September 9 – Regent Catherine of Aragon, the Battle of Flodden and James IV’s remains

Posted By on September 9, 2022

On this day in Tudor history, 9th September 1513, during the reign of King Henry VIII and regency of Queen Catherine of Aragon, the Battle of Flodden took place.

Henry VIII, who was busy campaigning in France, had appointed his wife, Catherine of Aragon, as regent while he was away. During her short regency, English forces defeated those of Scotland at the bloody Battle of Flodden.

It was a victory for Catherine and also for Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, who had led the English troops against the Scots.

Catherine’s brother-in-law, King James IV of Scotland, died that day, and Catherine had an idea regarding his remains.

Let me tell you more about the Battle of Flodden, Catherine’s role, and what is thought to have happened to King James IV’s body…

Transcript:

On this day in Tudor history, 9th September 1513, while Henry VIII was away, busy campaigning against the French, James IV and his Scottish troops crossed the border and challenged the English force, which was headed by Thomas Howard, the Earl of Surrey, at Flodden in Northumberland.

Before leaving for France, Henry VIII had left his wife, Catherine of Aragon in charge of England as Governor of the Realm and Captain General of the Forces. She was regent and was to manage the kingdom, with the help of a council, while Henry was fighting against France, with the help of Imperial forces.

As Garret Mattingly points out in his biography of Catherine, “the Scots always attacked England whenever the English were busy in France”, but either Henry thought his treaty with his brother-in-law would hold or he and Catherine thought that England would be in safe hands. At the first sign of trouble, Catherine set about organising the defence of the realm, sending money, artillery, ships of troops and supplies towards the Scottish border, and getting the Earl of Surrey to raise troops from the northern counties to fight the enemy. She also ordered a second army to be raised as a back-up to Surrey’s troops. Catherine also got herself ready to head north, ordering banners with the arms of England and Spain to take with her. However, she had only got as far as Buckingham when English and Scottish troops clashed at the Battle of Flodden.

After about three hours of fighting, the English army defeated the Scots, killing most of the Scottish aristocracy, including two abbots, two bishops, twelve earls and King James IV himself. The English army lost around 1,500 men, whereas the Scottish army lost 5,000 – 17,000, depending on which source you believe. It was an incredibly bloody battle.

Catherine of Aragon relished her victory, writing to her husband in France:
“This battle hath been to your grace and all your realm the greatest honour that could be, and more than ye should win all the crown of France. Your grace shall see how I can keep my promise, sending you for your banners a king’s coat.”

Catherine had originally wanted to send her husband the Scots king’s body, which had allegedly been identified, embalmed and encased in a lead envelope before being sent to London, but, as she wrote to Henry, “our Englishmen’s hearts would not suffer it”. Instead, she sent him James’s bloody coat. I wonder how Henry felt about his wife’s victory while his French campaign had, so far, only resulted in the Battle of the Spurs, which had seen the French flee rather than fight a pitched battle, and the capture of Therouanne. He wasn’t exactly Henry V!
Of course, as well as being a victory for Catherine, the Battle of Flodden was also a victory for the Earl of Surrey, and he was rewarded for his service by being restored to the dukedom of Norfolk.

But what happened to James IV’s body, if Catherine did not send it to Henry VIII in France?

Well, James had been excommunicated from the Catholic Church after breaking the Treaty of Perpetual Peace and his support of France against the papacy, so burial in consecrated ground, such as Sheen Priory, could not be done. So, his body lay at Sheen for some time. It is thought that his body was eventually buried there, after the pope had finally given permission, but there are rumours that his head was used as a football by workmen before being taken as a trophy by Queen Elizabeth I’s master glazier. It allegedly ended up being buried in a mass grave at Great St Michael’s Church in Wood Street, London. It seems a sad end for a king.

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