The Battle of Flodden
The Battle of Flodden was fought on a rolling hillside at Flodden, near Coldstream on the English-Scottish Border, on 9 September 1513. An estimated 10,000 Scots, many of whom were Borderers, died as they fought in vain beside their king to prevent the English subjecting them to their rule.
For nearly 100 years, the triumph for the Scots at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 had seen Robert the Bruce assert Scottish independence from England, cemented in theory by the Treaty of Perpetual Peace in 1502. However, relations soured, and, after an increasingly aggressive Henry VIII of England declared himself the overlord of Scotland, James IV of Scotland felt obliged to declare war, as part of of the Scots’ ‘Auld Alliance’ with the French, with whom Henry was in conflict at the time.
The Scots army of some 34,000 outnumbered the English by approximately 8,000, but some manoeuvring saw the Scots fighting in an unforeseen boggy marsh unsuited to their long pikes and heavy artillery. The result was a victory for the English force, equipped with their weaponry of the more flexible bill, plus a substantial force of archers. The English, led by Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, inflicted the heaviest defeat in Scottish history after savage and bloody hand-to-hand fighting, and in doing so stripped Scotland of almost every level of leader and nobleman.
Selkirk’s particular connection to the battle of Flodden includes the tale that a band of ‘souters’, or ‘shoemakers’, as Selkirk natives are known, was led to the battle by the town clerk, one William Brydon, who was knighted on the battlefield for his bravery.
In addition, the Forest, comprising Selkirkshire, large parts of Peeblesshire and parts of Clydesdale, was known for its archers. The archers of specifically Ettrick Forest were christened ‘The Flowers of the Forest’ after the 1298 Battle of Falkirk, and at Flodden formed James IV’s bodyguard, all of whom were killed alongside their king. The song ‘The Flowers O’ The Forest’, a traditional melody with lyrics added by Jean Elliot in 1756, is a lament for the fallen men of Flodden, and one with local poignancy to this day.
Selkirk’s Common Riding maintains its traditions in remembering that fateful day in 1513 with the “Casting of the Colours”, commemorating the 80 townsmen who left to fight for King James IV, with just one solitary man returning.
Selkirk legend tells of families seeing the town’s sole survivor of that battle, a soldier named Fletcher, casting a captured English standard around his head and lowering its tip to the ground, in doing conveying to all that everyone was slain, before succumbing himself to his wounds. The Fletcher Statue, outside the Victoria Halls in Scott’s Place, was sculpted by Thomas J. Clapperton and unveiled in 1913 for the battle’s 400th anniversary.