Sunday, 8 September 2013

Flodden 500 (or What I did on my holidays)

September 9th will be the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden, the biggest defeat of the Scots by the English, at least terms of men killed. Rather by coincidence I went on holiday this year to the Scottish Borders and had the opportunity to find out more about this battle. I thought would put down something about the places we visited.

The battle actually took place rather closer to Branxton in Northumberland than Flodden (and it is sometimes called the Battle of Branxton). As well as the battlefield itself, there is an excellent exhibition at Etal Castle which is just a few miles away and is one of the castles which was captured by the Scots during their campaign; there is no visitor centre at the battlefield so a visit to Etal is well worthwhile. We also visited a small exhibition at the 'Old Guard' in Berwick-upon-Tweed

In the battle many of the Scots were armed with pikes, and had been trained by the French. The English, in contrast, had an army similar to that of the Wars of the Roses with many billmen as well as longbows.

Etal - display of English bills
and Scottish pikes

The two sides drew up on opposing hills; the English to the north of the Scots. The Scots led by James IV and the English by the  Earl of Surrey who had flank marched his men around the Scottish army. It was dull, damp and muddy having rained for most of the day.

The battle field from the English side -
in the middle distance you can see the dip in the land
Between the two armies was a dip. When the Scots got there they discovered it had turned into a marsh. Their pikemen lost all cohesion and instead of having the advantage over the shorter bills the pikes became unwieldy and were cut aside by the English.

The killing ground
The dip is still quite boggy even today now that the land has been drained

Looking up from the dip towards the English side
James IV led his men bravely in a desperate attempt to win victory, but he was cut down close to the Earl. He was the last British monarch to be killed in a battle.

"The Kynge of Scottes cam with a grete puyssaunce
upon my Lorde of Surrey, having on his lyfte hande
my Lorde Darcy son, which 2 bare alle the brounte
of the bataillle, and there the Kynge of Scottes was
slayne within a spere lengthe from the said Erle of 
Surrey, and many noble men of the Scottes slayne moo [more]"
     From the Articules of the bataillle bitwix the Kynge of 
Scottes and the Erle of Surrey', written shortly after the
battle by Thomas Howard, the Lord Admiral

In all, it is said that more than 10,000 Scots and 4,000 English died.

The memorial to the dead of both sides- erected 1910

Etal - prominent Scottish nobles who were killed
Including James IV, the Archbishop of St Andrews and the Bishop of the Isles 
Branxton church, nearby, was used as a mortuary after the battle

A few weeks before we were there, there was apparently a re-enactment event near Etal. Although I missed that I did get to an English Heritage living history event at Framlingham Castle a couple of weeks ago which was themed around Flodden:

A demonstration of the reach advantage of pike over bill
note how straight the pike isn't
Two 'knights' battle it out

Finally I could not resist putting in one toy soldier photo in this post:

Your author taking photoes of a small figure display at Etal
This is of course a gross oversimplification of the Battle of Flodden, but it will gives you a flavour from what I saw on my holidays.You can find out more for example at or


  1. Nice pics Tim, a visit to Flodden is on the top of my list, not sure its on the mrs list though!

  2. was there myself this Summer a great day out
    Peace James

  3. Seems like a nice trip. Thanks for sharing.