Hey, Johnnie Cope


One of the things that I find sets Dewey Lambdin’s Alan Lewrie novels apart from others in the genre is that the hero, a rather roguish British Navy officer, lives in the culutral context of the times. When you read one of the novels you encounter the songs, literature, politics, and cultural of Georgian England.

One of those instances is his reference to the song Johnnie Cope in the novel Havoc’s Sword.

After the dust settled from the Jacobite Rising of 1745, the British didn’t seem to fear a repeat event and proceeded to coopt a lot of the trappings of Highland clan culture in the British Army. The army became the only place where kilts could be worn, claymores carried, or bagpipes played. And where in the aftermath of the 1798 rising in Ireland there was real suppression of anything than smacked of Irish nationalism for a century, Scots nationalism seems to have been widely tolerated by the time of late 18th century.

On 21 September 1745 a British army of some 2300 men under General Sir John Cope encountered a Highland levy of some 2500 under Bonnie Prince Charlie at Prestonpans, a small town just east of Edinburgh. The battle began at the crack of dawn with a Highland charge out of the fog and ground mist. The detachment of English dragoons decided they had an urgent engagement elsewhere and the British infantry were psychologically unable to handle the impact of the Highlanders. The British army dissolved, virtually all of it being killed or captured.

If The ’45 didn’t restore a Stuart to the throne of Scotland it did produce a lot of music and literature. Part of that product is the song Johnnie Cope.

Allegedly Cope didn’t stop running until he’d reached Carlisle, England. When asked why he’d run, he replied it was because he couldn’t fly.

Be that as it may, “Hey, Johnnie Cope” became a tune favored by bagpipers in the British army. It first gained attention, or notoriety, when the 71st (Highland) Light Infantry launched an attack at the crack of dawn, after a cold, rainy night, and rolled up a section of the French line at the battle of Arroyo Dos Molinos. Their anonymous piper played “Hey, Johnnie Cope” as the attack kicked off.

At Waterloo, Pipe Major Cameron of the 92d (Gordon Highlanders) stood on a knoll outside the regiment’s square, as the French prepared their assault, and played “Hey, Johnnie Cope.”

If you visit my “Characters and Cultural References” listing from Havoc’s Sword you’ll find a midi file and lyrics to “Hey, Johnnie Cope.” I’ve been a long time fan of the Tannahill Weavers and have their version embedded for your enjoyment.

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1 Comment

Filed under Age of Sail, Alan Lewrie Novels, Culture and Life Style Ashore, Naval Fiction

One response to “Hey, Johnnie Cope

  1. Pingback: Moe Lane » ‘Because I couldn’t fly.’

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