The Battle of Flodden – Talk by historian Julian Humphrys available until 10 September

As it’s the anniversary of the Battle of Flodden tomorrow, the Tudor Society is sharing the talk that battlefield historian Julian Humphrys did for members on the Battle of Flodden in 1513.

This historic battle took place on 9th September 1513 and saw the Scots defeated by English forces. Henry VIII was away campaigning in France, so it was a victory for his wife, Catherine of Aragon, who he’d made regent.

The society’s monthly expert talks are usually members-only, but this past talk has been set to public until the end of Monday 10th September. Please do make sure you have a listen as it is an excellent talk.

You can click here to head over to the Tudor Society and listen to the talk right now.

P.S. Thank you so much for your patience while the site was offline. It was supposed to be routine maintenance but we ended up having to completely rebuild the site. We’re still working on it, as some article images are missing, but we’re getting there!

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13 thoughts on “The Battle of Flodden – Talk by historian Julian Humphrys available until 10 September”
  1. I just watched the presentation. I highly recommend it. Much more detailed than anything I have read on this battle. Excellent photos and graphics. I previously had no real idea on what the battlefield looked like. Presentation has current photos of it. Typical of places where much blood has been spilled it is quite beautiful. Thank you Claire for making this available.

  2. Hello, we are back, yea! I will be watching the video tomorrow, but Flodden was an important turning point in the relationship between Scotland and England, one that would never fully heal. The most important fact from the English point of view was that this was a victory organised by a woman, Queen Katherine of Aragon, in charge while her husband was of trying to emulate his hero, Henry V in France. Henry Viii was 22, handsome, over six foot, energetic and keen to prove himself on the battlefield. However, his campaign was flawed because his allies were unreliable and because England no longer had territory from which to keep an army supplied during the Winter. Calais was not big enough to use as a long term base for an army, Henry needed a bigger port, he needed Bordeaux. Henry V was also a genuine warrior King, Henry Viii had no such experience. It was his wife who was to win a great victory, actually waging war, while Henry played at war.

    Flodden was as a result of Henry Viii believing he was superior to his brother by law, James iv and he was of the opinion that Scotland was a fiefdom of England. Although his sister, Margaret was married to James since 1503, the new King’s attitude to the Kingdom of Scotland was quite different to that of their father. Henry Vii had made an honourable peace with Scotland and relations after the marriage of his eldest daughter to King James iv remained good until his death in 1509. Henry Viii was an agitator when it came to Scotland and he drove James too far. Thus, as soon as Henry was out of the country, James decided he had a score to settle and invaded England. Margaret tried to stop him, even going so far as to hire a prophet to say that she saw his death and bad omens. James didn’t listen and marched over the border.

    Katherine, left as Regent in England, was not bowed and immediately gathered her forces under the capable and experienced hands of the Earl of Surrey and his brother. Surrey went North and Katherine followed with a second army, which wasn’t needed. James himself led his men in battle and became the last King to die on English soil. The last English warrior King of course was Richard iii, who had himself invaded Scotland as Duke of Gloucester. After fierce fighting, James was killed, the Scots lost many nobles and Margaret was left, pregnant and with her fourteen month old son, who was now crowned as James V.

    The body of James iv was brought back to London and placed in Syon Abbey. Katherine of Aragon is reputed as wanting to send his head or body to Henry. Indeed Katherine, herself pregnant, wrote to Henry in France, to congratulate him on the victory, saying she wanted to send him the dead King’s body, but her English nobles hearts would not suffer this, so she sent his coat instead. James iv was excommunicated at the time of his death and his body could not be buried. Special dispensation could have been sought but his remains were not returned to Scotland either. When Syon Abbey was turned into a palace, James was buried elsewhere. Another tale says his body secretly found its way home but this is unlikely. Henry continued to have an aggressive attitude and campaign against Scotland. His armies attacked the border, burnt Edinburgh, he tried to kidnap the little Mary, Queen of Scots, went to war twice more in 1542, 1546 and the attack continued in 1548 under Protector Edward Seymour, in the name of Edward vi. Solway Moss and Pinkie Clegh left just as much a bitter pill as Flodden and later Culloden. The border raids under the Steel Bonnets penetrated deep into Northern England long after the union of the crowns in 1603, and England v Scotland football and rugby games still keep the Spirit of Bannockburn alive.

    It’s laughable that Henry Viii got the honour of the victory at Flodden but then again Katherine was a dutiful wife and she refused to take credit but told Henry that the battle was to his credit and to thank God for it. What a woman.

  3. So nice to read a post from you again BQ. I am always been amused by KofA’s offer to send James’s body to Henry. If she were not the daughter of another warrior-queen, Isabella of Castile I would think she was joking.

  4. Yes welcome back how we have missed you, I’m in bed at the mo nursing a rather heavy head as it was my birthday party yesterday, I havnt seen the video yet but what I remember of Flodden it was really as Bq mentions a victory more for Katherine than Henry in France, the flower of Scotland’s youth were destroyed akin to that other famous massacre, Culloden centuries later, the erstwhile queen as said wanted to send Scotland’s kings body to France but this was disproved, this actions smacks of a woman who when the occasion arose became more a queen than mere woman, and could disregard the feelings of her much liked sister in law Margaret, they had been good friends but now were in a sense enemies, as naturally Katherine had to support her husband and Margaret hers, Margaret had not wanted this war and by some accounts had tried to persuade James from crossing the border with his army, he was doomed to failure as was his father decades earlier and he too was slain, where the battle took place there is a monument that depicts ‘to the brave of both nations’, a tribute to whose blood was shed, I havnt watched the video but as anyone noticed Julian resembles Simon Cowell a little, maybe if he had more dark hair? Welcome back Claire.

        1. Happy Birthday, Christine. Happy Birthday belated also to Queen Elizabeth I on 7th September. Hope you had lots of cakes and nice stuff. Yes, it really is great to have the ABF back and our lovely chats.

          Katherine of Aragon was probably disappointed she couldn’t chop the late King James head off and take it Henry in person. She must have felt as if she had one up on her husband, with whom I have always felt, Katherine was a friendly rival. Anyone but a daughter of Isabella of Spain and yes, you might believe she was joking. The flower of youth lost their lives and Scotland had an infant King with a struggle for the Regency involving his mother, Margaret and the Lords appointed or whose ambition gave them the will to challenge for the Regency. Margaret was successful for a time but she would spend the rest of her son’s minority and part of his adult life struggling to see him, let alone rule on his behalf. Henry was no help and her second and third husbands poor choices. The Earl of Angus was strong and from the powerful Douglas family but he was a womanizer and unsuitable to rule. The Earl of Albany was the choice made and he stood in Margaret’s way. Her third husband was Henry Stewart and he too was unsuitable. England was always there to exploit the situation and you can imagine that went down well. Katherine to her credit did send condolences to Margaret and the Queens were cordial enough in 1517 when Margaret visited. It must have been difficult knowing James remained unburied and it isn’t actually known apparently why his body wasn’t ever at least returned home. Scotland is a very odd country historically in that her Kings have not always been popular. Perhaps losing and being excommunicated meant that James was somehow cursed and they just didn’t want him back. Still, it is odd that Margaret does not seem to have asked. She herself must have been torn between her brother and son and husband and her life, although remarkable was marked by an ongoing struggle over her relationship with them. I, like most girls, once upon a time, wanted to be a Princess, but as an adult student of history, boy am I glad I wasn’t. These ladies were courageous because they were pawns in the games of their ambitious parents who had them married off to further alliances and were caught in the middle if the alliance broke down and war ensued. How many Queens of France were forbidden to write to their brother or father in Spain? How many Queens of England were used as tools to get something from a King of France? How many French women were resented as Margaret of Anjou was just because they were French, the traditional enemy? These girls were raised to expect to be packed off and sometimes they were lucky and had a degree of happiness and power, ruled as Regent or as a political Queen, but mostly they were fifteen or even less and had the sole role of having as many live sons as possible. They were left to pick up the pieces and clean up the mess of Kings who got themselves killed or captured. Louise of Savoy negotiated what was called the Ladies Peace between France and the Holy Roman Empire to have her son, King Francis I released by Charles V. Sisters in law had to remain on good terms even as their husbands lay dead in their rivals land. Katherine of Aragon was a warlike woman, I have no doubt of that, but she was also a compassionate one and she knew that war was the way of men and the women had to win the peace. It was the only way to replace war with a degree of sanity.

  5. Catherine of Aragon didn’t play. Her husband should have figured that out after the victory at Flodden – or perhaps he did and was always a little frightened by her but covered it up with bluster. Catherine was TOUGH.

  6. Thankyou Bq, yes I received some lovely presents and yes i got a birthday cake and I always get one from Marks & Spencer’s, as I don’t think you can beat them, having a piece now as I post this, it is lovely to take part in the discussions again, regarding Henry being a little frightened of Katherine yes I believe he was, he knew how formidable she could be any daughter of Isabella of Castile would hardly be otherwise, but yes she also was compassionate although several biographer’s called her narrow minded which I also agree with, it is indeed odd that Margaret never requested her husband’s body be returned but he had been a serial adulterer and maybe she had suffered as a result during their marriage, or she could well have in private to Katherine, we do not know what was said behind closed doors, it is true Scotland’s Kings were not very popular, Macbeth comes to mind but they have their fare share of heroes to, William Wallace Rob Roy, Robert the Bruce who was King of the Scots to, Flora MacDonald and quite recent Grace Darling, the Stuart’s were an old dynasty unlike their Tudor cousins and seemed to be ill fated, James V was said to be a rather weak dissolute character and his daughter whose reign was disastrous but she was an emotional woman trying to rule a country that was considered barbaric by the English nobles of the time, her marriage to the Earl of Bothwell who could have been responsible for Darnleys murder which led to her people rise up against her, and her grandson Charles who also lost his crown – the Stuart’s were not it appears born to rule but as one biographer said, they knew how to die, both Mary and her father suffered from emotional outbursts of hysteria which have led to modern doctors believing they were afflicted with porphyria, a blood disorder which causes a mental imbalance in the brain, this they thought was carried on through the generations which came out in King George whose behaviour was so bizzare he had to stand down in favour of his son, the Prince Regent and later in one of Queen Victoria’s children and more recently the young Duke of Kent in the 70’s whose untimely death in his airplane while young was tragic for the royal family, such mental instability would have hampered a monarchs ability to rule and in fact, throughout history mental illness has afflicted many a member of some of Europes monarchs, although porphyria is not deemed so it certainly causes erratic behaviour, I agree for Princesse’s in the olden days it must have been hard, Eleanor from Provence was disliked yet she was a loyal wife to Henry 111 and she was pelted with rotton fruit by the populace whenever she went out, being French and filling the court up with her relations did not endear her to the people but she tried to be a good queen and was a patron of many arts, yet most queen consorts were popular, Isabella of France for one and as we know, Henrys first queen Katherine of Aragon.

    1. Hi, glad you had a lovely cake and birthday. James iii apparently was murdered, leading to James iv being King at eleven. It was rumoured at the time that he had something to do with it, but how can an eleven year old plot something like that? No, there are enough adult government councillors around him to arrange this, but of course sources are always going for drama. Macbeth, by the way was a great King, law maker, warrior, justice under him was fair and he beat King Duncan on the battlefield, not in his sleep. Unfortunately, Mr William Shakespeare invented a completely different King in order to impress his new sponsor, King James. Shakespeare wrote for a political aim and for entertainment. His histories are as bad or as good as Philippa Gregory, depending on your vision of her, they were history but not as we know it, they were political and entertainment and used to make whatever ideological point was popular at the time. We like to think of the age of Elizabeth I as literature flourishing, and it did, but it was also highly selective and censored. Thomas More, Francis Bacon, Shakespeare, all wrote for an audience, they all had people to please and we can only read them in that light. Even Edmund Spencer author of The Fairie Queen, meant to flatter Elizabeth, was imprisoned because he wrote the wrong thing elsewhere. Censorship meant prison, fines, loss of income and reputation, loss of a patron and even death or the burning of your work, depending on what you had written and what sort of work it was. There was also no such thing as copyright or what we might call plagiarism, authors lifted each others work all the time and intellectual property belonged to the patron, not the author. The works of Shakespeare for example were not in his will but his itineraries as they belonged to the Kings Companies. Not that any of this has anything to do with Flodden.

      Yes, some of our Kings and Queens definitely had inherited mental health problems, Henry vi, Richard ii, possibly Henry Viii, Mary I may have had as well, although it was more likely connected to her menopause that caused her problems, Mary Queen of Scots may or may not have been unstable or she may have been just a free spirit who loved life, but there was a madness in both lines of Tudor and Stuart because of the Valois ancestory of both of them and that spread to Hanover because of the sister of Charles I. The mother of George I was Sophia, the youngest daughter of Elizabeth, the Winter Queen, Charles I sister. The Hanoverians had the same type of dysfunctional problems as the Hapsbergs and they had the same illnesses and possibly madness as well. We know George iii was not insane or mentally ill, but had an inherited illness, called porphoria, which may date back to Mary Tudor and Mary Queen of Scots. However, other members of the family showed signs of mental illness, the same mental depression which killed James V after Solway Moss in 1542, the same that Henry vi inherited from his maternal grandfather and possibly passed to his own son, because we see it in George ii and George iv and at times even in Victoria.

      James iv of Scotland was a true Renaissance ruler as was James V but he was also one who could not be held back from conflicts. He had to make war, it was something which drove him and poor Margaret could not dissuade him. He had to be on the front line, he was easily baited into conflict. He had an energy for war not unlike his uncontrollable brother by law, Henry Viii who wanted to prove himself in the traditional manner of a Medieval warrior King. The difference was Henry listened and didn’t lead the charge as the French ran away, but James wanted to be in the lead and not command and control from the side lines. James could not wait to lead the cavalry himself, which meant everyone else was forced to follow their reckless, fearless King. Because of the history of how they showed a lack of restraint when dealing with direct challenges from rivals, such as throwing the odd one from a palace window and murder in suspicious circumstances at dinner, James and his ancestors were thought to be unbalanced. James and his other name sakes had an almost obsessive fascination with firearms. His army was well equipped because of this, but it also made the King act with reckless disregard for his safety. James ii had been so fascinated with his collection of large cannon that it killed him, literally. He wanted to impress his men and his wife, Mary of Guelders, mother of his seven children, when besieging Roxbough Castle so he ordered several very large guns from Flanders. One, the famous Mons Meg, now on the walls of Edinburgh Castle, was not checked properly and as James stood next to it, it fired backwards, exploring and mortally wounding the King. James ii was 29 and his widow was left to clean up his political mess. Was he insane or just a man who liked big guns? There was definitely something not quite right and our modern royal family had problems with both mental illness and mental and physical deformities. They have hidden it, but it is there. It was only the marriage outside of their direct bloodline that has redeemed them.

  7. I just saw the video and it gives a very comprehensive detailed account of the battlefield and the reason why Flodden was fought in the place it was. There is some political context and a description of the arms of the well equipped Scottish Army. James had large guns, but they were too large, meant more for a siege, he had pikes but didn’t have time to train his men to use them effectively. However, he had the high ground and he had the best armour and the biggest numbers and well trained horse. However, after a good start, the troops of Surrey had begun to make inroads into the ranks of the Scots, the pikes got stuck in the mud and James was forced into a general all out attack. James had also been forced to move from his original position and was cut off from Scotland. He eventually found himself surrounded and the slaughter began. The King had placed himself in the front line, which meant his nobles had to follow suit. This was how the flower of Scotland, her noble blood were killed and disaster followed the battle. In one sense it was a battle that should have favoured the Scots but luck favoured the Howards. According to the video if James had of accepted the invitation of Surrey to come down and fight on the plains, in a fair fight, he may actually have won as he could have used his pikemen as Oliver Cromwell did, in a square formation. This would have given them a distinct advantage. His decision to remain on the hillside actually gave the final advantage to Surrey and his men. The Bosworth veteran had triumphed but the cost was high. The next day, the dead were counted and few remained to be taken as prisoners. It is estimated that 5000 English were killed and 9000 Scots. This makes Flodden one of the bloodiest battles in our history. Although Julian Humphreys discounts the numbers from the Medieval Wars of the Roses revenge battle of Towton in 1461 at 28,000 dead, most historians accept the numbers and have placed it as the highest proportion of lives lost before World War One. Flodden certainly fits in with this assessment of loss of life as well.

    The Flowers of the Fields is a poem which commemorates the loss of life at Flodden. The political ramifications were even bigger and lasted longer. James had been excommunicated because he had broken the peace treaty made with Henry Vii by helping the French King Louis Xii. The Vatican had monitored the peace and both Kings were bound by it or else. Henry Viii was now part of the Holy League, lining up against France, with the Holy Roman Empire, the Pope and Spain and Flanders on his side. When he received the news that James had been killed, however, he was it seems willing to grant his brother by law proper Christian burial. However, the body remained in a coffin but unburied in his chapel at Richmond Palace and later it vanished. Henry must have thought he too would face censor if he buried an excommunicated King in sacred grounds and at this time, Henry Viii was devoted to the Papacy. It is not known why James was not sent back to Scotland and many tales of his remains surfaced. He was probably buried at a later date but nobody knows were. I heard a tale a few years ago that Margaret smuggled her husband’s body in secret back to lie with his ancestors in her homeland. Who knows, maybe there is a carpark which used to be a religious building somewhere and James iv is to be found there and reburied with honour.

    Margaret herself was able to take charge for a short time and saw her son crowned as James V but she never ceased to struggle to gain control or even access to her son as she was later believed unsuitable as she had made two reckless marriages. She was also in contact with Henry to try and get his help, but he was useless and had his own agenda. He also disapproved of Margaret ‘s attempts to divorce her womanizing husband, the Earl of Angus. It was a saga which was to cause friction between them and only led to Henry going to war again with Scotland after her death, this time against her son and later her granddaughter, the young Mary, Queen of Scots. Of course it was also the grandson from Margaret’s second marriage to Archibald Douglas, Ear of Angus, Henry Lord Darnley, son of her daughter, Margaret Douglas who married Mary Q of Scots. Henry would attempt to kidnap her during the Rough Wooing as would his son’s Council until she fled to France and was raised to marry the future Francis ii. When she returned home as an 18 years old widow to a much changed land it was almost as if history had come full circle. With Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth a Protestant on the English throne and the headstrong and beautiful Mary now in Scotland, the conflict continued, but with words, not swords. It was a long battle that only ended with the union of both crowns under James vi and First of England in 1603, Margaret and James iv’s great grandson. (Yes, the conflict renewed for a time under William iii of Orange and George ii, but that’s a different story)

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