The horror of Flodden Field remembered

Coldstreamer Liam Wallis cuts a sod of earth from Branxton Hill during Flodden Day at Coldstream civic week
Coldstreamer Liam Wallis cuts a sod of earth from Branxton Hill during Flodden Day at Coldstream civic week

BRANXTON Hill was once again the scene of a great, but less brutal, gathering than that of 499 years ago as people came to honour the Scottish and English troops who fell at the Battle of Flodden in 1513, in the annual commemoration that forms the centre piece of Coldstream’s Civic Week celebrations.

Leading the cavalcade of over 250 riders from Coldstream, over the bridge and into England, Coldstreamer Liam Wallis then held the burgh standard high as he galloped up Branxton Hill accompanied by his Right Hand Man Grant Campbell and Left Hand Man Ricky Hope. At Branxton Hill ex-Langholm Cornet Billy Young took over to give the annual oration, keeping his audience rapt with both the delivery and content of his take on the infamous battle that almost wiped out a generation of Scottish noblemen.

Speaking at Branxton Hill, Mr Young said: “At a time when half the world seem glued to their TV screens as great battles are fought out on track and field and great victories are won by the young champions of this country, it is perhaps fitting to consider another great battle, which happened here all those years ago.

“As we gaze down over this patchwork of fields and out toward the Merse and the Lammermuir Hills it is impossible to grasp the sheer scale of the horror and carnage that happened here on that fateful day.

“James IV was by far the most successful and charismatic of all the Stewart kings - he was praised by his contemporaries and lauded to the skies after his death. As a warrior he always led by example and continually put himself in danger on the battlefield and it was this spirit of “derring do” that ultimately led to his death here at Flodden.

“As a noted womaniser he had many conquests, including Marion Boyd, Margaret Drummond, Janet Kennedy and the bizarrely named Janet Bare-arse.

“In 1503 James married Margaret Tudor, the 14 year old daughter of Henry VII of England. Henry strove to develop a permanent peace with his norther neighbour by the signing of the Treaty of Perpetual Peace in 1502.

“In May 1513 Anne of Brittany, Louis’s queen made a celebrated appeal to James asking for his protection against the English and to “march forth, even if it were only three feet on English soil and break a lance for her sake”.

“On August 22, James and his army of somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 crossed the river Tweed at Coldstream and Lennel into England, breaking the terms of the Treaty of Perpetual Peace.

“In response to this blatant invasion, Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey headed north gathering vast numbers of men as he moved through the northern counties of England. Surrey sent a herald north to Ford where he thought the Scots army might be camped to glean what he could about the enemies position and strength. When the herald was allowed to return, Surrey was shocked to learn that the Scots had moved to a very strong defensive position nearby, the crest of a saddle-backed hill called Flodden. 500 ft high and over a mile long, it was protected from the north by Marylaws and Branxton Hills.

“By dawn on September 8, the whole English army was on the move. From their vantage point on Flodden Edge the Scots would have been able to follow the route the English took for about eight miles before they disappeared from view behind Watch Law but were at a complete loss as to Surrey’s intention. By 4am the next day the English army was on the move again, but this time instead of heading north east was heading west to where a bridge at Twizel crossed the River Till or downstream to the fords of Heaton Mill. The English had completely outflanked the Scottish army. When James realised what had happened he ordered the entire army to move the 1.5 miles north across the narrow saddle to the top of Branxton Edge to prevent the English taking it.

The battle proper started sometime around 4pm with an artillery duel, the first British battle to start this way. The Scots, by far, held the upper hand as they were on higher ground. However, their great guns were siege pieces, which could fire at best one round per minute whereas the English field guns could deliver twice or even thrice as many shots.

“Seeing the rout of the English right division, James decided that the time was right to charge. Grabbing a pike and calling for his household to follow him, he led his men down off Branxton. This was a fatal error, which lost James the battle - and his life.

“The main weapon of the Scots at that time was the 18ft pike. In a tight V formation it could become and unstoppable and deadly steamroller, but if the momentum was broken for any reason the densely packed ranks became dangerously exposed. And what stopped these ranks at Flodden was not the enemy - but the terrain.

“James fought on valiantly - but the odds were stacking up against him. In a last ditch attempt he gathered what was left of his household around him and made a desperate assault on Surrey’s banner. In the carnage the king fell unnoticed.

“As dawn broke on the morning of the tenth the pallid light illuminated a scene of indescribable carnage and suffering.

“Coldstreamer Wallis when you were charged by the Earl of Hume to lead the cavalcade you become a spiritual descendant of all the young men from both nations who marched here that fateful day.

“The ‘auld enemy’ is no longer our enemy - although if Mr Alex Salmond had his way we might yet see the barbed wire and machine gun towers go up at the end of Coldstream Bridge.

“But a new fight is now looming. The fight to preserve our sacred traditions.

“And at a time when the youth of our nation have achieved so much on the sporting field, we here, must also look to our youngsters to become the future custodians of our proud heritage.”