Sunday, 31 January 2016

Scottish King Killed in Battle (King James IV at Battle of Flodden)

Scottish King Killed in Battle (King James IV at Battle of Flodden)


The War of the League of Cambrai was fought in stages. From 1508 – 1510, 1510- 1511, 1511 – 1513, and finally from 1513 – 1516. This papal state war began with various countries honouring alliances and signed pacts. As the wars continued various European states entered or left the conflict, hence the various yearly stages of the war.


When the war first started in 1508, we (British) must look at this papal European war from our island perspective, which in itself, is divided by two. Scotland and England had formed alliances with other European nations, independent of Each other.


Scotland’s kings were Stewarts while England’s were Tudors. It would be 95 years before the Scottish Stewarts would unite both kingdoms under one monarch. At this time Scotland and England were bitter enemies. Always at the point of fighting one another. Over the centuries there had been a number of bloody conflicts. Therefore an alliance by marriage between the Tudors and the Stewarts seemed appropriate.


King Henry VII sent his daughter Margaret Tudor to marry the King of Scotland, James IV. The Stewart Scottish king had ruled the nation since 1488 and was regarded as one of Scotland’s most successful kings. This was in 1503 at the age of 30. His coronation was in 1488 at age 15.


When England’s King Henry VII died in 1509 his surviving second son became the infamous King Henry VIII. He was a young man and still 17. His coronation took place four days before his 18th birthday. The young king was enthusiastic and immediately set about trying to put England on the high stage of European nations. His first act was to arrest and execute two of his father’s senior ministers. He wanted his own chosen men around him.


The year of 1509 was one year into the War of the League of Cambrai. This conflict was fought between the Papal States allied with France against Venice at first. It had not troubled Scotland or England too much. Then in 1510, the Papal States switched sides and joined Venice against France. Then Spain, The Holy Roman Empire, The Swiss, and England, under Henry VIII’s kingship also allied with Pope Julius II in 1511.


Although Scotland’s King James IV was married to the English Tudor King’s sister, he had signed an alliance with the king of France. This treaty made James IV honour bound to attack the King of France’s enemies. King Louis XII of France called upon James IV for assistance when Henry the VIII of England invaded from Calais into France with other members of the Catholic League alliance in 1513.


There was a new Pope Leo X in March 1513. He tried to threaten the Scottish King with excommunication if he did not refrain from invading England to draw Henry VIII’s forces away from France. This was not done and so King James IV of Scotland was excommunicated from Rome.


The first thing James IV of Scotland then did was to send his navy to aid France. This included the Great Michael – a warship with twice the displacement of England’s Mary Rose.


There was some political rambling between Scots and English diplomats, but Henry VIII refused to desist from his war in France. Therefore Scotland invaded Northern England with an army of around 60,000 men. It was a well-equipped force with cannon, cavalry and infantry etc.  This was in August of 1513.


Because of all the diplomatic protocols – warnings and threats before the actual invasion; Henry VIII and his advisers were prepared for the Scottish war. He did not leave France and return to England, but left his Queen Catherine (Catherine of Aragon) in charge as regent to confront the Scottish. She had formidable help with advisers like 2ndBaron Darcy, the Earl of Surrey, the Lord High Admiral, Sir Edward Stanley and many more capable men of rank.


King James IV’s Scottish army took the Northern English castles of Norham, Etal and Ford. At one of these castles, the King wasted time with an English woman he knew – Lady Heron. He lapsed from the notion of urgency and contented himself in social discourse. This lasted for some days and was a waste of time. He seemed to have no reason to aggressively secure more English strongholds and land.

A large part of his 60,000 strong force returned to Scotland. The English army gathered to meet King James IV’s remaining force at the village of Branxton. The Scottish forces were stationed just south at a place called Flodden Edge. The English army was 25,000 strong. A force that was still outnumbered, but there may have been local militia. It can’t be said for sure. The Scottish army still numbered 40,000.


The Earl of Surrey marched his forces on a wide north east sweep around the Scottish formation and on to the opposite bank of the River Till. He did this because the Scottish forces at Flodden Edge had dug their artillery into fortified grounds that had an excellent view of the expected English attack. The English Earl tried to get King James IV to move his forces to a position where the two armies were more evenly matched.


One might laugh at the attempt of appealing to a king’s notion of chivalry, and one might expect the Scottish King to tell the English Earl to go for a long walk off of a short pier. Well James the IV did do so in, perhaps, more diplomatic terms. He stated he had chosen his ground and would oblige the English army to do its own thing. Hopefully, from the Scottish point of view, attack the gun emplacements.


Perhaps the Earl of Surrey thought it worth chancing the rebuke. One never knows as the saying goes: Ask don’t get. Or. Don’t ask, don’t want!


The English army began to assemble behind the Scottish forces blocking their return home. They would have been happy to stay put on the north side of the river and wait to strengthen their chosen location.


However, as this new position was in preperation, King James, realised the intentions of the enemy. He ordered his Scottish forces to move their guns two miles towards Branxton village to meet the new English position. As the Earl of Surrey’s men began to disperse and form orderly lines of battle, King James IV and his army were  quickly assembled to meet their English foes.


The English formed two lines of battle with a supporting vanguard. The artillery on both sides of the conflict opened fire, trying to break up each other’s formations. When all this canon fire died down the Scots moved forward to confront the English Pike/Bill men, archers etc. The English field guns were lighter than the Scottish heavier guns and may also have had the ability to fire at closer range with crude canister as the Scots infantry and cavalry advanced. At this moment of the battle; the heavy Scottish cannons may have been of little use because they could not move the cumbersome pieces forward when the soldiers advanced over the rough and muddy terrain. The lighter English guns were also too heavy to move, but they had the advantage of an enemy force marching closer to their position.


The Scottish forces were led from the front by their high ranking noblemen. This was brave, but made the directors, of Scottish army, targets for the enemy. The English began to fire cannon, arrow and other projectiles at the advancing enemy soldiers. The battle developed into a bitter and fierce struggle with the Scots taking huge casualties. They doggedly advanced over the difficult terrain with English soldiers slinging everything they could muster at the advancing Scots. With each pace Scottish fatalities were rising. The situation became more desperate. Leading men were killed and the orderly lines dithered and become unsure without proper leadership. New men of high rank stepped up but they too, were killed.


Eventually the King rallied his Scots in another attempt to break the English line of battle. He led the attack against the Earl of Surrey’s position and as he encouraged his soldiers into the heart of the fighting he began to chop and hack his way forward. Among the Scots was a Lord Hume. In future generations his ancestrial house would have a British Prime Minister - Sir Alec Douglas Hume. 


The English line fought furiously to repel this desperate attack. The English noblemen were guiding the battle from the rear. This may sound cowardly, but they could direct troops where they were needed most. The Scots were losing their talented nobles trying to get through the English infantry of bill, musket and spear. As King James IV led and encouraged his Scots forward into the heart of battle, he edged his mount deep into the furious brawl of fighting men. He tried to reach the Earl of Surrey, hoping to confront and take the English noble one way of another. If he could succeed in this it would cause the enemy rank and file to retreat or run.


The King was but a short distance from the Earl when he was struck by an arrow and then stabbed with a bill hook by one of the many spear men. He fell from his horse among the English soldiers as the Scottish ranks broke. What followed next was the route as the fleeing Scots were hacked down with no leaders to organise them.


At the end of the Battle of Flodden (Sometimes called Battle of Braxton) Scotland had lost in excess of 10,000 men. Many would perish in the confusion of the route, though large numbers also fell in the actual battle. Of these vanquished Scotsmen, there were 9 Earls, 13 Barons, 5 titled heirs, 3 Bishops, 2 Abbots and of course; the King of Scotland.


King James IV was the last British king to die in Battle. His English wife and sister of England’s Henry VIII would remain in Scotland while James V grew to an adult. She also gave birth to a second son of King James IV – a son received posthumously.


The English lost an estimated 1,500 soldiers during the battle. A Scottish Lord was said to have advised the late Scottish King against the conflict, comparing the contest to be a wager of a gold piece to that of an unworthy half penny. Scotland’s King being the gold piece, while England’s Earl being the bent half penny. If such a thing were so, it would have made the loss even greater for Scotland.


As far as The War of the League of Cambrai went; The French and Venetians won victory. The English were allied to the losing side, but suffered no great loss from it. The Scots were allied to the winning side, but lost much, including their King. Even their fine ship, the Great Michael became a possession of their French ally. Because the huge ship cost so much to maintain and much of Scotland’s nobility had perished; the huge battleship was sold to King Louis XII of France for 40,000 livres. It was renamed Le Grand Nef d’Ecosse (The Big Nave of Scotland)

Queen Catherine of England sent Henry VIII the bloodied shirt of Scotland's King James IV as a war trophy. The English king remained in France continuing with his campaign.

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