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    9 September 1513: a fateful day for Scotland at Flodden Field


    Flodden Monument near Branxton Wikimedia

    (Flodden Monument in the distance – Wikimedia)

    Five hundred years have passed since that fateful day of 9 September 1513 when James IV, the beloved King of Scotland  fell at Flodden Field, at the age of 40, with so many of his valorous friends and followers…

    My knowledge in history being rather limited I try to find in books and on the Internet the missing pieces I need to complete my historical mosaic. It’s exactly what I did to try and know more about what happened on that fateful day at Flodden Field, 500 years ago…


    A dead tree in silhouette on Hainingrig near Selkirk Wikimedia

    (A dead tree on Hainingrig near Selkirk – Wikimedia)

    The dark silhouette of this dead tree can be seen at Hainingrig, near Selkirk, which is not far from Flodden Field. Here’s an austere and beautiful picture quite in keeping with the mood of the event Scotland is about to celebrate.

    Wi’ winter creepin’ near us,
    when the nichts are drear an’ lang,
    nane to help us nane to hear us,
    on the weary gate we gang!
    Lord o’ the quick an’ deed,
    sin’ oor ain we canna see,
    in mercy mak gude speed,
    and bring us whar they be.
    far, far frae Flodden field.

    (Last stanza of  ‘After Flodden‘ a poem by JB Selkirk (aka James Brown)

    One of Thomas Seccombe's 'Marmion' Illustrations - The Poetical Works by Sir Walter Scott - Moxon

    The Flowers of the Forest are weded away.


    This engraving comes from  a book I have in my library, a very beautiful edition of The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott, with a golden edge. This book was given as a school prize in 1877 to a pupil of Daviot School. It illustrates the beginning of ‘Marmion’, a very long poem with the battle of Flodden as a background.




    The Flowers of the Forest

    I’ve heard them lilting at our ewe-milking,
    Lasses a-lilting before the dawn of day;
    But now they are moaning on ilka green loaning-
    The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.

    At bughts, in the morning, nae blythe lads are scorning,
    The lasses are lonely, and dowie, and wae;
    Nae daffin’, nae gabbin’, but sighing and sabbing,
    Ilk ane lifts her leglin and hies her away.

    In har’st, at the shearing, nae youths now are jeering,
    Bandsters are lyart, and runkled, and gray;
    At fair or at preaching, nae wooing nae fleeching-
    The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.

    At e’en, in the gloaming, nae younkers are roaming
    ‘Bout stacks wi’ the lasses at bogle to play;
    But ilk ane sits drearie, lamenting her dearie-
    The Flowers of the Forest are weded away.

    Dool and wae for the order sent our lads to the Border!
    The English, for ance, by guile wan the day;
    The Flowers of the Forest, that fought aye the foremost,
    The prime of our land, are cauld in the clay.

    We’ll hear nae mair lilting at our ewe-milking;
    Women and bairns are heartless and wae;
    Sighing and moaning on ilka green loaning-
    The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.


    yowe – ewe
    ilka – every
    wede – withered
    buchts – cattle pens
    dowie – sad
    wae – woeful
    daffin’ – dallying
    gabbin’ – talking
    leglen – stool
    bandsters – binders
    lyart – grizzled
    runkled – crumpled
    fleeching – coaxing
    gloaming – twilight
    swankies – young lads
    bogle – peek-a-boo
    dule – mourning clothes



    Oil portrait of HV Morton 26 August 2012 Wikipedia

    (Oil portrait of HV Morton 26 August 2012 Wikipedia)

    ‘In Scotland, Flodden is still a pain at the heart. Songs and a lament of pipes have handed the pain down to the Scottish nation century after century. I cannot hear the ‘Flowers o’ the Forest’ on pipes without wishing to hide myself from the gaze of men.  Chopin’s’ Marche Funebre’ and the Dead March in Saul are just musical compositions in comparison. This lament is a living sorrow; it is as if all the tears of all the women of Scotland who mourned at that time had been preserved for ever in some indestructible urn.

    When I first came to Scotland I borrowed a gramophone and played this lament, and also the song, again and again until people in hotels believed that I was mad. I recommend this to other earnest travellers. There is more in them than in guide books.’

    (HV Morton – In Search of Scotland – Methuen 1929)


    Flodden Monument erected in 1910 on Piper's Hill © 2007 Scotiana

    Flodden Monument erected in 1910 on Piper’s Hill © 2007 Scotiana

     Day dawns upon the mountain’s side

    There, Scotland! lay thy bravest pride

    Chiefs, knights, and nobles, many a one ;

    (Sir Walter Scott – Marmion  Canto sixth ‘The battle’ stanza 35)


    9 September 1513:  the date is written in bloody letters in the Scottish books of history, and it should be so in the French books too for France had been directly implicated in the disaster that decimated Scotland within a few hours, on a cold and rainy day at the end of summer. In two hours of battle almost 10,000 Scots were killed.

    Scotland and France are still linked by what General de Gaulle once called ‘the oldest alliance in the world’, an alliance which had been signed in 1295 between King John Balliol and Philippe le Bel. So, when France was attacked on its territory by the English king Henry VIII and asked for help to Scotland the Scottish king James IV, who was not on very good terms with the English king, to say the least, immediately came to its rescue and attacked England, in the sadly famous place of Flodden, in Northumberland.

    A legend grew that while the artillery was being prepared in Edinburgh before the battle, a demon called Plotcock had read out the names of those who would be killed at the Mercat Cross on the Royal Mile. According to Pitscottie, a former Provost of Edinburgh, Richard Lawson, who lived nearby threw a coin at the Cross to appeal from this summons and survived the battle. (Wikipedia)


    Flodden monument at Flodden Field near Branxton © 2007 Scotiana

    (Flodden monument at Flodden Field near Branxton © 2007 Scotiana)

    I’m glad we didn’t arrive at Flodden Field ‘au temps des moissons’ when big sophisticated machines are harvesting the place under bright daily light though I know that, whatever the battlefield, life must go on… no we got the right atmosphere to visit this historical site.

    Flodden cross memorial © 2007 Scotiana

    Flodden cross memorial © 2007 Scotiana

    The Flodden Monument is a Celtic monolith cross of grey Aberdeen granite. It was erected  in 1910 by members of the Berwickshire Naturalists Club at  the top of Piper’s Hill (or Stock Law).  

    Flodden Battlefield Field Trail © 2007 Scotiana

    Flodden Battlefield Field Trail © 2007 Scotiana

    The Flodden Battlefield Trail was inaugurated in 2004. A  walk of about 2 miles climb up  along field-edge paths, lined with a series of very informative boards standing at the key locations of the battle. 

    Flodden Field board 'Armed for the fight'Flodden Battlefield Field Trail © 2007 Scotiana

    This is one of the scenes of the battle depicted on a large board situated at the entrance of the site. Our photo is not very good but we can see the long pike used by the Scottish soldiers which have been so often blamed for being one of the major causes of the Scottish defeat. There’s an interesting article about that in The Scotsman.

    ‘… an expert has blamed the defeat on the Scottish army’s inability to master their weapon of choice: an unwieldy, 18ft pike.’


    A view of Branxton Church and graveyard  from Flodden Field  © 2007 Scotiana

    A view of Branxton Church and graveyard from Flodden Field © 2007 Scotiana

    The Scots lost up to 10,000 dead out of an army of some 25,000 while the English lost 1,700 out of an army of 20,000. The Scottish dead included King James IV himself, an archbishop, two bishops, 11 earls, 15 lords and 300 knights, the French ambassador La Motte…

    I try to imagine the day after the battle, the weeks, the months following it…  What has become of all these dead soldiers? What has become of the  most famous of them, the beloved Scottish King? Legend grows when there is no answer or when people don’t want to hear it. A great number of the men killed at Flodden were buried in England, in the very area of the battle, some of them in Branxton graveyard, others were repatriated to Scotland but many a secret was taken to the grave…

    Tradition has it that the bodies of many of the nobles, killed at the Battle of Flodden, in 1513, were brought back to the nearest consecrated ground for burial. This happened to be Kirk Yetholm, which is only six miles from the site where the ‘flowers of the forest’ made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

    Archeological excavations are being done in the area of Flodden Field, on the English soil.


    Below are the three main protagonists at the origin of the war.

    The English King Henry VIII by Hans Holbein Wikipedia


    (The English King Henry VIII portrayed by Hans Holbein)

    If that you will France win

    Then with Scotland first begin.

    (Shakespeare – Henry V)


    ‘While Henry VII., the father-in-law of James IV, continued to live, his wisdom made him very attentive to preserve the peace which had been established betwixt the two countries. (…) But when this wise and cautious monarch died, he was succeeded by his son Henry VIII., a prince of a bold, haughty, and furious disposition, impatient of control or contradiction, and rather desirous of war than willing to make any concessions for the sake of peace. (…)

    The military disposition of Henry chiefly directed him to an enterprise against France; and the King of France, on his part, desired much to renew the old alliance with Scotland, in order that the apprehension of an invasion from the Scottish frontiers might induce Henry to abandon his scheme of attacking France.’

    (From Bannockburn to Flodden Sir Walter Scott)



    Portrait of Anne de Bretagne Jean Bourdichon between 1503 and 1508

    ( Anne de Bretagne portrayed by Jean Bourdichon between 1503 and 1508 )

    It is said that Queen of France, Anne Duchess of Brittany sent a ring to James IV, the King of Scotland and asked him to walk a few steps into England and break a sword there on her name …

    Anne de Bretagne was the second wife of Louis XII who, ironically enough,  married Mary Tudor, Henri VIII’s daughter,  in 1514 after Queen Anne’s death, only one year after the battle of Flodden.

    Portrait of James IV of Scotland 17 th century

    Portrait of James IV of Scotland 17 th century – Source Wikipedia


    “As the King was at his devotions in the church of Linlithgow, a figure, dressed in an azure-coloured robe, girt with a girdle, or sash of linen, having sandals on his feet, with long yellow hair, and a grave commanding countenance, suddenly appeared before him. This singular-looking person paid little or no respect to the royal presence, but pressing up to the desk at which the King was seated, leaned down on it with his arms, and addressed him with little reverence. He declared, that ‘his Mother laid her commands on James to forbear the journey which he purposed, seeing that neither he, nor any who went with him, would thrive in the undertaking.’ He also cautioned the King against frequenting the society of women, and using their counsel: ‘If thou dost,’ said he, ‘thou shalt be confounded and brought to shame.’

    These words spoken, the messenger escaped from among the courtiers so suddenly, that he seemed to disappear. There is no doubt that this person had been dressed up to represent Saint John, called in Scripture the adopted son of the Virgin Mary. The Roman Catholics believed in the possiblility of the souls of departed saints and apostles appearing on earth, and many impostures are recorded in history of the same sort with that I have just told you.

    (From Bannockburn to Flodden Sir Walter Scott)

    The Auld Alliance Hubert Fenwick Roundwood 1971

    (The Auld Alliance Hubert Fenwick Roundwood 1971)

    The cover of the book is a portrait of  François, Dauphin of France, and Mary, Queen of Scots., from the miniature-painting in the “Livre d’Heures” of Catherine de Medicis in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris.

    I’m very interested in the history of the Auld Alliance which still links Scotland and France and I do love the picturesque Scottish-French town which celebrates it so well, year after year, in Aubigny-sur-Nère. We visited it several times as well as the large  area which was once Scottish territory. Many people have Scottish ancestry and Scottish names there.

    The first documentary evidence of a formal alliance is actually contained in the Treaty concluded between King John Balliol and Philippe le Bel, in 1295, which was ratified by King Robert the Bruce in 1326, and renewed by David II in 1359.*As for the famous Garde Écossaise, (Life-Guards of the Kings of France), that body was definitely in being in the early part of the Fifteenth century, after Battle of Verneuil, in 1424. Formed originally by Charles VII, it was strengthened by Louis XI, who made the Corps his bodyguard, though he wished it away in later years. This Scots Guard remained in beeing until the fall of the last Bourbon, Charles X, and amongst its duties was the burial of French monarchs, including that of the guillotined Louis XVI and his restored brother, Louis XVIII.

    Succeeding monarchs of the Royal Stewart line renewed the Auld Alliance as each came to the throne, and in 1512, the year before Flodden, it was formally strengthened still further. James V added a French marriage to the political union, espousing Madeleine de Valois, daughter of François Premier; and when she died he wed Mary of Guise, whose own daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, subsequently became Dauphine and Queen of France. However, the Reformation soon put paid to the ever-increasing movement towards a unitary state in Scotland and France, in 1560, under the aegis of John Knox and his patroness, Queen Elizabeth, whose ships entered the Firth of Forth in a show of force, the official Alliance was dissolved. Yet Marie Stewart and François II remained as joint Sovereigns of France and Scotland and the purely cultural and commercial aspects of the association continued unabated.

    In 1513 Louis XII granted French nationality to the whole Scottish nation, ‘Pour toute la nation d’Escosse,’ as a document on display in the French Institute in Edinburgh in 1953 stated; and because of this and other generous gestures from France a visit to that country has special attractions for Scots. It not only emphasises sentimental attachments that linger on long long after the severing of political ties, but also reminds one of artistic and intellectual gifts, not to mention gastronomic novelties, received from our oldest allies. We shared and won battles together too. In the Cathedral of Orléans, for example, may be seen a placque upon which is recorded the service of an officer in the historic Garde Ecossaise; while at Buzancy, near Soissons, the 1914-1918 village War Memorial is inscribed as follows:

    ‘Ici fleurira le glorieux Chardon d’Écosse

    parmi les Roses de France.’

    A gap of nearly six centuries divides these two tributes, but the bonds of friendship have clearly bridged the years undiminished.

    (Hubert Fenwick  – The Auld Alliance 1971)

    *Scottish Nationalists claim an earlier treaty between King William the Lion and Louis VII, which would have made 1968 the 800th., anniversary of the Auld Alliance;  but the first official document extant remains the one signed in 1295.

    Hubert Fenwick is a Scot by birth and an architectural historian by profession. He is R.I.B.A.* Examiner in History and appreciation of Architecture for Scotland. He is well-known as a lecturer, writer and illustrator, and his first book ‘Architect Royal” received an enthusiastic welcome. His main interests lie in the fields of the Stewart period and Scottish architecture.

    *Royal Institute of British Architects

    Aubigny-sur-Nère Stuarts Castle and Auld Alliance Memorial Scotiana 2010 © 2010 Scotiana

    ( Aubigny-sur-Nère Stuarts Castle and Auld Alliance Memorial © 2010 Scotiana )


    “Prince de la Renaissance épris des arts et des lettres, Jacques IV d’Écosse paya de sa vie son alliance avec la France le 9 septembre 1513 à la bataille de Flodden. En France la “Vieille Alliance”, “Auld Alliance” en scots,  est particulièrement commémorée à Aubigny-sur-Nère où se situe un mémorial et un musée consacrés à l’Alliance (…)


    The Lion in the North John Prebble Book Club Associates 1974

    The Lion in the North John Prebble Book Club Associates 1974

    The honeymoon peace with England had survived the death of the King’s father-in-law in 1509, but it grew progressively uneasy year by year. English Borderers again crossed the Tweed in search of ancient enemies, or more exactly their stock and goods. At sea, English ships attacked and captured two vessels of Scotlands’s little navy, killing their commander, Sir Andrew Barton, whose bravery so impressed the Englishmen that they sportingly composed a ballad in his honour. Henry VIII did not suppress the border banditry, or restore the prizes his pirates had taken, but it was not this that brought the two nations to war. Europe was moving under changing alliances, and in 1512 Henry joined the Holy League which the Pope and the Emperor Maximilian had formed against France. The French naturally appealed to the Auld Alliance, but Julius II – who had once called James ‘Protector of the Christian Religion’ – now threatened to excommunicate him if he broke his solemn treaties with England. James protested that they had already been broken, that Henry was ‘slaying, capturing and imprisoning’ his subjects, but the protest was unanswered. Elphinstone urged caution and prudence, and for once was tragically ignored. In the early summer of 1513 an envoy brought an appeal for help from Louis XII. He also brought a turquoise ring from the French queen, and a letter naming James her champion, inviting him to step one pace into England, to strike one blow for her.

    Chain of Destiny Nigel Tranter Hodder ² Stoughton 1965

    Chain of Destiny Nigel Tranter Hodder ² Stoughton 1965

    ‘If Mary Queen of Scots is the most romanticised monarch to have sat upon the throne of Scotland, her grandfather James IV was just as exciting and intriguing an individual and with much more varied and complex character. A strangely loveable man, headstrong but able, vigorous and affectionate, yet ridden with guilt and impossibly chivalrous in a harshly realistic age, he was undoubtedly the finest and best-loved king Scotland ever had. Yet, almost deliberately, he led Scotland to the greatest disaster in her long history.

    ‘In this setting and colourful novel, his most ambitious to date, Nigel Tranter follows the dramatic events in the life of the fourth James Stewart, from his murdered father’s side, by way of plots, battles, Highland adventures and headlong love affairs, by laughter, tears, passion and haunting fear, to the fatal Field of Flodden where the whole flower of a nation laid down its life, unnecessarily, in blazing gallantry and for the love of one man.’

    (Nigel Tranter – Chain of Destiny  – Front flap of this 1st edition)

    The Fletcher Statue in Selkirk Wikimedia

    ( The Fletcher Statue in Selkirk – Wikimedia)

    The most arresting of all Selkirk’s monuments is a sentence of three words on the memorial to the Battle of Flodden:

    ‘O Flodden Field.’

    That is all.

    If there is a more eloquent or more poignant inscription on any war memorial, I have yet to read it. These words conclude each verse of J. B. Selkirk’s lovely poem, Selkirk after Flodden. And the mad idea came to me to visit Flodden. I had never been there. It was a mad idea, because the rain was falling, as it can in Scotland, with a grim enthusiasm. (…)

    (HV Morton – In Scotland Again)

    In Selkirk the battle is commemorated in the annual Common Riding Festival. In 1513, 100 of the townsmen marched out to fight for their king and it is said only one returned bearing a captured English banner.

    H.V. Morton In Search of Scotland Methuen 1929

    H.V.Morton In Scotland Again Methuen 1933


















    HV Morton’s In Search of Scotland and In Scotland Again  are two of my favourite books about Scotland. Written in a very lively style, they are full of history and funny anecdotes.

    Our visit to Flodden, in 2007, did not last long for it was late when we arrived there and apart from one or two people we were alone on the site.  The car park was rather isolated and someone had warned us that it might not be a good idea to leave our car there, especially with its roof box. It was a pity for we would have liked to follow the trail up the hill.


    Flodden Wall in Greyfriars Kirk Edinburgh

    (Flodden Wall in Greyfriars Kirk Edinburgh – Wikimedia)

    Originally, the walls around the old city of Edinburgh had not been built for defence but as a trade barrier.  They were strengthened in 1514  after the Battle of Flodden and under the regency of James V’s mother, Margaret Tudor, for the king was not two years old when his father was killed at Flodden Field.

    From Bannockburn to Flodden Sir Walter Scott Cumberland House 2001

    ‘The Scots were much disposed to dispute the fact that James IV had fallen on Flodden Field. Some said he had retired from the kingdom, and made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Others pretended that in the twilight, when the fight was nigh ended, four tall horsemen came into the field, having each a bunch of straw on the point of their spears, as a token for them to know each other by. They said these men mounted the King on a dun hackney, and that he was seen to cross the Tweed with them at night-fall.  Nobody pretended to say what they did with him, but it was believed he was murdered in Home Castle; and I recollect, about forty years since, that there was a report, that in cleaning the draw-well of that ruinous fortress, the workmen found a skeleton wrapt in a bull’s hide, and having a belt of iron round the waist. There was, however, not truth in this rumour. It was the absence of this belt of iron which the Scots founded upon to prove that the body of James could not have fallen into the hands of the English, since they either had not that token to show, or did not produce it. They contended, therefore, that the body over which the enemy triumphed was not that of James himself, but of one of his attendants, several of whom, they said, were dressed in his armour.

    It seems true, that the King usually wore the belt of iron in token of his repentance for his father’s death, and the share he had in it. But it is not unlikely that he would lay aside such a cumbrous article of penance in a day of battle.’

    (From Bannockburn to Flodden Sir Walter Scott)


    I leave the last word to the ‘Wizard of the North’… as Sir Walter Scott was called…

     Marmion  by Walter Scott - Henry Altemus Philadelphia 1899

    (Marmion  by Walter Scott – Henry Altemus Philadelphia 1899)

    To town and tower, to down and dale,
    To tell red Flodden’s dismal tale,
    And raise the universal wail.
    Tradition, legend, tune, and song,
    Shall many an age that wail prolong :
    Still from the sire the son shall hear
    Of the stern strife, and carnage drear,
    Of Flodden’s fatal field,
    Where shivered was fair Scotland’s spear,
    And broken was her shield!

    (Sir Walter Scott – Marmion  Canto sixth ‘The battle’ stanza 34)


    Bonne lecture!

    A bientôt.  My next post will be much lighter in tone. 😉


    PS: Our dear Scottish friends, Iain and Margaret, sent us this link to a BBC article -> ** Flodden burial excavations begin **
    It’s about excavation work to locate the remains of thousands of bodies buried on the Flodden battlefield in Northumberland.

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