Brutal Struggle Defined a Continent; Tony Henderson on the Impending Anniversary of a Northumberland Battle Which Changed European History

The Journal (Newcastle, England), June 11, 2009 | Go to article overview

Brutal Struggle Defined a Continent; Tony Henderson on the Impending Anniversary of a Northumberland Battle Which Changed European History


Byline: Tony Henderson

IN just three hours of savage, face-to-face fighting in a Northumberland field, 15,000 men lost their lives in the most brutal of ways.

The scale of the butchery in 1513 at the Battle of Flodden, near the village of Branxton, is astonishing in an age well before the mechanised killing capabilities of modern artillery.

At the end, the Scots King James IV, most of his accompanying nobility and 10,000 of their countrymen lay dead.

Now the first steps have been taken to plan how this momentous battle's 500th anniversary should be marked in just over four years' time.

For the clash was hugely important in many ways. It was the last medieval battle to be fought on British soil and influenced the future of European history.

Lord Joicey, whose Ford and Etal estate includes the battlefield, has set up the Flodden 500 group to explore what should be done to commemorate the anniversary.

One of the first projects is an exploratory archaeological investigation of earthworks on Flodden Hill, believed to have been the camp for the Scottish army of between 30,000 and 35,000 men.

It is hoped that the excavations will reveal the potential for a rolling series of digs leading up to 2013, with information and finds feeding into the anniversary events.

The aim is to work from the Scots camp and follow the army's presumed route for the mile or so to the battlefield.

More than 30,000 men would have had a lot of supply animals and carts, equipment and arms and it is also hoped that more can be discovered about the lives of those who fought.

The dig is being led by county archaeologists Chris Burgess and Sara Rushton, of Northumberland County Council's Northumberland Conservation section.

The diggers are made up of volunteers from the Northumberland Archaeology Group, Coquetdale Community Archaeology Group, Branxton residents and the Coldstream Local History Society.

Chris Burgess said: "The battle was a clash of nations, ideals and politics as well as a test of new technologies and theories of warfare. It saw the last effective mass use of the English longbow. It set in train a series of events that would contribute within 80 years to the union of the English and Scottish crowns.

"On that afternoon 500 years ago the future of the great nations of Europe were being decided at Branxton - aspirations for the political future both of the Continent and of the British Isles were very much dependent on the outcome. The political ripples the battle left behind have spread for 500 years influencing the development of European culture and politics into the 21st Century." While the general location of the battlefield has long been accepted to lie to the north and west of Branxton, it has become clear from recent attempts to establish its specific extents that its actual location and size is still uncertain.

Though the traditionally the accounts of the action of September 9, 1513, have been interpreted as suggesting that the battle occurred over an area spread across several miles of the Flodden Edge ridge above Branxton, more recent consideration of the tactics and technologies employed - particularly the use by the Scots of tight formations armed with the long European pike - suggest that the extent of the clash may be considerably smaller than previously thought. …

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