The song, written by Adam Skirving to a well known tune, gives an account from the Jacobite viewpoint of the Battle of Prestonpans. In the battle, which took place during the Second Jacobite uprising, Sir John Cope was the commander of the government troops, and was defeated in a dawn attack by the Jacobites.
The song includes several apocryphal incidents, including challenges conveyed by letters between Cope and his rival Bonnie Prince Charlie, as well as accurate accounts of Cope's cowardice. It also includes an account of him fleeing from the battle all the way back to Berwick, being the messenger of his own defeat, which is also true. The battle was a decisive victory for the Jacobites.
Hey, Johnnie Cope, are ye wauking yet?
Or are your drums a-beating yet?
If ye were wauking I wad wait
To gang to the coals i' the morning.
When Charlie looked the letter upon
He drew his sword the scabbard from:
'Come, follow me, my merry merry men,
And we'll meet Johnnie Cope i' the morningl
'Now Johnnie, be as good's your word;
Come, let us try both fire and sword;
And dinna rin like a frichted bird,
That's chased frae its nest i' the morning.'
When Johnnie Cope he heard of this,
He thought it wadna be amiss
To hae a horse in readiness,
To flee awa' i' the morning.
Fy now, Johnnie, get up an' rin;
The Highland bagpipes mak' a din;
It's best to sleep in a hale skin,
For 'twill be a bluidy morning.
When Johnnie Cope tae Dunbar came,
They speired at him, 'Where's a' your men?'
'The deil confound me gin I ken,
For I left them a' i' the morning.
'Now Johnnie, troth, ye werena blate
To come wi' news o' your ain defeat,
And leave your men in sic a strait
Sae early in the morning.
'I' faith,' quo' Johnnie, 'I got sic flegs
Wi' their claymores an' philabegs;
If I face them again, deil break my legs!
Sae I wish you a' gude morning'.