Thursday, September 9, 2010
It all started with a ring. And that one ring was to wipe out almost a whole generation of Scottish menfolk from the borderlands and one of their most loved kings to boot.
Flodden is considered one of the bloodiest battles Scotland ever saw, if not the worst. The death toll and loss even outweighed that at Culloden a couple hundred years later. It washed a history of blood and sorrow over the Lowlands and Borderlands of Scotland.
But, in truth, it did start with a ring. Henry VIII of England had invaded France and the French, remembering the Auld Alliance they had between themselves and Scotland, wished to call on their comrades in their time of need. James IV who was king of Scots at the time was reluctant to fight someone else's war, but the French queen sent him a letter asking him to "take but three paces into English ground and brake a lance for my sake." Attached to this letter was a gold and turquoise ring. James IV was a man who had a sense of honor and chivalry and he would not leave this fight undone since a woman pleaded him to do something about it, so he gathered his knights and men from the Boarders and even some Highlanders and went off to meet the English commander, Earl Surrey.
The Scots army actually outnumbered the English and they had the best ground up on Flodden Hill. For some reason or other, once the English gathered there to fight, the Scots moved to Branxton Hill while the English crossed the River Till. If they had attacked Surrey's men as they were moving they could have won the day. It was their untimely hesitation that cost them dear.
The two armies exchanged cannon fire first and then the Scots made another untimely and pointless move and started down the hill toward the English. The ground was wet and they took off their shoes to keep from sliding. They were armed with tall Swiss spears and found they were a terrible hinderance on the slope, unbalancing them on their way down. Once they got to the bottom, the English were ready for them, armed with bill hooks or halberds, a type of spear that had an almost axe like head on the front side and a hook on the back. With these they could hook the Scots' spears to one side, thus making them harmless or break the heads off of them altogether. The English began to close in and the Scots army was getting smaller and smaller by the minute.
The Scottish foot soldiers died by the thousands protecting their king while Surrey and his commanders waited it out on a small rise. James had been wounded several times now, fighting in the thick of it with his men. He had been pierced with arrows with one hand nearly cut off, but he still fought on. He had a last desperate hope that if he could cut Surrey down then the English would surrender. James hacked his way through the fray to the place Surrey stood, several of his men standing around him, covering him as he made him move. It is recorded that he got to "one spear-length" of Surrey when an archer standing at Surrey's shoulder shot right into James's open mouth as he was yelling out his war cry. James died there on the field with all his men. and Surrey became the victor for the day. For all else we might say about James, and though he might not have been the best tactician; he was brave. And he fought in the thick of it with his men unlike most leaders of those days.
Surrey was said to have taken the turquoise ring from James's body, along with his matching sword and dagger as spoils of war. Historian David R. Ross says in his book Passion for Scotland that these artifacts are still kept in the College of Arms in London. Just another Scottish artifact that ended up down there. It was also said that Surrey changed his coat of arms after this battle to a top-halved lion rampant like that on the Scottish flag with an arrow through its mouth. I call that bad sportsmanship on any level.
The Battle of Flodden or just Flodden as it has been dismally called over the centuries since September 9th 1513 cut a deep wound into the heart of Scotland's history. Many songs and poems have been written about it. It is still commemorated today in honor of the men who died on the field, all for the love of their king. One who really deserved their love to the full. One who died with them on the field.
Here are a couple songs about Flodden:
Flowers of the Forest This is actually an old poem, but was made into a song. This is my favorite version of Ronnie Brown singing it.
And this is another one by a Scottish folk group called Celticburn. This is their own song about the battle called Flodden's Green Loanin
I'll be back Saturday to talk about the Battle of Stirling.