Saturday, November 16, 2013

Anniversary, missed

500 years ago at the beginning of September*, the fields at Flodden saw the largest battle ever fought between the Kingdoms of England and Scotland.  Perhaps sixty thousand men hacked and stabbed at each other, the Scottish pikes against the English Halberds.

The battle was a mix of the new and the old.  King Henry VIII (yes, that Henry VIII) had equipped his army with the latest mobile field artillery that the French had used two decades before in their blitzkrieg conquest of Italy.  But the old longbow was still present, as were the halberds of medieval times.  The Scots perhaps doomed themselves by an excess of chivalry: King James IV refused to allow his guns to fire on the English artillery as it crossed a bridge, losing an opportunity to take out a major enemy asset.  Scottish officers occupied the front row of the phalanx, showing the world their courage but risking loss of command and control if they fell.  Indeed, the battle was fought almost by appointment: the Earl of Surrey asked King James to kindly wait until noon, and the King condescended to agree.

It was an appointment with death for the King and thousands of his troops - maybe ten thousand or more.  The battle was such a disaster that it was immortalized in a pipe lament, "The Flowers Of The Fields":
We'll hae nae mair lilting, at the yowe-milking,
Women and bairns are dowie and wae.
Sighing and moaning, on ilka green loaning,
The flowers of the forest are all wede away.
We heard that last week, at least in Commonwealth nations: this is the almost universal military funeral dirge.  Indeed, there is a tradition among pipers that it is not to be played except at funerals and memorial services.

* I don't know how I missed an anniversary this significant (actually, I do: I was traveling back from helping Mom move and had been more or less off the Internet for a week).


Anonymous said...

Always an excuse for the poor scots, remember this was an act of naked aggression on the part of the scots against England. They attacked England on behalf of the French acting as they always did as French lapdogs doing what they were told. The scots were ultimately let down by french advisers as to military tactics and training. The queen of Scotland Henry 8th's sister Margaret advised her husband not to take on England at his peril and breaking his peace treaty at the same time.

Anonymous said...

Also this is the biggest ass kicking the Scots ever had. No Mel Gibson film for them.