1513 - James IV killed at Flodden


In 1513 the glittering Renaissance reign of James IV came to an abrupt end in a war against his English brother-in-law Henry VIII. James had the most modern Swiss tactics and an impressive contingent of artillery but, in the event, both were badly misapplied. The result was the slaughter of Flodden and the death of James. This is a contemporary English account, apparently by a Northumbrian. Curiously, however, it contains no mention of James's fate. The original communication seems to have been dispatched before his death was certain. The letters of Thomas Ruthal, bishop of Durham, reveal his end. He fell near his banner, struck by an arrow and gashed by a halberd. The corpse was taken to Berwick.

And as soon as the Scots perceived my said Lords to be within the danger of their ordenance, they shot sharpely their guns which were very great, and in like manner our party recountered them, with their ordenance, and notwithstanding that other our artillery for war could do no good nor advantage to our army because they were continually going and advancing up toward the said hills and mountains, yet by the help of God, our guns did so break and constrain the Scottish great army, that some part of them wer enforced to come down the said hills toward our army. And my Lord Hawarde [Howard] conceiving the great power of the Scots, sent to my said [Lord] of Surrey, his father, and required him to advance his rerewarde [rearguard] and to join his right wing with his left wing, for the Scots were of that might that the vawarde [vanguard] was not of power nor able to encounter them. My said lords of Surrey perfectly understanding this with all speed and diligence lustily came forward and joined him to the vawarde, as afore was required by my said Lord Hawarde, and was glad for necessity to make of two battalles [divisions] one good battell to adventure of the said four batelles.

And for so much as the Scots did keep them several in four batelles therefore my Lord of Surrey and my Lorde Hawarde suddenly were constrained and enforced to divide their army in other four batelles, and else it was thought it should have been to their great danger and jeopardy. So it was that the Lord Chamberlain of Scotland, being Captain of the first bataill of the Scots, fiercely did set upon Mr Edmonde Hawarde Captaine of th'uttermoste parte of the field at the west side, and between them was so cruel battle that many of our party Chesshiremen and other did flee, and the said Master Edmonde in manner left alone without succour, and his standard and bearer of the same beaten and hewed in pieces, and himself thrice stricken down to the ground; howbeit like a courageous and an hardy young lusty gentleman he recovered again and fought hand to hand with one Sir Davy Home, and slew him with his own hand, and thus the said Maister Edmonde was in great peril and danger till that the lorde Darce like a good and a hardy knight relieved and come unto him for his succour.

The second batell came upon my Lord Hawarde. The third batell wherein was the King of Scots and most part of the noblemen of his realm came fiercely upon my said Lord of Surrey, which two battelles by the help of Almighty God were after a great conflict venquesshed [vanquished], overcome, beaten down and put to flight, and few of them escaped with their lives. Sir Edward Stanley being at the uttermost part of the said rerewarde [rear guard] on the East part, seeing the fourth batelles ready to relieve the said King of Scots battell, courageously and like a lusty and hardy knight, did set upon the same and overcame, and put to flight all the Scots in the said batell. And thus by the grace succour and help of Almighty God victory was given to the realm of England, and all the Scottish ordenance won and brought to Ettell and Berwick in surety.

Over and above the said persons, there are slain of the Scots viewed by my lorde Darce, the number of 11 or 12 thousand men and of Englishmen slain and taken prisoners upon 1200. Divers prisoners are taken of the Scots, but no notable person, only Sir William Scott knight councillor of the said king of Scots, and as is said a gentleman well learned, also Sir John Forman knight brother to the Bishop of Murrey, which Bishop as is reported, was and is most principal procurer of this war; and an other called Sir John of Coolchome; many other Scottish prisoners could and might have been taken but they were so vengeable and cruel in their fighting that when Englishmen had the better of them they would not save them, though it so were that diverse Scots offered great sums of money for their lives.

It is to be noted that the field began between 4 and 5 after noon, and continued within night, if it had fortuned to have been further afore night many more Scots had been slain, and taken prisoners. Loving be to allmighty God all the noble men of England, that were upon the said field both Lord and knight are safe from any hurt and none of them wanting, save only M. Harry Gray [and] Sir Humfrey Lisle booth prisoners in Scotland Sir John Gower of Yorkeshire and Sir John Boothe of Lancashire both wanting and as yet not found.

In this battle the Scots had many great advantages that is to wit, the high hills and mountains, a great wind with them, and sudden rain, all contrary to our bows and archers. It is not to be doubted, but the Scots fought manly, and were determined either to win the field or to die, they were also as well appointed as was possible at all points with arms and harness, so that few of them were slain with arrows, how be it the bills did beat and how them down with some pain and danger to Englishmen.

The said Scots were so plainly determined to abide battle and not to flee, that they put from them their horses and also put of their boots and shoes, and fought in the vamps of their hoses [their stocking soles], every man for the most parte with a keen and a sharp spear of 5 yards long, and a target afore him. And when their spears failed and were spent, then they fought with great and sharp swords, making little or no noise without that for the most part, any of them would desire to be saved.

The field where the Scots did lodge, was not to be reproved but rather to be commended greatly, for there was many, and a great number of goodly tents and much good stuff in the same, and in the said field was plenty of wine, beer, ale, beef, mutton, salt fish, cheese and other victuals necessary and convenient for such a great army Albeit our army doubting that the said victuals had been poisoned for their destruction, would not save but utterly them destroyed.

'A contemporary account of the battle of Floddon 9th September 1513 from a manuscript in the possession of David Laing', ed. D. Laing, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Edinburgh, 1867.

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