Medieval Billy Connelly: Christ’s Kirk on the Green

This wonderful piece of Scottish fun was probably penned in the 15th century. It deals with a town dance which turns into the mother of all brawls and is an absolute hoot. The language is not much harder than Chaucer and I have included a glossary. Any student of Old English should have no trouble with it. The text is taken from The Oxford Book of Scottish Verse (1966 edn).

As most will know, mediaeval Scots is a development of the Northumbrian dialect of Old English, and like other descendants of this dialect, contains a large number of words of Old Norse origin. The poet uses alliteration in most lines, in the Anglo-Saxon manner, supplemented by rhymes at the end, so the verses really roll off the tongue.

A brief note on two Anglo-Saxon etymologies arising from the poem, just so I can claim that this post is not entirely off-topic!

  1. Thocht means “though”, but where does the “-t” come from? Easy. The Northumbrian equivalent of West Saxon þeah ðe must have become þohte at some stage, through assimilation, giving mediaeval Scots thocht.
  2. Lyre means ‘flesh, complexion’ and comes form O.E. lira, flesh (as opposed to bone). The dictionaries say there are no known cognates, but I beg to differ. I would suggest that it is connected to leoran, ‘depart, decay, pass away’. It refers to the part of the body which will rot after death, as opposed to the bones, which will remain. Leoran may be further connected with leosan, ‘lose’, as ræran (‘rear’) is related to risan (‘rise)’. This last requires more work, as the vowels do not match, but hey, this is just a blog and my main task is to encourage you to read the funny poem!

Explore more Scots words and their etymologies using the marvellous Dictionary of the Scots Language. I assure you it is an absolute pleasure. Some of you may also enjoy Christopher Whyte’s 1993 piece Bakhtin at Christ’s Kirk: Carnival and the Scottish Renaissance, on the use of carnevalesque figures in this poem. But I rather think he doesn’t really appreciate how funny it is.

Pull the glossary up on a separate window and place the two side-by-side for easy reading. The glossary entries appear in the same order as they occur in the poem. Enjoy….

Christ’s Kirk on the Green

Was never in Scotland hard nor sene
Sic dansing nor deray,
Nother in Falkland on the grene,
Nor Peblis to the play,
As was of wowaris as I wene
At Chrystis kirk on ane day.
Thair come our Kittie wesching clene
In hir new kirtill of gray,
Full gay,
At Chrystis kirk on the grene.

To dance the damisallis thame dicht,
And lassis licht of laittis;
Thair gluvis war of the raffell richt;
Their schone war of the straitis:
Thair kirtillis war off the lincum light
Weill prest with mony plaitis.
Thay war so nyce quhen men tham nicht
Thay squeild lyk ony gaitis,
Ful loud
At Chrystis kirk on the grene.

Sche scornit Jok and strippit at him,
And morgeound him with mokkis;
He wald have luffit hir; sche wald nocht lat him,
For all his yellow lokkis;
He cherist hir; scho bad ga chat him,
Sche comptit him nocht tua clokkis;
Sa schamfullie ane schort goun sat him,
His lymmis was lyk twa rokkis,
Sche said
At Chrystis kirk on the grene.

Off all thir madinis myld as meid,
Was nane sa gymp as Gillie;
As ony rose hir rude was reid,
Hir lyre was lyk the lillie;
Bot yallow yallow was hir heid,
And sche of luif so sillie,
Thocht all hir kin suld have bein deid,
Sche wald have bot sweit Willie,
At Chrystis kirk on the grein.

Stevin come steppand in with stendis;
No renk mycht him arrest;
Platfut he bobbit up with bendis,
For Mald he maid requeist;
He lap quhill he lay on his lendis,
Bot rysand he was prest
Quhill he hostit at bayth the endis
In honour of the feist
That day
At Chrystis kirk on the grein.

Thome Lutar was thair menstrale meit;
O Lord, gif he culd lance!
He playit so schill and sang so sweit
Quhill Towsie tuik ane trance;
All auld lycht futtis he did forleyt
And counterfutit France;
He him avysit as man discreit
And up the moreis dance
Scho tuik
At Chrystis kirk on the grein.

Than Robene Roy begouth to revell,
And Dowie to him druggit;
‘Lat be!’ quod Johke, and callit him gavell,
And be the taill him tuggit;
He turnit and cleikit to the cavell,
Bot Lord than gif thai luggit!
Thai partit thair play thane with ane nevell
Men wait gif hair wes ruggit
Betwene thame
At Chrystis kirk on the grein.

Ane bend ane bow, sic sturt couth steir him;
Grit scayth war to have scard him;
He chesit ane flaine as did affeir him;
The tother said dirde dardum;
Throw bayth the cheikis he thocht to cheir him,
Or throw the chaftis have charde him
Bot be ane myle it come nocht neir him,
I can nocht say quhat mard him
At Chrystis kirk on the grein.

With that ane freynd of his cryit, fy!
And up ane arow drew,
He forgeit it so ferslye
The bow in flenders flew;
Sa was the will of God, trow I;
For had the tre bene trew,
Men said that kend his archerie
That he had slane anew
That day
At Chrystis kirk on the grein.

Ane haistie hensour callit Harie,
Quhilk wes ane archer heynd,
Tit up ane takill but ony tarye,
That turment so him teynd;
I wait nocht quhidder his hand cud varie,
Or gif the man was his freynd,
Bot he chapit throw the michtis of Marie
As man that na evill meynd
That tyme
At Chrystis kirk on the grein.

Than Lowrie as ane lyoun lap,
And sone ane flane culd fedder;
He hecht to pers him at the pape,
Thairon to wed ane wedder;
He hit him on the wambe ane wap,
And it bust lyk ane bledder;
Bot lo! as fortoun was and hap,
His doublat was of ledder
And sauft him
At Chrystis kirk on the grein.

The baff so boustuousle abasit him,
To the erd he duschit doun;
The tother for dreid he preissit him
And fled out of the toun;
The wyfis come furth and up thay paisit him
And fand lyff in the loun
And with thre routis thay raisit him
And coverit of swoune
At Chrystis kirk on the grein.

Ane yaip young man that stude him neist
Lousit of ane schot with ire;
He etlit the berne evin in the breist,
The bout flew our the byre;
Ane cryit that he had slane ane preist
Ane myle beyond ane myre;
Than bow and bag fra him he caist,
And fled als fers as fyre
Of flint
At Chrystis kirk on the grein.

With forkis and flalis thay leit grit flappis,
And flang togither with friggis
With bougaris of barnis thai birst blew cappis,
Quhill thay of bernis maid briggis;
The rerde rais rudlie with the rappis,
Quhen rungis was layd on riggis;
The wyffis come furth with cryis and clappis
‘Lo quhair my lyking liggis,’
Quod scho
At Chrystis kirk on the grein.

Thay girnit and leit gird with granis;
Ilk gossop uther grevit;
Sum straikit stingis, sum gadderit stanis,
Sum fled and weill eschewit;
The menstrale wan within ane wanis;
That day full weill he previt,
For he come hame with unbrisde banis,
Quhair fechtaris war mischevit
For ever
At Chrystis kirk on the grein.

Heich Hunchoun with ane hissill rys
To red can throw thame rummill;
He mudlit thame doun lyk ony myse;
He wes na baty bummill,
Thocht he wes wicht he wes nocht wys
With sic Jatouris to geummill.
For fra his thoume thay dang ane sklys
Quill he cryit barlaw fummil
At Chrystis kirk on the grein

Quhen that he saw his blude so reid,
To fle micht no man lat him;
He wend it had bene for ald feid,
The far sarar it sat him;
He gart his feit defend his heid;
He thocht thay cryit have at him,
Quhill he was past out of all pleid—
He suld be swyft that gat him
Throw speid
At Chrystis kirk on the grein.

The toun soutar in breif was boudin;
His wyf hang in his waist;
His body was in blude all browdin;
He granit lyk ony gaist;
Hir glitterand hairis that war full goldin,
So hard in luif him laist
That for hir saik he wes unyoldin
Sevin myle quhen he wes chaist
And mair,
At Chrystis kirk on the grein.

The millar was of manlie mak;
To meit him was na mowis;
Thair durst na ten cum him to tak
So nobbit he thair nowis.
The buschement haill about him brak
And bickert him with bowis,
Syn tratourlie behind his bak
Ane hewit him on the howis
At Chrystis kirk on the grein.

Twa that was herdismen of the herde
Ran upone uther lyk rammis;
Thair forsy freikis richt uneffeird
Bet on with barow trammis;
Bot quhair thair gobbis war bayth ungird,
Thai gat upon the gammis,
Quhill bludie barkit was thair berd,
As thay had worreit lambis
Most lyk
At Chrystis kirk on the grein.

The wyffis cast up ane hidduous yell,
When all the youngkeiris yokkit;
Als fers as ony fyr flauchtis fell
Freikis to the feild thai flokit;
Thay cavellis with clubbis culd uther quell,
Quhill blude at breistis out bokkit;
So rudlie rang the Commoun bell
Quhill all the steipill rokkit
For rerde
At Chrystis kirk on the grein.

Quhen thai had beirit lyk batit bullis,
And brane wode brynt in balis,
Thai wox als mait as ony mulis,
That maggit war with malis,
For fantnes thay forfochin fulis
Fell doun lyk flauchter falis;
Fresche men com hame and halit the dulis,
And dang thame doun in dalis
At Chrystis kirk on the grein.

Quhen all wes done, Dic with ane ax
Come furth to fell ane futher;
Quod he, ‘Quhair ar yon hangit smaikis
Richt now that hurt my brother?’
His wyf bad him gang hame gud glaikis
And swa did Meg his mother,
He turnit and gaif thame bath thair paikis,
For he durst stryk na uther,
Men said
At Chrystis kirk on the grene.



deray = disturbance (disarray)
wowaris = wooers
wesching (weschin) = washed
dicht = got ready
laittis = manners
raffell = roe-hide (fell)
of the straitis + from Morocco
lincum = Lincoln green
nicht = approached (nigh)
gaitis = goats
strippit = attacked, scoffed
mourgeound = grimaced at
ga chat him = go hang himself
clokkis = beetles
rokkis = staves
meid = mead
gymp (pr. jimp) = slender
rude = cheek
lyre = flesh, skin
thocht = though
stendis = strides
renk = man
Platfut = dance named after a clown (flat-foot)
bendis = bounds, leaps
quhill = until (while)
lendis = loins
hostit = coughed
meit = meet, worthy
lance = leap
lycht futtis = traditional dances
forleyt = forsake
counterfutit = (pun) counterfeited/counterfooted
avysit = showed
discreit = discerning
gavell = rascal
cleikit = hooked onto
cavell = low fellow
luggit = pulled (by the ears)
nevell = blow
ruggit = tugged
flaine = arrow
cheir = pierce
chaftis = jaws
charde = pierced (see cheir)
forgeit = bent
fleders = splinters
hensour = young fellow
heynd = skillful, handy
tit = pulled (O.E. tyhtan)
takill = weapon (tackle)
teyned = vexed (O.E. teonian)
chapit = escaped
hecht = vowed
pape = nipple
wed = bet
wap = blow (whap)
baff = blow (biff)
boustuousle = violently
duschit = fell heavily
preissit him = hurried
paisit = lifted
routis = shouts
coverit = recovered
yaip = keen (O.E. geap, crafty)
etlit = aimed
berne = man
bout = bolt
byre = barn (byre)
myre = bog
fers = impetuously (fierce)
flappis = blows
friggis = stout fellows
bougaris = rafters
rerde = din
rungis = cudgels
riggis = backs
lyking = sweetheart
girnit = snarled
leit gird = began to hit out
grevit = harmed (grieved)
straikit = dealt blows with
stingis = poles
eschewit = escaped
wanis = dwellings
unbrisde = unbroken
heich = lanky (high)
hissill rys = hazel rod
red = separate (the parties)
can rummill = did rush
mudlit = struck
baty bummill = backward softy
Jatouris = tatlers
geummill = meddle
dang = struck (ding)
sklys = slice
cryit “barlaw fummil ouris” = cried uncle
far = experience
gart his feit = let his feet
pleid = dispute
soutar = shoemaker
breif = rage
boudin = swollen
browdin = adorned (braided)
laist = held
mowis = joke (fr. moues, faces)
nobbit = knocked
nowis = heads (nolls)
bickert = assaulted
howis = houghs, back of legs
thair forsy freikis = those strong (forcey) men
bet = beat
barow trammis = barrow shafts
ungird = unprotected
barkit = clotted
yougkeiris = youngsters
yokkit = joined in (yoked)
fyr flauchtis = lightening (fire bolt)
fell = fell (adj.)
cavellis = low fellows
quell = kill (O.E. cwellan)
bokkit = poured
rerede = din
beirit = roared
batit = baited
brane wode brynt in balis = (pun) brain madness/wood burnt in bonfires (wood v woad)
mait = exhausted
maggit = tired
malis = packloads (mails)
forfochin = tired out
fulis = fools
halit the dulis = finished of the game
dang = knocked
dalis = heaps (deals)
beden = straightway
futher = load (of wood)
smaikis = wretches
gud Glaikis = “poor fool”
paikis = punishment


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