History of the bloody battle which claimed the life of a king

Historian, Charlie Wesencraft at Flodden 'battle site with members and friends of the Rotary Club.
Historian, Charlie Wesencraft at Flodden 'battle site with members and friends of the Rotary Club.

Morpeth rotary club

Historian Charlie Wesencraft joined the luxury tour bus for the Flodden battle site with members and friends of the club.

Just before Wooler, he pointed out the house used by the English top commander, the Earl of Surrey, in September 1513. It is currently for sale.

The rest of his army of 24,000 men was camped out over the two miles between the house and the other side of Wooler.

Henry VIII had a treaty with the Scots sealed by the marriage of his sister Margaret to James IV. Even so, when Henry decided to support the Pope and attack France, James renewed the Auld Alliance – this is where Scotland agreed to attack England if England invaded France.

To assist the Scots, the Queen of France sent a sword and a ring along with thousands of pikes that were 18ft long, the latest weapon on the continent. She also sent 40 French officers to train the m.

Henry won the ‘Battle of the Spurs’ in France while the Earl of Surrey was left behind in command of the north. He used men from Northumberland, Durham, Cumberland, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire.

James massed his 60,000 men at Edinburgh. He took with him 17 large guns, including Mons Meg, using 370 oxen to transport them. He captured English castles after crossing the border, starting with Norham. They came down the Till Valley and took Etal and Ford.

The coach stopped at Ford Castle, where the fortifications could be examined in sight of Flodden Ridge. Ford was held by Lady Heron as her husband was in prison in Scotland. When it surrendered, the Scottish king stayed there with her.

Surrey moved up to Newcastle and then on to Alnwick, with troops assembling at Bolton before moving to Wooler.

An English herald was sent to Ford to find King James and agree battle but he had gone, as his nobles had advised him to fortify Flodden Ridge as it was more easily defended than Ford. It would command the Milfield plain and would be difficult for the English to attack up such a steep hill.

The herald found him at Flodden and agreed battle for September 9, but the herald was arrested. They sent their herald to Surrey and he was also arrested.

One of the Heron family had a very good knowledge of the lie of the land and advised Surrey not to attack the Scots there, but to go round so the English forces were behind them where there was a much more gradual slope. It would also cut off their return route to Scotland.

The English army moved from Wooler to Barmoor and the Scots could see them for the first few miles, but then lost sight of them. It was thought they had gone to Berwick for food and drink.

By this time, the Scots already had a number of deserters who had picked up enough loot and set off home. They were down to about 40,000, of which around 26,000 were fighting men, with a mix of soldiers from all over Scotland.

On the morning of the battle, the English were up early as they had a 12 mile march to come at the Scots from the north. They crossed the Till, with their guns, using Twizell Bridge.

The Scots put their guns and army on Branxton Ridge, the English 22 smaller guns and army were on the lower ridge (the location of the battle cross). The Scots had German gunners who were slow to load and fired beyond the English lines into the marshes. The English gunners of the Royal Artillery fired more rapidly and accurately and soon knocked out the Scottish guns.

The Scots had no idea what the ground was like coming down the hill. The battle started at around 4pm when two of the commanders, Hume and Huntley charged down with a pike formation to attack Edmund Howard – younger brother of the Lord Admiral (son of the Earl of Surrey) in what is now a cornfield and they defeated him. They did not see Lord Dacre and his cavalry, who saved the situation from becoming a rout.

Huntly and Hume withdrew after winning and left the field. They said they had orders from the king to go to Coldstream to hold the bridge so that the Scots army could return home.

King James sent his 3,000 highlanders to charge 9,000 English soldiers who were highly trained in the use of their favourite weapon, the eight-foot long billhook.

They arrived in a quagmire and sank up to their knees. The pikes were little use for the hand-to-hand fighting that followed.

The King grabbed an 18ft pike and led his men down to the stream at the bottom of the hill, which was a bog. Men led by Lennox and Argyle followed him down to help, but Sir Edward Stanley brought in his mounted archers from the east to attack on foot at a rate of 12 arrows a minute each.

The Scottish pikemen lost formation and Stanley moved in behind the King. The Admiral defeated the 3,000 highlanders and swung his forces round so the Scots had English soldiers on three sides.

The Scottish King was killed a short way from Surrey and the battle was over by about 8pm. His surcoat with the royal arms was sent to Henry VIII in France and his body taken to England and never properly buried. The captured Scottish guns were sent to Etal Castle.

The Scots lost about 10,000, including the King, his son and most of the nobility, and the English lost around 3,000, including one gentleman of name. Hume was ‘unfairly’ put on trial for desertion and executed.

It was sad to consider the slaughter, but it was an excellent trip followed by a fine meal at the Black Bull in Etal.