The Battle of Flodden Hill
The Battle of Flodden
By Henry Tudor
Not happy with writing this important story from evidence of only the written word, Henry has upped-sticks and travelled to Branxton to find out for himself the real feel of the battle. Here is his essay. Many thanks to Jane Lyell whose booklet in St. Paul's Church, Branxton started the ball rolling in Henry's head.
The Battle of Flodden Hill.
Part One. “Ego’s and Agenda’s
Always on the road these days looking for the truth and to get a real feel of history, I am planning my route to Scotland to include the Battlefield of Flodden/Branxton Hill. Branxton village was a cluster of poor dwellings, a small church surrounded by bog and scrubland with hills dotted around. The River Tweed was 5 miles North which has located the physical border between England and Scotland, there was a small winding river Till which fed the Tweed and the bog. The enthusiastic young King Henry VIII was in France with the Emperor of Rome to prove himself by fighting his over-hyped battle of the Spurs, he delegated the rule of England into the hands of his competent Queen Katherine who in turn sent the old Earl of Surrey, Howard, to push the Scots back over the border. Howard always trying to regain his old status as Duke of Norfolk lost by backing the wrong side in the battle of Bosworth Field against the now ruling Tudors. His own agenda was to rout the Scottish in the Name of his new master, King Henry VIII and thus gain considerable kudos with the Tudor sovereign, maybe even get his old lands back. He remembered King Henry’s final words before he set sail for France, “My Lord I trust not the Scots, therefore I pray you not be negligent.”
Consider that King James IV of Scotland had married Henry’s older sister Margaret in 1502 and so was his brother-in-law and Henry himself was trying his best to impress the most powerful man in Europe, the Holy Roman Emperor, by both invading France together. It comes as no surprise that King James was now in a pickle as he had signed a treaty with France in 1512, that each party would help the other if their old adversary England decided to invade either country. Now invading France, Henry had forced King James to be seen to be invading England. Clearly, the words “....to be seen to be...” are very important as James did not want a war, nor a battle. He wanted to be seen in England and then retire back to Edinburgh thus appeasing the French King Louise XII, keeping his end up of the treaty.
But Howard, saw a real battle, a real chance to win in the name of his King, a chance to go down in history as the man who saved the Tudors and to be reinstated back up to Duke of the most powerful county, Norfolk.
Queen Katherine of Aragon also had an agenda of her own, to try and prove she was as powerful as her mother, Queen Isabella, the most revered woman in Europe.
Now on the Scottish side there was a problem of control as their clan system held clan members tightly, whereas their King was second to their Clan. Putting troops into the hands of such a system meant that the King gave orders, then the clan leader gave the order if he agreed with the order!
Part Two. “My stick’s bigger than yours!”
The two enemies were to meet at Branxton in Northumberland, just south of the Scottish border and the battle was to be set on the fields of Flodden hill. The Scots were there first so they chose the top of the hill as their advantage point leaving the bog-like wet fields for the English army to struggle through. King James brought huge bronze cannons and placed them towards the English position, known as the “seven sisters” these were heavy bronze matching guns. Surrey requested that King James came down and fight like a man on the level fields, but James refused and declared the English need to come up to him instead. Moving those cannon would have been impossible overnight and they would surely win the day as the tired, hungry English struggled up the hill.
The French had sent a small band of advisors to King James to instruct the Scottish army in the use of Long Pikes which are deadly when they have the upper ground. The English using their trusty Bill hooks saw the French long pikes and cannon and decided it was not going to be their day unless new tactics were used to undermine the Scottish advantage of position, cannon and weaponry.
Luck changed hands that night, a low lying sea mist came down with a nasty storm and blinded the Scottish army, soaking the bog into an impenetrable barrier both ways. Surrey being the old campaigner had the knowledge of a local and led his army silently onto the damp ground, around the hill to the northern side, blind-siding the Scots. But an obstacle was in Surrey’s way, a Burn heavily swollen with the wet ground, his guide knew of two ways across, a narrow bridge at Twizell six miles downstream and a local crossing of Mill Ford over to attack the hill from the North. His son the Admiral led his detachment in single file over the old stone bridge but King Jame’s scouts were not ordered to watch the bridge but were watching the bog instead reporting to their leader when they saw Surrey and his troops emerge from the misty bog, seemingly dry and ready to fight.
The Scottish army were now facing the wrong way on the wrong hill and needed to reposition quickly in order to engage the English. Only small cannon could be moved quickly and so the heavy placements of the “seven sisters” was taken out of the battle.
Part Three. “I'm the King of the Castle”
The central fight was going the way of the Scots until the riders with pikes and the English cannon arrived to save Surrey’s day. The King fighting hand to hand knew now he was losing and called for help from his old adversary Lord Home (Hume) on his left flank. Lord Home was winning his own battle and was already collecting booty from the dead, he received the order to help his King and refused.
“He does well that does for himself. We have foughten our vanguards, and have won the same, therefore let the lame do their part as well as we.”
The brave Scottish King was killed along with most of his gallant leaders, his body placed in the Church of St. Peter in Branxton. Looking for evidence of England’s victory, Surrey took the dead King’s battle coat from the body and sent it south to Queen Katherine. Katherine sent the coat over to France and Henry gloated over HIS prowess in battle to the Emperor ......... who would now admire this new King as a great leader. In the eyes of Surrey he had triumphed in his own agenda, as did Katherine. So why did Lord Home refuse to help his own King? Did he have a secret agenda too? Yes of course he did.
Only two weeks earlier, Lord Home and his band of borderers were pillaging England and crossed paths with the advancing English army led by Surrey. They were trounced and many killed, all the booty taken from them. Lord Home was angry with King James for considering invading his hunting ground and so were his men who let the King die so they could collect the booty at Flodden before the English took it all.
By Henry Tudor
On the hill the Scots stood brave
“come down here!” Old Surrey did rave.
“we stay put, so come on up!”
“no my friend, I’m not the pup!”.
But mist came down over crown so thick
“we march around, I have a trick!”
From North we will surprise attack
Not from the front, but from the back.
Bad judgement followed near Twizel Burn
The narrow bridge was at the point of turn.
Easy targets for Scottish might
“let them cross, it is their right”
King James now doomed by this brave stand
He died with friends their swords in hand.
No help from flank a jealous Laird
“fight yourself, your life be spared”.
Now cold body lay in God’s border house
Surrey crept inside, like the silent mouse.
He needed proof with bloodied coat
Give his King Henry, the power to gloat.
Flodden now a triumphant fight
Scottish leaders wiped out overnight.
The coat went south and then to France
In Henry’s eyes, prowess enhance.
The Scottish ruling class all dead
Badly mutilated, cut and bled.
The dead King was wrapped in Scotland’s flag
His body taken south to brag.
Buried unmarked in Michael’s ground
So nobody could raise the martyr sound.
Scotland’s loss changed their way
But a United throne will be theirs one day.
Part Four. The "Rebirth" of John Ford.
I have taken a long look at the Battle of Flodden Hill, concluding that courage was shown by both sides, bad decisions were taken and terrain the main factor in the outcome, bar one.
One factor was very important and is seldom acknowledged, the guide who took the English army to Twizel bridge and over the Moss at Mill Ford must be a main player in England’s victory. He was the illegitimate son of a local landowner from Ford Castle, the Heron’s. John “Ford” left his home to make his fortune on the borders counter-raiding the Scots, he was taken as scout and guide for the English army and proved his worth. Losing his illegitimate status he was reborn as John Heron. Here is his story.
The Earl of Surrey had his title, Duke of Norfolk, reinstated by King Henry, Queen Katherine was hailed as the monarch who saved England. The Lord Home regained his lost wealth by way of booty but Scotland lost all its leaders and fell back into obscurity with the Protestant faith taking advantage of the change in power. Flodden was a turning point.
John Ford of Wandering Loin
By Henry Tudor
I’m John Ford of Heron’s wandering loin
At large in England for Scottish coin.
Taking employ from soldiers red
Eating, drinking, sleeping in tented bed.
My Lord Surrey makes use of me
Scout and track round hidden tree.
Take him through the deathly marsh
Without me, far too harsh.
The Scots they wait on Flodden hill
Bedded in, guns in line, the armourer skill.
We wait at foot to ascend and fight
But King James refuses to leave his sight.
My Lord Surrey changed his battle view
Walk around, surprise and attack anew.
Now he needs me to guide his plan to fulfil
Through dense forest down to cold, fast Till.
Two English Legions, Barmoor Moss and Twizel Bridge
Twizel round the back, Moss up the ridge.
The Scots were taken by surprise
We walked out the Moss before their eyes.
Their King now threatened called out for aid
But ignored by his Nobles, his life he now paid.
Battle soon over, Scots dead, booty in bag
White fog and red blood, painted our flag.
My status, the man who led them the way
Who gave them the battle to win them the day.
Unknown now to many, the scrolls say no more
History will be written to even the score.
I’m John Heron of Ford Castle now this is my name
I saved all the English, without burden of fame.
My Lord Surrey returned south to report to our King
He took all the acclaim, his virtue they sing.
I found a new life now no fun and no scorn
I gained respect, a new name I was completely reborn.
John Ford gone now forever, Heron my birth name
Inherit, well marry, without hindrance of fame.