The Battle of Flodden Field, September 9, 1513—a young Scottish king who confidently walked the world stage is instantly killed.

The Flodden Window (detail) in the Parish Church of St. Leonard in Middleton near Manchester in England. Completed in 1524 by Sir Richard Assheton of an illustrious military and religious family, St. Leonard was built on previous Norman and Saxon buildings and intended to celebrate Sir Richard’s knighthood by King Henry VIII for his part in the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513. The stained-glass window memorializes archers from Middleton who joined the battle on the side of the English. The battle itself took place about 200 miles to the north from Middleton and about 4 miles from the Scottish border inside of England near Branxton.

By John P. Walsh

The reign of charismatic Scottish King James IV (born March 17, 1473) came to an abrupt halt on September 9, 1513 when he was instantly killed in battle against an English army in northernmost England. It was Continental politics and entangling alliances that put Scotland in armed conflict against its neighbor. In 1502 a treaty was signed pledging everlasting peace between the kingdoms of Scotland and England which was sealed in marriage of religious and ambitious James IV to Margaret Tudor (1489-1541), sister of future English King Henry VIII (1491-1547). The Scots also had a treaty with their old ally, France. When the Pope in Italy excluded France from political gain in Italy—and England endorsed the pope’s action—France called on Scotland for help. In the summer of 1513, James invaded England.1

James IV of Scotland (1473-1513). Published by Peter Stent, line engraving, c.1643-1667. 6 7/8 in. x 4 3/4 in. (176 mm x 122 mm) paper size Given to the National Portrait Gallery, London, by Sir Herbert Henry Raphael, 1st Bt, 1916.

James IV of Scotland (1473-1513). Published by Peter Stent, line engraving, c.1643-1667. 6 7/8 in. x 4 3/4 in. (17.6 mm x 12.2 cm) paper size.

Given to the National Portrait Gallery, London, by Sir Herbert Henry Raphael, 1st Bt, 1916.

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Portrait of James IV, after 1578, artist unknown, 41.2 x 33 cm, National Galleries Scotland. When James III was killed at The Battle of Sauchieburn fought on 11 June 1488, his fifteen-year-old son James IV succeeded him. He had been the rebels’ assumed figurehead, and for his indirect role in his father’s death James decided to wear a heavy iron belt for the rest of his life. A highly intelligent man, James IV proved an effective ruler. He spoke many languages and took an interest in literature, science and law. Determined to establish strong central leadership he suppressed The Lord of the Isles and created a powerful navy. In 1503 he married the English king’s daughter, Margaret Tudor, in an attempt to create peace between the two countries. Yet when England invaded France, James felt obliged to assist his old ally. He confronted the English army in 1513 but was killed in the disastrous battle of Flodden.

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James IV, 1473 – 1513. King of Scots, 17th century, artist unknown, work on paper, 13.33 x 10.16 cm, Scottish National Portrait Gallery (Print Room).

james

James IV married Margaret Tudor (1489-1541), the sister of future English King Henry VIII (1491-1547).

The Battle of Flodden Field was fought in the county of Northumberland in northern England on September 9, 1513, between an invading Scots army under King James IV and an English army commanded by the Earl of Surrey.

The Battle of Flodden Field was fought in the county of Northumberland in northern England on September 9, 1513, between the invading Scots army under King James IV and the English army commanded by the Earl of Surrey.

Battle strength and casualties are disputed but the Scots likely numbered more than 30,000 men and, after some delay, engaged an English force of around 20,000 men under Lieutenant-General Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, Earl of Surrey (1443-1524) who would be the grandfather of future queens Anne Boleyn (1501-1536) and Catherine Howard (1521-1542).² On September 9, 1513 the two armies clashed at Flodden Field in the far north of England. The battle proved a disaster for the Scots. Scotland’s inspiring king was quickly killed in action with a third of his army, including many officers. English losses were but a small fraction of their total.³

Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk, Earl of Surrey (1443-1524).

The battlefield today. The battle started with an artillery duel. The Scots brought heavy guns and had difficulty aiming at the English army at close range and below them. Lighter English guns experienced none of this problem and picked off the Scots' guns. In response, the Scottish left wing advanced down the hill and wreaked havoc on the English right wing. Then the rest of the Scottish army advanced but the valley floor was too marshy and the army got bogged down. Scottish pikemen became easy targets for English infantry and it was here that a third of the Scottish army was destroyed.

The battlefield today. The battle started with an artillery duel. The Scots brought heavy guns and had difficulty aiming at the English army at close range below them. Lighter English guns were able to target and pick off the Scots’ guns. In response, the Scottish left wing advanced downhill and wreaked havoc on the English right wing. The rest of the Scottish army then advanced. But the marshy valley floor bogged down the army including Scottish pikemen who became easy targets for English infantry. A third of the Scottish army was destroyed.

One immediate consequence of The Battle of Flodden Field was to put James V on the Scottish throne. Born in April 1512 he wasn’t even two years old. The Scots were made to wait a generation for kingly leadership in very trying times. Thirty years later, in 1542, James V would die prematurely and was succeeded on the throne by his only legitimate daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, who was only six days old.

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James V, 1512 – 1542, artist unknown, c. 1579, 41.30 x 33.00 cm, National Galleries Scotland. James V (reigned 1513 – 1542), father of Mary, Queen of Scots, became king at one-year old when his father, James IV, was killed at Flodden, fighting the English. Ignoring the advice of his uncle, English King Henry VIII, to become a Protestant, James V strengthened Scotland’s alliance with its traditional ally, France, by marrying French King Francis I ‘s daughter, Madeleine of Valois (1520 –1537). When she died, he married Mary of Guise (1515-1560), another high-born French woman. James V died at Falkland Palace, soon after his army’s defeat by the English at Solway Moss, on November 24, 1542. His six-day-old daughter Mary succeeded to his throne.

madeleinedevalois

Madeleine of Valois (1520 –1537), Corneille de Lyon (1500/1510–1575), Musée des beaux-arts de Blois. First wife of James V of Scotland. They married on New Year’s Day 1537 at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. Of delicate health from birth, Madeleine died in July 1537.

attributed_to_corneille_de_lyon_-_mary_of_guise_1515_-_1560-_queen_of_james_v_-_google_art_project

Portrait of Mary of Guise (1515 – 1560), Corneille de Lyon, c. 1579, 41.3 x 33 cm, Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Queen of James V of Scotland and mother of Mary, Queen of Scots. The daughter of a French duke, Mary of Guise had just been widowed when she was married to James V to strengthen the alliance between France and Scotland. Their two sons died in infancy and James died a few days after their daughter, Mary, was born in 1542. Mary of Guise chose to stay in Scotland, ruling as Regent to protect her daughter’s interests. Although courageous and determined, her efforts to keep the country in the French Roman Catholic sphere were unsuccessful and she failed to stem the rising tide of Protestantism.

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Mary, Queen of Scots, 1542 – 1587, artist unknown (after Francois Clouet, c. 1510 – 1572), 32.90 x 27.40 cm, National Galleries Scotland. Probably a 19th century replica after an image of 1561. Within eighteen months Mary, Queen of Scots, lost three members of her closest family – her father-in-law, Henry II of France, her mother, Mary of Guise, and finally, on 5 December 1560, her husband, Francois II of France. She is shown here in mourning, wearing a white hood and veil. According to the Venetian Ambassador to the French court, Mary was inconsolable and her “tears and lamentations inspired a great pity” in everyone. Eight months later, having lost her position as Queen of France, Mary landed at Leith to take up her duties as Queen of Scotland.

In a subsequent era Scottish poet Jane (or Jean) Elliot (1727-1805) wrote to an ancient Scottish tune a poetic lamentation for Flodden’s martial calamity. Published in 1776, it is called The Flowers of The Forest and is Elliot’s only surviving work.

Dule and wae for the order sent our lads to the Border;
The English for ance, by guile wan the day;
The Flowers of the Forest, that foucht aye the foremost,
The prime o’ our land are cauld in the clay.

We’ll hear nae mair lilting at our yowe-milking,
Women and bairns are heartless and wae;
Sighing and moaning on ilka green loaning:
‘The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.4

NOTES:

1 Trevor Royle, Precipitous City: The Story of Literary Edinburgh, Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh, 1980. pp. 16-17.

Stanford E. Lehmberg, “The Life of Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey and Second Duke of Norfolk, 1443-1524 by Melvin J. Tucker,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 71, No. 1 (Oct., 1965), p. 158.

“The Flodden Death-Roll,” The Scottish Antiquary, or, Northern Notes and Queries, Vol. 13, No. 51 (Jan., 1899), Edinburgh University Press, p. 102.

4Royle, Precipitous City, p.17.

©John P. Walsh. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by an means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system.

2 thoughts on “The Battle of Flodden Field, September 9, 1513—a young Scottish king who confidently walked the world stage is instantly killed.

  1. Gerald

    Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

    Like

    Reply
    1. jwalsh2013 Post author

      Thank you, Gerald, for visiting and for your comments. It is, as you say, a fascinating subject. My interest to write on the battle was piqued by the Scottish independence referendum in September 2014 (as well as the battle’s 501th anniversary). You may have seen and hopefully enjoyed the episode on the Battle of Flodden Field from the BBC TV series “Two Men in a Trench” featuring archaeologists Tony Pollard and Neil Oliver (they have a companion book to the series which presents 6 major British battles published in 2002 by Michael Joseph Ltd). I find their work fascinating as they uncover artifacts from the battlefield pertaining to that harrowing day and develop these “new” physical resources to reinterpret the historical reality.

      Like

      Reply

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