Remembering the Battle of Flodden – 2013

Battle of Flodden Memorial

100 Weeks of Scotland: Flodden

Scotsman article published on Monday 16th September 2013

It is cold, it is raining, even my dog looks miserable as I find myself standing in a deserted and muddy Northumberland field.

On this day, half a millennia ago, this field was not deserted. It was littered with the mutilated bodies of many thousands of men, most of them Scottish. I stand in the exact centre of where the Battle of Flodden took place. Centuries quiet now, but still there is a vague feeling that something happened here. There were people here to commemorate the battle earlier but they have gone and now only the crows and myself remain.

To me, as a child, Flodden was mentioned in the same hushed tones as the Darien disaster, or the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. It seemed to be one of those ‘national tragedies’ that have to be endured but were really best not mentioned. I knew very little about the Battle of Flodden other than that it was a very dark event, in a country with a good many other dark events.

Very little, it seems, has changed in the landscape. The steep slope, which rises to the south and where, with ill-judged enthusiasm, the Scottish pikemen came thudding down to meet both their fate and an English Billhook, is as it was. The boggy ground where the two armies thundered together may have been drained but other than that most of the geography is the same. A couple of forlorn flags – a muddy saltire and a more resplendent St George’s Cross – hang limply in the region where most of the killing would have taken place.

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Clan chiefs gather to pay respect to Flodden dead

Scotsman article published on Tuesday 10th September 2013

As the focus of the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden, the Northumbrian village of Branxton is an unlikely marker for what was one of the worst defeats in Scottish history.

A sleepy, unassuming place, it wears its history lightly, commemorated in the street names such as Flodden Crescent, a tourist information centre that was once a telephone box and a few signs pointing visitors to the site of the battle.

But it was at Flodden memorial, overlooking the town, that a steady stream of visitors came yesterday to pay respects and commemorate the lives thousands of the men, women and children who died here.

It was barely half a mile away that, in the space of two-and-a-half hours on 9 September 1513, some 10,000 Scots soldiers were slaughtered by English troops. Among them was Scotland’s King James IV, the last British monarch to die on the battlefield.

The defeat was to prove a pivotal moment in Scottish history. It wiped out a large part of the country’s political class, saw an end to its status as a European power, and would start the chain of events that led to the creation of the Union.

Tourists travelled from as far as America and South Africa to the site yesterday, as clan societies, re-enacters, political activists and others who wanted to mark the day joined them in climbing the steps to the memorial.

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Tom Devine: King’s Flodden plan led to calamity

Scotsman article published on Tuesday 10th September 2013

Until his violent death with many of his nobility amid the carnage of Flodden, King James IV could be regarded as one of Scotland’s most successful monarchs.

During his lifetime he gave the nation good government, built up the royal treasury, invested in such prestigious buildings in the Renaissance style as the magnificent Great Hall at Stirling Castle, and created a Scottish navy of unprecedented size.

But James also saw himself as a warrior prince and this finally proved his undoing.

Although he was married into the English royal house, Scotland remained a close ally of France and it was because of his loyalty to Louis XII that James marched into England in September 1513 at the head of a great host against the forces of his brother-in-law, Henry VIII, who at the time was engaged in conflict with the French.

The Scottish invasion was unnecessary, the result of James’s overvaulting ambition to prove himself a significant player in the arena of European power politics.

He may also have felt confident of victory. The Scottish army outnumbered the English, it was employing for the first time advanced (but in the event calamitous) military tactics learned from the French, and James may also have hoped to gain a decisive advantage from the absence of Henry himself who was then leading his soldiers on the battlefields of France.

Instead, the Scots endured a calamitous defeat. At least 5,000 and perhaps as many as 8,000 men were lost in a few hours of bloody combat on a single afternoon as well as the deaths of a goodly part of the political and social leadership of the country, including the Chancellor of Scotland, the Bishop of the Isles, the Dean of Glasgow Cathedral and several Lords of Parliament.

The decision by both sides not to give any quarter and the brutal nature of face-to-face combat with axe, pike and bill hook helps to account for the horrendous scale of the bloodletting.

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Fiona Hyslop: Events remember ‘Renaissance King’

Scotsman article published on Tuesday 10th September 2013

This week, marking the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden, I was involved in helping  commemorate local connections to King James IV at an event, held last night, which was organised by historian Bruce Jamieson in Linlithgow, and which used dramatic reconstruction, slides, video, poetry and music to explain the cause, course and consequences of the battle.

Although the Battle of Flodden took place in Northumberland, it had a significant and lasting impact across Scotland.

Throughout 2013 there has been a number of commemorations for this moment in our history, which resulted in the deaths of James IV, dozens of high ranking nobles and thousands of Scottish soldiers.

Memorials to the “Renaissance King” – and the cultural flowering that took place during his reign – can be seen all around us to this day. James IV played a key role in the construction of some of Scotland’s most iconic sites – Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle and Linlithgow Palace.  The magnificent Great Hall at Stirling Castle, completed around 1503, was the crowning achievement of James IV’s building scheme at Stirling. His story continues to be told through the extensive interpretation that Historic Scotland provides to visitors.

Several Historic Scotland sites with a link to James IV and the story of the battle are taking part in the Flodden 1513 Ecomuseum, a cross-border project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, which tells the story of both sides of the battle.

Throughout this summer, Historic Scotland has also arranged a number of living history events at their properties in care, including Linlithgow Palace and Edinburgh Castle.

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Our Flodden, Ford & Etal and Scottish Borders tour departs from Stance F (ZF), Waterloo Place, Edinburgh (next to the entrance to Old Calton Cemetery) every Thursday between June and October 2013 at 9.00am. This tour is available for private or small groups from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Scottish Borders and Dumfries & Galloway.

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