The story of the Battle of Flodden, 500 years ago on September 9 1513, has been told and retold many times this year.
But Berwick’s role in the Flodden story is often left out. The town did have a part to play. After all, Flodden Field is only about 15 miles away.
Much has been written about the build up to the battle when King James IV and the Scottish army were camped on Flodden Hill by September 1 and the Earl of Surrey and his troops were marching from the south.
Five years earlier, in 1508, an indenture – a kind of formal agreement – had been made between Henry VII and Sir William Conyers, the captain of Berwick. From this we get an idea of the size of the garrison in Berwick about that time.
Conyers is told: “… he shall have continually in his retinue 230 able men arrayed for war, vis. 100 sperys [lancers] well horsed and harnessed; 50 archers on foot; 50 other footmen; 20 gunners; 8 constables; 2 clerks for the watch...
“… within the castle he shall have continually a constable; a priest; a cook; two porters; 32 soldiers and three watchmen...”
“… in the event of invasion or siege he shall furnish and garnish the town and castle with an additional 400 able soldiers, 200 to be therein before the invasion or siege and 200 within 14 days thereafter…”
In the months leading up to the Battle of Flodden, Berwickwas clearly on heightened alert.
A letter sent from Berwick to London on July 13, 1513, about two months before the fateful day of the battle, reads: “It is said ‘they [the Scots] purpose to France’. The writers think it is to besiege Berwick as they have shipped large ordnance [cannon] and have victualled 40 topsails, including the King’s great ship…
“... The lord captain has indented with the King to furnish the town and castle with 500 men.”
There is no evidence to suggest the Berwick garrison involved itself with the battle. The relatively small numbers would hardly have been of any great assistance to Surrey’s army.
It is more likely that the order of the day was to stay alert and keep your heads down as it would have been of far greater importance for the garrison to defend the town from any attack in the aftermath of any battle.
We have the benefit of hindsight, but Conyers may have feared either a “mopping up exercise” in the event of a Scottish victory, or a “consolation attack” of retribution by a defeated army in retreat.
In the event, the only Scot to reach Berwick was the dead King James. His corpse was brought to Berwick by Thomas Dacre, one of Surrey’s commanders, the day after the battle and from there to Newcastle and finally Sheen Priory in Richmond, London.
It is probable that there was no ceremony of any sort.
It is said that, after the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s, the body was found at the priory, wrapped in lead, lying in a room full of rubbish. The body was later buried in St Michael’s Wood Street in the City of London.
Famously, seven Scottish bronze culverins called the “Seven Sisters” were also brought to Berwick by Dacre. At the time, most cargo was transported by sea, by far the easiest, quickest option.
However, these cannon were to be hauled overland for fear of being captured by the Scots at sea. Dacre gathered 100 horses and oxen for the task but the council in Berwick refused him permission to take them over Berwick Bridge, possibly because their carriage over it from Flodden had weakened it too much.
Instead they were stored in warehouses or “garners” at Wallace Green, roughly where the Barracks stand today, 1522 when they were finally shipped to the Tower of London.
For more about Berwick history, go to Berwick Timelines