9 September 1513: James IV’s invading Scots army defeated at the Battle of Flodden

On this day in 1513, James IV of Scotland led a force of 30,000 Scots in battle against the English in Northumberland, where he and many of his nobles were killed.

Map of the Battle of Flodden Field © Print Collector/Getty Images
(Image credit: © Print Collector/Getty Images)

Before the unpleasant disagreement with Rome that led to the creation of the Church of England, Henry VIII was a good Catholic boy. And in 1513, he and his army were camped out at the siege of Thérouanne, defending Il Papa from who else, but the French.

Scotland, having been big pals with France since the forging of the Auld Alliance in 1295, was unhappy. So James IV sent an envoy to tell Henry to give it a rest, or he would invade England.

Henry wasn't impressed, declaring "If he be so hardy to invade my realm or cause to enter one foot of my ground, I shall make him as weary of his part as ever was man that began any such business". He charged Thomas Howard, AKA the Earl of Surrey, the Warden of the Northern Marches, with repelling any invasion.

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James ignored Henry's wise words, assembled an army of up to 30,000 men, and headed south to invade. As was customary for the time, he politely gave a month's notice of his plans. Rather like modern schoolboys arranging a fight outside the school gates at home time, the Earl of Surrey and James contracted to fight a battle near the village of Milfield in Northumberland, no later than 9 September.

James's army marched south, and, while he waited for the English army to arrive, prepared fortifications on Flodden Hill. Surrey and his men arrived nearby on the 8th. Early on the morning of the 9th, the English troops manoeuvred into position to the north of the Scots. When the Scots awoke, they found themselves outflanked.

By the afternoon, the two armies were facing each other on Branxton Moor. Three bloody hours later, between 1,000 and 4,000 English soldiers lay dead, and between 7,000 and 11,000 Scots. Crucially, James and most of his nobles died alongside them. He was the last king from the British Isles to die in battle.

Scots feared that the English would march on Edinburgh, which hastily constructed its Flodden Wall, still visible, in defence. But with its king and much of its nobility dead, Scotland was no longer seen as a threat.

Ben Judge

Ben studied modern languages at London University's Queen Mary College. After dabbling unhappily in local government finance for a while, he went to work for The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh. The launch of the paper's website, scotsman.com, in the early years of the dotcom craze, saw Ben move online to manage the Business and Motors channels before becoming deputy editor with responsibility for all aspects of online production for The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News websites, along with the papers' Edinburgh Festivals website.

Ben joined MoneyWeek as website editor in 2008, just as the Great Financial Crisis was brewing. He has written extensively for the website and magazine, with a particular emphasis on alternative finance and fintech, including blockchain and bitcoin. As an early adopter of bitcoin, Ben bought when the price was under $200, but went on to spend it all on foolish fripperies.