Although the Battle of Flodden in 1513 was arguably one of the most important battles in European history, its importance is little known outside of Britain. In contrast, the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 has become a crucial part of Scottish history and the Scottish government provided millions of pounds of grants to celebrate its 700th anniversary in 2014.
The Battle of Flodden was the culmination of the largest ever Scottish invasion of England and is also the largest Anglo-Scottish battle in history. While the more famous Battle of Bannockburn involved 35,000 soldiers at most, there were probably twice as many at Flodden. The Scottish army was led by King James IV while Henry VIII was the King of England at the time. The conflict is also known as the Battle of Branxton but received its official name because the Scottish army was based at Flodden Edge. It proved to be a bloody and brutal affair as the Scots suffered one of their worst ever defeats.
In 1502, James IV of Scotland and Henry VII of England had agreed upon the Treaty of Perpetual Peace. The Scottish leader believed it was a formal recognition of his nation’s independence but this notion was quashed by Henry VIII who tore up the agreement soon after becoming king in 1509. Scotland had signed the Auld Alliance with France back in 1295 and was still subject to its terms. Both nations agreed to help one another should one of them get attacked by England and by 1513, French King Louis XII was ready to call in this favor from Scotland.
This was because of Henry VIII’s desire to make England a European superpower. In 1511, he joined in an alliance with Pope Julius II and Spain against France. Two years later, Henry launched his invasion of France and Louis appealed to Scotland for help as per the terms of the Auld Alliance. Although James was initially reluctant, he ultimately acquiesced and both England and Scotland were preparing for war early in 1513.
By the end of June, a large English force was on French soil having sailed from Dover to Calais. With the assistance of French troops, arms and ammunition, James was able to assemble the largest force Scotland had ever produced. The Scottish King crossed the border into England in August with an army of approximately 60,000 men. His goal was to draw English forces north to him and reduce the number of soldiers available for the French invasion.
James enjoyed initial success as he captured all of Northumberland’s major forts. However, the English were ready because the Scottish king followed chivalric protocol and informed Henry of his intent to attack one month before his invasion. As Henry was in France by this time, Catherine of Aragon was acting regent and she issued warrants for the seizure of the lands of all Scots in England on August 27. On September 3, she heard about James’ invasion and ordered Thomas Lovell to raise an army in the English Midlands.
However, it was Thomas Howard, the Earl of Surrey, who was given command of Henry’s army in the north of England and by early September, he had assembled an army of at least 26,000 men at Alnwick. Meanwhile, James’ forces began to dwindle as he had to spare some men for garrison duty. It is also true that thousands of men deserted him. By the time Surrey sent a diplomat offering battle on September 5, the Scottish army had numbered less than 40,000. Even so, the Scottish King was probably aware that he outnumbered his English counterpart and agreed to fight on September 9.