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The tune is still played by Scottish regiments as their reveille. It is a satirical melody which commemorates the 1745 Jacobite rebellion when Sir John Cope and the English were defeated by the Scots under Bonnie Prince Charlie at the Battle of Prestonpans, on the 22nd of September, 1745.

In 1745, when Prince Charles landed in the highlands, Sir John was commander in chief in Scotland and he bravely resolved to march into the Highlands to oppose him. Cope was ill-prepared and outnumbered, and soon retreated in the face of opposition in order to regroup. The rebels meanwhile secured Edinburgh and when they learned that Cope was marching to the city’s relief they marched to meet him.

Both armies neared each other at Prestonpans late in the day, separated by marshy ground, and it was resolved to wait until the next day to begin hostilities. During the night however, Prince Charlie was apprised by the wily Jacobite commander Lord George Murray that a passage or ford was to be had through the marshy ground and the rebels resolved to filter through at night and take the English forces by surprise in the morning.
This was effected and the surprise was complete. Half awake and utterly bewildered, Cope’s troops could make no effective resistance, and in a few minutes were in headlong flight.

"Johnny Cope" music is probably a version of the older tune "Fye to the Coals in the Morning". It also has a resemblance with the Scots tune "Balquhidder Lasses" and the Irish Hornpipe tune "The Drunken Sailor”.

The song lyrics were written by Adam Skirving, an extremely literate East Lothian farmer whose fields were tramped by the passage of the armies on the day of the battle. The song gives an account from the Jacobite viewpoint of the Battle of Prestonpans. The song includes several apocryphal incidents, including challenges conveyed by letters between Cope and his rival Bonnie Prince Charlie, as well as exaggerated accounts of Cope’s cowardice. It also includes an account of him fleeing from the battle all the way back to Berwick, being the messenger of his own defeat, which is also doubtful. The battle, however, was a decisive victory for the Jacobites.
Cope was not really at fault for the loss, given the circumstances. He was later found not negligent at a court-martial, given that he had done all correctly, but was outflanked by the surprise dawn attack on a flank he had thought secured by the marsh.


It has been recorded by The Corries, Natalie MacMaster, The Tannahill Weavers, and Planxty. These words were written in 1745 by Adam Skirving (1719-1803).

Cope sent a challenge frae Dunbar,
Sayin "Charlie meet me an’ ye daur;
An’ I’ll learn ye the airt o’ war,
If ye’ll meet me in the morning."

O Hey! Johnnie Cope are ye waukin’ yet?
Or are your drums a-beating yet?
If ye were waukin’ I wad wait,
Tae gang tae the coals in the morning.
(*) Prestonpans was the location of coal fields.

When Charlie looked the letter upon,
He drew his sword and scabbard from,
Come, follow me, my merry men,
And we’ll meet Johnnie Cope in the morning.


Now Johnnie, be as good as your word,
Come, let us try baith fire and sword,
And dinna flee like a frichted bird,
That’s chased frae its nest i’ the morning.


When Johnnie Cope he heard o’ this,
He thocht it wouldna be amiss,
Tae hae a horse in readiness,
Tae flee awa in the morning.


Fye now, Johnnie, get up an’ rin,
The Highland bagpipes mak’ a din,
It’s better tae sleep in a hale skin,
For it will be a bluidie morning.


When Johnnie Cope tae Dunbar cam,
They speired at him, "Where’s a’ your men"
"The de’il confound me gin I ken,
For I left them a’ in the morning."


Now Johnnie, troth ye werena blate,
Tae come wi’ news o’ your ain defeat,
And leave your men in sic a strait,
Sae early in the morning.


In faith, quo Johnnie, I got sic flegs
Wi’ their claymores an’ philabegs,
Gin I fecht them again,
de’il brak my legs,
So I wish you a’ good morning.


  Cope défia le Prince depuis Dunbar.
  Il lui écrivit : « Charles oseras-tu venir te battre ? »
  Je t’enseignerai l’art de la guerre
  Si tu viens jusqu’à moi dans la matinée.

  Hey ! Johnny Cope es-tu toujours en route ?
  Tes tambours battent-ils encore la cadence ?
  Si tu viens à moi, je t’attendrai
  Pour te combattre dans les houillères au petit matin.
  (*) Prestonpans est un bassin houiller

  Après avoir lu la lettre
  Charles tira son épée du fourreau.
  Tous avec moi mes joyeux compagnons,
  Nous affronterons Johnny Cope à l’aurore.


  Maintenant Johnny soit digne de tes propos,
  Viens affronter nos balles et nos lames
  Sans fuir comme l’oiseau effrayé
  Qui, pourchassé, abandonne son nid.


  Lorsque Johnny Cope entendit cela
  Il jugea prudent, au cas où,
  De prévoir un cheval
  Pour fuir au loin dès l’aurore.


  Fui dès maintenant Johnny. Lève toi et cours.
  Lorsque les cornemuses rugissent
  Mieux vaut partir dormir sans une balafre
  Que de vivre une matinée sanglante.


  Quand Johnny Cope arriva à Dunbar,
  On lui demanda : où sont vos hommes ?
  « Seul le diable le sait,
  depuis que le les ai abandonnés ce matin ».


  A présent Johnny, croyez-vous pouvoir sans crainte
  M’annoncer la nouvelle de votre propre défaite
  En ayant laissé vos hommes aux abois
  Si tôt ce matin ?


  En vérité, moi Johnny, j’ai eu peur
  De leurs claymores et de leurs kilts
  Plutôt que de leur faire à nouveau face,
  que le diable me brise les jambes
  Ainsi passerais-je une meilleure matinée.

Robert Burns also wrote a set of lyrics to the tune.

Cope sent a challenge frae Dunbar,
Sayin "Charlie meet me an’ ye daur;
An’ I’ll learn ye the art o’ war,
If ye’ll meet me in the morning."

Hey Johnie Cope are ye wauking yet,
Or are ye sleeping I would wit:
O haste ye get up for the drums do beat,
Of fye Cope rise in the morning.

He wrote a challenge for Dunbar,
Come fight me Charlie an ye daur;
If it be not by the chance of war
I’ll give you a merry morning.

When Charlie look’d the letter upon
He drew his sword and scabbard from
"So Heaven restore to me my own,
I’ll meet you, Cope, in the morning."

Cope swore with many a bloody word
That he would fight them gun and sword,
But he fled frae his nest like an ill scar’d bird,
And Johnnie he took wing in the morning.

It was upon an afternoon,
Sir Johnie march’d to Preston town;
He says, "My lads come lean you down,
And we’ll fight the boys in the morning."

But when he saw the Highland lads
Wi’ tartan trews and white cokauds,
Wi’ swords and guns and rungs and gauds,
O Johnie he took wing in the morning.

On the morrow when he did rise,
He look’d between him and the skies;
He saw them wi’ their naked thighs,
Which fear’d him in the morning.

O then he flew into Dunbar,
Crying for a man of war;
He thought to have pass’d for a rustic tar,
And gotten awa in the morning.

Sir Johnie into Berwick rade,
Just as the devil had been his guide;
Gien him the warld he would na stay’d
To foughten the boys in the morning.

Says the Berwickers unto Sir John,
O what’s become of all your men,
In faith, says he, I dinna ken,
I left them a’ this morning.

Says Lord Mark Car, ye are na blate,
To bring us the news o’ your ain defeat;
I think you deserve the back o’ the gate,
Get out o’ my sight this morning.


  Sir John Cope fit route droit au nord,
  Sans jamais rencontrer de rebelles
  Jusqu’à ce qu’il arriva à Dunbar
  Très tôt, un matin.

  Hey Johnny Cope es-tu toujours en route ?
  Ou t’es-tu endormi ? Je risque d’attendre :
  Hâtes toi, fait battre les tambours
  Et lève toi !

  Il lança un défi depuis Dunbar,
  Viens me combattre si tu oses.
  Si nous ne devions pas nous en remettre au sort des armes
  Je vous aurais souhaité une joyeuse matinée.

  Lorsque Charles lut la lettre
  Il tira son épée du fourreau :
  « Que Dieu me vienne en aide
  Cope, je te combattrai à l’aurore »

  Cope jura de se battre
  Jusqu’à la mort,
  Mais, comme l’oiseau affolé quitte son nid,
  Il s’enfuit dans la matinée.

  La veille
  Sir Johnny Cope en entrant dans Prestonpans
  Disait à ses hommes : « prenez du repos
  Nous vaincrons demain matin ».

  Mais lorsqu’il vit les montagnards
  Avec leurs kilts et leurs cocardes blanches
  Leurs épées, armes à feu, gourdins et poignards,
  Johnny prit la poudre d’escampette.

  Le lendemain, lorsqu’il dut se réveiller,
  Il regarda entre lui et l’horizon ;
  Et les vit avec leurs jambes nues
  Venir le menacer dès l’aurore.

  En fuyant à Dunbar
  Le guerrier pleura
  Lorsqu’il réalisa s’être conduit en froussard,
  En s’éclipsant dès l’aurore.

  C’est dans la rade de Berwick
  Que Johnnie avoua avoir cédé au diable ;
  Et que pour rien au monde
  Il n’aurait affronté son adversaire ce matin-là.

  Ceux de Berwick lui demandèrent
  Ce qu’il était advenu de ses hommes.
  En toute franchise, il avoua ne rien en savoir,
  Les ayant quittés à l’aurore.

  Lord Mark Kerr lui répondit : n’avez-vous pas honte
  De nous porter la nouvelle de votre propre défaite ?
  Vous méritez que je vous mette à la porte,
  Allez au diable !


The Corries

Andy Stewart
De Innocentis - Guitar Master

A. Skirving poem

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