Tom Fleck: a Novel of Cleveland and Flodden by Harry Nicholson

I don’t often get offered books for review that really appeal to me, but recently I have had two – one was Dorte Jakobsen’s The Cosy Knave, which I wrote about earlier and the second is Tom Fleck by Harry Nicholson.

When Harry emailed me to ask if I would review his book I knew I couldn’t refuse – a book set in the 16th century and about the Battle of Flodden Field. Now, I love history and historical fiction. Flodden Hill, where the battle took place in 1513 is just down the road from me and it’s a place that fascinates me.  I replied saying that I’d like to read it but it could be some time before I did as I have so many other books queued up to read. But as I opened it and started reading it I just had to carry on!

Harry Nicholson is a really good storyteller and as I read I was transported back to the 16th century. His book is well-researched, but the detail never reads like a text book or intrudes. He consulted many sources, including primary and secondary sources such as wills, inventories and parish registers, printed journals and historical and archaeological society papers as well as studying military costumes and weapons at the national museum of arms and armour at Leeds.

From the Back Cover

The year: 1513. The place: North-East England. Tom Fleck, a downtrodden farm worker but gifted archer, yearns to escape his masters. He unearths two objects that could be keys to freedom: a torque of ancient gold and a Tudor seal ring. He cannot know how these finds will determine his future. Rachel Coronel craves an end to her Jewish wanderings. When the torque comes to rest around the neck of this mysterious woman, an odyssey begins which draws Tom Fleck into borderlands of belief and race. The seal ring propels Tom on a journey of self-knowledge that can only climax in another borderland – among the flowers and banners of Flodden Field.


The story is about Tom, a young farm worker on the Warren Manor Estate in Cleveland. He longs to escape and farm his own land. So when Mark, the Lord of the Manor’s son orders him to go north with the militia from the manor to fight against the Scots on the border, he takes matters into his own hands and leaves home to join forces with drovers from Durham.  The drovers and Tom get caught up in the preparations for war and as Tom is a gifted archer he is pressed into joining the English forces in fighting against the Scots under James IV at Flodden Field.

It is also a love story, as Tom and Rachel fall in love, but then there is his sweetheart, Mary who he left behind at home. Who will he choose, if indeed, he should survive the battle? Generally I’m not keen on reading battle scenes but Harry dealt with this very well and actually I think it’s one of the best accounts of the Battle of Flodden that I’ve read.

All in all, this is a fascinating glimpse into the lives of ordinary people and the aristocracy in the 16th century, caught up in war.  It highlights differences in their lives and in their deaths – the rich received honours and church burials, whereas the rest were simply bundled together in pits in the field:

‘That’s the way of it, Tom – that’s the way of it; no stone lions at our feet, nor a brass plate to cover us. There’ll be nowt apart from green rushes to mark our spot.’ (page 230)

More information on Tom Fleck is on Harry’s website where you can read Chapter 1.  And for more details of the battle, including the routes the armies took and a tour of the battlefield see The Remembering Flodden Project.

  • Paperback: 266 pages
  • Publisher: (11 Jan 2011)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 1908147768
  • ISBN-13: 978-1908147769
  • Source: review copy from the author

2 thoughts on “Tom Fleck: a Novel of Cleveland and Flodden by Harry Nicholson

  1. I’ve taken a note of this one as it sounds fascinating. We visited Flodden years ago on one of our many journeys between England and Scotland. One of my ancestors (John Skirving) was supposed to have saved the Royal Standard by wrapping it around his body.


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