Scotlands History

The Battle of Flodden Field

On 9 September 1513 the Scots army, under King James IV, faced the English forces of King Henry VIII under the command of Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey. The battle was ferocious and bloody - men were felled by artillery, arrows, pikes, bills and swords. Around 14,000 men died, including James IV, the last British king to die in battle.

James IV was married to one of Henry VIII’s sisters - Margaret Tudor - but the Scots king, honouring the Auld Alliance with France, had invaded Northumberland to divert Henry’s troops from their campaign against the French. The Scots were joined by some French troops, and carried some French weapons.

James IV had superior numbers - around 35,000 to 40,000 men to the English force’s 26,000 - but the Scots force lacked experience and discipline.

The Bishop of Durham later told Thomas Wolsey, ‘...though the Scots fought sore and valiantly with their swords, yet they could not resist the bills that lighted so thick and sore upon them.’

The Scots were outmanoeuvred; part of the English force circled around their position. James IV charged into the midst of the battle - leading his men from the front - and was cut down within ‘a spear’s length’ of the Earl of Surrey.

About 4,000 of Henry VIII’s English force were killed while Scotland lost up to 10,000 men. Among the dead were King James IV and his son Alexander, as well as other nobles and churchmen. The bodies of thousands of dead and dying men littered the battlefield as night fell.

The Battle of Flodden Field was immortalised by Jean Elliott in her song ‘The Floo’ers o’ the Forest’:

...I've heard the lilting, at the yowe-milking,
Lassies a-lilting before dawn o' day;
But now they are moaning on ilka green loaning;
"The Flowers of the Forest are a' wede away.”

  • Image of the Battle of Flodden Field memorial
  • Image of the Flodden stained glass window in the parish church of Middleton, Lancashire
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Listen to this account by Thomas Ruthall, Bishop of Durham, of the Battle of Flodden, 1513.