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.