4. Documentary Research Project: An Introduction to the Documents

4. Image 2 - James IV and Queen Margaret from the Seton Armourial, 1591. Reproduced by permission of Sir Francis Ogilvy and the National Library of Scotland

Background and Historical Context

Before delving into the discoveries of the research volunteers the documents need to be considered in historical context, at local, national and international level. It is also important to consider a collective analysis of the information, before examining the documents on an individual basis.

The Border between England and Scotland

In 1513 England and Scotland were still separate sovereign nations and relations between the two have a long and turbulent history. The end of the 15th century saw frequent cross border military skirmishes which left its mark on both the people and the landscape. In an attempt to remedy the situation in 1502, Henry VII, (Henry VIII’s father), had brokered the ‘Treaty of Perpetual Peace’. Key to this Treaty was the marriage of his daughter Margaret Tudor to King James IV of Scotland. Thus the first tentative steps towards unification of the crowns and long-term peace between England and Scotland were taken.

4 Image 2 James IV and Queen MargaretJames IV and Queen Margaret from the Seton Armourial, 1591.
Reproduced by permission of Sir Francis Ogilvy and the National Library of Scotland.

The ‘Treaty’ sought to adopt a simplified system of administrative order and governance within the border regions of both countries. The ‘Borderlands’ had been divided for centuries into six defined areas or ‘Marches’. Three to the north of the border in Scotland and three to the south in England. These were known respectively as the East, Middle and West Marches. Each March was overseen by a warden who administrated a unique form of legislation known as ‘March Law’. These laws sat in parallel to the common law of each nation, some of which in modern terms may seem harsh or unjust. However, it is important to remember that in the early sixteenth century people may not have thought as we do today. They may have had different values, and priorities from our own. Regardless, these laws had far reaching effects.

This is the time of what became known as the ‘Border Reivers’. They were the inhabitants of the Marches whose lives had been sorely affected by the centuries of cross border conflict. An intrinsic means of survival were the mounted raiding parties, sent to steal from others regardless of nationality. As such they were highly skilled horsemen ‘considered the finest light cavalry in all of Europe’.1 To a ‘Borderer’ the possession he valued above all else was his horse! During times of war these Border Horsemen were paid or levied to fight as mercenaries. However, they could be an unruly bunch and it is reported that:

When fighting as part of larger English or Scottish armies, Borderers were difficult to control as many had relatives on both sides of the border, despite laws forbidding international marriage. They could claim to be of either nationality, describing themselves as Scottish or English as needed. They were badly-behaved in camp, frequently plundered for their own benefit instead of obeying orders, and there were always questions about how loyal they were.2

One such outlaw known as John ‘The Bastard’ Heron and his mounted followers known as the ‘Border Horse’ used their local knowledge of the terrain to great effect in support of the English at Flodden. Heron’s skills as a horseman, and those of his men undoubtedly saved The Earl of Surrey’s younger son Edmund from certain death during the battle.3 The somewhat lawless and unruly activities on the Border combined with military conflict shaped the region’s landscape too. Fortified buildings, towers or ‘bastles’, built to protect people and livestock in times of danger, remain a
feature of the countryside today. Collectively such unrelenting unrest played an important part in the politics and way of life in the region where the battle took place.

France and the ‘League of Cambrai’.

In 1509 Henry VIII, a young and inexperienced youth of 17, succeeded to the throne on his father’s death. In 1512 he joined the ‘League of Cambrai’ in support of the Pope, against French armies invading Italy and the continent. This was effectively an English declaration of war against France, which in turn, threatened the peace with Scotland brokered by his father. The Scots had been allied to the French under a much older understanding between them known as the ‘Auld Alliance’. This alliance dating from 1295 stipulated that if either Scotland or France was attacked by England, the other would come to the aid of the stricken nation and invade English territory.4 In addition to military support,4 Image 3 Henry VIII c 1513Henry VIII c. 1513 (TL-17964)
Reproduced by permission of the Berger Collection, Denver Art Museum.

this ‘Alliance’ afforded employment opportunities and beneficial trading terms between the two nations, particularly in the import of French wine of which the Scots were particularly fond.5

As a result of Henry’s military support for the pope against France, a plea for assistance under the terms of the ‘Auld Alliance’ was sent by the French King Louis XII, to James IV of Scotland. This led to tension once again brewing on the border with Scotland. The Earl of Surrey was dispatched northward in 1512 with an Army to prevent war and to quell local skirmishes. It would appear that on this occasion, the army didn’t reach the Scottish Border and progressed no further than Pontefract where the mission was aborted. However, the document transcribed referred to as the ‘Benstead Accounts’ which refers to this mission in 1512, contains a wealth of information regarding the size and cost of mounting such a military campaign.

The following year, on 30th June 1513 Henry departed for France with an invasion force consisting of many of England’s fighting elite, drawn mainly from the southern counties. This left the fighting men of the midlands and the north available, should they be required to fight elsewhere. As he left, Henry entrusted the guard of the border with Scotland once again to the care of the Earl of Surrey.

...he toke the Earle by the hande and sayde my
Lord I truste not the Scottes, therefore I praye you be
not negligent...6

He was right to be duly concerned. On 26th July, James IV wrote to Henry telling him to desist in his War with France, and of his intention to invade England, but Henry was having none of it. James claimed (amongst other matters) that this invasion was revenge for the unlawful killing in 1508, of Robert Kerr on a ‘Truce Day’ by the aforementioned John ‘The Bastard’ Heron.7 Further skirmishing on the Border ensued and in August a huge Scottish military force was despatched from Edinburgh, heading for England. Details of the size and extent of this army can be found in the ‘Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland’ Vol. 4 by James Balfour Paul, and is also listed in David H. Caldwell’s paper on James IV ‘On Land and Sea’.8

In anticipation of Scottish action, The Earl of Surrey had begun preparations for a counteroffensive. The contemporary chronicler Edward Hall describes Surrey’s preparations and progress north in some detail in ‘King Henry VIII’ Volume 1, commencing at page 96.9 Thus, it appears that a battle was inevitable.

A Preview of the Transcribed Documents

The following paragraphs illustrate what can be discovered when documents are correctly transcribed, and considered collectively with other contemporary sources. It further demonstrates that if a document is examined in isolation, it should be done so in its entirety rather than on an ‘extract by extract’ basis.

The vast majority of the documents transcribed were English in origin. This was not a deliberate decision, but due to a sparsity of surviving Scottish equivalents. Therefore the information they contain, particularly in the narrative accounts the ‘Articles of Battle’ and ‘Trewe Encounter’ will undoubtedly be biased in England’s favour reflecting their victory.

The financial records of ‘Edward Benstead’ relating to the period the Earl of Surrey spent at Pontefract during the abortive mission of 1512 are particularly informative. They immediately add colour by accounting for the coats of ‘white and grene’, at the cost of 4 shillings a piece worn by the entire entourage, even the Clerk, Thomas Warton was issued with such a coat.10 Interestingly the same coloured coats issued to the gunners of the ordnance cost less, at 20 old pence or 1 shilling 8 pence.11 Is this an indication that they perhaps differed in style and material to the rest?

The same accounts also detail the craftsmen and trades that made up the supporting entourage: surgeons, carpenters, wheelwrights, smiths, purveyors (to acquire provisions), yeoman carters, harness makers, bowyers and fletchers, as well as clerks and heralds. Their wages are itemised and range from Surrey himself, who received £5 per day, (a staggering £2,500 in today’s terms), to the ordnance gunners at 6 old pence per day, the modern equivalent just £12. The daily wage for the majority of ordinary soldiers and craftsmen was slightly more at 8 old pence or £16. The same amount appears to have been paid as conduct money or travelling expenses for every 20 miles journeyed to attend the Musters. These rates of pay appear unchanged for the following year, which directly relate to the battle in 1513 as accounted for by Sir Philp Tilney.

Both the 1512 and 1513 accounts when compared with the report of contemporary chronicler Edward Hall would indicate that there was a delineated route taken from London, close to that of ‘The Great North Road’. They would further indicate that Pontefract was an important staging post before heading on towards York, Durham and Newcastle. It is thought these may also be strategic muster points, where fighting men from the west would join the main body of the army. Evidence for this is contained within Edward Hall’s contemporary chronicle. He recounts that the Earl of Surrey wrote to the gentleman of the shires, asking them meet him in Newcastle on the 1st of
September with all their retinue.12

Could the proximity to Hull and the River Humber be of significance? Would it possibly afford an opportunity for supplies to come by sea, incurring minimal overland transportation? Other documents and further research would suggest that Hull was an important source of provisions, so this is certainly ‘food for thought’ and further investigation!

The Earl of Surrey’s Progress North in 1513

In 1513, Hall’s chronicle tracks Surrey’s progress northward to Newcastle, where he waited to be joined by his son Thomas, High Admiral and the fleet of ships under his command.13 This account is the first indication of the prevailing inclement weather conditions as Surrey fears for his son’s safety at sea. The state of the roads can only be imagined and the difficulties it posed to a large army transporting heavy ordnance must have been extremely challenging. Three days after leaving Newcastle the army reached Alnwick and the story is taken up by the ‘Trewe Encounter’.

Maureen Charlton has tackled this document which is an interesting example of early print. As Maureen points out, like many of the other documents it is undated so the exact date it was written is unclear. However, with a bit of digging it becomes apparent that it predates 1525, when the printer Richard Faques, changed his name to the more Anglicised form of Fakes. It appears that the document transcribed by the volunteers was, as Maureen says a facsimile:

...Reprinted 1809,
under revise of Mr Haslewood”- a sufficient guarantee for its minute
accuracy; and this I have been enabled to verify by actual comparison of
Haslewood’s reprint with the original tract, which evidently was defective
in the middle.14

If this dating of the document proves to be correct, then the original ‘Trewe Encounter’ differs very little from the account which appears in Hall’s chronicle. This might suggest the information came from the same source, albeit frustratingly, unnamed.

Narrative accounts of the actual battle have been widely studied and written about and the transcription process unearthed no new significant information. They do however hold clues as to the topography of the region. The hills providing both vantage points and cover would indicate an undulating terrain and a sparsity of trees. William Weaver Thomson’s Life in Northumberland during the Sixteenth Century written in 1897 rather supports this theory. Reports prepared for the King in 1538 by Leland, the Royal Antiquary states:

...that there was very
little wood between Newcastle and Tynemouth,
Newcastle and Morpeth, Alnwick and
Berwick. Almost none in Bamburghshire
and Redesdale and along the Tweed.15

Needless to say, Leland lays the blame for the apparent deforestation of large areas of Northumberland, firmly at the feet of Scottish raiding parties!

Geographic and Cultural Divides.

The ‘chivalric’ manner in which agreement was met between the leaders of both armies regarding the time and place the battle was to take place, forms a stark contrast to the culture of the ‘Borderer’. The complete opposite in fact. Their raiding parties mentioned earlier, relied on stealth, surprise and were often conducted in the dead of night.

Another indication of a north/south or regional/national cultural divide is indicated by the difficulty in locating the King’s body the day following the battle. Hall describes his theory as to why in his chronicle:

‘...because al the meane people aswell Scottes as Englysh were strypped
out of their apparel as they laye at the felde, yet at the laste
he was founde by the Lorde Dacres, who knew hym well
by hys pryvye tokens...16

It is unclear what is meant by ‘pryve tokens’ and would suggest items that were of no worth to the pillagers, or perhaps ‘too hot to handle’. Nevertheless, they provided sufficient means by which the King could be identified. Is it conceivable that they were the sword, dagger and ring that made their way into the Earl of Surrey and the Howard family’s possession? Whilst Hall obviously regards this pillage with some disdain, it may not have been regarded as such within the local community. Instead, it may simply have presented an opportunity to acquire certain basic items from those who no longer had need of them. The local people may also have had differing views on ‘death’ itself.

Whilst reverential treatment bestowed upon King James’s body was recorded, no evidence has yet been unearthed, despite in depth archaeological investigation, as to what became of the thousands of dead reported on the battlefield.

The Body of James IV

The accounts of Sir Philip Tilney describe the various costs and charges incurred ‘seryng, ledyng and sawdryng of the dede course of the King...’ which means wrapping his body in cere cloth, a type of waxed cotton used for the purpose, placing him in a lead coffin and soldering it shut.17 The total cost, which includes conveying the body to York and then on to Windsor, came to £12, 9s 10d or £6,043 in today’s money

Barry Prater’s article regarding ‘James IV and the Act of Dispensation’ whilst not directly referring to attitudes towards mortality, does examine the provisions made by James IV before the battle in favour of those who may fall in his service. This document was written at Twiselhaugh on 24th August 1513, and waived the payment of tax normally paid to the Crown upon inheritance. Whether James’s actions were benevolent or motivational, this ‘Act’ was still being referred to in matters of inheritance some fifty years later. No such corresponding arrangement has to date been sourced for their English counterparts, if you know differently, do tell us!

Spoils of War

Leading on from the apparent plunder of the field is the significance of ‘to the victor the spoils’. Obviously the Scottish cannon and ordnance were a great prize indeed, and deemed worthy of being guarded with further risk to life, but what about other items? A document dated after 9th September 1513 reports harness (armour) sold off the ‘Scottes Field’ and Julie Gregory in her article, ‘Distribution of Horses after Flodden’,18 tackles the distribution of horses following the battle. These horses were being allocated to ordinary men considered worthy of a prize in reward for their service. It provides evidence of the villages, parishes and manors who provided troops in support of Henry. It further demonstrates the distances travelled to the muster points, where men from the various regions joined the main body of the army.

As well as piecing together a map to illustrate the geographical spread, Julie further analyses the types of horses, their condition and types of injuries they had sustained. Whether these injuries are a result of battlefield action, or rather indicate the horses were dual purpose in nature, is certainly a topic worthy of further investigation and analysis. For example a ‘spavin’ in the hocks in the hind legs might indicate an animal that has been pulling heavy loads. Equally, the number of ‘injuries’ recorded to the ears of animals, rather than being wounds, may be an early form of ownership identification. What is your conclusion? Please do share your thoughts. Another reference to the dispersal of horses appears in Hall’s chronicle. It refers to a number of ‘geldyngs’ being taken during a skirmish in August of the same year. This would indicate that horses were indeed a valuable commodity, and the taking of them as a prize commonly accepted behaviour.

Alnwick Muster Roll

This ‘Muster Roll’ for 1514 was found amongst the records of the Duke of Northumberland. At the time of the battle in 1513, Henry Percy, 5th Earl of Northumberland was with King Henry and his army in France. This particular document although dated six months later, may contain the names of men who fought at Flodden with his younger brother Sir William. It includes information typically found in such a document. The name and often occupation of the man, the equipment and type of horse available to him (if any) should he be called up for service, is itemised. Possibly as a result of the ‘Archery Laws’ the most common weapon in their possession is a bow. Men listed in this type of document would typically be tenants of the Lord of the Manor, who under the feudal system of land ownership or occupation gave their service in time of war as part of their tenancy agreement.

It is fascinating to see so many names on the Alnwick Roll such as Stanton, Hodgson and Elder, which are still very much linked to the area today. As such this record and others like them, are a fantastic resource for one-name studies, researchers of family history and local historians alike.

The Language and Handwriting

Before considering the documents in isolation, this historical context would be incomplete without making reference to the language. The documents are predominantly written in a secretary hand, commonly used by scribes in this period to facilitate speed of writing. They can be
challenging to read, are highly phonetic in nature and contain many words that are unfamiliar as they have dropped out of use. Examples such as a ‘grete plompe’19 where plompe means mass, - a ‘great mass’ is used to describe the Scottish army at the commencement of the battle, ‘harness’ for armour20 and ‘scienth’ as in a ‘scienth of men’.21 The meaning of the latter remains unresolved, so any suggestions would be most welcome! This would suggest that language too is subject to an evolutionary process of change over the passage of time.

The contrast between written English and Scottish is also quite defined, the letter from James IV to Lord Dacre has to be one of the most difficult documents transcribed.22 It is heavily influenced by Latin with ‘qu’ in place of a ‘w’ at the beginning of words, as well as old Scots where a ‘z’ is used in place of a ‘y’ and by Anglo Saxon where a ‘y’ is used in place of ‘th’. However, Dr Bruce Durie having made an in depth study on the topic, explains that whilst the written word is unfamiliar, the words would been pronounced according to their modern usage.23

Extracts Cause Confusion

When piecing together a jigsaw puzzle the picture on the box is the guide. In the case of the Flodden jigsaw the pieces that made up the picture needed to be firstly identified, deciphered and extracted, before being reassembled. This process was made more taxing as many of the documents are undated, making them difficult to place in the context of an historical timeline, leaving the guiding ‘image’ incomplete. This was certainly the case with the Exchequer document E 101/61/27 which concerns the ships under the command of Thomas Howard, High Admiral.

This document will be familiar to followers of both the Flodden Campaign and the ship ‘Mary Rose’. Extracts appear in many well-known works on both subjects, but as just that - extracts, taken singly in isolation. Never before has the document been analysed in its entirety encompassing the role of the Mary Rose within the Flodden campaign of 1513. Hence these extracts often appear out of context to the events to which they actually relate. The article relating to this problematic document E 101/61/27 contains information on how this issue was resolved.

History cannot provide us with all the definitive answers, indeed it often raises more questions than it answers, but it can be truly staggering just how much can be learned from an in depth study of primary sources of the period. Details can emerge not just about the historical event itself, in this case the battle, the events leading up to, and immediately after it, but also about the economics, logistics, topography, class structure, social customs, language and dress. Many of the volunteers believe they have uncovered the mere tip of the iceberg and that further research will add yet more pieces to the jigsaw. Read on, to find out in more detail about some of the sources transcribed and
the information unearthed.


  1. Wikipedia, Border Reivers https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Border_Reivers.
  2. Wikipedia, Border Reivers https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Border_Reivers.
  3. British Battles http://www.britishbattles.com/anglo-scottish/battle-flodden.htm.
  4. Wikipedia, Auld Alliance https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auld_Alliance.
  5. Historic UK http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofScotland/The-Auld-Alliance-France
  6. Edward Hall, Henry VIII https://archive.org/stream/cu31924091758288#page/n131/mode/2up, p.
    96 Accessed 1.6.2016 (Edward Hall was a contemporary historian, known as a chronicler, who
    recorded events in a diary like format. However, it was written with the glorification of the English
    King as its primary objective and is therefore biased)
  7. A Transcript of this letter appears in Edward Hall King Henry the VIII pp 77-80. https://archive.org/stream/cu31924091758288#page/n111/mode/2up. 
  8. Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland’ Vol. 4 by James Balfour Paul. http://www.forgottenbooks.com/books/ Accounts_of_the_Lord_High_Treasurer_of_Scotland_v4_1000763143 David H Caldwell How Well
    Prepared was James IV to Fight by Land and Sea in 1513. pp 60-62 http://openjournals.library.usyd.edu.au/index.php/JSSSH/article/view/7374/7770. 
  9. Edward Hall Henry VIII https://archive.org/stream/cu31924091758288#page/n131/mode/2up.
  10. The equivalent in 2005 of £96.75 http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency/
  11. The equivalent in 2005 of £40.31 http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency/
  12. Timeline of events is available at http://www.flodden.net/pages/timeline
  13. This information along with other notable movements of the Scottish Army and happenings in
    France have been plotted into a useful timeline available at http://www.flodden.net/pages/
  14. Gordon E Duff, The Printers, Stationers and Bookbinders of Westminster and London from 1476 –
    1535 p171.
  15. William Weaver Thomson, Life in Northumberland during the Sixteenth Century, 1897.
  16. Edward Hall, Henry the VIII https://archive.org/stream/cu31924091758288#page/n147/mode/
    2up page 112.
  17. Information provided by Sean Cunningham, National Archives.
  18. The National Archives E101/56/28.
  19. Appears in the document known as the ‘Articles of Battle’.
  20. Document concerned with selling armour off the battle field National Archives SP 1/5 f.35 4442.
  21. Document relating to the ‘Ships’. National Archives E 101/61/27
  22. Letter from James IV to Dacre - Cotton Caligula B VI Dated 18th July 1513.
  23. Bruce Durie, Understanding Documents for Genealogists & Local History. Stroud, 2013.