Saturday Snapshot – Flodden

It’s the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden this year – it was on 9th September 1513 that the armies of England and Scotland met at Flodden Field, near Branxton in Northumberland. There have been events this year to commemorate the battle and the men from both nations who died in this last medieval battle between England and Scotland.

Living not far from the site of the battle this week we went to see what had changed as a result of the anniversary. There’s now a surfaced path leading up to the Monument.

(Click on the photos to see them enlarged)

500th anniversary P1010826

There are some more information boards and signs to guide you round the Battlefield Trail:

Battlefield trail signpost P1010837The monument isn’t actually on the site of the battle but stands on Piper’s Hill.

Flodden MonumentFrom the monument you can look towards the north down on the village of Branxton:

Branxton P1010831The two armies lined up south of the monument with a marshy dip between them. The Scots advanced first, unaware of the of the ground conditions below them. Now it’s a ditch but in 1513 there was a brook surrounded by a reeded quagmire downhill – where the Scots were bogged down, the rear ranks pushing forward into the front ranks, crushing the fallen bodies and causing chaos. They were then easy prey for the deadly English billhooks.

It looks like this now – the ditch between the hedge and fence is now nearly dry, after weeks of rain in 1513 it was a quagmire:

Boggy Ground P1010835

 and the two armies came face to face:

Tthe Killing Fields P1010858

Flodden 1513: Scotland’s Greatest Defeat by John Sadler is an excellent account of the strategies and tactics of both armies, with maps and plans showing how the battle began and a time timeline of the various conflicts giving a detailed account of events.

Having read this book and the information boards around the trail I was able to visualise the battle, even on a peaceful weekday afternoon 500 years later. The Scottish troops had moved from their original position on Flodden Edge as the English approached the battlefield, putting them at a disadvantage. The outcome could have been different if they had seen the dip below them as they charged down the hill – or even if the English had attacked first.

But then, the battle needn’t have taken place at all if James IV of Scotland had not invaded England in an attempt to divert English troops from their fight against the French. Indeed he had entered into a Treaty of Perpetual Peace with England in 1502. But in 1512 he had also renewed the Auld Alliance with the French, putting him in the position of either declaring for France against Henry VIII (James’s brother-in-law) or remaining neutral, which would make him vulnerable to any further English expansion, as Henry had revived his claim to the Scottish throne.

Despite pressure from senior members of his council to avoid an outright breach with England, when Henry arrived in Calais preparing to wage war against the French, James decided to go to war against the English. Prior to the battle at Flodden he had crossed the River Tweed into England where he then attacked and captured Norham Castle, and then destroyed both Etal and Ford Castles whilst the English were still mustering their troops. But the outcome was a disaster for Scotland and James was killed on Flodden Field:

The king’s was but one of many hundreds of bodies, sprawled and piled on the bloodied turf. The whole hillside from the brook northwards was a killing ground, the dead, maimed and horribly injured competing for space, severed limbs and streaming entrails spilling fresh gore. The din would have been terrific, with hoarse shouts and the screams of the dying men, the crash of spears, a crescendo rising and spilling like breakers against the shore. (page 82, Flodden 1513 by John Sadler)

Each time I go to Branxton, or see the monument as we drive south along the A697, I think about the battle and all those who died there in 1513.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Melinda’s blog West Metro Mommy Reads.

Saturday Snapshot

This is the Flodden Visitor Centre. It’s in a former telephone box in the village of Branxton in Northumberland. Flodden Visitor Centre P1080503It claims to be the smallest visitor centre in the world:

Flodden Visitor Centre P1080499

It’s part of the commemoration of the Battle of Flodden which took place 500 years ago in September between the English and Scottish armies in the fields near Branxton.

Flodden Visitor Centre P1080501Inside there is a map showing the routes of the two armies and indicating several sites related to the battle. There are leaflets and even a button to press the hear about the battle.

If you are in London on 14 May you can get tickets for a lunchtime lecture on the Battle of Flodden 1513 by historian Clive Hallam Baker at the Tower of London. He is the author of The Battle of Flodden: Why and How.

Other books about Flodden, with links to my reviews:


Non fiction:

  •  Flodden: the Scottish Invasion of Henry VIII’s England by Nigel Barr
  • New Light on Floddon (sic) by Gerard F T Leather – I have not written about this short book published in 1938, which Leather, a member of the Berwickshire Naturalists’ Club had written after studying the battle for a talk. As he explained there were actually four distinct fights going on a more or less the same time and the old name of the battle was that of Branxton Moor, a more correct title, in his opinion, as the battle scene was a mile and a half from Flodden.

For more Saturday Snapshots see Alyce’s blog At Home With Books.

Flodden: the Scottish Invasion of Henry VIII’s England

Flodden by Niall Barr is an account of the Battle of Flodden between the English and the Scots in 1513, which challenges the traditional view of the battle.  In 1512 James IV, Henry VIII’s brother-in-law, had renewed the ‘Auld Alliance’ with France, promising mutual support should England attack either country. So when Henry made war on France, James had no alternative and he crossed the River Tweed into England with about 40,000 men.

The weather that September was much like it’s been this September – wet and stormy. The battle field was at Branxton, then just a few houses surrounded by bog and woodland. The two armies came face to face separated by a small valley with the English at the bottom of Flodden Hill. The Scots attacked down the hill and were chopped to pieces by the English and James himself was killed. Barr shows how, contrary to the traditional view, James led a well organised and prepared army and considers that it was using new, continental weapons and military tactics in the wrong situation that led to his defeat.

There is a bit too much detail about the weapons used and military history for my liking and I scan read the chapters dealing with that. But the book as a whole gives a real flavour of the times, the diplomacy, the main protagonists and the battle. I found it interesting, maybe because I live in the area where it all took place. I’ve been to the battle field, which today is so peaceful and tranquil, but I could imagine the terrible carnage that took place there nearly 500 years ago.

Map on the notice board in the car park below Flodden Field

Flodden Field

Whilst searching for a house D and I were near Flodden Field, so of course we just had to go and have a look at it. Flodden Field is near the village of Branxton in Northumberland, a peaceful setting now, but nearly five hundred years ago this was the site of the most famous battles in the borders between the kings of England and Scotland – the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513. It was disastrous for the Scots when their King, James IV was killed.

An information board in the little car park next to the field gives many details of the battle.

FF info board

The field is on a hill overlooking Branxton and there is a steep climb up to the monument. In 1513 the battleground was an undrained boggy morass in which the Scottish troops were knee-deep in mud with more troops  coming down the hill behind them, whereas the English troops were on the higher ground with room to manoeuvre.

FF hillside

At the top of the hill there is a monument and wonderful views of the surrounding countryside.

FF monument

FF monument2

Below is the village of Branxton.

FF view of Branxton church

The wider scene

FF view from monument

FF view from monument2

I haven’t read Flodden 1513: Scotland’s Greatest Defeat Campaign by John Sadler and Stephen Walsh but I think  it looks interesting. If you look at it on Amazon you can read a few pages of the opening chapter: The Origins of the Campaign.