Battle of Flodden Field

Battle of Flodden Field

Infobox Military Conflict

caption=Also called the Battle of Branxton
partof=the War of the League of Cambrai
conflict=Battle of Flodden Field
date=September 9, 1513
place=Near Branxton in Northumberland, England
result=Decisive English victory


commander1=Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey
commander2=James IV
strength2=30,000 5,000 French knights and infantryFact|date=January 2008
casualties1=1000 - 1500
casualties2=10,000 - 12,000 (in addition to a large number missing)

The Battle of Flodden or 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 Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey. It ended in a victory for the English and a bloody defeat for the Scots and was the largest battle (in terms of numbers) fought between the two nations.


This conflict began when King James declared war on England, to honour the Auld Alliance with France by diverting Henry VIII's English troops from their campaign against the French king Louis XII. England was involved in a larger conflict; defending Italy and the Pope from the French, (see Italian Wars), as a member of the "Catholic League".Using the pretext of revenge for the murder of Robert Kerr, a warden of the Scottish East March, who had been killed by John "The bastard" Heron in 1508, James of Scotland invaded England with an army of about 30,000 men.

The battle actually took place near the village of Branxton, in the county of Northumberland, rather than at Flodden — hence the alternative name of Battle of Branxton. The Scots had previously been stationed at Flodden Edge, to the south of Branxton.

James crosses the border

With his muster complete King James crossed the border on August 22. Most of the soldiers who came with him were armed with the eighteen foot Continental pike, some six feet longer than the traditional Scottish schiltrom spear. In the hands of the Swiss and German landsknechts these weapons had acquired a fearsome reputation; but they could only be used to effect in highly disciplined formations. James was accompanied by the French captain the Comte d'Aussi with some forty of his fellow countrymen, who had helped to train the Scots in the use of the weapon. It is open to question, though, if the Scots infantrymen had been given enough time to master the new techniques of battle or, indeed, if the countryside into which they were advancing would allow them to make the best use of the training they had received.

Following in the wake of the army came master gunner Robert Borthwick with the artillery, seventeen guns in all, which required 400 oxen to drag them from Edinburgh. The majestic old bombard, Mons Meg, more trouble than she was worth, was left behind. Even so, the whole Scots artillery train was too heavy for a field campaign, and only slowed down the progress of the army. Although the big guns could batter down castle walls, they were difficult to manoeuvre in battle conditions. Moreover, these weapons had to be handled with skill to make them effective and James had sent off his best gunners with the fleet.

James' army was composed in large part of raw recruits. Many had been demoralised by the high casualties sustained by the assault on Norham Castle, to which James laid siege soon after crossing the border. To make matters worse, the weather was deplorable, continuing wet and windy throughout the whole campaign. Disease began to spread and morale slumped still further. Gathering whatever spoils they could, many simply decided to make their way home. By early September men were arriving back in Edinburgh in such numbers that the town council was forced to issue a proclamation: "We charge straitli and command in our Soverane Lord the Kingis name that all manner of persons that ar cummyng fra his army that thai address thame and returne againe thairto."

urrey's march and invitation to James

By early September the Earl of Surrey's muster was complete, and the old general had approximately 26,000 men under his command, made up chiefly of archers and other infantrymen armed with the bill, the English version of the Continental halberd, an eight-foot-long weapon with a fearsome axe-like head, which could be used for cutting and slashing. All were on foot, save for the veteran campaigner Thomas, Lord Dacre, who had some 1,500 light border horsemen. Surrey was anxious that James would not be allowed to slip away, as he had during his invasion of 1497. To ensure that the Scots king remained, the commander sent a herald from his base near Alnwick, with an invitation to meet in battle on September 9. James responded with his own message, announcing his intention to wait for the Howards until noon on that day.

James's reasons for accepting the challenge are unclear, when most Scottish commanders since Robert Bruce had avoided large set-piece battles with the English unless the circumstances were exceptional. The traditional explanation is that he was blinded by outmoded notions of chivalry and honour, although two other factors may have influenced him.

First, it seems clear that James was confident in the sheer size of his army, which was at least as strong, if not stronger, than that of his enemy. He was proud of his guns and his pikemen, and eager to let them prove themselves in battle. There was always the danger of the English longbow; but many of James' troops were encased in the latest armour or carried heavy wooden shields to counter the effects of the volleys of arrows.

Secondly, he had selected a very strong position in which to meet a frontal attack by Surrey. Just across the River Till from Ford Castle lie the north-eastern outriders of the Cheviots. The highest of these is Flodden Hill, in those days a treeless slope, rising to over 500 feet above sea level. From Flodden, the ground falls away to the north-west, before it rises again to Branxton Hill. To the west the approach is covered by Moneylaws Hill. The whole position resembles a huge irregular horseshoe shape, with the open end facing eastwards towards the Till. It was here, in a great natural fortress, that James placed his army. Bannockburn had shown the importance of selecting a good position in battle; but the Flodden position was, if anything, too strong: any attempt at direct assault would have been military suicide. James was no Bruce, and Surrey was no Hotspur.

Flodden Edge

On September 6 the English army entered the valley of the Till. From here they had a clear view of the Scots a few miles to the west. To Surrey the strength of the enemy position was immediately obvious. "The Trewe Encountre", an account written soon after the battle, describes what he saw;

The Kyng of Scottes did lye with his army in the egge of Cheviotte and was enclosed in thre parties, with three great mountaynes soe that ther was noe passage nor entre unto hym but oon waye where was laied marvelous and great ordenance of gonnes.

The King of Scotland and his army lay on the edge of the Cheviots and was enclosed by three great mountains so that there was no getting to him except one route which was barred by a marvellous and great ordnance of guns.

For a second time, Surrey sent his herald, complaining that James had taken a position "more like a fortress", and inviting him to do battle on the level plain at nearby Milfield. Naturally enough, James refused. By now it was certain that James wanted a battle. Even so, it was to be a battle on his terms: Surrey must come to him; he would not go to Surrey. Ironically, from what is known of the coming battle, James might have fared better if he had indeed accepted Surrey's invitation, and allowed his pikemen the advantage of a 'level plain'.

Surrey was faced with a stark choice. Running short of supplies, he would either have to abandon the field or take the risky step of outflanking the Scots by marching to the north and west, and taking a position across James' lines of communication. This would have the effect of forcing him out of his present position in a rapid march back towards the border. The fact that James did not abandon Flodden, or was only able to do so when it was far too late, was to give England one of the most complete victories over Scotland in her history.

Surrey began his march on the evening of September 8. During the following morning, his army crossed the Till in two places. The leading part of the army (the divisions of Edmund Howard and Thomas Howard, the Lord Admiral, with most of the artillery) crossed at Twizel Bridge; the remainder (Surrey's, Dacre's and Stanley's troops) at Milford Ford nearby. They then marched south towards Branxton Hill.


It is unclear whether or not James knew that he had been outflanked until some time after mid-day. Visibility was poor, and the weather continued to be wet and stormy. The only defensible position now was at Branxton, the northern wall of the fortress camp, and the Scottish army began its slow redeployment. Once complete, James arranged his front line in four divisions. The left, under the joint command of Lord Hume and the Earl of Huntly, was made up of men from the borders and the north-east of Scotland. Next came the division under the earls of Crawford and Montrose. To their right was the most powerful and best equipped unit of all, commanded by the king in person. On James's right were the Highlanders, commanded by the earls of Argyll and Lennox. A fifth division, commanded by the Earl of Bothwell, was held in reserve close to the King. There was a space of about convert|200|yd|m|-2 between each of the formations, with the artillery in between.

Surrey made his own dispositions to mirror those of the enemy. On the far right, facing Huntly and Hume, was his youngest son, Edmund Howard. Next came his eldest son, Thomas, the Lord Admiral. Close to the Admiral, possibly slightly to the rear, was Lord Dacre and the border horse. This unit was destined to perform an important task as a mobile reserve. To their left was Surrey's own division. On the extreme left, Edward Stanley, with the men of Lancashire and some from Cheshire (the latter contingent commanded by Sir Richard Cholmondeley), was still some way to the rear. The royal artillery was stationed with the Admiral.

The contemporary and near contemporary accounts of the ensuing battle, all of them written from the point of view of the victor, make it very difficult to build an accurate picture. It is not always possible to reconcile the contradictions within the narratives, and many of these have tended to make their way into the standard histories. Flodden is best seen as a series of smaller battles, which merged into a greater whole. Thus the English archers who were of little account on one part of the field, had an enormous impact in another. The role the artillery played may have been brief, but it was vital. The Borderers on either side did not give up the battle, as some have suggested; they simply held each other in check.

Charge of the earls

What is certain is that the Battle of Flodden began as an artillery duel about 4 o'clock in the afternoon of Friday, September 9 1513. With the English occupying dead ground below Branxton, the Scottish artillery roared to little effect. The English artillery, some 22 guns directed by Sir Nicholas Appelby, was lighter and far easier to manipulate. It was also used with much greater accuracy. Soon all of the Scots guns fell silent. The English discharge was now concentrated in an uphill sweep, catching the Scottish divisions, silhouetted against the skyline, in a murderously accurate cross-fire. This, in effect, was the beginning of the end for the Scots. James was now caught like the fourth Earl of Douglas at the Battle of Homildon Hill. His men could not be expected to withstand the English fire for long. But any attempt to redeploy out of artillery range behind the brow of Branxton Hill involved the risk of the army disintegrating in panic. James's intentions at this point are unknown, but his mind was made up by the precipitate action of the men of Huntley and Hume on his left. In the words of The Trewe Encountre, "our gonnes did so breake and constreyn the Scottische great army, that some part of thaim wer enforsed to come doun towards our army."

That part of the field occupied by the borderers and the Gordons was a little less steep than the rest of the Scottish position, and the ground flattened out towards the place where Edmund Howard's men were situated. With levelled pikes, the Scots made good progress towards their enemy. The wind and rain were blowing in the faces of the longbow men, who loosed their weapons with only limited effect. Keeping up momentum, Hume and Huntly sliced into Howard's division, which disintegrated under the impact. Many were killed; many more fled from the field. At this critical point, the advance of the Scots, now disorganised in victory, was checked by the charge of Dacre and the light horse. Folklore has it that Edmund Howard himself, fighting off several Scots intent on taking him prisoner for ransom, was rescued by some of Dacre's men under "the bastard Heron". Hume and Huntly drew off. In this part of the field, the Battle of Flodden was over.

James's advances

Observing the success on their left, the next two divisions began their own descent down the slope of Branxton, with Errol and Crawford making for the Lord Admiral and the King for Surrey. But in this part of the field, conditions were altogether different from those on the left. The hill was steep, wet and slippery, forcing many to remove their shoes to obtain a grip on the ground. The ranks of pikemen, advancing in the style of the German "landsknechts", were probably beginning to lose formation before they reached the bottom of the hill. All momentum was lost when they reached a little burn, which had to be negotiated before the army could ascend the slope towards the English around Piper's Hill. Presumably they were also harassed by continuing artillery fire. With the formations breaking up, the billmen were able to penetrate the gaps to begin hacking and chopping, lopping the heads off the pikes. Rather than long spears, each man was left with a sixteen foot pole. Fact|date=November 2007 Swords were drawn; but these could not match the range of the murderous swinging bills. Before long, Crawford, Errol and Montrose were dead and their division all but destroyed, allowing the Admiral to turn on the exposed flank of the king's division.

Surrey's battle was particularly hard. Ranged against him were the best troops in the Scottish army; and despite the problems the pikemen had in keeping formation, he was forced to give some ground. But James and his men were eventually brought to a standstill, allowing the bills to begin work. What happened to Bothwell's reserve is something of a mystery. It is known that the earl was slain at some point in the fight, so it must be assumed that he advanced in support of the king shortly after the battle began, or after he saw his progress arrested by Surrey.

Meanwhile, on the English left, Stanley was a considerable way behind Surrey and arrived late. His approach was completely unobserved by the Highlanders under Argyll and Lennox, who were apparently transfixed by the bloody struggle in the centre. Stanley noted that Argyll and Lennox were in a strong position; but he could also see that the eastern part of the ridge where they stood, some convert|500|yd|m|-2 to the south of Mardon, was unoccupied. A dip in the ground here would enable him to approach the enemy flank under cover. His tactics were bold: part of his force was detached to begin a frontal attack, while he led the remainder around the side. The climb Stanley made was steep and the ground so slippery that, like the Scots in the centre, his men removed their shoes, even clambering up on hands and knees. To the front, the less well-armed Highland troops were already falling to English arrow fire: when arrows began to descend from an unexpected direction it was simply too much. Argyll and Lennox were both killed, and their shattered brigade melted away to the west, across the central part of the battlefield, now thick with the dead and wounded.

The death of the King

It is not known exactly when King James was cut down. As he was in the front rank, it might have been early in the struggle. Hume, still holding the ground to the left, is often criticised for not advancing to aid the king and his comrades in the centre. This accusation is not altogether fair. Judging by the ease with which Dacre had checked his advance it seems likely that his pikemen were badly broken up. Many of them may have broken ranks to plunder the dead. To have reorganised them and then turned in formation towards the centre would have been difficult: to have exposed his flank to Dacre would have been suicidal. Moreover, Hume held that part of the field over which the rest of the shattered Scottish army was able to retreat. It is thanks to him and Huntly that a disaster did not turn into a catastrophe of Cannae proportions. Pittscottie's story that he left the king to get on with it, having done his bit, is of late origin, composed long after Hume had been executed for treason during the reign of James V.

As for James himself, his judgement had been disastrous. He had, as in the past, gone into battle without allowing for the proper direction and management of his army. He had been out-manoeuvred, out-generaled and out-fought; and in the end, against this background, his personal bravery counted for nothing. The oft-quoted remark of the English historian Edward Hall deserves repeating;

O what a noble and triumphant courage was thys for a kyng to fyghte in a battayall as a meane souldier; but what avayled hys stronf harnes, the puyssance of hys myghte champions with whom he descended the hyll, in whom he so much trusted that wyth his strong people and great number of men, he was able as he thought to have vanquished that day the greatest prince of the world, if he had been there as the erle of Surrey was, or else he thought to do such a hygh enterprise hym selfe in his person, that should surmount the enterprises of all other princes; but how soever it happened God gave the stroke, and he was no more regarded than a poore souldier, for all went one way.

James' charge is said to have brought him to within a spear's length of Surrey, though this seems a little too much like the story of Richard III at Bosworth, added to illustrate the danger in which the elderly victor had been placed. In fact, his body was only discovered the following day, and only after some difficulty, stripped, as it was, of his armour and mangled by several wounds. James was the last British monarch to be killed in battle.

Black Friday

The battle of Flodden ended shortly after six o' clock, when the autumn darkness began to fall. Surrey, still uncertain of the outcome, held his men in check; it wasn't until the following morning he realised how complete his victory had been. There before him around Piper's Hill lay the mountain of dead. Some Scots horsemen appeared on Branxton Hill, but were quickly driven off, and Surrey's men took possession of Borthwick's silent guns. What was left of the Scottish army made its way across the Tweed.

Many had been left behind, to rest in England forever. James was joined in death by nine earls, as well as fourteen Lords of Parliament and several Highland chiefs. His son, Alexander, the Archbishop of St. Andrews, had also been killed, along with other prominent churchmen. In all some 10,000 men, a third or more of the Scottish army, had been killed. There were few prisoners. English casualties, amounting to some 1,500 dead, were particularly high among the men of Cheshire who had fought with Edmund Howard.

Flodden in history

Flodden was essentially a victory of bill over pike. As a weapon, the pike was only effective in a battle of movement, especially to withstand a cavalry charge. The hilly terrain of Northumberland, the nature of the combat, and the slippery footing did not allow it to be employed to best effect. Indeed the Scots might have managed better if they had kept to their traditional schiltron spears. Fact|date=June 2008

The infantrymen at Flodden, both Scots and English, had fought in a fashion that in essence would have been familiar to their ancestors, and it has rightly been described as the last great medieval battle in the British Isles. But this was the last time that bill and pike would come together as equals in battle. Two years later Francis I defeated the Swiss pikemen at the Battle of Marignano, using a combination of heavy cavalry and artillery, ushering in a new era in the history of war.

Tactically, this battle was one of the first major engagements on the British Isles where artillery would play a decisive role. This battle is considered the last decisive use of the longbow, yet through the 16th century the English longbowmen continued to have success, as in the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh against the Scottish or the Battle of the Spurs against the French.

Many of these archers were recruited from Lancashire and Cheshire. Sir Richard Assheton raised one such company from Middleton, near Manchester. In gratitude for his safe return, he rebuilt St. Leonard's, the local parish church. It contains the unique "Flodden Window" depicting each of the archers, and the priest who accompanied them, by name in stained glass.

As a reward for his victory, Howard was subsequently restored to the title of "Duke of Norfolk", lost by his father's support for Richard III.

Every noble family in Scotland was supposed to have lost a member at Flodden. The dead are remembered by the song (and pipe tune) "The Flowers of the Forest";

::We'll hae nae mair lilting, at the yowe-milking, ::Women and bairns are dowie and wae. ::Sighing and moaning, on ilka green loaning, ::The flowers of the forest are all wede away.

Notable casualties

*James IV , King of Scots (1488-1513); died in battle
*Alexander Stewart, Archbishop of St. Andrews and Lord Chancellor of Scotland; died in battle
*Lieutenant General Archibald Campbell, 2nd Earl of Argyll; died in battle
*John Campbell of Auchreoch; died in battle
*John Carnegie, 5th of Kinnaird; died in battle
*William Craig, of Craigfintray Castle, Aberdeenshire; died in battle
*Robert Elwold (Elliott, leader of the Elliott Clan); died in battle
*Alan Cathcart, Master of that ilk; died in battle
*George Douglas, Master of Angus; died in battle
*Sir William Douglas of Glenbervie; died in battle
*Lord Alexander Elphinstone the Younger; died in battle
*Lord Alexander Elphinstone, 1st Lord Elphinstone; died in battle
*William Graham, 1st Earl of Montrose; led part of the Scottish vanguard; died in battle
*James Henderson (or Henrysone), Laird of the barony of Fordell, Fife; Lord Justice Clerk;killed along with his eldest son, see below.
*(Robert?) Henderson, eldest son of James, above; killed with his father.
*Adam Hepburn, 2nd Earl of Bothwell
*George Hepburn
*David Kennedy, 1st Earl of Cassilis
*Alexander Lauder of Blyth
*George Leslie, 2nd Earl of Rothes
*Uchtred MacDowall, 9th of Garthland; died in battle
*Thomas MacDowall of Renfrewshire son of Uchtred; died in battle
*John Mure of Rowallan; died in battle
*Alexander Ramsay of Dalhousie; died in battle
*Sir John Rattray, Lord of that Ilk; died in battle
*John Ross of Halkhead; died in battle
*William Ruthven of that ilk; died in battle
*John Sempill, 1st Lord Sempill of Eliotstoun; died in battle
*Sir John Somerville of Cambusnethan; died in battle
*Matthew Stewart, 2nd Earl of Lennox; died in battle
*Sir Lain MacFarlane, 11th Captain (Chief) of Clan Pharlane; died in battle
*Sir Brian Tunstall, died in battle
*Lord Andrew Herries, Second Lord of Terregles; died in battle

Battlefield Today

The Battlefield still looks much as it probably did at the time of the battle, however the burn and marsh which so badly hampered the Scots advance is now drained. A monument, erected in 1910, is easily reached from Branxton village by following the road past St Paul's Church. There is a small car park and a clearly marked and signposted battlefield trail with interpretive boards which make it easy to visualise the battle. Only the chancel arch remains of the medieval church where James IV's body was said to have rested after the battle - the rest is Victorian, dating from 1849 in the "Norman" style.


* Hall, Edward, "Chronicle of England", 1809.
* Pittscottie, Robert Lindsay of, "The History and Chronicles of Scotland", 1809.
* "The Trewe Encountre or Batayle Lately Don Between England and Scotland etc.", in "Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland", vol. 7, 1867-8.Secondary:
* Barr, N., "Flodden 1513", 2001.
* Barret, C. B., "Battles and Battlefields in England", 1896.
* Bingham, C., "Flodden and its Aftermath", in "The Scottish Nation", ed. G. Menzies, 1972.
* Burkes Landed Gentry of Scotland under Henderson of Fordell
* Elliot, W.F., "The Battle of Flodden and the Raids of 1513", 1911.
* Hodgkin, T., "The Battle of Flodden", in "Arcaeologia Aeliania", vol. 16, 1894.
* Kightly, C., "Flodden-the Anglo-Scots War of 1513", 1975.
* Leather, G. F. T., "The Battle of Flodden", in "History of the Berwickshire Naturalists Club", vol. 25, 1933.
* Macdougall, N., "James IV", 1989.
* Mackie, J. D., "The English Army at Flodden", in "Miscellany of the Scottish History Society", vol 8 1951.
* Mackie, J.D., "The Auld Alliance and the Battle of Flodden", in "Transactions of the Franco-Scottish Society", 1835.
* "Story of Inverkeithing & Rosyth" by Rev. W.M.Stephen, 1921 Brit.Lib. No.0190370.f.78
* Tucker, M. J., "The Life of Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey and Second Duke of Norfolk, 143-1524", 1964.
* White, R. H. , "The Battle of Flodden", in "Archaeologia Aeliania", vol. 3, 1859.

ee also

*The Percy Folio
*Selkirk Common Riding

External links

* []
* [ A detailed account of the battle.]
* [ Hawick Common Riding]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Battle of Flodden Field — noun a battle in 1513; the English defeated the invading Scots and James IV was killed • Syn: ↑Flodden • Regions: ↑England • Instance Hypernyms: ↑pitched battle …   Useful english dictionary

  • Bataille De Flodden Field — La bataille de Flodden montra l inadéquation des piquiers sur un terrain escarpé, et la supériorité des hallebardiers dans ces conditions. Informations générales Date 9 septembre …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Bataille de flodden field — La bataille de Flodden montra l inadéquation des piquiers sur un terrain escarpé, et la supériorité des hallebardiers dans ces conditions. Informations générales Date 9 septembre …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Bataille de Flodden Field — 55° 37′ 37″ N 2° 10′ 31″ W / 55.62693, 2.1753 …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Batalla de Flodden Field — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda Batalla de Flodden Field Parte de Invasión escocesa de Inglaterra Fecha 9 de septiembre de 1513 …   Wikipedia Español

  • Flodden — noun 1. a hill in Northumberland where the invading Scots were defeated by the English in 1513 • Instance Hypernyms: ↑hill • Part Holonyms: ↑Northumberland 2. a battle in 1513; the English defeated the invading Scots and James IV was killed • Syn …   Useful english dictionary

  • Battle of Marignano — Part of the War of the League of Cambrai Contemporary depiction of the battle, attributed to the Maître à la Ratière …   Wikipedia

  • Battle of Saint-Mathieu — Part of the War of the League of Cambrai Contemporary picture of the Breton flagship Marie la Cordelière (or …   Wikipedia

  • Battle of Halidon Hill — Infobox Military Conflict conflict=Battle of Halidon Hill partof=the Second War of Scottish Independence caption= date=July 19 1333 place=Halidon Hill, near Berwick upon Tweed result=Decisive English victory combatant1= combatant2= commander1=Sir …   Wikipedia

  • battle — battle1 battler, n. /bat l/, n., v., battled, battling. n. 1. a hostile encounter or engagement between opposing military forces: the battle of Waterloo. 2. participation in such hostile encounters or engagements: wounds received in battle. 3. a… …   Universalium