The Death of a King: The Legacy of the Battle of Flodden

Kirsten Claiden-Yardley

5 mins

21 Feb 2020

Not long after 4pm on 9 September 1513, Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, led his army into battle against a numerically superior Scottish army led by King James IV of Scotland. Prompted by Henry VIII’s invasion of France in May, James had invaded England in support of his French Allies.

An attack of this sort had been anticipated by the English. However, as Henry’s primary focus was on France, the bulk of the English military leaders and senior noblemen were overseas with the royal army.

Thomas Howard thus led an army mainly made up of northern levies led by members of his own family and the northern leaders, mostly lesser lords and knights, who had been left to defend the border.

Thomas Howard

Thomas Howard, Third Duke of Norfolk, by Hans Holbein the Younger, c. 1539 (Credit: Royal Collection).

In contrast, James IV had summoned men from across his realm to join his army and was accompanied by the majority of the Scottish nobility.

With neither country having a standing army, both relied on mustering ordinary men who, for the most part, were poorly trained and equipped. Only those men who joined the army as part of a lord’s personal retinue were likely to have military experience and equipment.

The Scottish army had been mustered in late July and given some training, but Thomas Howard mustered his army only after the Scots invaded England on 22 August, leaving no time for training.

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The day of the battle

In addition to their numerical superiority and modern pikes, the Scottish army also had the benefit of the high ground on Flodden Hill and James IV refused Thomas’ demand that they should descend and fight on flat ground.

The English attempted a flanking manoeuvre which had some success in that it forced the Scottish army to reposition to unsurveyed ground but they retained an advantage.

It also meant that, by the time the battle begun, the English army had been on the move since dawn.

Despite these disadvantages, the English army emerged from the battle victorious – the result of a mixture of military leadership and luck.

James IV of Scotland

James IV of Scotland, 17th century (Credit: National Galleries).

James IV was slain on the field alongside c. 10,000 of his men, amongst them his illegitimate son, Alexander Stewart, Archbishop of St Andrews, 9 earls, 10 lords and over 100 knights and clan chiefs.

The outcome of the battle would have a long-lasting impact on both countries and on Thomas Howard and his family.

Defeat for the Scots

Margaret Tudor

The Dowager Queen, Margaret Tudor, presumably painted for Charles I (Credit: Royal Collection).

For the Scots, the defeat was a national disaster.

James IV had intended to make his mark on the European stage and instead he had been publicly humiliated. His body was taken from the battlefield by the English and transported south to be presented to Henry VIII. He would remain unburied until the reign of Elizabeth I.

In order to quickly restore a semblance of political stability, the new Scottish king, James V, was crowned at Stirling Castle on 21 September. However, he was just 17 months old.

As was common during minority rule, the lack of firm, royal leadership meant that factions emerged amongst the Scottish nobility. The Dowager Queen, Margaret Tudor, initially acted as her son’s regent but she was suspected of pro-English sympathies.

When she married Archibald Douglas, earl of Angus, in 1514, she was replaced as regent by James V’s heir presumptive, John Stewart, duke of Albany.

James V of Scotland

James V of Scotland by Corneille de Lyon, c. 1536 (Credit: Weiss Gallery).

Prior to assuming the regency, Albany had spent his whole life in France and under his rule Scottish interests were largely subordinate to the interests of the French king.

Internally, factionalism remained a problem with shifting allegiances and tensions between Margaret, Albany, and Angus. It was not until 1529, that James V was able to oust Angus, then acting as regent, and assume personal rule.

Even when he took control of his country, he was never able to threaten England to the same extent as his father and his own attempt at invasion in 1542 was poorly led and organised.

Victory for Henry VIII

For the English, victory at Flodden provided Henry VIII with the opportunity to interfere in Scottish affairs.

Henry was still more interested in establishing English rule in France than in annexing Scotland, but it suited him to ensure that the Scots were kept neutralised.

To this end, he used first his sister, Margaret, and then the Earl of Angus to encourage a pro-English faction in Scotland.

The Battle of Spurs

The Battle of Spurs by Georg Lemberger, 1515 (Credit: Public domain).

At the same time, he allowed Thomas, Lord Dacre, the Warden of the March, to keep the border area in a state of instability with frequent raids.

However, on a personal level, Thomas Howard’s victory was undoubtedly an annoyance for Henry. He had invaded France with dreams of martial glories to rival the achievements of his ancestors and had notable successes during 1513 at the sieges of Thérouanne and Tournai and at the Battle of the Spurs.

However, these were arguably overshadowed by the sheer scale of the Scottish defeat at Flodden.

Rewarding Thomas Howard

After such a public success, Henry had to reward Thomas Howard in a similarly public fashion. It took some time to make the arrangements but, in February 1514, Thomas Howard was created 2nd duke of Norfolk.

This restored him to the title held by his father which had been forfeited following the Battle of Bosworth. The reward was accompanied by an annuity of £40 and a number of manors around the country.

Henry tempered the honour somewhat by using the same occasion to promote two leading figures from his French campaign – Charles Somerset was created Earl of Worcester and Charles Brandon Duke of Suffolk.

Nonetheless, it was undeniable that Thomas Howard now occupied a privileged position in the social and political hierarchy of Tudor England as one of just three dukes.

Arms of Thomas Howard (Credit: Saltspan / CC).

As well as grants of land and money, Thomas Howard was granted a heraldic reward in the form of an addition to his coat of arms. This took the form of the upper half of a lion, coloured red on a yellow background to replicate the royal arms of Scotland, with an arrow through its mouth.

6 centuries later, this still forms part of the duke of Norfolk’s coat of arms, a permanent visual reminder of Thomas Howard, 2nd duke of Norfolk’s victory at the Battle of Flodden.

Kirsten Claiden-Yardley studied modern history at Merton College and holds a Masters in English Local History. She was a researcher on the ‘Wolf Hall’ TV series as well as a historical adviser on a variety of publications. The Man Behind the Tudors is her first book for Pen & Sword.

The Man Behind the Tudors

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