Why did the Scots lose the Battle of Flodden? And why did the British win?

Why did the Scots lose the Battle of Flodden?

What was the significance of the Battle of Flodden?

The Battle of Flodden or Flodden Field occured on September 9, 1513 between the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland, resulting in an English victory. 

A disastrous day for Scotland. 

The battle was fought near Branxton in the county of Northumberland in northern England, between an invading Scots army under King James IV and an English army commanded by the Earl of Surrey. 

In terms of troop numbers, it was the largest battle fought between the two kingdoms.

Culloden Battle : British Civil War? Or Scotland’s Civil War?

While the young King Henry VIII was busy fighting in France, his brother-in-law King James IV of Scotland (husband of Henry’s sister Margaret Tudor) declared war on England. The French King Louis XII had invoked the Auld Alliance. This alliance was a French-Scottish defensive pact against English invasions.⁣

King James was killed that day and his son, James V, would become King of Scotland.

James IV

The Scottish King James the V was an impressive renaissance king and one of the best peacetime monarchs Scotland ever had. 

His father James IV would march south and cross the River Tweed into England with an estimate of between 30 and 40,000 troops.

Moreover, this was one of the largest Scottish armies ever assembeld. In addition, James and his men would occupy castles along the way to the battle.

Norham Castle, which fell to the Scots on 29 August after a six-day bombardment by James’s artillery.

After besieging and capturing a number of English border castles, James encamped his invading army on a commanding hilltop position at Flodden and awaited the English force.

James IV captured Ford Castle from Lady Heron

English troops of about 26,000 men under Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, marched north.

Surrey sent an invitation to do battle on an arranged date, James rejected this request.

Of course the troop numbers are an estimate. According to various sources the troop size was anywhere from 25,000 to as much as 60,000 which seems awfully high. 

A map published in 1859, showing the features of the battlefield at Flodden.

There were maybe a few isolated leaders on horseback, but this was a bloody battle fought man to man in combat, Horses were used for transport mostly in this particular battle, and King James V was on foot when he was killed. 

A schiltron is a compact body of troops forming a battle array, shield wall or phalanx. 

The term is most often associated with Scottish pike formations during the Wars of Scottish Independence in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, James had positioned himself in front of one when he was killed during the battle. 


An 1873 artist’s impression of the hand-to-hand fighting at the height of the battle.

The Scottish nobility fought in the front rank of the battle and suffered heavy losses.

The armies eventually battled on Branxton Hill near Flodden, having reversed positions – the Scots facing north and the English facing south, backed against the Tweed. After four hours of hand-to-hand combat, the turning point came when James himself fell in battle. 

A view of Flodden Hill which shows its steep gradient. The crest of the hill was without trees at the time of the battle.
From a tactical perspective the Scots marched a pike formation into marsh land. 
The western side of the battlefield, looking south-south-east from the monument erected in 1910. towards Branxton Hill on the skyline. The Scottish army advanced down the ploughed field, the English down the grassy field in the foreground. The modern boundary between the two fields marks the position of the marsh encountered by the Scots.

That was not the best combat tactic for the battle, the pike formation worked poorly in the marsh. Furthermore, the Scots also advanced on the Cheshire archers who inflicted casualties on the unarmoured pike blocks as they came in. 

Lastly, the English brought light field guns rather than heavy siege weapons which appear to have outperformed the heavier slower guns. 

Most importantly, is that Surrey outmaneuvered the Scots and forced them to try to keep Branxton Hill when they were not ready. 

Twizell (or Twizel) Bridge, which allowed the English artillery to cross the River Till and outflank the Scottish Army.

The Scots suffered the heaviest defeat in their history, with accounts varying anywhere between 5 and 17,000. In addition, many nobility met their end alongside their king. The battle became known for the victory of one weapon over another – the English bill over the Scottish pike.⁣

James was the last monarch from the British Isles to die in battle.⁣

The Flooden Augmentation on the Coat of Arms celebrating the death of the Scottish King during the battle.

Barker, Thomas Jones; News of Battle: Edinburgh after Flodden; Fife Council; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/news-of-battle-edinburgh-after-flodden-124461
British (English) School; Imaginary Monument to Thomas Fitzwilliam (d.1513) and John Fitzwilliam (before 1498-1513); National Trust, Oxburgh Hall; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/imaginary-monument-to-thomas-fitzwilliam-d-1513-and-john-fitzwilliam-before-14981513-171553

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Why did the Scots lose the Battle of Flodden?