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Flodden Field


HE Field of Flodden is invested with the saddest interest of almost any ancient scene of strife. It was the most fatal to Scotland, for there-

"The flowers of the forest were a' wede away."

There she lost the flower of her manhood. Her king, twelve Scottish earls, thirteen lords, five eldest sons of peers, fifty chiefs, knights, and men of birth, and ten thousand of her bravest soldiers.

But sad as are the reminiscences connected with "dark Flodden," it is now as fair a scene as eye can look on, covered with golden cornfields and comfortable farms.

Where anciently the might of two kingdoms contested a battle to the bitter end, is now an extensive strath in rich cultivation. What a blessed Act was that of the union that has put an end to the cruel ravages, the endless feuds of the Borders. "The track," says Howitt, "that used to be between the countries, a blasted and desolate region, ravaged with fire and sword, drenched with blood, and peopled only with horrible memories, is now turned into a garden. The one country has blended so beautifully into the other that the only line of demarcation is one of superior culture and abundance. In this neighbourhood, up to the very ridges of the Cheviots, extend large corn farms, where all the improvements and scientific triumphs of modern agriculture are displayed."

But we must tell the story of that sad day when James IV. of Scotland broke the peace with England and crossed the Border. Henry VIII. was fighting in France, and the Queen of France, anxious to make a diversion in favour of her country, by bringing the Scots into England, had sent James a ring from her own finger, calling herself his lady love in the spirit of chivalry, and bidding him for her sake,-

"March three miles on English land,
And strike three strokes with Scottish brand."

She was a young and beautiful princess, and she appealed to James's romantic taste for gallantry. He sent to declare war against Henry, and then prepared to invade the country. The parliament was at first averse to the war, but James was so beloved that he won them to consent to this unjust and foolish strife, and orders were given to assemble all the array of the kingdom upon the borough moor of Edinburgh, a great common on which the royal standard was displayed from a large stone or rock called Hare-stone.

James suffered at times from profound melancholy, caused by remorse that he had been in arms against his father, James III., and had thus been accessory to his death; in token of his remorse the king wore an iron band or girdle round his waist under his clothes. There were people who fully understood the imaginative character of their king and his morbid feelings about his filial disobedience, and who were patriotically desirous of preventing a war; it is thought they may have devised the vision that James is said to have seen in the church of Linlithgow, before he departed on his adventure. He was at the service when a figure, dressed in a floating azure robe, girt with a sash of muslin, and with sandals on his feet and long yellow hair streaming over his shoulders, suddenly appeared before the king, and bending down over the desk at which James was seated, leaned down on it with his arms and addressed him with a commanding countenance, saying that his Mother laid her commands on James to forbear the journey which he purposed, seeing that neither he nor any that went with him should thrive in the undertaking. He also warned James against the counsel of women.

These words spoken, the messenger passed away so swiftly that he seemed to have disappeared. There is no doubt he represented St. John, the adopted son of the Virgin Mary. Then there was heard, from the market cross of Edinburgh, at dead midnight, a voice summoning the king by his name and titles, and many of his nobles, to appear before the tribunal of Pluto within the space of forty days.

But neither these omens nor his own queen Margaret's entreaties and prayers - she was Henry VIII.'s sister - could induce him to give up the invasion. He was so beloved by the people that he soon assembled a large army, placed himself at their head, and entered England near the Castle of Twisell, on August 22, 1513. He speedily took the Border fortresses of Norhani, Wark, Etal and Ford. Happy would it have been for him if the latter had been impregnable, for in it he found the beautiful Lady Heron, who treacherously continued to keep him there till the approach of the English. Had James marched on, instead of lingering at Ford, the fortune of the war might have been different, for the English were unprepared. But during his delay the Earl of Surrey and his son Thomas, the Lord High Admiral of England, advanced at the head of twenty-six thousand men and a large body in addition that Thomas had disembarked at Newcastle.

Now while the men of the North were gathering fast to Surrey's standard, numbers of the Scots began to leave their king, because though each man had brought provisions for forty days, those days had been wasted, were now nearly over, and a scarcity was felt in the king's camp. Others went home to leave there the booty they had gathered on the Borders.

Surrey, knowing his superior strength, sent James a message of defiance that the Scottish king was only too ready to accept. But the Scottish nobles hesitated; a council was held, of which Lord Patrick Lindsay was made president. He opened the meeting by telling the council a parable of a rich merchant who would play dice with a common sharper, and stake a rose noble of gold against a crooked sixpence. "You, my lords," he said, "will be as unwise as the merchant if you risk your king, whom I compare to a precious rose noble, against the English general, who is but an old crooked churl, lying in a chariot. Though the English lose the day, they lose nothing but this old churl and a parcel of mechanics, whereas so many of our common people have gone home that few are left with us but the prime of our nobility." He therefore gave it as his advice that the king should withdraw from the army and that the council should appoint a general. But James broke in on the council and told them that he would fight the English, though they swore he should not, and he vowed that when he returned he would hang Lord Patrick Lindsay, over his own gate.

Only four or five miles now divided the armies, and an outlaw named Heron, on condition of receiving pardon for killing Sir Robert Ker, offered to guide the English.

The Scottish army had fixed their camp on a hill called Flodden, which rose then close to a flat called Millfield plain. There was a large piece of level ground on the summit, where the Scots might have drawn up their army and waited the attack of the English with advantage. Surrey tried to win them from the height by a chivalrous demand that the king would meet him in the open plain; but James was not quite so foolish as to be thus lured, and sent as an answer that it did not become an earl to send such a message to a king.

Surrey then resorted to another plan, for he must fight soon, seeing that he was distressed for provisions. He moved northward, swept round the hill of Flodden, and crossing the hill, placed his whole army between James and his kingdom.

The king of Scotland, brave as a lion, was no general. Again and again he might have attacked the earl while moving, and did not. But when he saw that the English army was interposed between him and Scotland he grew alarmed lest Surrey should invade and lay waste his kingdom, and determined to give the signal for battle.

The Scots then set fire to their huts and the refuse and litter of their camps, and under the cover of the smoke, marched down the northern side, which was less steep than the southern. The English advanced to meet them. The Scots marched in four columns parallel with each other, and had a reserve of Lothian men commanded by Earl Bothwell. The English were divided into four bodies. Their reserve was cavalry led by Lord Dacre.

The left wing of the Scots began the battle, commanded by the Earl of Huntley and Lord Home, and threw into confusion the right wing of the English, under Sir Edward Howard. He was beaten down, his standard taken, and he would have been killed if Heron, the outlaw, with some of his comrades, had not rescued him.

Thomas Howard, the Lord High Admiral, meantime had attacked with the second division of English, and bore down and routed the Scots under Crawford and Montrose, who were both slain.

On the extreme right the Highland clans, greatly annoyed by the English archers, could not be restrained, but broke their ranks and rushed tumultuously down the hill, where they were attacked by Sir Edward Stanley and the men of Cheshire and Lancashire, who defeated them with great slaughter.

The only Scottish division not yet defeated was that commanded by the king himself. It consisted of nobles and gentlemen whose armour of proof resisted the arrows of the English archers. They were all on foot, as was also the king. They fought against Surrey's division, and attacked with such fury that the fortune of the battle wavered, the English were disordered, their standard in danger. Bothwell was bringing up the reserve, and the English seemed about to be defeated entirely; but Stanley came to the rescue, and attacked them on one flank, and the admiral, who had conquered Crawford and Montrose, on the other.

The Scots fought heroically. They formed themselves into a circle with extended spears on every side. The English Border - men now finding arrows useless, brought their tremendous bills into play, but they could not break the circle of Scottish spears, though the carnage was awful.

James fell amid his gallant nobles and gentry; he was twice wounded with arrows, and at last killed by a bill. Night fell on the field of blood, and the battle was yet undecided, for the Scots kept their ground. "Home and Dacre held each other at bay."

But when darkness wrapt the scene, the Scottish army drew off in despair from the field where they had lost their king and their greatest leaders.

A body that was thought to be that of James was found by Lord Dacre, who presented it to Surrey. It was recognised by his two favourite attendants, who wept over it. The royal corpse was not buried, for the king was under a sentence of excommunication, and no priest dared read the service over him. It was therefore embalmed and sent to the monastery of Shene, in Surrey. It remained there until the Reformation, when the monastery was given to the Duke of Suffolk. The body, lapped in lead, was then left as a piece of useless lumber till some idle workman hewed off the head, and Lancelot Young, master glazier to Queen Elizabeth, bad it buried in the charnel-house of St. Michael's, Wood Street

But the Scots long refused to believe that their beloved king was dead. Many stories were told of his escape, and his return was expected. There was no hope of it really.

The battle of Flodden Field threw almost every Scottish family into bitter grief - so many were the slain - and to their sorrow at this fatal battle we owe one of the loveliest of the old Scotch songs, "The Flowers of the Forest".

What a contrast there is between the Flodden of that day and the Flodden of the present!

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Picturesque England - Matthew Spong 2004