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Sir Andrew Barton


The Tale of how the villainous pirate was killed by Lord Charles Howard.

retold by Gael Stirler. Based on Child Ballad 167A and B.
(November, 2011)

Pirate ship sea battle
Sea Battle By Sir Frank Brangwyn, 1867 ~ 1956.

One day in summer King Henry VIII went for a walk along the River Thames. As he crested a hill he saw a crowd of eighty merchants coming his way. They knelt before him to seek his help in an urgent matter. "We dare not sail our ships in the waters off France, Flanders, or Bordeaux because a pirate lies in wait in those waters, to rob us of our merchant goods.

King Henry turned red with anger. "Who dares treat English ships in this manner!" The merchants sighed and said, "He is a proud Scott named Sir Andrew Barton, an admiral at one time in the Scottish Navy, that will rob us all even if he is outnumbered 20 to 1. His ship, The Lion, has fifteen cannons on both sides, as well as cannons fore and aft. He bears great beams on his top castle and when he draws near our ships he drops them on our decks so his men can board and rob us with great violence."

King Henry looked back at the lords, barons, and knights in his entourage and challenged, "Is there not one man in my Realm that will capture this traitor and bring him to me?

Then Lord Charles Howard stepped up to the king and said, "That man will I be." "Then I shall give you six hundred men of your own choosing, as well as mariners and ships boys, and a great sailing ship that you might apprehend The Lion and bring Sir Andrew to me," replied the king. "May I never set foot in England again if I not capture both him and his ship and bring them to you," swore Howard.

The first mariner that Lord Howard called to sail with him was a gunner named Peter Simon. "I have chosen you above all others to be the captain of 100 gunners," Simon replied, "I am honored that you have made me captain of the gunners and you can hang me from the main-mast if I miss my mark by more than the width of a loaf of bread." Next he called William Horsley to be the head of his bowmen. "I am honored to be the captain of the bowmen on your ship, sir." he replied, "And you can hang me from the main-mast if I miss my mark by more than the width of a piece of bread."

Lord Charles Howard then rounded out his crew with good sailors, pikemen, and soldiers. For four months they searched for Andrew Barton in all the waters off France, Flanders, and Bordeaux. They sought whatever news they could find about The Lion. One day they met a ship on the ocean and signaled it to stay and stand. Lord Charles Howard spoke with its captain, Harry Hunt of Newcastle upon Tine. "Tell me Henry, in your travels have you heard of a robber named Sir Andrew Barton, knight?" "Alas," sighed Henry Hunt, "I know that devil. He robbed me of my merchants wares and I was his prisoner but yesternight!"

Lord Howard finally had the break he sought. "If you can lead me to this brigand, I will see that for every penny stolen from you, you receive a shilling."

"I will help you full well, for I am poor and bare and my merchants will all have a piece of me if I return to England without their goods." Harry Hunt said. "But God keep you out of this villain's hands for Barton is brass within and steel without, besides, my lord, he is mad. When you find him, don't board his ship, just sink him to the bottom of the sea and only then will you be sure that he will never rob another merchant vessel." But Lord Howard replied, "I have sworn that I will bring this false knight before the King, so show me where I can find him, and you will be rewarded." So they transferred six cannons to Hunt's ship that night and waited until dawn to set a trap for Sir Andrew Barton.

The next morning at nine, they spied Barton's ship at anchor with a smaller ship, a pinnace, sailing nearby. "Now by my faith," said Charles to his ship's captain" that yonder Scottish ship is The Lion or I am a yellow dog." Lord Howard ordered his English standard removed from the mast and a plain white flag raised in the manner of merchant ships.

Sir Andrew Barton stood on the deck of The Lion. He scanned the horizon with his spy glass and saw Hunt and Howard passing through his waters. He said to his first mate, Mr. Gordon, with rising anger," Who are these discourteous English, that try to pass my waters without seeking my permission! Fetch back these peddlars. I will hang every one of them from my main-mast and take all their treasure for this offence."

With that the pinnace raised her sails and sped off after the English ships. Being light and sleek, it overtook Lord Charles ship forthwith. The pinnace shot off its cannons and struck down the foremast of Charles' ship killing 14 men. "Come hither, Peter Simon," called Lord Charles, "Remember your oath, now is the time to prove that you will not miss your mark by more than the width of a loaf of bread." Peter was old but he was the best gunner in England. He filled the cannon with chain and shot. He lined up his gun with his eye and fired. The pinnace bucked and sunk into the sea.

When Andrew saw this he yelled, "Cut the anchor ropes, I'll fetch this peddler back myself!"

When Charles saw The Lion loose her sails and give chase, in his heart he felt faint, but he called to his men, "Strike the drums and sound the trumpet. Spread the flag. All men on deck!"

Now Simon had a son that served with him, and he had an eye a keen as a beam of light. He lowered his cannon on The Lion as it approached. He shot his gun at a vulnerable place and killed sixty men before Sir Andrew Barton knew that he was within their range.

Harry Hunt brought his ship along the other side and with a blast from the borrowed guns, Harry brought down the main-mast of The Lion, killing eighty more of Sir Andrews' men. "You laughed at me yesternight when you had me prisoner," yelled Hunt, "but who has the last laugh now?"

"What can a man say," replied the Scottish admiral, "the thief who was my prisoner ere yesterday has now become my greatest enemy." Then Sir Andrew Barton called out to his first mate. "Mr. Gordon," he cried. " I will give you 300 pounds if you will let my beams fall down."

Just then did Gordon heave the main-mast tree with all his might to lower the boarding beams. But William Horseley bent his bow and put an arrow in his brain before the beams were loosed. Gordon fell down the hatch, bleeding. Word went through Sir Andrew's men that Gordon was dead. "Come to me, James Hambliton, you are my sister's son," called out Sir Andrew Barton, "and I will give you 600 pounds if you will let down my beams."

When young James Hambliton put his hand to the main-mast tree, Horseley put an arrow through his skull. Sir Andrew saw his nephew fall through the hatches covered in blood. He called for his armor, "I will go out to the top-castle myself and let down the beams. Bring me my gilded armor. My brother wore it in Portugal and no arrow or shot could touch him." Sir Andrew climbed up on deck in his shining armor and every man that saw him thought no weapon could harm him.

Pirate ship giving chase
Ships could spend days chasing each
other on the high seas seeking an advantage.

Then Lord Howard called for the captain of his bowmen. "Horseley, look that your shaft fly straight in this time of need and you will be made a knight." And at that Horseley took careful aim at Sir Andrew as he climbed to the top castle to lower the boarding beams. He aimed for the small opening in the armor under Sir Andrew's arm that was revealed briefly as he climbed. He loosed his arrow and smote Sir Andrew quite through the heart. But Sir Andrew still held on to the mast so Horseley aimed another arrow and this time shot him clean through the collar of his jacke into his brain. Yet still Barton spoke, "Fight on, I am hurt but not slain," says he. "These English dogs bite low. I will lie down and bleed a little while, and then I will fight with you again. Fight on for Scotland and St. Andrew until you hear my whistle blow." But they never heard the whistle for Barton bowed his head and died.

The Scots lay down their arms. Hunt and Howard boarded The Lion and found 360 alive on board and just as many dead. Lord Howard went to where the pirate Barton lay. He took his sword in hand and smote off Sir Andrews's head, "I would that I had brought you in chains, back to England." The Scots stood by and mourned but dared not say a word.

With the head of the pirate captain they all sailed back to England. They entered the mouth of the River Thames on the day before New Years Eve. Howard wrote a letter to the king, "Such a New Years gift I bring your Majesty as never did a subject to any king. A braver ship you never saw, beset with pearls and precious stones. Now England has two ships of war, The Lion and the The Hunter which brought her down."

When all were brought before the presence of the King, His Majesty said, "Who helped you in this battle that I may reward him for his pain. "You may thank God," quoth he, "and four good men who helped defeat your enemy. That is Simon Peter and his son, William Horsely, and Harry Hunt, each of whom served you well and brought Sir Andrew down."

The King gave rewards to all. He gave to Harry Hunt, the pirate's whistle and chain, and all his gold and jewels and other rich gifts. Horseley he made a knight and gave him an estate in Yokshire. Simon Peter and his son were each given a lifetime pension of a shilling a day for as long as they live. And Lord Charles Howard was made the Earl of Bury Hight with all the land and incomes there to. Finally he gave seven shillings to each Englishman who fought that day. King Henry even gave 12 pence a day to the Scots that surrendered, so they could return to King James in Scotland.

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