Flodden was a disastrous and unnecessary confrontation for Scotland. James IV of Scotland was married to the sister of England’s King Henry VIII and a treaty of friendship existed between their countries.
The auld alliance between Scotland and France had been recently renewed. There had been English attacks made upon Scottish ships at the time when Henry VIII, on behalf of the papacy, invaded France. James IV declared war immediately, with nothing to gain and ties to both England and France that their war neutralised. With the whole nation behind him, James amassed twenty thousand men with ease, both Highlanders and Lowlanders. His fleet set sail and his army crossed the border into Northumberland with the intention of drawing upon England’s numbers in France.
Norham Castle was among the places captured before confronting the English defenders, led by the Earl of Surrey and his son, west of the River Till, near Branxton, on 9 September.
The Scots took the advantageous high ground. With slightly fewer numbers but superior equipment and artillery, the English moved around the Scots on their west and opened with cannon fire. They struck their target with great success, which the Scots could not match.
James dropped strategic tactics and ordered all to attack. Initially gaining the upper hand, the Scots were again thwarted by England’s superior equipment, the long halberd with its axe, hook and spike bloodier than the spear in hand-to-hand conflict.
English losses were heavy but the dead Scots numbered between five and ten thousand. It is said that ‘the slaughter struck every farm and household throughout lowland Scotland’.
There was an unusually high number of aristocracy who came down into combat that day and among the slain were dozens of lords and lairds, at least ten Earls, some abbots, an archbishop and the body of the King himself.