Belford and District Local History Society

BATTLING ON: Dennis Cromarty welcomed members to our March meeting, and drew attention to the details of the Flodden Lecture which were on display.

Jane Bowen reported that the Hidden History Exhibition had been awarded a Heritage Lottery Grant, and asked for offers of material or memorabilia relating to the Belford Branch of the British Legion, and also for items which illustrated Royal Celebrations in Belford.

Dennis then introduced our speaker, Chris Burgess, the county archaeologist, who proceeded to give an excellent talk on the Battle of Flodden, and the ways in which current research and archaeology are changing our understanding of the Battle.

After introducing us to the key players in the events of 1513 – James IV of Scotland, Henry VIII of England, Louis XI of France and the Earl of Surrey – Chris went on to argue that James’ invasion of England that year, although possibly prompted by letters from France asking him to create a diversion on England’s northern border, was planned as a more serious attack, evidenced by the scale of his invasion force, the care he took to secure a defensible base between Norham and Wark, the building of strong defences on Flodden Hill and his holding a parliament to absolve the families fighting with him of death duties should the worst happen.

Chris dismissed the views of the Victorian historians who saw the battle in terms of ‘Lust, Sex and Retribution’, as far as James was concerned.

Nor was he convinced by claims that too-heavy siege guns, too-long pikes and an ill-considered move from Flodden Hill to Branxton Hill were responsible for his defeat.

James, he said, was the victim of bad luck rather than bad judgement.

Having reread the original battle accounts, it was clear to him that the Scottish Amy was well positioned, and, when the fighting began, moved into contact in good order – indeed the initial engagement went to the Scots.

Archaeological evidence indicates that the Scottish siege guns were adapted to effectively fire a version of grapeshot.

So what went wrong?

Chris put forward the hypothesis that, as the following sections of the Scottish army descended Branxton Hill, the full weight of the soldiery had the effect of turning the land along the springline into a quagmire, something that could not have been foreseen, thus bogging down the army, and in these circumstances the pikes then became a significant handicap.

What followed was a major massacre, with, it is thought, 10,000 to 12,000 men killed in three hours. It is hoped that this year’s digs, will uncover evidence of the burial pits, and help define more clearly exactly where the main fighting took place.

This month’s meeting is on April 25, at 7.30pm in the Community Club, when Dr Ian Roberts will speak on Northumberland as Feudal County. All welcome.