STANDING on Flodden hill in the drizzle, with leaden skies above, the crowd that had gathered to hear the traditional Flodden oration last Thursday was transported back almost 500 years as former Selkirk standard bearer Ian Galloway took them through the lead up to and then the fateful day itself.
Flodden day is the highlight of Coldstream’s Civic Week, and leading the cavalcade of between 250 and 300 horses out of Coldstream across the bridge into England and up to Flodden, is the highlight of the Coldstreamer’s year of office.
This year’s Coldstreamer, Steven Bell, has been following Coldstreamers on horseback to Flodden since he was a young boy, and finally it was his turn to have the burgh standard bussed with the Home Colours by the 15th Earl of Home, prior to leaving town on the annual pilgrimage to the scene of one of the bloodiest battles fought between the English and the Scots in 1513.
Orator Ian Galloway first attended Flodden 53 years ago when he was looking after horses hired from Selkirk’s County Hotel stables. And he has only missed seven Flodden rides since.
“The battle itself has both confused and irresistibly attracted people’s interest throughout generations, and has received more reporting and debate than any other battle within Scots history,” said Mr Galloway.
“This period within history and prior to it was filled with vehemence and turbulence. Many wars and raids between Scotland and England, ardent, mutually destructive hostilities, was more or less an indefinite portion of history when the clash of arms, and the spilling of blood, was commonplace.”
Mr Galloway went on to explain that from the reign of Robert II through to the time of James IV the Scots had a pact with France that they would support them if England and France were at war.
There were many skirmishes between England and Scotland during James IV’s reign - resulting in the destruction of Twizel and Heaton castles by the Scots and retaliatory sorties by the English that destroyed the village of Lennel, plus Edrington and Foulden towers.
The marriage of James to Margaret Tudor (sister of Henry VIII) and the Truce of Ayton calmed things down for a short time but tension was building between France and England.
“Events were not enfolding quickly enough for Earl Home who had gathered a sizeable force, and early in August he raided England, possibly as a personal retaliation for all the forays made by the English into his territory, or perhaps through frustration in having to wait for the King deciding when the time would be right to invade.
“Harrying Northumbria, he was laden with spoils, and it was upon his return north that he was attacked by a brigade of long bowmen, whose ambush recovered most of the gains.
“This unsuccessful foray encouraged James to tempt fortune, and with their muster in Edinburgh complete, the Scots enlistments headed south to meet up with Earl Home and his supporters at Ellam Kirk at the foot of the Lammermuirs.
“The following year the Scots forded the Tweed at Coldstream and two days later James held his final war council meeting, agreeing his plan of action.
“His first priority was to take the Wark and Norham castles, with resistance at Norham finally surrendering to the might of the heavy cannons.
“A second crossing point of the Tweed was secured as advancement continued to capture Etal, Ford, and some report Chillingham, assuring crossing points of the Till.
“These strongholds surrendered without resistance, believing that if Norham had been taken, their defences were inferior in comparison.
“James remained at Ford, making this his base, surveying the topography of the area, in determining an appropriate battle site. Flodden was selected, and his transposition would become effective when the time was right.
“On September 1, the same day that Ford Castle surrendered, the English army marched out from Newcastle to the outskirts of Alnwick. It was estimated that approximately 30,000 troops were with Surrey, almost half of the Scottish contingent.
“Meanwhile back at Ford Castle, the glamorous Lady Heron was coaxing King James into accepting her favours, and as this was one of his weaknesses, several days were consumed in this distraction from his intended purpose.
“Surrey taunted James by sending him a challenge, accusing him of breaking his pledge towards perpetual peace. The challenge was accepted and on September 5, the Scots encampment at Ford was vacated, the troops moved on to Flodden Edge, just as Surrey had commenced his march towards them, reaching Wooler.
“The Scots dug into their position on the highest ground. Their plan was in effect to overlook the enemy and with their numbers being so great, and the understanding that the cream of the fighting crop of Englishmen would be in France with Henry, victory should be more or less assured.
“The Scots artillery was positioned facing south/south east, awaiting confrontation as agreed, and on the day prior, Surrey’s march to take up his position began. Travelling in the main out of sight, using the contours of the area to great effect, the cunning English Earl completely outfoxed the Scots, approaching the battlefield from the north, and requisitioning the re-sighting of the Scots heavy cannons on top of Flodden Hill.
“Formation of lines ensued, with the Scots army on the left being commanded by Earls Home and Huntly; the centre and left of centre commanded and led by King James himself ; the right led by the Earls of Argyll, Caithness and Lennox.”
As the right flank and centre were weakened, the situation on the left flank was completely different, Home and Huntly overpowered their opposition, Mr Galloway adding: “Then for some reason unbeknown, moved northwards leaving the battle site.
“The Scots were left without a combatant division of their line existing and whilst the centre and right were in fierce hand to hand exchanges King James left his vantage point on horseback to join his troops on foot, on the front line. But with the left flank being open, the experienced Earl of Surrey used this to best advantage.
“Dusk appeared followed by darkness, and it was not clear to the English until morning whether they were victors or not, but daybreak revealed the evidence, the king and his protectorates were all slain, as were approximately 10,000 Scots, a huge swathe of the country’s population.
“With the battle over, Scotland had endured a colossal defeat, but the English also suffered greatly and therefore didn’t follow up their advantage of proceeding further into Scotland.
“Traditionally, as well as Coldstream, Flodden plays its part within Hawick and Selkirk Common Ridings, with Hawick proudly boasting of their feats in slaying a troop of English marauders, and Selkirk, my home town, concluding their ceremonies with the Casting of the Colours.
“This signifies the return to the burgh of their only surviving conscript from the 70 who supported King James.
“As he reached the Market Place bloodied and distressed, he held aloft a captured banner of the Macclesfield Company and waved it to the welcoming assembly.
“The melody ‘Up wi’ the Souters’ is the tune to which the sequence of the gliding and unfurling of the flag is undertaken and the words within make reference three times to the Earl of Home’s withdrawal from the battlefield, not over complimentary I may add.
“The bell presently at Swinton Church was used primarily as a rousing call to people wishing to witness survivors returning home from battle and the sculpture of James IV on the inner wall at Ladykirk Church is still prominent.
“The Flodden wall, built by Edinburgh as a bastion to protect against any future rout is more or less decimated.
“Flodden was in reality the last major clash between both nations, so it indeed played its part in shaping Britain’s future.”