Battle of Flodden Field
Even before the political significance of England’s resounding thumping of the Scots at Flodden Field, where almost a third of the Scottish army were slaughtered in Northumbria, military historians have cause to note the Battle Of Flodden Field.
The most disastrous battle in Scotland’s history was a watershed for medieval combat, where the decisive thrust of the longbow, so favoured by England, began to cede, giving way to a new weapon more suited to lusty battle at close quarters. It was the dawn of the bill – an elongated axe-head fixed to a long staff. It was great for thrusting into an opponent’s torso, and was just as effective in nullifying the spear, so favoured by the Scots. At Flodden, the Scots used longer pikestaffs rather than the traditional Scottish schiltron spears which saw them to victory at Bannockburn and Falkirk . The English at Flodden would simply disarm the Scots with one decisive swoop, lopping off the Scots spearheads and rendering them impotent.
In leading his troops to battle, King James IV would be the last British monarch to be slain on the battlefield. His cavalier surge into Northern England ended in ignominy. Scotland’s nobility was nigh-on destroyed. And to think all this happened from a position of perceived strength.
It is often said, most commonly with regard to competitive sport, that the Scots have never enjoyed the role as favourites. At Flodden, James IV led a huge army – one which boasted some new heavy artillery, the sort that was built for laying seige to castles. In short, his army was large, heavily armed, but far better suited to set-piece warfare than fighting on foot and outmanoeuvering their opponents.
Scotland may have physically marched over the border into England in order to start the formalities of war, but it was in France where the conflict was truly sired. Flodden; the fall of the King; Scotland on the rack: it was all the fault of the French, or rather, it was an Auld Alliance commitment that saw the Scots take up arms against their southerly neighbour. Indeed, some 5,000 French soldiers would also fight at Branxton. Once again, Scotland would have cause to rue the alliance that placed them in immediate peril, while the French had the comfort of some water to keep the English at arm’s length.
Scotland’s previous victories over England were usually the work of sound military minds like Wallace and Bruce , or indeed fortune would favour them. The Autumnal conditions were certainly offering none of the latter; and in James IV they had a leader whose predisposition for chivalry would lead a stubborn charge into war.
On the face of it, Scotland adopted a strong position, having being billeted at Flodden before moving onto Branxton Hill. Arranging themselves at the summit, surveying the battlefield before them, Scotland’s positions were reminiscent of a fortress. But rather than securing their foothold in battle – it was an invitation to be sacked. Factor in the fact that the Scottish troops were largely inexperienced, and were fast learning that provisions on the march were not as plentiful as back home, and disease also ravished the hunger for battle. Scotland as a nation was putting its head on the chopping block.
The English, led by Thomas Howard , the Earl Of Surrey, numbered 5,000 or so fewer; of their 25,000 troops, 1,500 were light cavalry under Lord Dacre. Both armies’ rising hunger forced the issue, and Surrey would march onto the Scots’ position. Flanking the Scots offered him some sort of territorial ambitions, rather than the kamikaze rush through the centre. The fighting was heralded by artillery.
Where James IV was proud of his newly acquired artillery power, his position offered the English a clear shot. Borthwick, in charge of the Scottish guns, was in no position to offer return fire – his firepower was too unwieldy, and, as is often the case, the first blow was crucial. Defending the higher ground, the Scots were ill-prepared for the descent into close combat: the conditions underfoot were treacherous; so too the gradient which allowed only for tentative, incremental advances.
It was the bill and its sweeping, arcing blade that decided the English victory. The Scots’ pikes were turned to kindling, and with a range of some eight foot, and a blade capable of scything and stabbing; the bill was a weapon unparalleled on the day.
The battle lasted just a few hours, but its merciless bloodshed resonated for centuries. Over 10,000 Scottish soldiers were slain. Those that survived secreted themselves over to the safety of the River Tweed . Their King was dead. The Auld Alliance, despite its more awkward moments, was cordial enough; but it had lured the country into its worst defeat, one from which it never truly recovered.
Links: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Branxton,_Northumberland Branxton
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