“Johnnie Cope”


"Cope sent a letter frae Dunbar, Said, 'Charlie, meet me, an ye daur, And I'll learn ye the art o' war." Prince Charles accepts the challenge; Cope makes sure his horse is ready to fly. Quickly defeated, Cope is the first to escape to (Dunbar/Berwick)


This song, with its slanging lyrics and sprightly tune, is extremely well known (I have two histories of the Forty-Five Rebellion, and both title their chapters on Prestonpans "Hey Johnnie Cope"), but traditional collections are few and far between. It seems to have survived mostly in texts that borrow the tune.

The song is not as accurate as might be desired. The two armies, although both desired battle, almost blundered into each other. Tactics were minimal; the Jacobites took the field, charged, and routed the army of Lieutenant-General John Cope.

This is not as surprising as it sounds. Cope's army was in most respects inferior. Although theoretically composed of "regulars," in fact the troops were mostly raw. Nor were the units cohesive; it was a company from here and a battalion from there; officers and units had not worked together.

And the army was small. Stuart Reid, in _1745 -- A Military History_, offers evidence implying that the Hannoverian army was only about 2000 strong. It had a few artillery pieces, mostly in rather bad state -- but with no one except two officers to man them, and no ammunition, they played little part in the battle.

Nor is there evidence that Cope (1688-1760) was a coward; his courageous conduct at Dettingen (1743) had earned him a knighthood. If he had a problem, it was lack of brains, not of courage. He assuredly tried to stem the rout. But the disaster was too complete.

Cope would be court-martialed but acquitted for his conduct at Presponpans. - RBW

Historical references

  • Sept 21, 1745 - Battle of Prestonpans. Bonnie Prince Charlie's Highland army routs the first real Hannoverian force it encounters

Same tune

  • The Barns o' Beneuchies (File: Ord231)
  • Jemmie Forrest (broadside NLScotland, L.C.Fol.178.A.2(106), "Jemmie Forrest," unknown, 1842?; same broadside as L.C.Fol.74(219a), ABS.10.203.01(151))

Cross references


  • Murray, Mu23-y1:119, "Johnny Cope," unknown, unknown


  2. Roud #2315
  3. BI, DTjohnco


Alternate titles: “Hey Johnnie Cope”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1803 (_Scots Musical Museum_ #234)
Found in: Britain(Scotland) Canada