History detectives unearth new insight into Flodden

re-enactment of the defeat of Javes IV at Flodden Re-enactment of England's defeat of King James IV of Scotland at Flodden

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You wouldn't think that after 500 years there'd be anything new to say about the Battle of Flodden.

In recent times the conflict had largely been forgotten.

Even in Northumberland most people would not readily be able to tell you who won or what it was all about. Until now.

The significant anniversary has prompted some fascinating modern detective work and it's already thrown up a new understanding of the battle.

The rate of slaughter at Flodden was every bit as awful as the Somme in World War I.

Over the last 12 months I've been following communities from both sides of the border who've been working on dozens of projects to remember the battle and its terrible human cost.

Battle of Flodden - Sept 9th 1513

  • Henry VIII was fighting the French who asked their Scottish allies to open a second front by invading Northumberland.
  • The 70-year-old Earl of Surrey gathered an army to repel the Scots.
  • In just three hours 15,000 men lay dead.
  • Among the dead was King James IV of Scotland - the last reigning monarch to die in battle on British soil.
  • It also wiped out the majority of the Scottish nobles.Although James IV died in the carnage, 90 years later his great-grandson James VI was invited to become the first Stuart king of England on the death of Queen Elizabeth, the last of Henry VIII's descendants.

Among them are archaeologists who've been digging at sites across north Northumberland including the supposed battlefield site next to Branxton village.

I've been a volunteer on those excavations and I have to tell you the land has been determined to keep any artefacts from 1513 hidden from us.

Although the number of finds has been disappointing, county archaeologist Chris Burgess is still upbeat and optimistic that future digs may yet come up trumps.

At Norham Castle where James IV first invaded England we had a bit more luck and uncovered evidence of lead workings.

Behind the legends

Northumberland Archives meanwhile recruited 40 volunteers to go back to source materials that have rarely seen the light of day down the centuries.

Historians often rely on accounts given by previous generations, but often without any idea where their predecessors got their facts from.

To try and cut through myth and legend, the volunteers spent six weeks learning how to read old English.

Volunteers discuss the results of their transcription work Volunteers discuss the results of their transcription work

They then transcribed what amounts to the expenses claim sent to Henry VIII on behalf of the commanding officer, the Earl of Surrey.

The 500-year-old document held in the National Archives in London revealed just who was part of the English entourage, such as spearmen, archers, farmers, monks and what they got paid.

It also detailed what happened to King James IV's body.

He was taken to Windsor via Newcastle and York.

The bill for wrapping the body and welding it shut in a lead coffin came to £12 9s 10d.

Sir Philip Tylney's accounts of expenses and wages for the Flodden campaign

  • Earl of Surrey: 10 shillings a day (£2,500 today)
  • Soldier: 8d a day (£16 today)

By adding up all the accounts the transcribers have worked out how much the English campaign cost in today's money.

We'll reveal that total on Inside Out (North East & Cumbria) at 19:30 BST on Monday, 2 September, on BBC One.

Suffice it to say it proves this was not an insignificant battle in a remote corner of Northern England, but a defence of the realm at which no cost was spared.

Flodden was a moment in history that deserves wider recognition.

A whole host of events are planned in the run up to the 500th anniversary on September 9th.

You can see what's on at the Flodden 1513 website.

Chris Jackson Article written by Chris Jackson Chris Jackson Presenter, Inside Out, North East & Cumbria

Inside Out returns for a new series in 2015

Inside Out returns for a new series in 2015 but Chris Jackson's blog is coming to an end and he can now be found on social media.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Unfortuately for the treasure hunters the bodies would have been well robbed and srptripped of anything of value before they were originally buried, and anything of personal value would have stayed with the relatives in the baggage train of the time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    By the way, Jim, Scots were asked abroad, 'are you English?' back then too. Travellers' letters and ambassadors' documents mention this - and the inevitable responses. The languages and cultures were close even then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Flodden is as important as Bannockburn which is why it is right to remember it. But Flodden was an unnecessary battle. James IV (Henry's XIII's brother in law) had fulfilled his side of the Franco-Scottish alliance by investing Norham Castle and having forced the English Queen, Catherine of Aragon (in charge since Henry was in France) to raise an army. But James was a hot head....result - tragedy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    At least in 1513, a Scot abroad wasn't asked "Are you English?"

    "The rate of slaughter at Flodden was every bit as awful as the Somme in World War I." Rubbish!
    Try comparing like-for like. On July 1, the first day of the battle of the Somme over 36 000 British, French and German soldiers were killed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Here we go, here we go, here we go.
    Why Flodden? Why almost exactly one year before the big vote? If this has "largely been forgotten" in recent times why is it suddenly being remembered now? "the volunteers spent six weeks learning how to read old English." yet kids nowadays can't read modern English? James 1V died on English soil. Thre was no such thing as the British version. LOL

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    While I was working in the Flodden area in 1963 I was told by an old chap that his grandfather, while using the first stationary ploughing engines which pulled the plough on a thick wire, the ground collapsed many times over the battlefield. The resultant depressions were 'ship shaped'. Nothing was found in them.



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