Return to Flodden 500 years on from bloodbath

Coldstreamer Grant Campbell leads the charge up Branxton Hill'Flodden Day rideout during Coldstream Civic week
Coldstreamer Grant Campbell leads the charge up Branxton Hill'Flodden Day rideout during Coldstream Civic week

It is just a few weeks short of 500 years since the Scots and English clashed in what became known as the Battle of Flodden.

Historians have argued for almost as long as to the significance of the bloody conflict that took place on English soil across the Tweed from Coldstream.

Burgh Standard is Lowered at Flodden Memorial Service

Burgh Standard is Lowered at Flodden Memorial Service

It was without doubt a massive and conclusive victory for the Earl of Surrey and his English army.

Scotland lost its King, James IV, and much of the country’s nobility and leading clergy. The battlefield was soaked in blood – most of it Scottish blood.

Surrey tasted that blood and went on to plunder, rape and kill. The Borders felt the heavy hand, boot and blade of his venom and wrath.

That was 500 years ago – on September 9, 1513. Now a memorial stands on the battlefield bearing the inscription: To the Brave of Both Nations.

Coldstreamer Grant Campbell leads the charge up Branxton Hill'Flodden Day rideout during Coldstream Civic week

Coldstreamer Grant Campbell leads the charge up Branxton Hill'Flodden Day rideout during Coldstream Civic week

And each year, during Coldstream Civic Week, a pilgrimage is made to that battlefield – a field of woe for Scotland. Coldstreamer Grant Campbell’s mounted cavalcade numbered 464 and 600 cars were counted in the temporary parks.

Flodden Day is seen as the pinnacle of Civic Week with riders crossing the Tweed by the bridge into England.

The commemorative ceremony on the battlefield was conducted in brilliant sunshine.

Coldstreamer Campbell had, earlier in the day, been charged by the Earl of Home to carry the Home Colours to the scene of the conflict and to return them unsullied.

Flodden Day rideout during Coldstream Civic week

Flodden Day rideout during Coldstream Civic week

He was also instructed and entrusted to cut a sod from the field of battle and return it to Coldstream. The sod ceremony is a tribute to Abbess Isabella Hoppringle and the nuns from Coldstream Priory who brought the bodies of many of the Scottish nobility back to Scotland for burial in consecrated ground.

Coldstream Pipe Band and a contingent of Coldstream Guards escorted Grant, proudly carrying the burgh flag, and his followers through the town to the border.

At the memorial , the Coldsteamer laid a wreath and in silence the flag was tipped in tribute.

Then it was back into saddle for the gallop up the hillside through a bale-strewn field to Branxton Hill where thousands had gathered.

Coldstreamer Grant Campell with the standard during the Branxton Hill service'Flodden Day rideout of Coldstream Civic week

Coldstreamer Grant Campell with the standard during the Branxton Hill service'Flodden Day rideout of Coldstream Civic week

It was clear that this, the 500th anniversary of the year of the battle, was something special. Flodden is an almost forgotten victory south of the border and – although it touched almost every city, town, village and hamlet north of the border – is not widely commemorated in Scotland. Not so here in the Borders – and in particular at Coldstream and Selkirk.

On Thursday there were poignant prayers; there was singing of hymns; there was sod-cutting; there was the dipping of the flag; there was silence and there was the sound of bugle – Last Post and the more reassuring Reveille.

This year’s oration was delivered by local MP and Scottish Secretary Michael Moore.

He told the gathering: “As with all Flodden-related ceremonies, we don’t just remember the strategic failure and the tactical disaster. With our English friends we remember the human dimension, humanity and inhumanity, side by side. Nobody needs to think why we still, 500 years on, commemorate or reflect on Flodden.”

And he concluded with the lines from Jane Elliot’s The Liltin’:

“We’ll hae nae mair liltin at the ewe milkin’,

Flodden Day rideout during Coldstream Civic week

Flodden Day rideout during Coldstream Civic week

Women an’ bairnies are heartless and awe;

Sighin’ and moanin’ on ilka green laonin’,

The flo’ers o’ the forest are a’ wede away.”

Crowds cheer on the cavalcade on Branxton Hill'Flodden Day rideout during Coldstream Civic week

Crowds cheer on the cavalcade on Branxton Hill'Flodden Day rideout during Coldstream Civic week