September 1513 is a day that will live forever in infamy in the psyche of
the Scottish nation. On that day five hundred years ago, Scotland lost not
only its King but the elite of its aristocracy and church too. It was a
loss that plunged the land into turmoil and chaos for many decades
afterwards, allowing the border region to become even more lawless and
wild as the Border Reivers plied their craft unhindered.
1513 after many raids and border incursions, relations between England
and Scotland had reached crisis point. Sometime in August of that year,
King James of Scotland against the advice of his close advisors crossed
the border with an army estimated to contain between 60,000 - 100,000
men. He attacked and took various English strongholds, demolishing them
in the process.
culmination of this invasion of England was the Battle of Flodden, which
took place just outside the English village of Branxton in modern day
Northumberland. It proved to be a devastating and crushing defeat for the Scots
who lost around 10,000 men, compared to the English losses of around
the battlefield is well preserved and much as it was back then. It is
now peaceful and exists amongst cropland in a beautiful rural setting.
In 1910, a large granite monument, a lonely brooding sentinel, was
erected to the dead of both sides on the spot that would have formed the
middle of the English lines.
visited Flodden on Saturday 7th July 2012, during what has
been one of the wettest British summers on record. Fortunately on the
day of my visit, despite tumbling, leaden skies and occasional bursts of
sunshine, the rain held off. The ground was sodden and boggy though from
previous heavy rainfall, much as it had been on the day of the actual
battle itself. I and my wife were the only people at Flodden at the time
we visited, and seeing the silent battlefield laid out before us was a
deeply thought provoking vista.
could look straight down the hill from the English lines to the bottom,
where most of the dreadful killing on the day of battle took place, and
back up to the Scots positions on the hill opposite. It was sobering to
know that so many thousands of men had died in such a confined space,
all hacked to death in a frenzy of butchery and suffering. It was said
that so great was the killing that the brook which runs through the low
ground ran thick with blood.
at the centre of the killing ground is a very reflective and sombre
experience and leaves one with an immense feeling of sadness at the
waste of so many lives. The nobles were fighting for their own
advantage, power and potential gain. The poor ordinary foot soldier on
both sides was there because he had to be and died horribly for no
benefit to himself or his family. All too often in the yellowed pages of
history the poor die for the benefit of the rich and powerful, and it is
still as true today as it was back then.
Scots pipe tune ‘Flowers of the Forest’ was written to commemorate
the dead of Flodden and it is usually only played at funerals, being
considered bad form to be played on lighter occasions. The Scottish 1513
Club from the border town of Coldstream in Scotland remember the Scots
dead each year on the anniversary of the battle, their flying of the
Saltire and Royal Standard at Flodden has raised some hackles, not least
amongst the English. To date I have not attended on that day but I do
hope there is no hint of jingoism involved from any quarter.
anniversary of Flodden should be a respectful remembrance of the dead of
both sides, who more than anything fought for their lives during what
must have been a horrific, bloody and utterly terrifying experience. No
war is ever glorious to those fighting and dying in the filth and
squalor of battle.
is no place for petty modern politicking, nationalism and point-scoring
at the site of so much bloodshed, suffering and human tragedy, all that
is required is reflection, prayer and a pipers lament for the dead.
Below are pictures of the battlefield I took on the day of my visit. Please click on the thumbnails for the larger images. For those into photography, all the images below were taken on my trusty little 14 megapixel Nikon Coolpix camera and resized in a photo editor.
'Flowers of the Forest'
them liltin', at the ewe milkin,'
- James of Glencarr
©Copyright - James of Glencarr