Today, 9 September, marks the anniversary of the Battle of Flodden, of the most significant military events in Scottish history, with far-reaching consequences for Edinburgh in particular, and Scotland as a whole.
In August 1513, King James IV of Scotland had given notice to his enemy, Henry VIII of England, that he intended to invade northern England. At that time, England and France had been at war, and in honour of the traditional 'auld alliance' between Scotland France, the invasion led by James IV was intended to draw troops away from the battle with France. As such it was always intended as something of a suicide mission, though nobody could have predicted how badly the Scots would fare.
James marshalled his troops on the Burgh Muir, roughly in the area where Bruntsfield stands today - the Bore Stone at the top of Morningside Road traditionally (but probably apocryphally) marks the spot where the troops mustered under James's banner, before beginning the march south.
Just over the border with England, outside Flodden in modern-day Northumberland, just past Coldstream, the English and Scots armies met. The landscape of the battlefield - being on a steep hill - and the English experience of battle and general preparedness, would lead to an ignominious defeat for James IV and the Scots. Figures on the casualty numbers vary, but it is generally agreed that the English lost between 1,200 and 1,500 men, whilst some estimates of the Scottish casualties reach as high as 17,000. It was a bitter defeat, and James IV died in battle - the last monarch from the British Isles to suffer such a fate.
Having recovered James's body on the battlefield, the English armies famously hacked him into pieces and dispatched his remains to France. It was the ultimate insult.
News of the disaster reached Edinburgh - some say it was foretold the night before by a ghostly apparition who appeared at the Mercat Cross on the Royal Mile, and read out the roll-call of all the names of those who died in the battle - and suddenly the city found itself incredibly vulnerable. Without an army to protect it, the city was at risk of invasion, and the wall built by James II in 1450 was not substantial enough to keep out an invading English army. And so a new plan was launched to construct a second, larger defensive wall around the south of the city.
The Flodden Wall, as it became, was a fearsome barrier, studded with watchtowers to allow for a more economic defence of the city with comparatively fewer soldiers. It took around sixty years to finish the construction, at least in part because in its early stages the wall was built by women and old people and children - the majority of the working age men of the city simply hadn't returned from Flodden...
Large portions of the Flodden Wall still stand today, and can be found in sections along the Vennel, south of the Grassmarket, in Greyfriars Kirkyard, and along the Pleasance in particular. This defeat of the Scots would be regarded as their worst defeat at the hands of the English, in terms of the number of losses their troops suffered, and the event was commemorated in poem and song by some of the country's creative figures - Walter Scott in particular wrote of the battle in Marmion, published in 1808.
An extract from Scott's poem is inscribed in stonework on the pavement of the Grassmarket, at the western end, which marks the line of where a demolished section of the Flodden Wall originally stood.
Find out more about the effects of Flodden with my Up-Close and Personal private walking tours of the city!
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