Note: John Muirhead of Lachop and Bullis, grandson of Sir Willielmo de Muirhead and his wife Jean and son of William Muirhead of Lachop and his wife Mariotta, was the Laird of Muirhead in the year 1513. He would answer the call of King James IV to defend the honor of Scotland. It was this John Muirhead of Lachop and Bullis, the Laird of Muirhead, who would be recorded by Alexander Nisbet as "âlain fighting by the Side of his Royal Maâter King James IV. In campo belli de Northumberland, âub vexilli Domino Regis [in the war camp of Northumberland under the flag of the Royal Master].
James IV, King of Scotland, was not like many of his predecessors. Instead of being weak and ineffectual, James IV, son of James III and his Danish wife Margaret, was able, confident, intelligent and capable of dealing equally well with the common Scotsman and the dandies at Court. It is said of James IV that he had long red hair and was tall and muscular, capable of performing astounding feats of strength. In fact, from the time he was in his teens, James wore a forged iron chain around his waist as a form of penance and a reminder of the rebellion he had participated in which resulted in the death of his father. As "James of the Iron Belt" grew and gained additional girth, he had links added to the chain belt, which he wore, not inside his garments, but outside for all to see. For his personality, and his wise and balanced judgement, the king was loved by the majority of his subjects.
In 1502, when King James IV was in his late twenties, a wedding between himself and Margaret Tudor, daughter of King Henry VII of England was proposed by the English monarch. The wedding would cement a friendship between the neighboring nations. In the negotiations for that wedding, Dr. Richard Muirhead, King James' Secretary participated.
The joining of the two kingdoms brought the first peace since 1328. But that peace was short-lived. In 1509 Henry VIII came to the English throne, bringing with him the desire for war; he enjoyed the sport of war regardless of any political issues that might have been involved. Henry made threats toward the Scots, but in 1513, before making any overt moves in that direction, he invaded France. Henry sailed from Dover on 30 June with an army to join forces with Emperor Maximilian of Spain in a war against France. The Auld Alliance between Scotland and France called for James to go to the aid of the French, but his marriage to Margaret Tudor pulled James in the direction of his recent alliance with England. Any inability to decide between the two allies became a moot point when Henry declared that the Scots should side with him because he 'owned' Scotland. The statement inflamed James and his fellow Scots, and an army was duly called to assemble for the purpose of invading England.
According to David Simpson in his website devoted to the history of the northeast of England, "The reason King James gave for the invasion, was revenge for the murder of Robert Kerr, a Warden of the Scottish East March who had been killed in a fray by a Northumbrian called John `the Bastard' Heron in 1508."
The English received word that the Scots were assembling, and that they had been receiving cargoes of gunpowder, pikes and armour from the Dutch. Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, (known variously by his title of the Lieutenant General of the North), being left in charge of the army, was prepared to move against any invasion the Scots might instigate. Despite the assumption that the marriage of James and Margaret Tudor would bring a peace between the two countries, King Henry did not trust the Scots, and assumed that they would take advantage of his being out of the country to make a move southward. Surrey advanced northward with an army of about twenty-six thousand men. The two armies would meet at Flodden in early September, 1513.
The Scottish army commanded by King James had begun to assemble outside Edinburgh, near the village of Borough-Muir, by 17 August. It is believed that upwards of forty thousand men answered the call to arms; some, though, would desert before they ever saw battle. This army was unique in that it was the first time that Highlanders and Lowlanders would fight together. It was also unique in the number of Scottish noblemen who answered the call to arms.
It is often stated that the flower of Scottish aristocracy would stand with King James at the Battle of Flodden Field, because at least fifteen Earls, twenty Barons and hundreds of Knights came out in support of the Scottish honor. Also joining the army were numerous Bishops and Abbots, including King James' illegitimate son by Marion Boyd, who was then twenty-three years old and the Archbishop of St. Andrews. The Count d'Aussi and some fifty French soldiers joined the Scots primarily for the purpose of training them in the use of the long pike.
On the 22nd of August, James and his army crossed the River Tweed near Coldstream. They demolished Wark Castle and proceeded on toward Norham. The army crossed the River Till at Twizel Bridge. Arriving at Norham, James set his artillery in place to bombard the castle. The siege lasted only six days. From Norham, James steered his army southward to Etal. There, the castle fell with hardly a fight.
From Etal Castle, the Scottish army moved southward to Ford Castle. Although her husband had been taken captive by the Scots to be held as hostage against the return of his brother, John, Lady Heron was at the castle when James and his army arrived. James tarried at Ford Castle for a few days; some said it was because of the Lady of the castle, who dallied with the Scottish king in order to slow down the advance of the Scottish army and allow the English army to have more time to arrive. In any case, James stayed at Ford Castle for a few days, then he burned it to the ground and moved on.
By the 1st of August, the English army under the Earl of Surrey had arrived as Pontefract Castle. There they set up camp and began to recruit additional troops. Surrey had earlier dispatched Sir William Bullmer to raise and lead a troop of mounted archers to patrol the border region. In a few days, a troop of nearly one thousand archers had been rounded up and formed into a company.
At his headquarters at Pontefract, Surrey received word that on the 3rd of August, Bullmer had ambushed a Scots raiding party of between seven to eight thousand men under the command of the Earl of Home near the village of Millfield. In what they would call The Ill Raid, the Scots sustained the death of nearly five hundred and about four hundred were taken prisoner by the English. The English lost only sixty men in the encounter.
A steady rain began during the last week of August and continued without letup until the morning of Friday, the 9th of September.
By the 5th of September, the English army arrived at Bolton. We are very grateful to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland for permission to reproduce the contemporary account, titled Hereafter Ensue The Trewe Encountre Or Batayle Lately Don Betwene Englande And Scotlande: In Which Batayle The Scottsshe Kynge Was Slayne:
The. v. daye of Septembre his Lordshyp in his approchynge nyghe to the borders of. Scotlande, mustred at Bolton in Glendayll and lodged that nyght therein that felde with all his armye.
The English leader, the Earl of Surrey, first attempted to parlay with King James to prevent any further devastation to the English countryside by the Scots. He sent a herald, a pursuevant at arms, Rouge Croix, to suggest to the Scottish king that the two armies should meet in battle.
Firste, my sayd Lorde at his beynge at Awnewik in Northumbrelande the iiij. daye of. Septembre the v. yere of the Reygne of Kynge Henry the. viij., herynge that the Kynge of Scottes thenne was remoued from Norhame and dyd lye at Forde Castel and in those partyes dyd moche hurte in spoylyng robynge and brennynge, sent to the sayde Kynge of Scottes Ruge Cros purseuante at Armes to shewe unto hym that for so moche as he the sayde Kynge contrary to his honour all good reason and conscyence, and his oothe of Fidelite for the ferme entartnynge of perpetuall peas betwene the Kyngis hygnes our. Souerayne lorde and hym, had inuaded this Raalme spoylad brente and robbyd dyuers and sondery townes and places in the same. Also had caste and betten downe the Castel of Norhame and crewella had murdered and slayne many of the Kynges liege people he was commen to gyue hyra baytal. And desyred him that for so moche as he was a Kynge and a great Prynce, he wolde of his lusty, and noble courage consent therunto and tarye the same. And for my sayde Lordes partie his Lordeshyp promysed the assured accomplysshement and perfourmance therof as he was true knyght to God, and the Kyngo his mayster The Kynge of Scottes herynge this dmessage reynued and kepte with hym the sayd Ruge Cros purseuante and wolde nat suffre hym at the tyme to retourne agayne to my sayd Lorde.
The herald, Croix, arrived at the burned and demolished Ford Castle and found that the Scottish army had crossed the Till. They were encamped on Flodden Hill. As noted in the contemporary account, James took the herald prisoner and held him as hostage. He sent his own herald, Islay, back to the English army.
The nexte day beynge the .vj daye of Septembre the Kynge of Scottes sent to my sayd Lor of Surrey an harolde of his called Ilaye, and demaunded if that my sayde Lorde wolde iustefye the message sent by the sayd purseuaunte Ruge Cros as is a foresayd sygnefyinge that if my Lorde wolde so doo it was the thynge that moost was to his joye and comforte.
But James would not agree to all of the English terms. Surrey wanted to engage the Scots on Milfield Plain. James sent the herald, Islay to inform Surrey that he would agree to the proposed battle, but that he would not abandon his position on Flodden Hill. As noted by the contemporary account:
My Lorde of Surrey beyng thus ordered and accompenyed as is afore said removed upon . vi. myles to a ffelde callid Woller Haghe withynne . iij. myles of the king of Scottes, wher as every man myght se, how the said king of Scottes did lye with his Army upon an high hill in the egge of Cheviotte, withynne . ij. myles of Scotlande, wherunto he had removed from Forde Castell, ovir the watir of Till,, and was encloosed in thre parties, with three great mountaynes, soe that ther was noe passage nor entre vnto hym but oon waye, wher was laied marvelous and great ordenance of gonnes, that is to wit . v . great curtalles. ij . great colveryns - iiij. Sacres and. vi. great Serpentynes as goodly gonnes as haue bene sene in any realme, And beside theme, wher othir dyuers small ordenances, and the same day at night my Lorde and all the army did lye upon the said grounde callid Woller Haghe.
And conceivyng the said King of Scottes to lye soe stronglye as is aforesaid and that ther was a fair plaine at the nethir parte of the said mountaines callid Mylnfelde, my said lorde of Surrey tarryed upon the same grounde, all the next daye, the vijth day of Septembr and the nyght after trustyng that the King wolde have removed dounwarde to the said grounde to have gyven hym battell, And seyng that the said King of Scottes contynued still in the same mountaine without removyng in any wise and all his ooste with hym, my said Lorde doutyng of the said Kings aboid and tarrying, because it was suspect, he wolde have fled away in the night, insomyche that he was withynne. ij. myles of his oune realme sent unto hym Ruge Cros pursivannte at harmes, And eftsoones required hym to come doune to the said plains of Mylfeilde, wher was convenyent grounde for the metynge of twoe Armyes, or to a grounde bye, callid Floddon or to any othir indifferent grounde for twoe batells to feght vpon.
At this tyme the King waxed angry, and displeased towarde my said Lorde, and wold not spek with Ruge Cros pursivaunte, but had reporte of his message, by a gentillman which made relacion ayeine of the same to Rugs Cros on this maner with like termes: The King my maister wills that ye shall shewe to Therle of Surrey, that it besemeth hym not, being an Erle, so largely to attempte a great prince, his grace woll take & kepe his grounds and felde at his oune pleasour, and not at the assignyng of Therle of Surrey, whoom the King my maister supposith to deall with some wichecrafte or sawcery because he procureth to feight vpon oon the said grounde. The said Ruge Cros having this answer, retorned ayeine to my Lorde and shewed his lordship the same.
Surrey divided his army into two battalions, which he designated as the 'vaunwarde' (i.e. vanguard) and the 'rerewarde' (i.e. rearguard). Howard, the Lord Admiral, his son, was to command the vanguard, and he, Surrey, would command the rearguard battalion.
The center of the vanguard battalion consisted of nine thousand men under the Lord Admiral, Sir William Bullmer and the Baron of Hylton. The various regiments and companies of the vanguard battalion were commanded by Lord Scope of Upsall, Lord Ogle, Sir William Gascoygne, Sir Cristofer Warde, Sir John Eueringham, Sir Walter Griffith, Sir John Gower and other noblemen from Yorkshire and Northumberland. There were two wings of the vanguard battalion, comprised of about three thousand men. The right wing was commanded by Edmond Howard, son of the Earl of Surrey, and under him were Sir Thomas Butler, Sir John Boothe, Sir Richard Boolde and other noblement from Lancashire and Cheshire. The left wing was commanded by 'old' Sir Marmaduke Constable, and under him were William Percey, William Constable, Sir Robert Constable, Sir John Constable of Holderness and Sir Constable's sons, Marmaduke, Jr and William along with other noblemen from Yorkshire and Northumberland.
The rearguard battalion was comprised of a center and two wings also. The center, consisting of five thousand men, was commanded by the Lord of Surrey himself, supported by Lord Scrope of Bolton, George Darcy, Sir Philip Tylney, Sir John Rocliff, Sir Thomas Methine, Sir William Scargill, Sir John Normavell, Sir Rauff Ellircar, Sir Richard Abdeburghe and other noblemen from Yorkshire. Three thousand men comprised the two wings. The commander of the right wing was Lord Dacre of the North. The left wing was commanded by Sir Edward Stanley. Dacre and Stanley were both supported by noblemen from Lancashire.
James would not budge from his defensive position on Flodden Hill, but sent out detachments of Scots who burned a number of villages to the east of Flodden. Surrey made his move on Tuesday night, the 6th of September. He marched the English army from its camp at Bolton (about eight miles from the Scots' encampment) to Wooler which lay about three miles from Flodden Hill.
Rouge Croix was finally released by James, and had made his way to, and arrived at the English camp on Wednesday morning to convey the reply from James that he would not agree to meeting the English army at Millfield.
Late on Wednesday, 7 September, Surrey proceeded with his army across the River Till and then back across the river, and then they established a camp in Barmoor Wood just to the south of Barmoor Castle. He chose that position to block the Scots from returning across the border into Scotland. It has been suggested by some historians that his movements were not so much a defensive move lest the Scots should attempt to make a return into Scotland, as it was a means to lure James from Flodden Hill. Rouge Croix had informed Surrey of the marshy land at the base of Flodden Hill, and that a direct assault on the Scots would require that the English march through a narrow field, at the top of which the Scots had placed their cannon. Surrey hoped that he would be able to lure the Scots to a battle somewhere north of the village of Braxton. This activity was described in the contemporary account as follows:
My said Lorde of Surrey conceivyng that the King of Scottes did contynually rest and remaine in the said foretres invironde with the said mountain and that he wolde not in any wise remove frome the same to any othir indifferent grounde to abide or gyve batell, removed his ffelde the viiith day of Septembre being our Ladies day the Natiuitie, and passed ovir the water of Till, and contynually all that day went with the said hoole Army in aray, in the sight of the said king of Scottes, at the furthest frome hym withynne two myles, and that night loged vnder a wodside callid Barmor Wode directly ayeinste the King aforesaid, and his army Albeit, ther was an hill betwene the hoostes for avoiding the daunger of gonne shoote, and notwithstanding . iiij. or . v. daies afor passed ther was litle or noe wyne, ale, nor bere, for the people to be refresshed with but that all the hool army for the mooste parte wer enforced and constreyned of necessite to drynke water, duryng the same tyme and season without comforte or truste of any releiff in that behalue, My said Lorde of Sarrey, and the said army, the said daunger and wantyng of drynke notwithstanding, coragiouslye avaunced forewarde to get betwene the said King of Scotts and his realme of Scotlande countenansyng to goo towarde Scotlande or Barwike.
The rain had stopped by the morning of 9 September, Friday. The time for battle had come. The English vanguard, led by the Lord Admiral, was set in motion on a course west and southward toward Branxton. They left the Barmoor Wood around dawn and by 11:00am, the English troops started crossing the River Till at the Twizel Bridge. The vanguard transported the English cannon, and thusly were a bit slowed down. Twizel Bridge stood about six miles downstream from the Barmoor Wood, and the army would be about five miles away from the Flodden Hill upon which the Scots were encamped. Twizel Bridge, although being a bit narrow, was chosen for the crossing place because it was substantial enough to handle weight of the twenty-two pieces of artillery. Surrey's rearguard, although not weighted down with the heavy artillery, was having a hard time of it as they attempted to ford the Till at Millford (now know as Heaton Mill).
When King James caught sight of the English on the move, he made the decision to change his own position. Branxton Hill rose above the Flodden Field about a mile to the west and slightly to the north of Flodden Hill. James made the decision to move the main body of his army onto the ridge of Branxton Hill. The contemporary account noted that the movement of the Scottish army was somewhat concealed by the heavy smoke that arose when they set fire to the 'straw and litter' that they had accumulated at their first encampment.
The said King conceiving this and as it is confessed fered that my said Lorde and the Army of Englande wolde haue gon in to Scotlande, did cause his tents to be taken vp, and kepyng the height of the mountaine, removed with his great power and pusaunce of people out of the said great forteress towards Scotlande, And furthwith the Scottes by thair crafty and subtill emaginacion did sett on fire all such thair fylthy strawe and litter wher as they did ly and with the same made suche a great and a mervelous smoke that the maner of thair araye therby couth not be espyed, Immediatly, my Lorde Hawarde with the vawarde, and my Lord of Surrey with the rerewarde in thair mooste qwyke and spedy maner avaunced and made towarde the said King of Scotts as faste as to thaim was possible in aray, and what for the hilles and smoke long it was or the aray of the Scotts couth be conceived, and at the lasts, thay appeired in . iiij . great batells.
James halted his men some five or six hundred yards short of the ridge, so that he could get them formed into battle formation out of the sight of the English. The "iiij . great batells" or rather 'four battalions' which the contemporary account noted the Scots formed into were commanded as follows.
The left (to the west) was commanded by the Earl of Home. His battalion consisted primarily of men from the Scottish Borders and the town of Aberdeen. The Borderers were accustomed to fighting on horseback, but now were wielding the pikes for which the Count d'Aussie had been brought from France to instruct them. To Home's right, at a distance of about a bow shot or approximately two hundred yards, was the Earl of Crawford, leading the men from Angus, Fife, Perth and Forfarshire. The clansmen of Clan Gordon were arrayed with the Earl of Crawford's battalion under their chief, the Earl of Huntly. Also assisting with the command of this battalion were the Earl of Errol and the Earl of Montrose. The right wing (to the east) was commanded by the Earl of Argyll with clansmen from Clan Campbell, Clan Maclean, Clan Mackenzie and Clan Macdonald and other clans from the Highlands of Scotland. The Earl of Lennox and his Stuart clansmen stood with this battalion on the far right. The Earl of Caithness and three hundred of his clansmen were notable with their green clothes. Between the battalions of the Earl of Crawford and the Earl of Argyll is where King James positioned the battalion that he personally commanded. His battalion was comprised of men from Linlithgow, Lothian and Stirling. The Earl of Glencairn and the Earl of Cassillis, along with Lord Herries and Lord Maxwell assisted in the command of the King's battalion. To the south and rear of the front line was a fifth battalion, intended to serve as a reserve, led by the Earl of Bothwell and comprised of his own subjects, some noblemen from Lothian and the French soldiers under the Count d'Aussi. Each of the battalions consisted of about five thousand men, with the exception of the Earl of Bothwell's, which was comprised of about fifteen hundred.
King James received word that the English army could be seen crossing the River Till. That sighting was made around mid-day, and James lost no time in ordering his army to the more defensive position of the ridge of Branxton Hill.
The argument has been made James should have attacked the English army as it was attempting to cross the River Till. The Scots might have succeeded in catching the English off guard and unprepared to form into battle lines. Parallels with the battle at Stirling Bridge have been made, with the suggestion that had James proceeded like Sir William Wallace against the English in 1297, he might have changed the course of events. One reason why James did not attack the enemy as they crossed the River Till may have been that he enjoyed the art of warfare and did not wish to simply annihilate the enemy. Unlike his predecessor, Wallace, King James was not at Flodden Field in the defense of his country; he was there in the defense of his country's honour. To have attacked the English at a vulnerable moment would have been a dishonourable act that did not befit King James IV.
For the reason that the eminent battle would take place in the valley lying just to the north of the Branxton Hill, it is variously known as the Battle of Branxton Moor. James' decision to change position required that the Scots' seventeen cannon needed to be moved nearly two miles to the north and west of its current position. It was a rather formidable task to move the artillery, and so it was almost two-thirty in the afternoon till the move was completed. As the Scottish army began to occupy its new position, the vanguard of the English army could be seen commencing the crossing of the Pallinsburn, a small stream that ran along the north side of the village of Branxton and emptied into the River Till. By the time the king arrived on Branxton Hill, he could see the two divisions of Surrey's army spread out in the valley below. James was not fully aware of the enemy's moves. Had he known that the English vanguard had become separated from the rearguard after it had crossed the Pallinsburn, and was vulnerable to attack, James might have been able to effect a victory over the Lord Admiral's battalion. But as fate would have it, the relocating of the army from Flodden to Branxton Hill took the majority of the day. By the time the army had re-formed on Branxton Hill, the divided English army had had time to rejoin itself.
As soon as the Scots could get their cannon in place, they began firing on the English lines. The English answered the Scottish cannonade with their own cannon. According to the contemporary account:
And as soone as the Scottes perceived my said Lordes to be withyn the daunger of thair ordenance thay shote sharpely thair gonnes which wer verray great, and in like maner our partye recounterde them, with thair ordenance, and notwithstanding that othir our artillary for warre couth doe noe good nor advantage to our army because they wer contynually goyng and advansyng vp towards the said hilles and mountaines, yit by the help of God, our gonnes did soe breke and constreyn the Scotisshe great army, that some parte of thaim wer enforsed to come doune the said hilles towarde our army,
During the artillery exchange, the English lost a number of men, not to death, but to desertion. Lord Dacre later stated that many of the new recruits from the Bamboroughshire and Tynmouth regions fled from the field in terror of the noise.
The Lord Admiral and his battalion was reaching the foot of Branxton Hill at just the moment when the Scots moved their lines forward to the hill's crest. He was momentarily taken aback; the overcast sky and the smoke from the fires that the Scots had set in their earlier camp on Flodden Hill had combined to camouflage the Scots from the English view. The sudden view of the four battalions of Scottish soldiers brought the Lord Admiral to a halt. He is said to have torn an Angus Dei medallion from around his neck and sent it with a messenger to his father, the Earl of Surrey, with the request that he lose no time in advancing to the forward position.
And my lord Hawarde conceiving the great power of the Scottes, sent to my said [Lorde] of Surrey his fader and required hym. to advaunce his rerewarde and to joine his right wyng with his left wyng, for the Scottes wer of that might that the vawarde was not of power nor abull to encounter thaim, My said lorde of Surrey perfitely vnderstanding this with all spede and diligence, lustely, came forwarde and joyned hym to the vawarde as afor was required by my said Lord Hawarde, and was glad for necessite to make of two battalles oon good battell to aventure of the said . iiij . batelles.
Surrey arrived within minutes, and seeing the Scottish army spread out and divided into four battalions, he made some last minute changes to his own army's formation.
And for so myche as the Scottes did kepe thaim seuerall in iiij. batelles therfor my Lorde of Surry and my Lorde Hawarde sodenly wer constreyned and enforced to devide thair army in oder iiij. batelles, and ells it was thought it shulde haue bene to thair great daunger and jeoperdy.
Surrey placed his young son, Sir Edmund Howard on the right side (to the west) with some three thousand men including one thousand Lancashire men under Sir John Boothe and Sir Thomas Butler, about five hundred men from Cheshire under Richard Assheton and about fifteen hundred men from Yorkshire under Sir John Gower. The Lord Admiral's battalion was positioned to the left of Sir Edmund Howard's. The Lord Admiral's battalion was composed of a variety of levies including the men from the Bishopric of Durham under the command of Sir William Bullmer, a contingent of naval soldiers and soldiers from East Riding under the command of Sir Marmaduke Constable. This battalion numbered nearly five thousand men. Next, to the left, was the battalion commanded by the Earl of Surrey. His unit consisted of his own five hundred vassals along with about three thousand men from Yorkshire, five hundred of those from the city of York under the command of Sir John Normayle. It is believed that Lord Scrope of Bolton and his three hundred Craven men were part of Surrey's battalion. Troops of skilled bowmen were included in Surrey's battalion, including those led by Sir Ninian Markanyle, Sir Christopher Pickering and Sir Brian Stapleton. The Earl of Surrey's battalion comprised over five thousand men. The far left side (to the east) would consist of roughly three thousand men, under the command of Sir Edward Stanley, including perhaps one thousand men from Lancashire and Cheshire under Sir William Percy. It should be noted, though, that Stanley had not arrived at the same time as the rest of the English army; his battalion would not arrive on the field of the battle until it was all but over. A reserve battalion was positioned, like Bothwell on the Scottish side, to the rear of the four main English battalions. The reserve was commanded by Lord Dacre and consisted of about two thousand men including those from Cumbria and Westmoreland and nearly one thousand border raiders from the Irthing Valley. Surrey positioned his cannon between the four battalions. The artillery was commanded by Sir Nicholas Appleyard.
By fifteen minutes past four o'clock in the afternoon of Friday, 9 September, the battle lines on either side of the Branxton Moor were fairly well completed with the Scots under Home facing the English under Edmund Howard, the Scots under Crawford facing the English under the Lord Admiral, the Scots under King James facing the English under the Earl of Surrey, and the Scots under the Earls of Argyll and Lennox facing the English under Stanley, with the Earl of Bothwell holding soldiers in reserve behind the Scottish line and Dacre holding soldiers in reserve behind the English line.
The English cannons opened fire against the Scots on the hillside, and the Scottish cannon replied in kind. The Battle of Flodden Field began.
The shot from the Scottish cannon tended to overshoot their marks, but the English did not, and there were Scotsmen falling in groups of four and five at a time. In addition to the bombardment of the artillery, the Scots were assailed by a rain of arrows from the English bowmen. The Scots had the wind behind them, though, and therefore the English arrows had to fly into the wind, causing many of them to fail to strike their marks.
Rather than attempt to hold the ridge of Branxton Hill, James gave orders to advance down the slope. It was said that the Scots advanced 'after the Almayn's manner' i.e. in good order and without uttering a word.
The Scottish line began its advance together, but the king held his, Crawford's and the Earls' battalions back a bit, leaving Home's Borderers to be the first to reach the foot of the hill. The Scots tore furiously into Howard's Englishmen with their pikes. Partly from the surprise of the new weapon with which the Scots hacked at them, and partly from their anger at having been removed from Stanley's command, the Cheshire troops fled from the field. The troops who remained in the English right wing fought fiercely but briefly. The English were routed, but not until after three of their best leaders, Sir William Fitzwilliam, Sir John Lawrence and Sir William Warcup were slain. Sir Edmund Howard was unhorsed three times but managed to escape death and made his way to the Lord Admiral's battalion.
At the point where Howard's battalion was being routed from the field of battle, Surrey ordered Lord Dacre to take his horsemen forward for Howard's relief. At the same time, the Earl of Home started to withdraw his own and Huntly's troops from the field of battle. It was speculated later on that the affinity that the English Borderers under Lord Dacre felt toward those Scottish Borderers in Home's battalion might have contributed to Dacre's troops giving up the field almost as soon as they appeared on it and for the coincident withdrawal of Home's troops. Whatever the reason, the Scots were victorious in this first part of the battle, but Home did not press the advantage. Instead, the men under his direction spent the remainder of the day rummaging through the dead and rounding up horses. Three years after the battle, the Earl of Home would be executed, partly from the charges levied against him for his inactivity at this early stage of the battle.
The contemporary account related this first part of the battle thusly:
Soa it was that the Lorde Chamberlains of Scotlande being Capitaine of the first bataill of the Scotts, fercely did sett vpon Mr. Edmonde Hawarde Capitaine of th'uttermoste parte of the felde, at the weste side, and betwene thaira was soe cruell batell that many of our partye Chesshirmen and other flee, and the said Maister Edmonde in maner left alon without socour, and his standerde and berer of the same betten and hewed in peces, and hym selff thrise strykyn doune to the grounde, how be it like a coragious and an hardy yong lusty gentilman he recoverd againe and faught hande to hande with oone Sir Davy Home, and slew him with his oune hande, and thus the said Maister Edmonde was in great perell and daunger till that the lorde Dacre like a good and an hardy knyght releved and come vnto hym for his socour.
It had been said that King James IV was forward-thinking; he was likened to Peter the Great of Russia in the respect that he desired to make his nation the most modern in Europe. And so, he encouraged his people to embrace the arts and industry. He built up the navy and started casting cannon at Edinburgh. He encouraged the establishment of universities throughout the country, including the College of Surgeons. It was under his rule that the first printing press was set up in Scotland in 1507.
One aspect of James' forward-thinking was the bringing of the Count d'Aussi from France to teach his army the use of the pike in warfare. In retrospect, that just might have been the cause of the undoing of his army on the field of Flodden. For one thing, the Scottish army had not had enough time to practice and drill with the new weapon, and they went into this battle without the proper training. For another thing, the pike, while being new and modern to the art of warfare, was more suited for use as a weapon of defense against cavalry. It was certainly not the best weapon to be used against the infantry's sword or battleax. That fact would become mortally apparent during the second phase of the Battle of Flodden Field.
The battalions commanded by the Earl of Crawford and by King James had been held back as Home's troops played havoc with the English under Sir Edmund Howard. But as the remnants of Howard's battalion melted into the ranks of the Lord Admiral's battalion, James ordered Crawford's and his own battalions forward down the steep slope of Branxton Hill. The grass on the slope was still wet from the past two weeks of rain, and the Scotsmen charged down the slope, perhaps moreso sliding than marching toward the English lines. As the Scottish line surged down the three hundred yards to the foot of the hill, King James was seen to jump from his horse. Against all better judgement, the king grabbed a pike and joined the front line. The English writer of the contemporary account noted quite simply that:
The secunde batell came vpon my Lord Hawarde, The thirde batell wherynne was the King of Scottes and mooste parte of the noble men of his realme came fercely vpon my said Lord of Surrey.
The English archers created holes in the Scottish line, but did not bring it to a stop. The two lines crashed into each other in a fierce hand to hand struggle at the base of the hill. The Scots found that their new weapon, the pike, was difficult to manage against the slashing of the English swords. In fact, the wood poles of the pikes got hacked to bits. It was stated that the English archers "disappointed the Scots of their long spears upon which they relied" and that many of the Scots threw away the pikes and wielded instead "mells of iron" or other swords they might have had.
The beloved king of Scotland, James IV, was killed in the fight. When his body was found after the battle it was discovered that he had received, among other wounds, a deep cut that stretched from ear to ear. One of his hands was almost completely severed. One can only imagine the agony he, like so many other brave Scotsmen, suffered in the fray. James fell within feet of the Earl of Surrey. Apparently, the king was attempting to engage the earl in personal combat.
The troops at the far right side of the Scottish line, under the command of the Earl of Lennox and the Earl of Argyll, were the last to begin their advance down over the slope of Branxton Hill. Before they had the time to make much headway, the English soldiers under Sir Edward Stanley arrived. As Stanley's troops were crossing the Pallinsburn in the vicinity of Sandyford, they could hear the sound of the battle raging to the southwest. In some accounts it is stated that Stanley's scouts advised him of the Scotsmen still on the ridge of Branxton Hill, and that he should concentrate on that attacking that battalion. Between his position at Sandyford and the Branxton Hill, there rose Pace Hill. Stanley might have thought it advantageous to scale the heights of Pace Hill either to get a better view of the battlefield, or to save time rather than go around it. The slope was so steep and slippery that the men had to remove their boots in order to get a better grip on the muddy surface!
From the vantage point of Pace Hill, Stanley could see the fight taking place between James' and Surrey's battalions and the battalion of Scots still on the ridge of Branxton Hill. He decided to divide his men into two units. He led the one in a frontal assault toward the Scots under Huntley, who were just then beginning their descent toward the action on Flodden Field, while the other, comprised mostly of the Cheshire archers, made a flanking move to the Scots' right, sending a rain of arrows into the Highlanders. The combination of the flanking action of the archers and the frontal assault succeeded in decimating many of the Lennox and Argyll's troops, sending the remainder of the Scots fleeing down the hill. Not all of the Scotsmen fled, though. The chiefs of the Campbells and the McCleans stood their ground, but were slain i the ruthless onslaught of the Stanley's troops.
The momentum of Stanley's troops pushing into the Earls of Lennox and Argyll's battalion carried them right through the Scots' line and further beyond the ridge and right into Bothwell's cavalry troops who were waiting in reserve. The English troops sent numerous showers of arrows into Bothwell's men. The Earl of Bothwell, himself received an arrow and fell dead from his horse.
The contemporary account described the attack of Stanley in brief terms:
Sir Edward Stanley being at the vttermoste parts of the said rerewarde on th'Est partie, seing the fourth batelles redy to releiff the said King of Scottes batell, coragiously and like a lusty and an hardy knyght, did sett vpon the same and overcame, and put to flight all the Scotts in the said batell.
After scattering the Scottish right wing and the reserve troops, the Earl of Stanley regrouped his men and headed back down the slope of Branxton Hill to reinforce Surrey. The Scotsmen in the king's and Crawford's battalions, despite taking a beating, and with their king already fallen, had been holding their own. But with Stanley's troops coming down the hill behind them, the Scots found themselves completely and fatally surrounded.
Less than two hours after it began, the battle came to a halt as the surviving Scotsmen threw down their weapons.
In addition to King James IV, between eleven and twelve thousand Scotsmen lay dead upon the field. Nearly twelve hundred survivors were taken prisoner, including Sir Andrew Forman and Sir William Scott, who were the only ones who could identify their king due to the mass of wounds his body had received.
The English losses amounted to roughly four thousand killed and 120 taken prisoner.
The contemporary account included a list of the principal noblemen which Scotland lost on the fateful day of 9 September 1513.
Heraftir ensueth the Names of sonderey Noble men of the Scottes slaine at the said batell and feld called Brainston Moor.