The Battle of Flodden Field

'Twas on the 9th of September, a very beautiful day,
That a numerous English army came in grand array,
And pitched their tents on Flodden field so green
In the year of our Lord fifteen hundred and thirteen.

-- William McGonagall

In 1513 Henry VIII of England was in France pursuing a war there. The French queen persuaded James IV of Scotland to live up to the 'auld alliance' between them and invade England while it was poorly defended. The Earl of Surrey, left in charge of the defence of England, mustered a force in the north to oppose King James's invasion, and on 9 September 1513 they met near Flodden Hill, in Northumberland.

It was a total disaster for the Scots. King James IV was killed, as were twelve earls, an archbishop, and many other lords: ten thousand in all, including a large part of the great families of Scotland, few of which were left untouched by the battle.

James crossed the River Tweed into England on 22 August with a large army, somewhere betweeen 60 000 and 100 000 men, but much of it was dispersed in their usual occupations of border raiding, revenge, and plunder. He was also delayed by alleged dalliance with the lady of Ford Castle, a Northumberland fastness he had occupied; she might even have been a spy for Surrey. When he drew up at Flodden Hill he had perhaps 30 000 troops left. Thomas Howard, the Earl of Surrey, had assembled 20 000 or more to meet him by the time their armies got close, and sought to gain a good battleground.

Their manoeuvrings in the early part of the day gave several names to the battle. The Scots moved from Flodden Hill towards Branxton (older Brankstone) Hill, keeping the high ground. The 'Field' in the name means battlefield, not the actual plain between them where the English army was held at a disadvantage. For many ears the battle was known to the English as the Battle of Branxton. Flodden or the more poetic name of 'Flodden Field' is now established, and was used by Sir Walter Scott in the subtitle of his great poem Marmion.

The battle did not begin until four in the afternoon. The English artillery was superior to the Scottish, and despite having to fight their way uphill they gained the advantage. They also had the advantage in their 8-foot bills (against the Scots' 15-foot ones), and archers. King James rashly decided to charge downward into the centre of the English army, leading to the deaths of himself and so many of his most loyal followers. and for a longer account of the battle for the rest of McGonagall's unreadable drivel

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