On my recent holiday, one of the places I stayed was Crookham in Northumberland. It is just around the corner from Flodden Field. The area has witnessed many battles between the Scots and the English over the years. The battle took place on 9th September 1513 and my stay coincided with the 500th anniversary of the conflict. Various activities and ceremonies were taking place to commemorate the sombre occasion.
Looking at the peaceful fields today, it is hard to imagine that Flodden witnessed one of the bloodiest battles in British history where, in only a few hours, Scotland lost nearly a whole generation of its ruling elite. This was the Battle of Branxton Moor which is more commonly known as the Battle of Flodden Field.
King James IV of Scotland had made an alliance with Louis XII of France promising mutual support if either should be attacked by England. So, when King Henry VIII of England took his army to fight in France King James crossed the border into England. The fact that Henry was in France meant that seasoned veteran the Earl of Surrey was left to lead the English army and defend English territory.
King James crossed the Tweed and took several castles, including the partially destroying Norham Castle before establishing a position on Flodden Hill. On their march to the battlefield the English managed to outflank the Scots and take up a position that put them between the Scots and their homeland.
The movements of various elements of both the English and Scottish armies (some arriving and some departing) forced James to relinquish his army’s favourable position on the high ground for a lower position. Even though the Scottish army was far greater in number than the English army this put them at a disadvantage; the ground was boggy and their weapons were unsuitable for the territory. The unfortunate circumstances led to the ultimate defeat of the Scottish army and the death of King James IV who became the last British monarch to die in battle.
By some accounts it is estimated that 4000 Englishmen and 9000 Scotsmen lost their lives. The Scots lost their King and many of their nobility and youth. Hardly a family was untouched by the tragedy, which had lasting effects for years to come.
I visited the memorial on the battlefield on the morning of the 500th anniversary (whilst it was still quiet). When I am in the area I always feel drawn to visit the fields where the conflict took place. The fields have a strange atmosphere about them which can’t be explained; it has to be felt…
Sir Walter Scott describes the battle of Flodden in his poem Marmion:
From Flodden ridge,
The Scots beheld the English host
Leave Barmoor Wood, their evening post
And headful watched them as they crossed
The Till by Twizell Bridge.
High sight it is, and haughty, while
They dive into the deep defile;
Beneath the cavern’d cliff they fall,
Beneath the castle’s airy wall.
By rock, by oak, by Hawthorn tree,
Troop after troop are disappearing;
Troop after troop their banners rearing
Upon the eastern bank you see.
Still pouring down the rocky glen,
Where flows the sullen Till,
And rising from the dim-wood glen,
Standards on standards, men on men,
In slow procession still,
And sweeping o’er the Gothic arch,
And pressing on in ceaseless march,
To gain the opposing hill.
Isn’t it amazing how many truly beautiful, and apparently idyllic spots have a history of blood and pain. And how the memory of those times can be felt there still, many years, many generations later.
Thank you for commemorating the lost so beautifully.
October 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSoosie
The scene is strangely quiet and peaceful given its volatile bloody history. So sad to think about how many lives have been lost in the attempt to lay claim to territory. Love how you write about your country’s history!
October 3, 2013 | Registered CommenterMarcie
I feel the same way about some areas that have a bloody history here in the US. You are drawn to the pain and suffering, to the ghosts that linger…it is a sad but indescribable feeling…
October 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDonna@Gardens Eye View
Beautifully written and I can just feel the loss in your capture.
October 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGotham Girl Aka Robin
I can imagine, as you’ve so aptly described, that those fields cry out still
for all the blood needlessly spilled there.
Thankful for the peaceful moments you got to spend there now.
October 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Richardson
when in poland, i visited a jewish cemetery the size of a football field. it was a beautiful day, and the cemetery was getting a fence. only…there were no headstones, because the nazis took them all to build roads. the tall grass swayed in the breeze.
empty space can have an impact that is deeper than…anything else. your post was a history lesson with reminder that in horror, everyone is touched.
October 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHoney
For all the people over the years who have reflected on battlefields from years past, Cherry, wouldn’t you think we’d have seen an end to war by now? It breaks my heart. And maybe that’s the unexplainable feeling…the moans and groans still crying out from the ground.
I agree with Marcie about loving how you write about your country’s history…the good, bad and the ugly. Thank you.
October 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGinnie
It is hard to imagine that such a peaceful, idyllic scene could once have held so much horror. Your words bring to mind the song that asks, “When will they ever learn?”
October 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah
What you describe here, Cherry, the strange and somber feeling at the emptiness of the former battle field is something I have felt when visiting the WWI battlefields of Verdun or Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. To think that we learned nothing of the cries and sorrow – just as Ginnie said. It is indeed heartbreaking.
October 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCarola
Give peace a chance? It is beyond what my head and heart can wrap themselves around? I’ve visited some bloody, bloody battlefields here in the US that are now idyllic spots and I know, absolutely that you can feel the reverent whispers of lives lost at those places. Poignant post.
October 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara
Thank you for this reflection on history.
October 3, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMaery Rose
I feel the strange atmosphere in those dark fields as I look into your photo of them Cherry and love the name Flodden Field……:~))
October 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine
Wonderful scenery, I have felt the same when I was close to some places where the most bloody battles of the first world war took place. Thanks for all the information and the great poem is always fantastic to get to know more about history
October 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterZena
When I finished reading your story of that battlefield, Cherry, I couldn’t help it and saw a scene from the Lord of the Rings where a huge army of green transparent ghosts of long dead solders arrives at the battlefield… 🙂
I wonder whether the special feeling connected with battlefields you speak about might be similar to the feeling churches excite, just charged differently. And if we didn’t know there was a battlefield, would we feel it? Or just the awareness makes us perceive something profound?
October 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPetra
I can imagine how a place like this would give off a feeling, I think places do have memories, and I think you’ve captured that feeling very well in your image. Hallowed ground for certain.
October 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKelly