It is 1513 and once again, the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland are at war. But it’s a very complicated war …
The War of the League of Cambrai, also known as the War of the Holy League, was fought as part of the Italian Wars. Throughout its duration, the War of the League of Cambrai involved nearly all of the significant powers of Europe, England and Scotland included.
Henry VIII, the King of England, has joined the Holy League against France, putting England quite central to the whole affair.
So how did Scotland get involved?
Well, Henry VIII invaded France in May of 1513 and this provoked the French King Louis XII to invoke the terms of the, now famous, Auld Alliance. The Auld Alliance was a defensive alliance between France and Scotland to deter England from invading either country. The treaty stipulated that if either country was invaded by England, the other would invade England in retaliation.
And, as you just read, Henry had invaded France. So we all know what that meant!
Nothing like going to war for your mates.
In August of 1513, King James IV gave King Henry VIII an ultimatum. Withdraw from France, or Scotland would invade. King Henry VIII denied and so an invasion was planned.
It was to be one of the bloodiest battles ever fought on British soil.
Now The French King Louis XII did not expect us to go it alone. The French sent arms, experienced captains and money to help with the counter attack and soon after, an estimated amount of 35,000 - 60,000 Scottish troops crossed the River Tweed into England. They were armed to the teeth with French supplied pikes.
The Set Up
King James IV initially decided to position his troops on the Flodden Edge, which rises to the hight of about 500-600 feet. The Earl of Surrey sent a request to King James IV to give battle on “indifferent ground” but James refused. The Earl of Surrey, a 70yr old man with a lifetime of experience, on his march north has amassed an army of around 26,000.
On the 8th of September, the Earl of Surrey broke camp and proceeded to march north-eastward around the Scottish flank. There was some confusion in the Scottish army over whether the Earl of Surrey intended to invade Scotland or they were just trying to lure them away from the Edge. James’ reluctance to leave his position lead to, on the 9th of September, Surrey’s army approaching them from the north. The army approaching at this angle cut off the Scottish army’s retreat route across the River Tweed.
Due to James’ inactivity the day before, they now only had two options; to decamp for Scotland or march a mile to Branxton Hill and await the army there. King James chose the second option and they headed off for Branxton Hill – still a stronghold but a little less so at only 350 feet high in the east and 500 feet high in the west.
The English army approached Branxton Hill and saw the Scottish army, and hurriedly worked to create a line of battle.
There were many very heavy siege guns taken to Flodden as part of the Scottish artillery. The Treasury Accounts records at Edinburgh Castle have a full surviving documentation for the guns and even how and when they were moved. The largest of the guns took 36 oxen to move and they had a mix of guns which, if you're interested, I will include at the end.
You might be thinking that lots of heavy guns sounds pretty good, but just wait. The most massive of the guns were over a tonne in weight and they could fire a 30lb ball almost 1800 meters but they were only able to be fired every 20 minutes at the most. In addition, they were set up to aim downhill and were poorly placed, meaning the artillery fire was ineffective.
Conversely, the English Army consisted of smaller, lighter field guns. Despite their small size, they were more easily handled and capable of far more rapid fire. Their artillery therefore, was much more effective. Their long range weapons also included archers armed with the English Longbow but the Scots heavy armour combined with the wet and windy conditions meant the famous archers had limited impact on the battle.
At the behest of their French advisors (who also brought thousands of pikes with them) the Scots had hastily adopted what was known at the time as “the German method” of fighting – a series of massed pike formations. On the continent, the famed Swiss pikemen had steamrolled their way to victory but this was not to be for the Scots.
For a pike formation to be effective, they need momentum and organisation. Once the Scots met marshy ground, they lost both momentum organisation and the huge 15 – 18 foot pike was much more of an encumbrance when they found themselves in close quarters.
The 8 foot long English bill, with both a cutting and thrusting edge, was far handier than the huge pike and many Scots abandoned the pike for their heavy swords in close quarters but, unfortunately, bill and halberd beats sword most of the time in the rock, paper, scissors of weaponry.
The Death of the King
Perhaps witnessing the difficulties or misinterpreting a brief victory, possibly even due to his own rashness and keenness to be at the forefront of the battle, the King charges forwards into the battle.
He reaches the Earl of Surrey’s personal bodyguard but gets no further and his body is found with multiple wounds from both arrows and blades amongst his own bodyguard forces. King James IV would be the last British monarch to die in battle.
An order to take no prisoners meant that there were high nobility deaths at Flodden.
Alexander Home, who’s forces initially defeated the right wing of the English army, escaped intact but three years later was tried and executed for treason. His inactivity after his initial success at Flodden meant he was later accused of the murder of James IV. It probably didn’t help that he rejected the rule of Regent Albany and went out of his way to cause quite a lot of trouble and chaos in the name of that rejection.
The Outcome and the Legacy
The battle was a decisive victory for the English. It is now known as the “last great medieval battle in the British Isles”, it would be the last time the pike and the bill would meet on the field.
With the Scottish King and many of the nobles dead, it threw Scotland into a period of confusion and in fighting. James IV’s son was crowned King James V at only 17 months old.
During James V’s childhood, Scotland was ruled by regents. First by his mother, Margaret Tudor, then, after she remarried when he was two, by John Stewart, Duke of Albany. His personal rule started in 1528 when he was 15 – a long time for the country to be without its monarch.
James IV had had a prosperous 25 year reign. He had taken the throne from his father, James III, who was incredibly unpopular. He had managed to reinvigorate Scotland’s faith in the monarchy and literature, arts and music thrived under his reign. His body was captured and taken to London and Katherine of Aragon received his surcoat, still stained with blood. His head was cut off and was eventually buried in a single mixed grave in Saint Michael’s Church.
A sad ending for a promising King.
The memorial to the fallen soldiers that stands at Branxton Hill
*** For those of you who have read all the way here in order to read my notes on the different guns brought to Flodden, congratulations. And good luck.
So stated in the documents Edinburgh Castle has, they contain reference to;
Five Cannons of which each cannon will take 36 oxen to pull with eight or nine drivers and twenty workmen.
Two Grose Culverin of which each will also take 36 oxen to pull with eight or nine drivers and twenty workmen.
Four Culverin Pikmoyen of which each will take fifteen to sixteen oxen to pull with
four drivers and ten workmen.
Five Culverin Moyen of which each will take eight oxen and a horse to pull with two drivers, a man for the horse and six workmen.
They also brought a crane with them for mounting and dismantling the guns and that was pulled by eight oxen and a horse with three drivers. There were a further 28 horses with creels loaded with gun stones (cannonballs), 15 carts with powder, shot and other equipment and they had to buy a new oxen on the way because one got squished by a cannon.
A small note here; both the curtal and culverin are essentially different types of cannons however they are all different sizes of guns and would be used for different purposes. however, given that "cannon" comes from "cannone" the Old Italian for "large tube", the word cannon is now a safe, recognisable catch all name for a long metal tube that can shoot things! The language of guns changes to
So what is a Culverin Pikmoyen and Culverin Moyen?
Well it's difficult to pinpoint exactly what they are but I've found references to the Culverin Moyen also being called the Demi Culverin. Language wise these do logically link with Moyen meaning average or medium and Demi meaning half. Going on that basis, the Demi Culverin is a medium sized cannon that can fire up to a 10lb shot and weighed up to 1500kg. The Pikmoyen, we can then work out, is about double the size (it takes double the oxen to pull).
All of these guns are very big with the main disadvantage of them being that they are hard to manoeuvre!