1513 and All That
As predicted this week’s Berwickshire
has devoted a lot of column inches to the Coldstreamers ride out to Flodden Field. 260 horsemen set off from Coldstream and unlike in 1513 they all returned safely. Every year a distinguished personality gives the oration; this year it was Lady Caroline Home whose family seat is the Hirsel just outside the town. The Homes (led by the third Earl) were represented at the battle in support of James IV of Scotland-the Coldstreamers carry the Home colours to the battle site. Lady Caroline was careful not to go into details about their role in this terrible defeat ( “ Flodden’s fatal field where shivered was poor Scotland’s spear and broken was her shield”).Some
historians claim that the Homes plus some other distinguished Borderers did not stay the course-having won their part of the battle they left at half time thus denuding James of some of his best fighters. Anyhow these orations are not exercises in blame allocation. The ceremony is to honour the dead of both nations and Lady C confined herself to talking about what other distinguished people had said or written about Flodden rather than attempting her own analysis. James came in for some criticism however as long before the engagement he tended to be a trifle accident prone. Ignoring local advice he was nearly drowned in the Tweed at Foulden during a period of (pre-Fish) flooding. He only just survived and subsequently built a church at Ladykirk on the Scottish bank in thanksgiving. His invasion of England was also frowned upon by his advisers who saw no point in opening hostilities with the old enemy at a time that the relationship was quite good and especially just to do a favour for the French who were under the cosh.
The whole venture was a tragic and in James case, a serious miscalculation. I think it is a pity if revisionists attribute noble motives to people who would not have recognised them at the time. Its all very well to paraphrase President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to try and make it appear that the dead of Flodden perished in a noble cause-as some speakers have done this and previous years. But it is downright silly to suggest that the Flowers of the Forest did not die in vain and that their death had anything to do with any struggle for democracy. Lincoln’s words are of the highest quality of oratory and strikingly appropriate for their time and place but they have no relevance to 16th Century Scotland or England. And not even the most revisionist academic has yet claimed that either James or the Earl of Surrey to the field to ensure that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth. Flodden's earth was covered in the perished but I doubt if there were many democrats amongst them