Throw your soldiers into positions whence there is no escape and they will prefer death to flight. — Sun Tzu

Cambridge Historical Reader: Primary - Cambridge Press




King James IV of Scotland and the Battle of Flodden

About 400 years ago, king James IV was ruling in Scotland. The Scots were very proud of their king, who was said to be of noble stature, and handsome as a man can be."

He loved to see his people take part in manly sports, and was sure to reward any man who showed much skill in them. We are told that, at some sports which were held at Edinburgh, the king gave the best man a spear, the head of which was made of pure gold.

But James loved more dangerous sport—the sport of war. At this time, Henry VIII was king of England, and one of his sisters was married to the Scottish king. Yet this did not prevent war between the two countries; for both monarchs wished to let all the world see how clever they could be in winning battles.

There had been peace between England and Scotland for some years, so king Henry thought he could safely take a great army across to France. He wished to win great battles there, as Edward III and Henry V had done.

Now, shortly after he landed in France, the queen of France wrote a letter to king James, asking him, as her own true knight, to lead an army into England. She thought that Henry would be forced to send back part of his army to fight the Scots—and, indeed, this really happened. The Scottish king could not refuse her request, and soon got ready for war.

Still, there were many fighting men left in England, and these, under the command of the earl of Surrey, marched to the north. Queen Katharine sent standards and banners, and cheered the English soldiers with many brave words.

King James, at the head of a large army, had already crossed the river Tweed, and, after taking some strong castles, he pitched his camp on the hill of Flodden. At the foot of the hill flowed a river, crossed by a bridge. When the earl of Surrey drew near, he saw that he had not much chance of beating the Scots, while they remained in such a strong place.

So he ordered his men to cross over the bridge, and place themselves between the Scottish army and their native land. Now, it was at this point that king James made a very great mistake. You will remember what Wallace did, when the English were crossing the bridge over the Forth—how his men charged down the hill, and won a great victory.

Most people think that James should have done very much the same thing. Instead of that, however, he allowed the entire English army to cross over, and draw up, in line of battle, behind him. Then he knew that he must fight.

Setting fire to his tents, he led his men down the hillside in deep silence. The thick smoke prevented the English from seeing their foes, until they were quite close to them.

In this fierce battle, king James proved himself a very brave man, but a poor general. He fought right in front, with his brave nobles all around him, but he knew very little of how the rest of his men were faring. They were suffering very much from the arrows of the English, whereas the king and his nobles were protected by their fine steel armour.

Night was now coming on, and the Scots were nearly surrounded by the English; but they still fought bravely, never thinking of flight. We are told that king James cut his way to within a few feet of the earl of Surrey, but was himself killed just at that moment.

Flodden field
FLODDEN FIELD


Although their king was dead, the Scots still held the hill; and it was only at daybreak that they began to retreat. They then found out how great was their loss. It is said that 10,000 Scots were killed, and that there was not a noble family in Scotland which had not cause to mourn over "Flodden's fatal field."

When the sad news reached Edinburgh, there was much weeping and sorrow, but the old men were quite ready to defend the city, should the English come. However, there was no need of this. The earl of Surrey had lost so many men that he did not think it wise to push on into Scotland. When you are older, you must read the very fine account of this battle which Sir Walter Scott gives, in a poem called Marmion.