Flodden 1513: The Death of a King

 

10,000 Men and a King Lost

Flodden is the largest battle fought between England and Scotland.  It cost Scotland her King, an estimated  10,000 Scots (and 4,000 English)  and the flower of her nobility in her greatest military defeat.  James IV was the last King to die in battle on British soil.

 

The Battlefield

The battlefield lies a few miles over the English Border, near the village of Branxton.  It is a quiet. still place, with little visible evidence of the terrible battle that took place.  On the 9th September 1513 the armies of James IV of Scotland and Henry VIII (led by the 70 year old Earl of Surrey,  Warden of the Northern Marches) met.  The battle occurred somewhere in the fields to the south of Branxton on the slopes of Branxton Hill.  Starting late in the afternoon, it lasted around 3 hours.  Outgunned, with inadequate weapons for hand to hand fighting and boggy ground, the Scots were slaughtered.  By nightfall it was over.   Today the battlefield is marked by a granite cross, erected in 1910, and a battlefield trail created and maintained by the Remembering Flodden Project.

 

The Treaty of Perpetual Peace

James IV was a monarch of considerable standing in Europe, perhaps greater than that justified by the size or wealth of Scotland.  He was no stranger to conflict on the English Border.  Henry VII offered his eldest daughter Margaret, in marriage to seal a peace between the nations designed to last for all time – The Treaty of Perpetual Peace.  However the accession of Henry VIII, to the throne of the England, brought an end to this brief period of peace and stability.  Henry made little effort to get along with James and when he did communicate with him was often rude or dismissive.  Things came to a head in the summer of 1513, when Henry VIII refused to pay the dowry promised in the Treaty of Perpetual Peace.  Rather than pay the dowry he suggested he would consider re-asserting his Feudal Overlordship over Scotland.  Henry had not only insulted James IV but had failed to pay the dowry for Margaret Tudor.  Although Henry VIII’s response was insulting, it was no reason to go to war.  But Henry VIII was at war with the French.  In early August 1513 Louis XII of France and his wife Anne of Brittany, requested James honour the Auld Alliance and invade England.  James found it easy to respond and the Treaty of Perpetual Peace ended abruptly.

 

Flodden 1513Ecomuseum

To mark the 500th anniversary of the battle, alongside a re-enactment of the battle captured in the picture above, the Flodden 1513 Ecomuseum. The Flodden 500 project supported and trained a large number of community volunteers who took part in archaeological fieldwork and documentary research. Through the project’s learning programme over ten thousand school children discovered the Flodden story, creating a lasting legacy.

An excellent description of the periods before, during and after the battle can be read here on their website.  There is also information on the places involved in and around the battle, such as the nearby castles and churches.

The very accessible book Flodden: A Scottish Tragedy by Peter Reese, draws together the political, military and historical background to the conflict.  He examines the two armies and their leaders and explains the crucial tactical moves before and during the battle.  It also contains an Appendix with advice on exploring the battlefield and following the route of the Scots and English army.

Alastair Moffat’s book, The Reivers,  covers the period from the early 14th century to the end of the 16th century.  It includes number of observations on the period before, during and after Flodden.

The Flowers of the Forest

There are no contemporary descriptions of Flodden from the Scots side and Scottish records are scarce.  Flodden is closely linked with the widely recognised The Flowers of the Forest, written in the 18th century by Jane Elliot.  The haunting melody catches the sense of the loss

The flowers of the forest, that faught aye the foremost

The prime o’ our land now lie could in the clay

…..We’ll hear nae mair litton’ at our ewe-milkin

Women and bairns are dowse and wae

Sighin’ and moanin’ on ilk green loaning,

The flowers of the forest are a’ wide away

In the nineteenth century Sir Walter Scott wrote the epic poem Marmion.  A romance of unrequited love set against the backdrop of the battle at Flodden.  Though it does not make any serious attempt to describe the battle.

Defining Border Culture

The outcome of Flodden set the ground for a century of disorder in the Borders, and made the Reivers possible.  In fact, Flodden defined Borders culture more than any other event.  80 Selkirk men, set out to fight with James IV but only one returned – a weaver called Fletcher.  Exhausted and speechless, he simply dropped the flag he was carrying in his despair at the slaughter he had witnessed.  Every year, that event is recreated during Selkirk’s Border Riding ceremony when a lone flag-carrier walks down the main street and then slowly lowers his standard in the town centre.

How to Find Flodden

Postcode for Sat Nav       TD12 4SN (Branxton Church)
Grid Reference NT88853740
Opening Times: Open access. Admission Free.
Parking (no other facilities). Park in the Flodden Monument car park 400m to the west of the Church of St Paul, Branxton.

You’ll find coffee and excellent scones at The Hirsel in Coldstream (TD12 4LP), Heatherslaw Cornmill (TD12 4TJ) or The Old Dairy in Ford (TD15 2PX).

Other places to visit nearby include the Hirsel Country Park, Paxton House, ChainBridge Honey Farm, Etal Castle & Lady Waterford Hall.

Directions for Flodden

From Cornhill – follow the A697 south for 2 miles, until you see signs for Branxton on your right. Follow this single track road for 1 mile, until you reach a T-junction on the west edge of Branxton, by the village hall. Take the very tight turn to the right (almost back on yourself) and follow the road for a further 500m, past the church on your right until you reach the Flodden Battlefield car park on your left.

From Wooler and the south – pass through the village of Milfield on the A697 and continue north for 4 miles, until you see the turn for Branxton on your left by the Bluebell Inn (currently closed). Follow this winding, single track road for 2 miles into the village of Branxton. At the far end of the village (by the village hall), take the left turn and continue for a further 500m past the church on your right until you reach the Flodden Battlefield car park.

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