Friday, 9 September 2016
9 September - Anniversary of the Battle of Flodden
The Battle of Flodden or Flodden Field, was part of a conflict between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland. The battle was fought in the county of Northumberland in northern England on 9 September 1513, between an invading Scots army under King James IV and an English army commanded by the Earl of Surrey. It was a decisive English victory. In terms of troop numbers, it was the largest battle fought between the two Kingdoms. James IV was killed in the battle, becoming the last monarch from the British Isles to suffer such a death.
The battle actually took place near the village of Branxton, in the county of Northumberland, rather than at Flodden—hence the alternative name is Battle of Branxton. The Scots had previously been stationed at Flodden Edge, to the south of Branxton. The Earl of Surrey, writing at Wooler Haugh on Wednesday 7 September, compared this position to a fortress in his challenge sent to James IV by Thomas Hawley, the Rouge Croix Pursuivant. He complained that James had sent his Islay Herald agreeing that they would join in battle on Friday between 12.00 and 3.00 pm, and asked that James would face him on the plain at Milfield as appointed.
Next, Surrey moved to block off the Scots' route north and so James was forced to move his army and artillery two miles to Branxton Hill. The Scottish artillery, as described by an English source, included five great curtals, two great culverins, four sakers, and six great serpentines. The King's secretary, Patrick Paniter was in charge of these cannon. When the armies were within three miles of each other Surrey sent the Rouge Croix pursuivant to James, who answered that he would wait till noon. At 11 o'clock, Thomas, Lord Howard's vanguard and artillery crossed the Twizel Bridge. (Pitscottie says the King would not allow the Scots artillery to fire on the vulnerable English during this manoeuvre.) The Scots army was in good order in five formations, after the Almain (German) manner. On Friday afternoon the Scots host descended without speaking any word to meet the English.
The English army had formed two "battles" each with two wings. Lord Howard combined his "vanguard" with the soldiers of his father's "rearward" to meet the Scots. According to English report, the groups commanded by the Earls of Huntly and Crawford and Erroll, totalling 6000 men, engaged Lord Howard and were repulsed and mostly slain.
Then James IV himself leading a great force came on to Surrey and Lord Darcy's son who "bore all the brunt of the battle". Lennox and Argyll's commands were met by Sir Edward Stanley.
After the artillery fire ended, according to the English chronicler Edward Hall, "the battle was cruel, none spared other, and the King himself fought valiantly". James was killed within a spear length from Surrey and his body taken to Berwick-upon-Tweed. Hall says the King was fatally wounded by an arrow and a bill. Meanwhile, Lord Howard's brother, Edmund Howard, commanding men from Cheshire and Lancashire, fought the section of the Scottish army commanded by the Chamberlain of Scotland, Alexander, Lord Home, and Thomas, Lord Dacre's force, who had been fighting Huntley, came to assist him.
The Earl of Surrey captured the Scottish guns, including a group of culverins made in Edinburgh by Robert Borthwick called the "seven sisters", which were dragged to Etal Castle. The Bishop of Durham thought them the finest ever seen. The treasurer of the English army Sir Philip Tilney
valued seventeen captured guns as "well worth 1700 marks", and that 'the value of the getyng of thaym from Scotland is to the Kingis grace of muche more valew'.
Surrey's army lost 1,500 men killed in battle. There were various conflicting accounts of the Scottish loss. A contemporary account produced in French for the Royal Postmaster of England, in the immediate aftermath of the battle, states that about 10,000 Scots were killed, a claim repeated by Henry VIII on 16 September while he was still uncertain of the death of James IV. William Knight sent the news from Lille to Rome on 20 September, claiming 12,000 Scots had died with less than 500 English casualties. Italian newsletters put the Scottish losses at 18 or 20 thousand and the English at 5000. Brian Tuke, the English Clerk of the Signet, sent a newsletter stating 10,000 Scots killed and 10,000 escaped the field. Tuke reckoned the total Scottish invasion force to have been 60,000 and the English army at 40,000. George Buchanan wrote in his History of Scotland (published in 1582) that, according to the lists that were compiled throughout the counties of Scotland, there were about 5,000 killed. A plaque on the monument to the 2nd Duke of Norfolk (as the Earl of Surrey became in 1514) at Thetford put the figure at 17,000. Edward Hall, thirty years after, wrote in his Chronicle that "12,000 at the least of the best gentlemen and flower of Scotland" were slain.
As the nineteenth century antiquarian John Riddell supposed, nearly every noble family in Scotland would have lost a member at Flodden. The dead are remembered by the song (and pipe tune) "Flowers of the Forest":
We'll hae nae mair lilting, at the yowe-milking,
Women and bairns are dowie and wae.
Sighing and moaning, on ilka green loaning,
The flowers of the forest are all wede away.
Contemporary English ballads also recalled the tragedy of the Scottish losses:
To tell you plaine, twelve thousand were slaine,
that to the fight did stand;
And many prisoners tooke that day,
the best in all Scotland.
That day made many a fatherlesse childe,
and many a widow poore;
And many a Scottish gay Lady,
sate weeping in her bowre.
A legend grew that while the artillery was being prepared in Edinburgh before the battle, a demon called Plotcock had read out the names of those who would be killed at the Mercat Cross on the Royal Mile. According to Pitscottie, a former Provost of Edinburgh, Richard Lawson, who lived nearby, threw a coin at the Cross to appeal against this summons and survived the battle.