Chantry Priest of Barnet - Alfred J. Church

Of the Battle of Flodden

The 1st day of October, 1513.

More than thirty years have passed (a whole generation as generations are reckoned in the life of man) since last I wrote in this book. And indeed I never thought to have opened it again. For my life in this place hath been altogether without anything that was noteworthy. Many great and notable things have indeed come to pass in the world without—one king murdered, another slain in battle, another dying in his bed, so that now there sitteth upon this throne of England the fourth in order from my lord King Edward; moreover, there hath been one making claim to the kingdom of whom men doubt to this day whether he were a true prince or a false pretender. Also a new world hath been found beyond the sea, and of the old world many regions that before were not known have been visited. In Europe have happened many things strange and terrible. The infidels have gathered strength so that they have seemed like to overthrow Christendom, which nevertheless hath been in yet greater peril from its own divisions, notably in having for its Chief one whom, for his wickedness, no secular State would have endured. But these things have passed me, and I heard of them only by report. But I have passed my days in the discharging of my office, and in teaching of the young (of which work, indeed, I have ever had as much as I had strength to perform) and in ministering to the sick. Also—for time in some things hath added to my strength rather than taken from it—I have given no little time to study, and especially to the perfecting of myself in the Greek tongue, which, of late years especially, since the coming of a certain Erasmus, a Hollander, to this realm, hath been much followed

But now, being an old man of more than three-score years and ten, I take up this book again, purposing to write in it of certain things which concern my former life.

Yestereven about five of the clock there came running to me a lad, son to my host of the White Horse Inn in Barnet, with a message from his father praying that I would come with such speed as I might, for that a young man that was like to die earnestly desired to see a priest, and that the parson of Barnet chanced to be abroad. So I went, and found the young man lying upon a bed in a chamber of the inn, very grievously hurt by the falling of his horse. My host told me that he was one of the following of the Lord Admiral, and saith he, "See, Sir Thomas, how strange are the chances of this mortal life. This young man hath been with my lord Howard, the Admiral, in many perils of storm and battle, standing, as I am told, by his side when Andrew Barton, the pirate of Scotland, was slain; and even now he is returning from a most fierce battle that bath been fought between the King's men and King James of Scotland, through which battle he went without so much as a scratch upon him; and lo! now, when he is but a few miles from his journey's end, his horse putteth his foot into a hole which some boys have made for their silly sport, and casteth him headlong to the ground so that he is like to die."

When I had done my priest's duty to him, and had spoken some few words of comfort such as he could bear, for he was very weak, I turned to depart, promising—for he was loath to let me go, poor lad!—that I would return on the morrow, I was aware of a man standing by the chamber door, that seemed to be one in authority. He had, I should judge, about forty-and-five years of age, and was tall of stature, three inches or so more than six feet, and of a comely face, though much embrowned with the sun. And when I saw him, I seemed to be aware of somewhat in his countenance that I had seen before; but what it was I knew not. And as I looked upon him, wondering in my mind what this might be, with something, haply, of the look of one that is distraught (for indeed I was strangely moved), he smiled, but in a courteous fashion, and, bowing his head, said, "Thy blessing, if thou wilt, father." And when he spake his voice was as his face, something that I knew and yet knew not. Then I gave him my blessing, thinking little, I fear me, of the words I spake, but searching my heart for some remembrance of what I had seen and heard. And then there seemed to come before me, as with a sudden flash, the face of Joan Eliot, as I had seen her for the last time some fifty years before. So I said, "Tell me, sir, is thy name Norton?" And he, astonished, for it was now his turn to marvel, answered, "Yea, it is." "And thy mother's name Joan, that was by birth Eliot, and thy father's Edward Norton?" And he, marvelling yet more and more, made answer, "'Tis as thou sayest, but how hast thou such knowledge of my kindred?" "That," said I, "I cannot declare in this company. But come and see me at my house, and we will talk together." "That will I right willingly; and, indeed I cannot depart till I have seen how it will go with this poor lad. Look for me, then, if it please thee, in an hour's time, when I shall set matters in order for our sojourn here this night."

So about eight of the clock he came to me. And first I told how, many years before, I had known his mother, who was not then wedded, and had had also some brief acquaintance with his father, and that I was greatly desirous to hear how they had fared.

Then he said, "My father departed this life eight years ago come the seventeenth day of this month, being nigh upon fourscore years of age. He took service after his marriage with the Earl of March, that was afterwards King Edward the Fourth, and did him good service in divers place, following him when he fled beyond the sea, being driven from his kingdom by the Earl of Warwick, and was present also at Barnet Field. So the King gave him a place of profit about the Court. But when King Richard reigned in his brother's room, my father, being in peril of his life (for the King knew that he was in special favour with the Duke of Buckingham), fled over the sea to the Earl of Richmond, that was afterwards King, who, when he was established upon his throne, restored to him his place. And when he died the King continued a pension out of the profits of the same to my mother, which she receiveth to this day."

"And where doth thy mother live?" said I.

"In London," he answered, "or, I should rather say in Westminster, in her own house which my father bought twenty years or so before that he died."

"And how fareth she for health?"

"Somewhat poorly; for she was taken with a quartan-ague in the year of my father's death, and what with this and with her grief, for they had lived together in all love and honour for forty-and-two years, she was like to have died. And now she is very feeble; and indeed she hath more than three score and ten years of age."

"And thy uncle, John Eliot, cloth he yet live?"

"Yea, in great repute and honour on his lands in Shropshire. He was minded in his youth, I have heard him say, to follow some learned profession, and for that end proceeded to his degrees at Oxford. But when the time came his father died, and his brother also, being taken both of them with the plague, that was very grievous in those parts, so that he was constrained to follow a farmer's life, lest his mother should be left destitute. Nor did he miss his reward. For in a short space after there came to him no small wealth by the will of a certain kinsman of his mother. Therewith he bought certain lands that bordered on his own, and hath now a fair estate of three hundred pounds by the year, and is a justice of the peace, and a man of no small weight and authority."

"And now," said I, "tell me about thyself. Hast any brother or sister?"

"Nay, I am an only one. But if thou wouldst hear my story, thou shalt have it in brief. Nothing would content me when I grew to proper age but I must take service as a soldier. And my desire had indeed as speedy fulfilment as I could wish. For when my father fled, as I have said, to King Henry, I went with him; and when the King came to England I was in his company (but my father tarried abroad, being taken with a sudden sickness, that was indeed not unwelcome, for that it hindered him from encountering his friends that had been in battle). So I came to be at Bosworth Field, being then seventeen years of age. Afterwards I went with Sir Edward Poynings into Flanders, and with the Earl of Surrey into Scotland (what time the King of Scotland did harbour Perkin Warbeck), and in divers other expeditions of which there is no need to speak. And two years since, being used, as is the custom of many in these times, to serve indifferently by land and sea, I followed Sir Thomas Howard, brother to the Lord Admiral. Now the King had heard that one Andrew Barton, a Scottish man, saying that the King of Scotland had war with the Portugals, robbed every nation. And when he took Englishmen's goods, he affirmed that they were Portugal goods, and thus he robbed at every haven's mouth. So the King sent the Admiral and his brother Sir Thomas in all haste to the sea; who made ready two ships with all speed. These two by chance of weather were severed. And Sir Thomas, lying in the Downs, for the winds were contrary, saw the said Andrew making towards Scotland, and chased him so fast that he overtook him, and there was a sore battle between them. Andrew now blew his whistle to encourage his men, but Sir Thomas Howard and the Englishmen did so valiantly that by clean strength they entered the main deck. The Scots fought sore on the hatches, but in conclusion Andrew was taken, being so sorely wounded that he died. And with him was taken his ship the Lion. This lad that is lying sick yonder bare himself right bravely in this battle, than which, I give thee my word as a Christian, I never saw fiercer. Verily these Scots are doughty adversaries, as I have but just now had good reason to know, being just returned from Flodden."

"Tell me," said I, "somewhat about this battle, of which we men of peace have heard some rumours, indeed, but nothing certain."

"I came with Sir Thomas Howard, being the Lord Admiral, on Sunday the fourth day of September, having made all haste from the sea so soon as we heard of the gathering of the Scots; and there were one thousand men of us that had served with my lord for two years and more. There we found my lord Surrey. But the King of Scotland was encamped on a hill called Flodden. And this place was very strong, being defended on the right hand with a river called Till, that was so strong and deep that it could not conveniently be crossed. And on the back part there were such craggy rocks and thick woods that it was impossible to assail it to any advantage. And on the forepart, where it could be easily approached, the King had set all his ordnance by great trenches, which he had caused to be dug.

"Then the Earl sendeth a herald to the King saying that he had done ill to ravage the country of his brother the King of England without reason, and provoking him to try the justice of his cause in battle by the Friday next ensuing. And this the King of the Scots promised that he would do. Nevertheless, though he had a great desire to fight, by the advice of his lords he removed not from his place. Thereupon the Earl of Surrey, because the place wherein he was lodged was full of mire and marshes, and because his men were almost famished for lack of sufficient victuals, determined to use all ways to constrain the Scottish king to come down from his hill. To this end he raised his camp, passing over the river Till to a more commodious ground by the Barmore wood.

"And now the two camps lay with the Till between them; and because the one was within a culverin-shot of the other, they ceased not to bestow powder and shot, the one at the other, but without doing any great hurt.

"After this Sir Thomas Howard, having seen all the country from the top of a hill in those parts, declared to the Earl that if he would again move his army, and pass the water of Till a little above, and by fetching a small compass show himself at the back of his enemies, the King of the Scots would either be enforced to give battle, or would be stopped from, receiving victuals out of Scotland. This the Earl did, and when the King saw it he also raised his camp, and made haste to take a certain hill which he feared lest the English should take before him. And this he did, for the smoke from the burning of the cabins where the Scots had lodged was so great that the English, though being within one mile of him, knew not that he had raised his camp. But when the Earl of Surrey came to the foot of the said hill, and seeing the King at the top perceived that it was not steep or hard to ascend, he determined to fight with the Scottish host before they should have leisure to fortify their camp.

"Herewith calling together his people, he made unto them a brief oration, showing them what necessity they had to show their manhood and what just causes to fight against their enemies. This done, the Englishmen demanded to be led forthwith to battle. From this Lord Surrey had good hope of victory.

"His army he divided into four, giving the vanguard to the Lord Admiral, and the rearward to Sir Edward Stanley. The middle ward he led himself; and the Lord Dacres with a number of horsemen was set apart by himself to succour where need should seem to appear.

"The King of Scots, on the other hand, thought that he had us at an advantage, both of place and of numbers. He also divided his host into three, standing himself in the middle.

Battle of Flodden


"When we marched up the hill the Scots' cannon opened fiercely upon us, but did small damage, shooting over our heads. And when we encountered them first, Sir Thomas Howard, having one wing of the vanguard, was beaten down, and would have been slain but for the Bastard of Heron. After, the Lord Dacres coming with his horsemen relieved him, and the rest of the van pressing on drave back the Scots on the right wing. On the left wing, Sir Edward Stanley with his archers so troubled the Scots with a storm of arrows, that they brake up their close array, and fought separated one from the other. Sir Edward Stanley perceiving this brought up three bands which he had kept in store for this purpose, and fell upon the open side of the enemy, who, after much stout fighting, turned their backs.

"Meanwhile the King had joined battle with the Earl of Surrey. And though he saw that his wings had been sorely handled, he abated not his courage, but fell upon our people with much fury. The archers could not stay him and his following, so well armed were they; but they brake through the Earl's battle and well-nigh overthrew his standards. The King himself, being on foot, for he and his nobles had sent away their horses at the beginning, fought right valiantly, as also on our side did my lord Surrey. But when the victory was uncertain, up cometh first Sir Edward Stanley, and after him the Lord Dacres with his horsemen, upon the backs of the Scots. Then these, being assaulted on all sides, were constrained to fight in a round compass. And after a while the King, seeing his standard-bearer stricken down at his side, rushed forth into the thickest press and was there slain. With him were slain also the Archbishop of St. Andrews, and two bishops and four abbots—for the spiritual persons among the Scots do fight as sturdily as do the lay. How many more perished on either side I know not, having departed from the field before a reckoning was made. For by desire of the Earl I made my course straight to London, and have sent some three or four of my company that were best horsed, bearing letters from the Earl to the King, and also, as a pledge and token of victory, the King of Scots' gauntlet."

Edward Norton tarried in Barnet for three days, during which time I had much talk with him. And on the fourth day, the young man having beyond all expectation revived, he departed, not without promise, both on his part and on mine, that we should meet again.