The story of the Battle of Flodden Field has been told many times in verse over the years. It is no wonder. The battle has been called the last medieval battle to have been fought on the Isles. In a few short hours the most beloved of the Scottish kings and the best of the noblemen had departed this life. It has been said that every single clan and family in Scotland lost members that day. In some cases, the entire clan was virtually destroyed. The Muirhead clan could be included in the list of those which all but disappeared. But it was not completely annihilated, and generations continued to spawn generations, and here we are today, remembering and grieving for those that died on that fateful day in September 1513.

  A revered poem relating to the Battle of Flodden Field is titled, The Laird Of Muirhead.7.75 Written by Sir Walter Scott, it is believed to have been part of a larger work. The provenance of the poem states that it was part of ‘a large Collection’ of Scott’s works ‘belonging to Mr. Alexander Monro, merchant residing in Lisbon’, Portugal, ‘but supposed now to be lost’. It might have been in Lisbon, that J. Grossett Muirhead, Esq. Of Breadesholm, found the poem, and realizing it related to his own ancestors, ‘extracted’ it from the larger work; rather, he copied it alone without copying the entire poem. As noted in the 1861 note, by that time the entire piece, or Song, had become ‘lost’, and all that remains is this single fragment. The piece was communicated by Mr. Muirhead to a Mr. Herd, who made it available to be included in Volume III of The Poetical Works Of Sir Walter Scott, Bart. Subtitled, Minstrelsy Of The Scottish Border, the third volume of poetical works by Sir Walter Scott was published in Edinburgh in 1861 by Adam and Charles Black.

  The title page to the Minstrelsy Of The Scottish Border noted that it consisted of “Historical and romantic ballads, collected in the southern counties of Scotland; with a few of modern date, founded upon local tradition.”

The Laird Of Muirhead Afore the King in order stude
The stout laird of Muirhead,
Wi’ that same twa-hand muckle sword
That Bartram fell’d stark dead

He sware he wadna lose his right
To fight in ilka field;
Nor budge him from his liege’s sight
Till his last gasp should yield.

Twa hunder mair of his ain name,
Frae Torwood and the Clyde,
Sware they would never gang to hame
But a’ die by his syde

And wondrous weel they kept their troth;
This sturdy royal band
Rush’d down the brae wi’ sic a pith
That nane could them withstand.

Mony a bloody blow they dealt,
The like was never seen;
And, hadna that braw leader fall’n
They ne’er had slain the king.

  The poem translated into modern-day (Americanized) English would be:

The Lord Of Muirhead Before the King in order stood
The stout lord of Muirhead
With that same two-handed great sword
That Bartram [de Shotts] he killed stark dead.

He swore he wouldn’t lose his right
To fight in each and every field;
Nor budge him from his lord’s sight,
Till his last gasp should yield.

Two hundred more of his own name,
From Torwood and the Clyde,
Swore they would never go home,
But would die by his side.

And wondrous well they kept their word;
This sturdy royal band
Rushed down the hill with such force
That none could them withstand.

Many a bloody blow they dealt,
The like was never seen;
And had not that brave leader fallen,
They [the English] never would have slain the king [James IV of Scotland]

  The following poem, Flodden Field, was first published in the year 1633. 7.76

Flodden Field King Jamie hath made a vow,
Keepe it well if he may
That he will be at lovely London
Upon Saint James, his day.

Upon Saint James his day at noone,
At faire London will I be,
And all the lords in merrie Scotland,
They shall dine there with me.

Then bespake good Queene Margaret,
The teares fell from her eye:
Leave off these warres, most noble king,
Keepe your fidelitie.

The water runnes swift and wondrous deepe,
From bottome unto the brimme;
My brother Henry hath men good enough;
England is hard to winne.

Away, quoth he, with this silly foole
In prison fast let her lie:
For she is come of the English bloud,
And for these words she shall dye.

With that bespake Lord Thomas Howard,
The queenes chamberlaine that day:
If that you put Queene Margaret to death,
Scotland shall rue it alway.

Then in a rage King Jamie did say,
Away with this foolish mome
He shall be hanged, and the other be burned,
So soone as I come home.

At Flodden Field the Scots came in,
Which made our English men faine;
At Bramstone Greene this battaile was seene,
There was King Jamie slaine.

Then presently the Scots did flie,
Their cannons they left behind;
Their ensignes gay were won all away,
Our souldiers did beate them blinde.

To tell you plaine, twelve thousand were slaine
That to the fight did stand,
And many prisoners tooke that day,
The best in all Scotland.

That day made many a fatherlesse child,
And many a widow poore,
And many a Scottish gay lady
Sate weeping in her bower.

Jack with a feather was lapt all in leather,
His boastings were all in vaine;
He had such a chance, with a new morrice-dance,
He never went home againe.

  The following poem, A Lament For Flodden,7.77 was written by Jane Elliott, who lived from 1727 to 1805.

  When this poem appears in print, it sometimes is given a title repeating the last line of the first verse: The Flowers Of The Forest, referring to the earls, barons and lesser gentry of Scotland who lost their lives at Flodden as ‘the flower of the Scottish nobility.’

A Lament For Flodden I’ve heard them lilting at our ewe-milking,
Lasses a’ lilting before dawn o’ day;
But now they are moaning on ilka green loaning—
The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.

At bughts, in the morning, nae blythe lads are scorning,
Lasses are lonely and dowie and wae;
Nae daffing, nae gabbing, but sighing and sabbing,
Ilk ane lifts her leglin and hies her away.

In hairst, at the shearing, nae youths now are jeering,
Bandsters are lyart, and runkled, and gray:
At fair or at preaching, nae wooing, nae fleeching—
The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.

At e’en, in the gloaming, nae swankies are roaming
‘Bout stacks wi’ the lasses at bogle to play;
But ilk ane sits eerie, lamenting her dearie—
The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.

Dool and wae for the order sent our lads to the Border!
The English, for ance, by guile wan the day;
The Flowers of the Forest, that fought aye the foremost,
The prime of our land, lie cauld in the clay.

We’ll hear nae mair lilting at our ewe-milking;
Women and bairns are heartless and wae;
Sighing and moaning on ilka green loaning—
The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.

  Following are some definitions for certain of the terms used in the foregoing poem which may not be familiar to all readers:

bandsters - binders
bogle - bogy, hide-and-seek
bughts - sheep-folds
daffing - joking
dool - mourning
fleeching - coaxing
hairst - harvest
leglin - milk-pail
lyart - gray-haired
loaning - lane
runkled - wrinkled
swankies - lusty lads
wede - weeded


7.75     The Ballad Minstrelsy Of Scotland, 1871, p 475.

7.76     Brander, Scottish & Border Battles & Ballads. Francis James Child #168.

7.77     The Oxford Book Of English Verse 1250-1900, Edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch, 1919, #466.