Never was there such a bloody day

A POEM by Sir Walter Scott entitled 'Flodden Day' contains the the line "They melted from the field as snow, where streams are swoln and south winds blow," and that was certainly attributable to the conditions that met riders for Flodden Day last week.

Traditionaly, the jewel in Coldstream Civic Week proceedings, to say the weather wasn't kind to the event last Thursday would be putting it somewhat mildly.

People who'd be camping out Tweed Green received a unpleasant wake up call on Thursday morning when their tents and belongings were flooded as the River Leet burst its banks.

Despite the awful conditions, many people still gathered in the Market Square for the start of proceedings when 2008 Coldstreamer Gareth Watson was given his orders from Lord Home to cut a sod of earth from the battlefield and return it safely to Coldstream.

The mounted cavalcade made their way along the High Street and then up to Flodden as the rain continued to pour. A small crowd of people gathered at Flodden Memorial and awaited the arrival of the principals. Gareth, along with his right hand man Craig Telford and left hand man Andrew Tait, were piped up to the top by Robert Bell and upon arrival the Rev Malcolm Lockey of St Mary's and All Souls, Coldstream and St Andrew's Kelso, led those congregated in prayer. Gareth then laid a wreath at the foot of the memorial and the last post was then played by Matthew Kilcullen of the Royal Coldstream Guards. Robert Bell drew that part of proceedings to a close with 'Reveille'.

Gareth, Craig and Andrew then rejoined the rest of the calvalcade for the ride to the top of Branxton Hill. A crowd of spectators were gathered at the summit awaiting his arrival and although he was soaked to the skin, Gareth galloped up proudly, raising the Burgh Standard to a chorus of cheers.

The audience for the service at Branxton Hill were grateful for the marquee as it allowed them to dry off for a few minutes. Jim Leifer thanked everyone for their efforts throughout the day and the Reverand Martin Gillham of Branxton asked everyone to join in prayer to remember the lives lost by both the English and Scottish sides at the Battle of Flodden.

The honour of giving the oration for 2008 was bestowed on former Berwickshire MSP Euan Robson who had ancestors on both sides at Flodden and also shared a friendship with the late Susan Bell, who had been a permanent fixture in Coldstream Civic Week festivities before her death last year.

Euan said: "From the moment that I first stood on Branxton Hill I felt an affinity with this place. It is a part of my heritage; it is a part of all of us.

"My full name is Euan Macfarlane Robson. On September 9 1513, the Macfarlane chief, Sir Iain and many of his clansmen fell in the Earls of Lennox and Argyll's formation guarding the king's right flank in the Scottish battle line. Robsons, cunning Borderers, were here on that day some playing a less valiant part on the fringes waiting to see which side would prevail and what plunder might fall their way.

"By coincidence if you will, my parents a Macfarlane and a Robson were married on September 9 and I have the honour to deliver this Oration on August 7, my elder daughter's birthday.

"Coldstreamer, Earl Home, Countess, distinguished civic dignitaries, Principals of Border Festivals, members of he Presenting Coldstream Association, ladies and gentlemen I start by remembering with grateful thanks a friend who is surely with us in spirit today. Susan Bell did so much to ensure the success of Coldstream Civic Week. Perhaps it was only when she was no longer with us that we all realised quite how much she did and how unstinting her efforts were for this festival.

"I worked with her in her professional capacity. Her concern for those whom she looked after and her insistence upon the welfare and well being of and respect for the social care colleagues whom she represented, commanded immediate regard and admiration. Flodden Day was always special for Susan - she told me so. Now it is our collective duty to ensure that the traditions that she established are nurtured and developed in the years ahead.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, the battle of Flodden Field fought 495 years ago on this hill and in the valley below where we stand was a battle that was never meant to happen.

"It was precisely the battle that King James IV had tried to avoid in his long and hitherto distinguished reign. The irony is that James undid so much of what he had achieved in a few brief hours.

"What was the achievement of the man around whom the events of August and September 1513 revolved?

"James IV was more a Renaissance monarch than a medieval King. He was determined to build his kingdom into a modern state. Born in 1473, he came to the throne after the defeat of his father at the battle Sauchieburn in 1488 and James III's subsequent murder.

"At the age of 19 in 1492 James IV assumed full control of the kingdom from the nobility who had dominated his minority.

"The King is credited by many historians with bringing remarkable levels of stability, unity and prosperity to Scotland. He stabilised the Scots' currency, broke the power of the Lords of the Isles in the north centralising authority in the monarchy and extended the rule of law as far as he could throughout his kingdom. He is said to have laid the foundations for the Court of Session which remains an integral part of Scotland's distinct legal system.

"A man of great piety, he endowed shrines as far apart as Tain in Wester Ross and Whithorn Abbey in Dumfriesshire. He cultivated the favour of the papacy and in 1504 was given the papal Sword and Hat, the highest of awards which are among the Honours of Scotland today.

"James' court was cultured and sophisticated and the King had a reputation despite the relatively small size of his nation and treasury as a patron of the arts, sciences and military studies.

"The smoke and noise of battle on 9th September 1513 and its outcome have obscured for many the scale of the achievement of James IV almost as surely as the smoke from the damp fires of spent straw and rubbish on this hill initially obscured the Scots army's positions from the English on that fateful afternoon.

"James IV established Scotland as an international player on the European political stage of his day. If you read the diplomatic history of the twenty years from 1492 to 1512 you will understand the skilful opportunism that James displayed lifted from the precepts set out by Machiavelli in 'The Prince'.

"James made the most of opportunities for his country by entering into a French alliance that brought subsidy and influence.

"He offered to lead a Crusade which made him the talk of European royal courts. He had prudent and judicious dealings with war averse Henry VII of England.

"Unsettling Henry with support for the English Pretender Perkin Warbeck in 1496 and 1497, James then signed a seven year truce with the first Tudor monarch at Ayton in September 1497 which in turn became the Treaty of Perpetual Peace in 1502. The marriage of the Thistle and the Rose, James to Henry VII's daughter Margaret in August 1503 was to cement relations further.

"Of course there remained many an armed and, or criminal act across the border and piracy at sea. At the same time James prepared his country in case of invasion and war. He built a small but powerful navy with two of the greatest ships of the day, the Michael and the Margaret, and planned his army's tactics on those of the Swiss the most advanced of the age equipping it with some of the finest of contemporary siege artillery.

"In 1511 and 1512 James resisted his French allies' entreaties that he go to war to help fend off the adventurism of Henry VIII. In 1513 when he and nearly all his Council felt he had no alternative, his great army crossed the Tweed at Coldstream with its commander in chief more determined on a military episode resembling a great raid rather than an invasion of territorial ambition and conquest.

"We have a good idea of what turned the battle here on 9th September 1513. Niall Barr's estimable book on Flodden tells us that there were three critical factors that allowed the Earl of Surrey to triumph.

"Wonderful at reducing castles, James' heavy siege artillery was not as manoeuvrable and thus effective on the battlefield as the lighter field guns of Surrey's forces.

"The artillery duel that impelled the Scots off this hill into the engagement to avoid heavy casualties was not in itself critical.

"The small stream below us at the bottom of the hill broke the momentum of all bar Earl Home's formation on the Scots' left and the shock of the forest of Scottish pikes was absorbed, held and broken.

"Even then had the Scots men at arms had an equivalent of the English weapon of the bill, the day might have ended differently.

"James and his captains had overlooked what the Swiss knew from their far higher levels of training, discipline and combat experience that a variety of other weaponry was needed should the onslaught of pikes not sweep aside the opponent in one fell swoop.

"For James, all that he had achieved, his life's work, the fruit of his twenty five years' reign was lost inside two hours. The type of battle that he had studiously avoided, that he had never fought before, that he knew was a terrible risk had undone him.

"In less than two hours the flowers of the forest were cut down.

"There were many dead on both sides – Scots losses exaggerated by the English and their own dead underestimated as is ever the case in victory. It was of course who the Scots lost that mattered.

"And yet the institutions that James built did continue and after a generation recovery began in a land stronger for the rule of the slain monarch.

"But what are the lessons of 1513 if any for us today?

"It is of course difficult to interpret and to understand all that happened and why nearly five hundred years ago. Society was very different then. Men and women of that time had different systems of belief and allegiance. Customs were different and they behaved and acted in ways which we would not today.

"However certain universal truths transcend the years. We can recognise bravery, courage, loyalty, duty, sacrifice, suffering and compassion in the actions of many before, during and after the battle. We can see less noble traits as well - folly, greed, cowardice, and brutality. These everlasting human virtues and vices were displayed aplenty on both sides.

"The great issues of our time are all international. Population growth, starvation, drought, poverty, climate change, the fight against disease, the pursuit of equitable trade, the eradication of terrorism, the struggle for human rights, the distribution of resources, the supply of affordable, sustainable energy are not exclusive to one nation or group of nations.

"An influenza pandemic would not halt at the invisible border that we can trace from this hill.

"Foot and mouth disease did not; it carried with it human and animal suffering in English and Scottish counties.

"Men and women strive for a livelihood on both sides of the border.

"Homelessness, deprivation and fuel poverty are to be found in England and Scotland.

"The natural and historic heritage of our cherished Borderland needs protection from over development in both our countries.

"Hope for our children, their health, education and futures, preoccupy parents wherever they live.

"Now as in 1513- does the sun not light the face of both our nations? Does the rain not fall on the land of both our nations? Does the wind not blow over the hills and through the fields of both our nations? Does 1513 not say to us not to discard in months what we have built over centuries?

"And if a wind of change arises in days ahead does 1513 not say to us that it should blow us closer together rather than apart?

"Coldstreamer, I congratulate you on carrying out your duties with such distinction in very difficult circumstances.

"I wish you, your supporters and followers the traditional Border greeting; safe oot - safe in."