On a wet and miserable day in 1513, a huge battle was fought between England and Scotland. It was one of the bloodiest battles to take place on British soil, and one of only three battles in which a monarch was killed on the field. It was a defining battle, which changed the course of history. The battle of Flodden Field.
Following the English invasion of France under King Henry VIII’s reign, the French called upon the “Auld Alliance” and Scotland prepared to invade England in support of the French. The Scottish had a huge advantage. The English army numbers were severely depleted, and so they were massively outnumbered by the Scottish. The Scottish army arrived in position first, occupied the high ground and began building their defences.
To try to take back the advantage, the English army lead by the Earl of Surrey skirted around the Scottish line in a wide arc. As the Scots stood atop the hill with their guns pointing south, the English crossed the River Till and came at the Scots from the north, forcing them to re-manoeuvre their heavy guns and cutting off their retreat.
The battle commenced on 9th September 1513. With their heavy artillery failing to find range, and emboldened by some early success against the fringes of the English line, the Scots abandoned the high ground and charged down the hill. What they did not realise was the heavy rain had turned the land at the foot of the hill into a bog. Stuck in the mud, the Scottish soldiers became easy pickings for the lighter, more manoeuvrable English artillery guns.
The English swordsmen dealt with the rest – their shorter swords were much better suited to fighting at close quarters than the long Scottish pikes.
The result was a decisive victory for England. Over 10,000 Scottish soldiers died that day, including their King, James IV.
On arrival at the Flodden Battlefield in Northumberland, it is hard to envisage the slaughter that day. It could be any other part of rural Northumberland – rolling hills, lush farmland and a view that stretches for miles. When we first arrived, the only thing we could identify with was the weather – we arrived on a hideously wet and miserable day.
That was until we discovered the Battlefield Trail. The Remembering Flodden Project has been working hard to ensure that this battle is not forgotten. It is a local charity, which relies on donations to help it carry on it’s work to preserve the memory of what took place that fateful day. The UK as a whole and the borderlands in particular are full of old battlefields. But I imagine few of those battlefields have such high quality and such easily accessible information as the battlefield at Flodden. On our first visit, we just walked up to the memorial. The information board at the memorial so helped bring the battlefield to life that we decided to return later in the week en route to Scotland to complete the 2 3/4 mile walk around the Battlefield Trail.
The excellent information boards brought the landscape to life for us. We were no longer looking at fields and hills and farmland, we were looking at battle lines, artillery and slaughter. The dip at the bottom of the hill was not just a dip, it became the muddy grave of thousand of Scottish soldiers, including their King. We were able to get a grasp of the battle and the reasons for the Scottish defeat. We couldn’t for the life of us understand why King James IV had ordered his troops to charge down Branxton Hill – it is a steep hill which had they just stayed put would have been extremely difficult for the English to fight their way up.
The information leaflet available at the entrance describes this as one of the great “ifs” of history. After King James IV died, his infant son succeeded him and so began a length period of Scottish infighting and jostling for influence until the King came of age and could rule in his own right.
This may not have been the last battle between England and Scotland, but it was one of the last. Less then 100 years after the battle, the crowns of England and Scotland were united on the death of Elizabeth I, effectively bringing to an end centuries of conflict.
Today the memorial is a symbol of reconciliation and friendship between these two nations, and the stone memorial which stands guard over the battlefield is dedicated “To the brave of both nations”. The battlefield is part of a cross border ecomuseum, linking together significant sites from both sides of the border (for anyone like me who does not know what an ecomuseum is, here is the explanation).
I would thoroughly recommend a visit to Flodden Field, and a walk around the Battlefield Trail. It is good exercise, has some spectacular views and really brings history to life.
For more information about Flodden Field, follow these links:-
www.flodden.net – this is the website of the Remembering Flodden project and allows you to virtually follow the Battlefield Trail.
www.flodden1513.com – the Ecomuseum website.
Or watch Tales of Northumberland with Robson Green, which covers the annual Coldstream ride out and explains more about the symbolic importance of Flodden Field today.