Fatal Rivalry, Flodden 1513: Henry VIII, James IV and the Battle for Renaissance Britain

Michael Brown writes:

Five hundred years ago, in autumn 1513, James IV, one of the most effective and attractive of Scotland’s rulers, led an army of unusual size and quality into northern England. The young Henry VIII had embarked on a military expedition in northern France, and Scotland responded to French calls for aid by invading England. James IV’s army was equipped with an impressive number of modern cannon cast in bronze and was accompanied by Continental experts in the latest techniques in warfare. The army and its cannon made short work of a number of English border castles and towers. In Northumberland, James awaited the English army, led by Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey. Though apparently possessing advantages in ground, equipment and supplies, James allowed himself to be outmanoeuvred by Surrey, who cut off the Scottish army’s route north, forcing it to move to Branxton Hill, where its cannon could not be effectively positioned. James was still confident enough to risk battle against the smaller English army, but the resulting clash on 9 September 1513 was a disaster for the Scots. In a valley to the north of his camp on Flodden Edge, James suffered a heavy defeat. After coming under fire from the English cannon the Scottish forces advanced down the hill into the boggy valley, where their pikes proved no match for the old-fashioned billhooks used by the English. The loss among the kingdom’s leaders was unparalleled in an era in which the taking of wealthy and important prisoners for ransom was standard. James, who had placed himself and his nobles at the head of his army, was hacked to death and his 20-year-old illegitimate son, Alexander, archbishop of St Andrews, died alongside him. Nine earls, 13 other peers and many of Scotland’s lairds and clergy were also killed.

(LRB 23 January 2014)

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