Flodden field, where the flower of Scottish manhood was slaughtered

JAMES IV's invasion of England was an unpopular cause with some of his countrymen. However, he was committed to Scotland’s alliance with France and when Henry VIII joined the Holy League against that country and invaded, James IV came to his ally's aid.

The Scots King gathered his army in what is now the Morningside area of Edinburgh. The army crossed into England in August 1513 and besieged Norham Castle in Northumberland. Although impossible to confirm, there is speculation that the King further alienated his commanders by dallying for several days with an English lady following one of the sieges.

The two armies met at Flodden Field, just south of Coldstream, by which time James IV's army had been reduced by desertions to around 30,000 men. The Scots King ignored a chivalric agreement with Lord Surrey, the English commander, and positioned his force on Flodden Hill where James’s artillery could attack an English advance from the south.

However, Surrey’s troops saw the ploy and circled their forces over the River Till around the back of the Scots, cutting off their retreat. According to some, James IV’s first mistake was not attacking the English as they took position. Instead, he had his forces re-deploy to the adjacent Branxton Hill.

The battle began on 9 September with a bombardment. The Scots artillery of heavy cannon proved to be ineffective on the battlefield, flying over the English forces. Left with no choice, the Scots charged in a diagonal line with the right flank in the lead.

At first the battle went well as the Scots' pikes on the right charged on solid ground and forced the first line of English soldiers under Edmund Howard to flee. But the English Border Lancers, cavalry under Thomas Lord Dacre, rescued the stricken English commander.

The Scots centre under the Earls of Errol, Crawford and Montrose met the English centre moments later, but the pikemen lost formation on marshland and were cut down by English archers and superior infantry. James IV, leading his own contingent of pikemen suffered a similar fate. With their backs to Branxton Hill, the Scots could not retreat and the battle turned into a rout.

The Scots were defeated by England’s superior tactics and technology. Their 18ft pikes, largely unchanged from Bannockburn and adapted to Swiss tactics, were no match for English billhooks in close quarters. The battle was also the first in Britain to show the dominance of artillery, and that the Scots had not adapted as well to the new weapon.

Defeat at Flodden was a disaster for Scotland. Around 10,000 men and the flower of Scotland's nobility were killed. James IV died as he attempted a suicidal charge to engage Lord Surrey in personal combat. The terrible price of Flodden is remembered in the ballad of the Flowers of the Forest, recomposed from the original in the 18th century.