of four lines each; one stanza will suffice to shew the metre and general style: 

‘Thus Syr Hary Percye toke the fylde, 
    For soth, as I you saye: 
 Jesu Chryste in hevyn on hyght 
    Dyd helpe hym well that daye.’ 

But the Chevy Chase which has gained so much renown among old ballads, is neither of the above. Addison’s critique in the Spectator (Nos. 70 and 74) related to a third ballad, which Percy supposes cannot be older than the reign of Elizabeth, and which was probably written after – perhaps in consequence of – the eulogium passed by Sir Philip Sidney on the older ballad. Sidney’s words were: ‘I never heard the old song of Percy and Douglas, that I found not my heart more moved than with a trumpet; and yet it is sung by some blind crowder with no rougher voice than rude style, which being so evil-apparel’d in the dust and cobweb of that uncivil age, what would it work trimmed in the gorgeous eloquence of Pindar!’ Addison, approving of the praise here given, dissents from the censure. ‘I must, however,’ he says, ‘beg leave to dissent from so great an authority as that of Sir Philip Sidney, in the judgment which he has passed as to the rude style and evil apparel of this antiquated song; for there are several parts in it where not only the thought but the language is majestic, and the numbers sonorous; at least the apparel is much more gorgeous than many of the poets made use of in Queen Elizabeth’s time.’ This is taken as proof that Addison was not speaking of the older versions. Nothing certain is known of the name of the third balladist, nor of the time when he lived; but there is internal evidence that he took one or both of the older versions, and threw them into a more modern garb. His Chevy Chase consists of seventy-two stanzas, of four lines each, beginning with the well-known words: 

‘God prosper long our noble king, 
    Our lives and safetyes all; 
 A woful hunting once there did 
    In Chevy Chase befall.’ 

The ballad relates mainly to the hunting-exploit, and what followed it: not to the battle of Otterbourne, or to the border-raids generally. Addison does not seem to refer in his criticism to the original ballad; he praises the third ballad for its excellences, without comparing it with any other. Those who have made that comparison, generally admit that the later balladist improved the versification, the sentiment, and the diction in most cases; but Bishop Percy contends that in some few passages the older version has more dignity of expression than the later. He adduces the exploit of the gallant Witherington: 

‘For Wetharryngton my harte was wo, 
    That ever he slayne shulde be; 
 For when both hys leggis were hewyne in to, 
    Yet he knyled and fought on hys kne.’ 

The bishop contends that, if this spelling be a little modernised, the stanza becomes much more dignified than the corresponding stanza in the later version: 

‘For Witherington needs must I wayle, 
    As one in doleful dumpes; 
 For when his leggs were smitten off, 
    He fought upon his stumpes.’ 

In any sense, however, both the versions – or rather all three versions – take rank among our finest specimens of heroic ballad-poetry.


It will be learned, not without interest, that certain relics or memorials of the fight of Otterbourne are still preserved in Scotland. The story of the battle represents Douglas as having, in a personal encounter with Percy in front of Newcastle, taken from him his spear and its pennon or hanging flag, saying he would carry it home with him, and plant it on his castle of Dalkeith. The battle itself was an effort of Percy to recover this valued piece of spoil, which, however, found its way to Scotland, notwithstanding the death of its captor. One of the two natural sons of Douglas founded the family of Douglas of Cavers, in Roxburghshire, which still exists in credit and renown; and in their hands are the relics of Otterbourne, now nearly five hundred years old. It is found, however, that history has somewhat misrepresented the matter. The Otterbourne flag proves to be, not a spear-pennon, but a standard thirteen feet long, bearing the Douglas arms: it evidently has been Douglas’s own banner, which of course his son would be most anxious to preserve and carry home. The other relic consists of a pair of, apparently, lady’s gauntlets, bearing the white lion of the Percies in pearls, and fringed with filigree-work in silver. It now seems most probable that this had been a love-pledge carried by Percy, hanging from his helmet or his spear, as was the fashion of those chivalrous times, and that it was the loss of this cherished memorial which caused the Northumbrian knight to pursue and fight the Earl of Douglas. We owe the clearing up of this matter to a paper presented by Mr J. A. H. Murray, of Hawick, to the Hawick Archæological Society, when the Douglas banner and the Percy gauntlets were exhibited. It may be said to indicate a peculiar and surely very interesting element in British society, that a family should exist which has preserved such relics as these for half a thousand years. Let American readers remark, in particular, the banner was laid up in store at Cavers more than a hundred years before America was discovered. The writer recalls with curious feelings having been, a few years ago, at a party in Edinburgh where were present the Duke of Northumberland, representative of the Percy of Otterbourne celebrity, and the younger Laird of Cavers, representative of the Douglas whose name, even when dead, won that hard-fought field.


On the 15th of August 1812, there appeared in the Greenock Advertiser, an annonce signed Henry Bell, and dated from the Helensburgh Baths, making the public aware that thereafter a steam passage-boat, the COMET, would ply on the Clyde, between Glasgow and Greenock, leaving the former city on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and the latter on the other lawful days of the week; the terms 4s. for the best cabin, and 3s. for the second. This vessel, one of only twenty-five tons burden, had been prepared in the building-yard of John and Charles Wood, Port-Glasgow, during the previous winter, at the instance of the above-mentioned Henry Bell, who was a simple uneducated man, of an inventive and speculative turn of mind, who amused himself with projects, while his more practical wife kept a hotel and suite of baths at a Clyde watering-place. The application of steam to navigation had been experimentally proved twenty-four years before, by Mr Patrick Miller, a Dumfriesshire gentleman, under the suggestions of Mr James Taylor, and with the engineering assistance of Mr Alexander Symington: more recently, a steamer had been put into regular use by Mr Robert Fulton, on the Hudson river in America. But this little Comet of Henry Bell, of the Helensburgh Baths, was the first example of a steam-boat brought into serviceable use within European waters.* In its proposed trips of five-and-twenty miles, it is understood to have been successful as a commercial speculation; insomuch that, presently after, other and larger vessels of the same kind were built and set agoing on the Clyde. It is an interesting circumstance, that steam-navigation thus sprung up in a practical form, almost on the spot where James Watt, the illustrious improver of the steam-engine, was born. This eminent man appears never to have taken any active concern in the origination of steam-navigation; but, so early as 1816, when he, in old age, paid a visit to his native town of Greenock, he went in one of the new vessels to Rothesay and back, an excursion which then occupied the greater portion of a whole day. Mr Williamson, in his Memorials of James Watt, relates an anecdote of this trip. ‘Mr Watt entered into conversation with the engineer of the boat, pointing out to him the method of backing the engine. With a foot-rule he demonstrated to him what was meant. Not succeeding, however, he at last, under the impluse of the ruling passion, threw off his overcoat, and putting his hand to the engine himself, shewed the practical application pf his lecture. Previously to this, the back-stroke of the steam-boat engine was either unknown, or not generally acted on. The practice was to stop the engine entirely, a considerable time before the vessel reached the point of mooring, in order to allow for the gradual and natural diminution of her speed.’


It is a great pity that Henry Bell’s Comet was not preserved, which it would have been entitled to be, as a curiosity. It was wrecked one day, by running ashore on the Highland coast, when Bell himself was on board – no lives, however, being lost. The annexed representation of the proto-steamer of Europe, was obtained by Mr Williamson, from an original drawing which had been in the possession of Henry Bell, and was marked with his signature.

*  Mention is made in the chapter detailing Helensburgh in ‘Select Views’ that: 
“Mr. Bell resides here, and must so long as he lives be an object of interest with every intelligent stranger. Notwithstanding the attempts made to contradict it, we believe it is now very generally admitted that Mr. Bell gave not only the first hint, but also drawings and plans for the machinery to Mr. Robert Fulton who introduced steam navigation into America. But however this may be, it is certain that Mr. Bell first successfully applied steam to this important purpose in Europe. He had the Comet built at Port-Glasgow, and afterwards fitted up with a steam engine, which after various experiments, at length began to ply on the Clyde between Glasgow and Greenock in the year 1812. Like many other projectors, however, Mr. Bell did not reap the fruits of his ingenuity. Wealthier speculators followed in his footsteps, and the waters of the Clyde soon bore numerous larger and more commodious steam vessels than his. Application has been made to government for a national reward to this enterprising man; but without effect. The magistrates of Glasgow, however, with praiseworthy liberality, have settled an annuity of L50 yearly upon him; and the river trustees have since followed their example by a similar annuity. The public sensible of the benefit he has conferred on his country, have also shown their gratitude by a liberal subscription at present going on, and from which we trust Mr. Bell’s talents will be rewarded.”

On this Day in Other Sources.

ON the day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary [15th of August], this same year, 1390, John, Earl of Carrick, was crowned King of Scotland, by the name of King Robert III., at Scone, with great solemnity, by the 3 estates of the kingdom; and with him was crowned Queen, his wife, Annabella, daughter to Sir John Drummond, knight. 

– Historical Works, pp.133-144.

While Tamworth was thus occupied, at Edinburgh; and it was supposed, by Cecil, from the delusive letters of Randolph, that the rebels would, sufficiently, occupy Mary, Elizabeth sent orders to her lieutenant, at Berwick, to commit open hostility, by seizing Aymouth. Those measures of hostility were only prevented, by the difficulty of the measure, owing to his weakness; and before she could reinforce Bedford, she learnt, with chagrin, that the Scotish rebels were unable to face their sovereign: Thus, was Elizabeth obliged to retrace her steps; to recal her order for war; and to listen, with some patience, to the just remonstrances of the Scotish Queen. 

In the meantime, the rebellious nobles, with Murray at their head, had a meeting at Ayr, on the 15th of August [1565]:.. 

– Life of Mary, pp.98-126.

Moray was in France when he was appointed, and it was for some time doubtful whether he would accept the regency. He arrived at Edinburgh on the 11th of August, [1567,] and on the 15th, in company with Morton and Athole, visited [Queen Mary] at Lochleven. He had several private interviews with his sister, in which he advised her not to disturb the quiet of the realm, nor the reign of her son. He also counselled her to refrain from attempting to escape, stirring up the people in her favour and seeking aid from England and France, and nourishing her affection for Bothwell. Having accepted the regency, he was, on the 22d August, installed in office, within the Tolbooth of Edinburgh. 

– A History of Scotland, Chapter XV. 

Young Ardkinglass, the comptroller’s son, provoked that he was unable to exercise the same influence as his father, and having tried to gain the young Earl’s affection, by means of witchcraft, without effect, took the more certain Highland method of removing an impediment from his path. He employed two poor natives to do the deed, and Cawdor was shot at night by three bullets from a hagbut fired through a window of the house of Knepoch in Lorn. the instruments in the assassination were given up to punishment, but their instigator was not punished.1

– Sketches, pp.395-436. 

1  The Testament dative of “John Campbell of Caldor quha decesit intestate in the month of Februar 1591,” is registered in the Commissary books of Edinburgh (15th August 1592). His moveble property consisted mostly of corn and stock on the Mains of Clerkington, the lands of Braidwood, Frerilian, Fairlihoip, Nether Liberton, his connexion with which estates we do not gather. Among the debts due by the defunct are house-rent owed to Robert Oliphant, burgess of Edinburgh, for his house in Edinburgh occupied in 1591, £80, and a year’s wages to servants – W. Lauder, 40 merks; John Caddell, £20; two others at 16 merks each, one at 10 merks, one at £5; David McKane, cuke, 10 merks; another man-servant at £5, and another at 8 merks; and three women-servants at £6 and £4 each.

But by far the most interesting antiquities, or antiquarian reminiscences, are those connected with the battle of Kilsyth, the most disastrous in which the Covenanters acted a part, and at once the most sanguinary and the most victorious, whence the gallant but utterly mistaken Montrose plucked wreathes of blood-soaked garments in lieu of green laurel. This battle was fought on the 15th of August, 1645. The scene of action was the district immediately around the hollow which now contains the artificial lake or reservoir of the Forth and Clyde canal, a field so broken and irregular, that, did not tradition and history concur in identifying it, few persons could believe it to have been the arena of any military operation. Montrose and his men had hitherto been on the losing side, – for they could scarcely regard their victories over tumultuary armies at Tippermuir, Aberdeen, and Inverlochy, as having been serious achievements; and they took up their ground in Kilsyth to their own liking, to abide the onset of forces specially deputed against them by the Scottish council under the command of Baillie, an officer of reputation. But when Baillie arrived to make the attack, he found his authority all but entirely superseded by a committee, headed by Argyle, and shorn of power to exert subordinating influence on the portion of the army placed specifically under his control. Montrose’s army consisted of only 4,400 foot, with 500 horse, while that of his antagonist amounted to 6,000 foot and 1,000 horse; but he had the high advantages of having chosen his ground, of possessing the supreme and the sole command, and of having arranged his troops in the best possible manner for confronting and overpowering his opponents. The weather being very hot, Montrose bade his fellows doff their outer garments, – a circumstance which gave rise to a tradition that they fought naked; and, making a general assault, he almost instantly – aided or rather led by the impetuosity of his Highlanders – threw his antagonists, reserve and all, into such confusion, that prodigies of valour, on the part of their nominal commander, utterly failed to rally even a portion of them, and incite them to withstand the foe. A total route taking place, Montrose’s forces cut down or captured almost the whole of the infantry, and even coolly massacred many of the unarmed inhabitants of the country. Though Baillie’s cavalry, for the most part, escaped death from the conqueror, they very numerously met it in fleeing from his pursuit across the then dangerous morass of Dullater bog. Incredible as it may seem, only seven or eight persons in Montrose’s army were slain. “It belongs not to me,” says the Rev. Robert Rennie, in the Old Statistical Account, ‘to give any detail of that engagement, in this place. Suffice it only to say, that every little hill and valley bears the name, or records the deeds of that day; so that the situation of each army can be distinctly traced. Such as the Bullet and Baggage-know, the Drum-burn, the Slaughter-how or hollow, Kill-e-many butts, &c. &c. In the Bullet-know and neighbourhood, bullets are found every year; and in some places so thick, that you may lift three or four without moving a step. In the Slaughter-how, and a variety of other places, bones and skeletons may be dug up everywhere; and in every little bog or marsh for 3 miles, especially in the Dullater bog, they have been discovered in almost every ditch. The places where the bodies lie in any number, may be easily known; as the grass is always of a more luxuriant growth in summer, and of a yellowish tinge in spring and harvest”

– Gazetteer of Scotland, Kilsyth, pp.137-140.

Aug. 15 [1684]. – Monro, the Edinburgh executioner, having beaten a beggar with undue severity, was deprived of his post, and moreover punished by being thrown into the Thieves’ Hole. One hears with surprise of such an interference for humanity, amidst the atrocious cruelties to which political and religious exasperations were provoking the government. The vacant post was conferred on one George Ormiston, whom Fountainhall describes as ‘a well-favoured discreet fellow.’ If we are to believe Milne’s Account of the Parish of Melrose, 1743, this man was a member, if not the representative, of the Ormistons of Westhouse, a family once of some account, possessing a tower on the Tweed, near Melrose, and having the custom of a bridge across the river of that place; ‘a memorandum to old families not to be puffed up with pride on account of their antiquity, for they know not what mean offices they or theirs may be obliged to stoop to.’ 

– Domestic Annals, pp.322-337.

A weekly paper, called the Beacon, was established in Edinburgh, the avowed object of which was the support of the then Government, but which devoted its columns to the defamation of private characters, particularly those of the leading Whig nobles and gentlemen of Scotland. This system of personal abuse gave rise to several actions at law, and on the 15th of August [1816] a recontre took place between James Stuart of Dunearn, who conceived his honour and character impugned in an article which he traced to Duncan Stevenson, the printer of the paper, in the Parliament Square. Stuart, with a horsewhip, lashed the latter, who was not slow in retaliating with a stout cane. “The parties were speedily separated,” says the Scots Magazine for 1816, “and Mr. Stevenson, in the course of the day, demanded from Mr. Stuart the satisfaction customary in such cases. This was refused by Mr. Stuart, on the ground that, ‘as the servile instrument of a partnership of slander,’ he was unworthy of receiving the satisfaction of a gentleman. Mr. Stevenson replied on the following day that he should forthwith post Mr. Stuart as ‘a coward and scoundrel,’ and he put his threat in execution accordingly. Next day both parties were bound over by the sheriff to keep the peace for twelve months.” 

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.174-182.

[The] George IV. Bridge goes southward at right angles from the Lawnmarket, and stretches across the Cowgate, opposite Bank Street, to a point near the south end of the Candlemaker Row.  

The foundation-stone of this magnificent bridge, which was projected in 1825, was laid on the 15th of August, 1827; but after being begun, and for some time left in an unfinished state, through a failure of funds, it was finally completed in 1836. It occasioned the demolition of many picturesque specimens of the city’s ancient edifices, but forms a spacious thoroughfare three hundred yards in length, including the splendid groined open arches over the Cowgate, and seven others which are concealed. It is now edificed with houses on both sides, and presents the aspect of a stately street; but, where open, commands from its lofty parapets a clear and striking view of the narrow Cowgate far down below, together with the new western approach round the south-west face of the Castle rock, which joins Johnstone Terrace. It cost about £400,000. 

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.291-296.

The last duty performed by these old soldiers was to march to Hallow Fair, on which occasion their drums and fifes played slowly and sadly- 

“The last time I cam’ o’er the muir.”

Scott mentions this, but he little knew that two survivors of the corps would make their last actual appearance in public at the laying of the foundation of his monument, on the 15th of August, 1840.

– Old and New Edinburgh, pp.123-138.

“IN my article on St. Ninian’s Candida Casa, published in SCOTS LORE, page 192 ante, I hazarded the statement that the west wall of what I believed to be the old tower would be found by digging. I also ventured to make the further statement that an opening would be found in the centre of this wall, similar to the opening in the centre of the east wall. Mr. Galloway, who has had charge of the Marquess of Bute’s investigations at the Priory of Whithorn, has now reported to me (15th August [1894]) that he has seen the west wall, and that there is the opening in its centre. The distance between the walls, measuring from east to west, is the same as between the north and south walls. These ascertained facts, whilst they do not necessarily lend any support to my argument, do not discourage further investigation. The authorities and inhabitants of Whithorn could give their aid in this work. Will they do so?  


– Scots Lore, pp.401-402.

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