The Battle of Flodden

James IV of Scotland

James IV of Scotland

Today is the 500 year anniversary of the Battle of Flodden, an epic battle between England and Scotland that led to the death of the Scottish king, James IV. He had been Henry VIII’s brother in law and would be the last British king to die on a battlefield.

Henry VIII was away fighting a campaign in France at the time of the Battle of Flodden and had announced that his wife, Catherine of Aragon, would be Governor of the Realm and Captain General of the Forces in his absence. She would be helped to run the country by a handful of Councillors. The Scots were an old time ally of the French, in what was known as the Auld Alliance. Catherine and her Councillors were sure that Scotland would honour this alliance and exploit Henry’s absence so they all had growing concerns about England’s northern borders.

Catherine’s fears were soon realised when James IV declared war on England, he was going to support his ‘Auld’ ally and help divert English troops away from France. By this time Henry was camped outside Therouanne laying siege to the city, on the 11th August 1513 James sent a herald to Henry who passed on the message that he should abandon his efforts in France and go back to England. Henry was extremely angry about this, he felt James should be on England’s side considering he was married to his sister, Margaret. Henry responded back to the messenger:

“And now, for a conclusion, recommend me to your master and tell him if he be so hardy to invade my realm or cause to enter one foot of my ground I shall make him as weary of his part as ever was man that began any such business. And one thing I ensure him by the faith that I have to the Crown of England and by the word of a King, there shall never King nor Prince make peace with me that ever his part shall be in it. Moreover, fellow, I care for nothing but for misentreating of my sister, that would God she were in England on a condition she cost the Schottes King not a penny.”


Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, artist unknown

Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, artist unknown

Then on 22nd August James and his army of around 30,000 men attacked England’s northern border and waited for the English forces on Flodden Ridge in Northumberland. Catherine, in her role as regent, had been aware of the imminent invasion and had already mustered the English troops, who were being led by Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey.

Surrey had managed to gather an army of around 20,000 men and they finally met the Scottish forces at Flodden on the afternoon of 9th September 1513. The fighting lasted for around 3 hours and proved to be a decisive victory for Surrey and his men. James IV was killed on the battlefield along with 12 earls, the Archbishop of St Andrews, 2 bishops and 2 abbots. The Scots lost between 5,000 and 17,000 men in total (the figures differ according to what sources you read) In comparison, the English army only lost around 1,500 men.

Flodden was a real victory for Catherine and one of her finest hours. Henry had recently been victorious at the Battle of the Spurs and been able to send Catherine some French prisoners, one of which was a Duke, but Catherine was able to send Henry the bloodied coat of a deceased Scottish king! Catherine wrote to Henry about the victory telling him:

“My Lord Howard hath sent me a letter open to your Grace, within one of mine, by the which you shall see at length the great Victory that our Lord hath sent your subjects in your absence; and for this cause there is no need herein to trouble your Grace with long writing, but, to my thinking, this battle hath been to your Grace and all your realm the greatest honor that could be, and more than you should win all the crown of France; thanked be God of it, and I am sure your Grace forgetteth not to do this, which shall be cause to send you many more such great victories, as I trust he shall do. My husband, for hastiness, with Rougecross I could not send your Grace the piece of the King of Scots coat which John Glynn now brings. In this your Grace shall see how I keep my promise, sending you for your banners a king’s coat.”

The battle was also a victory for Surrey and he was rewarded by having the title the Duke of Norfolk restored to him which his father had lost for supporting Richard III. The arms of the Dukes of Norfolk still carry an augmentation of honour on the coat of arms to commemorate their role in the Battle of Flodden. The honour consists of a modified royal Scottish coat of arms with an arrow through the lion’s mouth. Surrey became the 2nd Duke of Norfolk; his son would later become the 3rd Duke of Norfolk and gain infamy in his own right as one of England’s premier noblemen and uncle to Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.

The Battle of Flodden had completely broken Scottish military power and severely damaged the nobility which was a huge coup for Henry. The death of James IV also meant his 18 month old son, James V, succeeded him to the throne. Not only was James V Henry’s nephew but his mother, Henry’s older sister, Margaret, was appointed regent of Scotland due to James’ young age. For the time being at least, Scotland posed no immediate threat to England.

For more on Margaret Tudor and her role in Scottish politics go to my blog post ‘Margaret Tudor and Scotland’

Sources: Henry VIII – J J Scarisbrick, Letters & Papers

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