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Adam Skirving's Johnnie Cope

In 1685 James VII & II succeeded his brother Charles II as king. James, who had become Catholic, was unpopular both because of his religion and his style of rule. In 1688 he fled England and the nobles offered the English crown to James’s Protestant daughter Mary and her husband the Dutch William of Orange. The Scottish government also offered the crown of Scotland to Mary and William who were succeeded by Mary’s sister Anne. In 1707 the Treaty of Union took place between England and Scotland and when Queen Anne died childless, in 1714, her supporters broke the established line and rules of succession by bringing over her cousin George of Hanover (in Germany) to be the next Protestant ruler.

But many in Scotland still regarded James Francis Stewart, son of old King James, as the rightful heir. His supporters, known as Jacobites (from the Latin for James), were strong in North East Scotland (centred on Aberdeen) and parts of the Highlands. Scotland in the mid-18th century was divided between pro-Hanover and pro-Jacobite opinion. There were Jacobite uprisings in 1715 and 1719 and, in 1745, Charles Edward Stewart (son of James Francis) landed and captured Edinburgh. He issued a proclamation in name of his father – King James VIII to Jacobites – which declared that the Union with England was now ended. But those who supported Hanover – for whom the king was George II – wanted continued political union with England and re-invaded Scotland, finally crushing Charles Stewart (‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’) at the battle of Culloden in 1746.

Adam Skirving (1719-1803) was a tenant farmer in East Lothian at the time of the Jacobite uprising of 1745-6. He was also a song writer and wrote Hey, Johnnie Cope in 1745 which describes the battle at Prestonpans (21 September 1745) between the Jacobite forces under Charles Edward Stewart (1720-1788), and the Hanover forces under John Cope (1690-1760) who was then Commander-in-Chief of forces in Scotland. The song is highly satirical, mocking John Cope (an Englishman) as a coward who fled from the battle and left his men to suffer defeat, though he was later exonerated.

You can hear a version of the song at Education Scotland, performed by Ceolbeg. This version diverges a little from the text, while one or two pronunciations are Anglicised, but it is nonetheless a good example of the song. Please follow the link below.