Scotland

Selkirk Common Riding remembers Flodden 500 years ago

Selkirk Common Riding
Image caption Hundreds of horseriders took part in the Selkirk Common Riding again this year

The loss of life at the Battle of Flodden 500 years ago is the focus for one of Europe's oldest and biggest equestrian spectacles.

The Common Riding in the Scottish Border town of Selkirk remembers the day in 1513 when 80 men left to fight for King James IV and just one returned.

About 300 to 400 horseriders cavalcade around the town's boundaries.

They were led this year by 28-year-old Martin Rodgerson.

He is the town's latest Royal Burgh Standard Bearer, a role previously taken by his grandfather George in 1950 and father Brian in 1980.

The standard bearer represents Fletcher - the only Selkirk man, or 'Souter', to return alive from Flodden.

Image caption Spectators of all ages turned out once again for the traditional celebration of Selkirk's common riding. All pictures by Dougie Johnston.
Image caption Selkirk's ceremony recalls the loss of life in the Battle of Flodden some 500 years ago.
Image caption The casting of the colours always draws large crowds to the centre of the town.
Image caption Selkirk is one of many towns in the Scottish Borders which has a common riding celebration.

An estimated 10,000 Scots died beside their king - the last monarch to be killed in battle in the British Isles - at Flodden, near Coldstream on the English-Scottish Border, on 9 September 1513.

The battle saw Henry VIII's English army, led by Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, inflict the heaviest defeat in Scottish history.

Town legend tells of Selkirk's families seeing the returning Fletcher casting a captured English standard around his head and lowering its tip to the ground. He conveyed to all who gathered that everyone was slain.

The Common Riding begins early in the morning with the 'Bussin'' before Fletcher's statue, which was commissioned in 1913 to commemorate Flodden's 400th anniversary.

The flag of the burgh is presented to the standard bearer by the provost, who wishes him and his cavalcade "safe oot, safe in" around Selkirk's boundaries.

He charges him to return the town's flag - symbolising its honour - "unsullied and untarnished".

A 'Lady Busser' ties, or 'busses', ribbons to the Royal Burgh Flag, recalling the ancient custom of a knight's lady tying colours to his lance before battle.

After riding the 'marches' - or boundaries - of the burgh's common lands, a protective custom dating back almost 1,000 years in Scotland, thousands line Selkirk's Toll road to cheer the standard bearer and his 'attendants' as they charge at full gallop safely back into town, dressed in bowler hats, tweeds, breeches and ribbons.

Image caption Good weather graced this year's Selkirk Common Riding

The climax of Selkirk Common Riding every year is 'The Casting of the Colours', taking place immediately after the 'Riding of the Marches' in the town's Market Place.

This sees the Royal Burgh Standard Bearer and Standard Bearers from Selkirk's six guilds 'cast' their flags to the old tune 'Up wi' the Souters o' Selkirk'.

"This is the most important thing I'll ever do," Martin Rodgerson said of the highest honour a young man in Selkirk can receive from his town.

A two-minute silence for those from the town who have died in conflicts is broken by Selkirk's Silver Band playing 'Flowers of the Forest', known locally as 'The Lilting'.

The Scots folk song, written by Jean Elliot in about 1756, laments the generations of Borderers lost at Flodden.

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