A hundred re-enactors helped solve a 500-year-old mystery at sunny Flodden on Sunday, in a bid to discover why the Scots lost so many lives.
10,000 Scots soldiers – and King James IV – died on a wet, slushy battlefield half a millennia ago on September 9, 1513, compared to only 4,000 in Henry VIII’s smaller English army.
The massacre bequeathed a loss summed up by Sir Walter Scott’s poem Marmion (‘Tradition, legend, tune, and song, shall many an age that wail prolong’), and a question puzzling historians for five centuries until last weekend: ‘Why did the Scots lose so badly?’
“Bannockburn was Scotland’s greatest victory, and Flodden its most significant defeat,” Glasgow University archaeologist Dr Tony Pollard explained.
His experiment harnessed 20 ‘pikemen’ commemorating Flodden’s 500th anniversary on Sunday, to replicate for the first time what happened to thousands of Scots advancing down Branxton Hill, armed with 18ft pikes – a Swiss technology newly adopted by Scotland’s ‘Renaissance King’.
Dr Pollard commented: “The idea was they would move in impenetrable blocks of thousands of men. But the steep slope made cohesion impossible, so the English, who were waiting at the bottom, were able to parry the pikes out of the way with their shorter weapons, called bills, and hack the Scots to pieces. I wish it rained to recreate the conditions. We’re onto something, but to be sure we need to make it bigger, and wetter.”