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Battlefield: Flodden

It was one of the biggest battles on English soil and saw the death of the last British King to be killed in action. Julian Humphrys tells the bloody story of the Battle of Flodden…

Death of King

BITTER BRAWL Fuelled by a fierce, age-old rivalry, the hand-to-hand combat at Flodden was savage

Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, was not a happy man. In May 1513, Henry VIII had invaded France, taking with him the cream of England’s nobility, but 70-year-old Surrey had been left behind, to guard England’s northern border. Thinking he’d missed the chance to impress his King, Surrey was furious, but as things turned out, he was to win a victory that would overshadow anything Henry would achieve during his brief French adventure.

Henry’s invasion of France left James IV of Scotland in rather an awkward position. In 1502, he’d signed a peace treaty with England and, a year later, married Henry’s sister Margaret. In 1512, however, he’d also agreed an alliance with King Louis XII of France. So when Louis asked him to help by raiding England, James had to decide whether to support his French ally or remain at peace with Henry.

The Scot chose the former and, on 22 August 1513, he crossed the River Tweed with the largest and best-equipped army ever to leave Scotland. Initially, his forces boasted as many as 40,000 men, drawn from all over the kingdom, bolstered by some of the finest siege artillery in Europe. They quickly began capturing and destroying English castles along the border.


On hearing news of the invasion, Surrey hurried north. Although he only had 26,000 men, the old warrior was keen to fight. He knew that a lack of supplies would soon force him to disband his army, leaving the Scots free to raid at will throughout the winter. So, appealing to James’s well-known sense of chivalry, he formally challenged the King to a battle. James agreed. Surrey was expecting to fight on level ground at Millfield, but he soon received unwelcome news. The wily Scottish King had moved his army onto Flodden Edge, a steep hill that rises over 150 metres above the Millfield plain. With the approaches to the hill covered by his mighty guns, James was in a Virtually impregnable position.

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June 2015 issue of History Revealed