47. Flodden: What have we learnt?


‘Flodden’! That place-name is instantly recognisable to anyone with even just a cursory acquaintance with British history. It is one of only a handful of battles the vital statistics of which can be reeled off by most Brits – 1513/Scots versus English/death of King James IV of Scotland.

It has been the subject of many books and learned papers, written with the help of relatively ample contemporary sources. There is a fair amount of agreement amongst experts as to what happened in the battle, who was involved, and the tactics and weapons that were employed. The identification of the actual battlefield had not been in serious doubt in recent times, and this location is accessible and unencumbered with later structures. Yet 500 years on it is certainly time to review what we know about Flodden, what it means to us nowadays, and achieve wider interest and recognition of what it was all about.

The Flodden 500 Project has been about that. It grew out of the local community’s desire to recognise the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden which was initiated in 2008. Following intense work by a small steering group of community representatives and professionals, and wide engagement with a large and committed stakeholder group, the first achievement was establishing the Flodden 1513 Ecomuseum supported by a Leader+ grant in 2010-11. This was followed by the Flodden 500 project supported by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to commemorate the anniversary itself, expand the ecomuseum network, engage many school children and ‘discover’ more about the battle and its context. This discovery strand of activity is the focus of this article. It contained three main areas of activity: archaeology; archival research; the routes to Flodden. Simple questions have been asked again, like how do we know what happened and where did it take place. New sources of information have been sought and old ones revisited. The actual battle has been placed in a wider context. This synopsis provides an overview of the achievements and suggests what else might be done in the future. It includes the fieldwork undertaken in 2007 by the Remembering Flodden organisation. It covers not just archaeological fieldwork but also studies of related artefacts, documents and maps.

The Archaeology

The key component of the project has been archaeological investigation, both within and around the area defined in the Register of Historic Battlefields maintained by Historic England as the Flodden battlefield. Specific attention has been given to two spots, one identified as where the Scots camped and the other said to be where the two armies clashed on 9 September 1513. A re-examination by John Nolan of early accounts of the battle and the reported discoveries of alleged battlefield artefacts and graves immediately called into question the level of near absolute confidence with which these locations had been identified.

Earthworks, remains of ramparts, on the summit of Flodden Hill, have long been identified as the remains of the Scots’ camp. In the event excavations failed to yield any evidence of the putative 1513 encampment, and pottery and carbon-dating indicate that the rectangular inner enclosure is basically Iron Age. This enclosure appears to be superimposed on an earlier bivallate hill-fort. The presence of these earthworks might have attracted the Scots to the hill top in 1513 since they would have provided a certain amount of shelter, and might even have been modified by them. No archaeological evidence, however, was found for activity in September 1513.

The entire Scottish force could not have been stationed on Flodden Hill alone. A rough and ready guess might suppose a total area for the Scots’ camp of a square mile, or even more. It was therefore decided to excavate other locations along Flodden Edge. In 2001 Tony Pollard and Neil Oliver had dug what they interpreted as a gun emplacement on the north-east slope of the hill. This was featured in the ‘Two Men in a Trench’ television series and a popular publication,but may have been nothing more than a quarry pit of no great age. The sites targeted for the project were two cropmarks, one in the saddle between Flodden Hill and King’s Chair Hill, and the other to the south of this location. Both of these also turned out to be iron age enclosures with no compelling signs of activity relating to events in September 1513.

The Flodden monument erected in 1910 has fixed the battle location for all visitors ever since.It overlooks the slope of Branxton Hill along the crest of which the Scottish army is thought to have lined up at the beginning of the battle, and was believed to mark the spot where the Scottish king fell. This was described in a work first published in 1580 by the English historian, John Stow, as ‘Bramstone upon Piperd hill’,but there cannot be complete confidence that the monument stands in the place identified by him. The name ‘Piper’s Hill’ was applied by a 19th-century vicar to what was (and still is) called Stock Law. Re-evaluation of earlier reports of finds allegedly associated with the battle, including cannon balls, has failed to provide supporting evidence to confirm the battlefield location. Most of these discoveries have, at best, vague or inexact find locations. Human bones are also said to have been discovered, including a pit full of them in the Project’s field 19, another pit at Branxton churchyard, and more in the vicinity of the battlefield monument. While it is reasonable to suppose that the bodies of many of the dead, especially the Scots, will have been buried in mass graves near where they died, convincing evidence is still to be recovered for such burial pits.

A metal detecting survey of the battlefield was a priority for the Project, and this led to the recovery of over 50 pieces of lead shot, many from the vicinity of the Flodden monument (field 7) and field 18, not far to the northwest. There is, however, no documentary evidence for the use of hand guns in the battle, and it is reasonable to interpret this shot as the result of several hundred years of recreational shooting in this area in the years since 1513.

Four small cannonballs are much more likely to relate to events on 9 September 1513. One of these, a piece of shot about 47mm in diameter, consisting of lead with an iron core, was recovered in 2001 by Pollard and Oliver in field 26, just to the north of Branxton Hill Farm. In 2007 a further two lead/iron composite cannonballs were found in field 19 by Glenn Foard and a team from the Battlefield Trust. They have diameters of about 49mm and 50mm. A fourth cannonball, about 21mm in diameter, this time of lead cast around a pebble, was found by the Project in field 68 near Branxton Moor Farm. None of the other finds recovered by metal detecting could be identified as artefacts likely to date to the time of the battle.

Dr Chris Burgess, Flodden 500 Archaeology Manager, saw the importance for the project of focussing archaeological attention on two of the castles, Norham and Wark, besieged and captured by the Scots in 1513, and excavations at both were undertaken by Richard Carlton. Since little documentary information is available as to the course of these sieges, it was hoped that archaeological fieldwork would add significant new information.

In the case of Norham, a major English fortification on the South bank of the Tweed where it forms the border between England and Scotland, consideration was also given to the adjacent Scottish territory at Ladykirk on the other side of the Tweed since it has long been suspected that this is where the Scottish guns were positioned. In May 2012 Guard Archaeology Ltd were commissioned to undertake geophysical surveys there. Four possible artillery emplacements were identified, possibly dating to siege operations in 1496 and 1513. At Norham another possible artillery emplacement was located adjacent to the castle along with other structures possibly of 16th century date.

Metal detecting surveys were also undertaken at Norham and Ladykirk in the hope of recovering artefacts that might relate to the siege. Apart from several pieces of lead shot in the former location, three small composite lead/iron cannonballs were found and in the latter a further eight such pieces, as well as twelve containing a pebble or piece of quartz. All these composite pieces of shot could date to 1513.

In April 2013 trenches were opened south of Norham Castle where geophysical survey indicated areas of hard standing which could be interpreted as structural; it was found that these areas were indeed concentrated deposits of rubble and contained within them some inserted slots which could tentatively be interpreted as remains of wooden buildings. A few sherds of medieval pottery were recovered from these deposits, as was a quantity of scrap lead and a cannon ball of late medieval type, suggesting that small-scale industrial activities, including perhaps the manufacture of ordnance, may have been taking place there.

In July 2015 a second phase of excavation took place on earthworks associated with the castle, at the east end of Norham village. Here, a number of possible military features, including a road, two bastions and other military emplacements were investigated, but all appeared to be of later date than 1513.

Wark is another major English fortress facing directly on to the border with Scotland from the south side of the Tweed. There is no contemporary documentary information available on its siege and fall in 1513. Archaeology, therefore, appeared to offer an opportunity to answer questions about the layout of the English defences and the direction of the Scottish attack. It was believed that it was most likely to have come from Fireburn Mill on the north side of the Tweed or from directly west of the castle on the south side. Geophysical survey was carried out on a large, flattish area of land to the west of the castle which it is thought may have served as an additional ward of the castle when troops massed for campaigns. Archaeological trenches in 2013 were sited to investigate a number of possible features suggested by the geophysical survey, and in 2015 a number of additional test-pits and trenches were placed in positions thought promising for reasons of topography.

These excavations tended to support the theory that this area had from time to time served in medieval times as a camp for troops. The area was bounded to the west by a substantial revetment wall banked up with earth, which may be of medieval date but is thought likely to be later, perhaps associated with post-Flodden modifications to the castle recommended in a survey of 1541. A number of pits found to the west of this wall, containing abundant medieval pottery and other domestic waste, may have served as latrines for large numbers of men.

In October 2014 Richard Carlton turned to Ellemford in Scotland with the aim of identifying traces of the encampment of the Scottish army immediately prior to its march into England. It was believed that it would have been on the flood plain on the north bank of the Whiteadder Water adjacent to the present bridge. Geophysical survey produced a number of anomalies, but none proved to be archaeologically significant and no other archaeological features of note were recorded during excavation. It was clear that this land east of the bridge had been scoured repeatedly by flooding, thereby reducing the likelihood of survival of archaeological features and finds. A single trench in the area west of the bridge produced a few sherds of medieval pottery in mixed deposits and, in retrospect, it is considered more likely that significant remains may survive in this area, or on raised terraces above the flood plain.

Subsequent to the main phase of archaeological excavation a number of test-pits were opened in the area around the medieval kirk above the flood plain, resulting in the discovery of medieval pottery associated with domestic activity, perhaps associated with the kirk or a putative towerhouse.

Archival Research

For anyone with a moderate amount of knowledge as an historian and a considerable desire to understand Flodden the documentary sources are not too hard to locate. They have been well used by a number of writers on the battle and are all accessible in print. State Scottish and English papers and letters of the period (especially James IV Letters and Henry VIII Letters & Papers) are obviously of prime importance but are at best providing partisan political viewpoints, and often just reporting hearsay or wishful thinking. These shortcomings are even clearer with diplomatic reports garnered for other powers, especially Venice, also included in Henry VIII Letters & Papers.

Administrative and financial documents connected with the English mobilisation can be found in Henry VIII Letters & Papers, and the accounts of the Scottish Lord Treasurer (TA) are a crucial source of information on the Scottish artillery train, the employment of specialists, and the mobilisation in August 1513. Early histories are also of importance. Of the English ones, Edward Hall’s Chronicle, first published in 1542 (Hall’s Chronicle), has most to offer. Rather more can be gleaned from 16th-century Scottish historians, but here there is a significant challenge in knowing to what extent they can be relied upon. Two in particular, worthy of consideration, are the history by George Buchanan (Buchanan, History), first published in 1582, the year of his death, and Robert Lindsay of Pitscottie’s history (Pitscottie, Historie), penned in the years before his death about 1586. There are obvious challenges in interpreting all of these sources and assessing their worth.

Most scholars have been content to use the printed versions of documents given in Henry VIII Letters & Papers but they are not complete transcripts of the originals, and the editors who calendared them sometimes suppressed or omitted detailed information that would now be of considerable interest to us. For instance, Henry VIII Letters & Papers (vol 1: no 2460) has the following entry:

“The book of horses and mares taken by the inhabitants of Cumberland and Northumberland off the field of Branxston the 9th day of September the fifth year of the reign of our sovereign lord King Henry the Eighth being within the bounds and authority of Thomas lord Dacre and of Graystok, warden of the Marches; and the delivery of the same horses and mares to the persons within written upon their book oaths severally made afore the officers of the said lord warden before the 26 day of November then next ensuing.”

[Each horse is described, e.g. “a bay trotting horse,” “a grey mare with one eye,” “a grey trotting nag with a cloudy face,” and the names and dwellings of those who receive them are given.]

Delivered out of Gilcammyn in Cumberland 221 horses including five dead and twelve which remaind there unclaimed on 26 Nov. last. Taken by inhabitants of Northumberland and delivered at Morpeth, 76.

Now that this document has been fully transcribed for the project it is clear that much of interest can be learned from it. Most obviously, it provides the names and places of residence of over 200 Englishmen who, it can reasonably be assumed, took part in the campaign – horsemen under the command of Lord Dacre. It appears that some of the horses were the actual beasts abandoned or lost by the recipients at the time of the battle and now reclaimed by them. Hence it is noted in some entries that oaths were given on delivery of the horses. Many of the animals may have been provided as compensation for those lost on the day, and might well be horses left by the Scots.

This documentary research project, led by Linda Bankier, the Berwick-Upon-Tweed Archivist, reviewed primary documentary sources for the whole of the Border area up to 1603, and involved collaboration with other archives, including The National Archives at Kew, Carlisle Record Office, The National Archives of Scotland, and The Duke of Northumberland’s Archives at Alnwick Castle.

Amongst the other documents with relevance to Flodden which were fully transcribed are two calendared in Henry VIII Letters & Papers (vol 1: nos 2651, 2652). The former is the account presented by Sir Philip Tilney, Treasurer of the Wars, for expenditure in connection with the Flodden campaign; the latter details the expenditure incurred by Thomas Howard in connection with the fleet. The two together will form the basis of a much more complete understanding of the English campaign. Entries include the costs of coats in the king’s livery provided for Surrey’s retinue of 500 men and other officers, and enshrouding the body of James IV, sealing it in a lead coffin and transporting it to Windsor. The role played by a ship that still largely survives – the Mary Rose – is evident. Perhaps of most importance, a study of the sums of money paid as wages and conduct money should allow a calculation to be made of the size of the English army.

Another archival project, led by Paul Brough, the archivist at the Hawick Heritage Hub, sought to find documents from Scottish family history collections with relevance to Flodden. Transcriptions of over 100 documents were made from the Douglas Archives.

Routes to Flodden

The initial idea of looking at how the Scottish army got to Flodden developed into studies of late medieval routes, who was involved in the campaign and how they were organised. All this provided much more data and understanding on what happened in August-September 1513 and what it was like for the many Scots who participated. This project also provided opportunities for many volunteers and researchers based all over Scotland to consider how local knowledge and archives could add to the overall picture, and also to get out and look for the actual routes. The documentary side of this research was undertaken by David Caldwell and Richard Carlton directed excavations and fieldwork aimed at identifying the presence of Scottish contingents on their way to and from Flodden.

The initial supposition that a large mass of men marched south from Edinburgh to a muster point at Ellemford, and then across the Tweed into England, very soon appeared an inadequate explanation of events. Although there is little surviving documentation for troop movements, either anecdotal or in the form of official paperwork, it seemed reasonable to extrapolate information from other better documented military campaigns of the late 15th and early 16th century. From these it was evident that there was a choice of routes through the Borders to Ellem, and there might be quite sophisticated plans put in place to spread different contingents out and avoid bottlenecks and traffic jams as they all converged on Ellem.

It was also clear that these routes did not all coincide with the present day road system. Some, like the road down the valley of the Whiteadder Water, now represented by an unclassified road heading southeast wards from Garvald and then the B6355, were of more importance than nowadays, and the major route-way southwards from Lauder was in 1513 not on the line of the modern A68. Indeed, in this case there is a choice of roads, including the Roman Dere Street and the medieval ‘Malcolm’s Road’ and Girthgate. More fieldwork may well help resolve the likely choice in 1513.

The availability of bridges, fords and ferries for river crossings would have loomed large in planning, especially for moving the substantial artillery train. That the artillery train, destined to besiege English castles, was sent from Edinburgh via Haddington in September 1496, strongly suggests that bridges were then operational on the River Esk at Musselburgh and on the Tyne at or near Haddington. This way would probably have been taken by some of the contingents in 1513, although payments recorded by the Lord Treasurer in connection with a tragedy in Dalkeith, an ox being run over by a cannon, indicate a different road for the artillery train, presumably from Dalkeith and then on to Lauder.

It would make sense if the artillery train then crossed the River Tweed on a bridge near Melrose. That would strongly indicate that it headed from Lauder on the Girthgate and would have major implications for how the Scottish campaign developed, with the Scottish guns arriving at Wark Castle and Norham Castle from the southwest. But was that bridge near Melrose in place in 1513? It certainly was in 1523. Establishing the availability of this bridge in 1513 could tell us so much about events in September of that year. While it is unlikely that other documents will be discovered which shed any light on this it is just possible that archaeology might provide an answer, assuming that remains of the bridge can be identified.

Establishing route-ways from Edinburgh to Ellem led on to a realisation that the former place was neither the starting point nor a way station for so many who took part in the campaign. There was never any serious doubt about the involvement of Scots from the length and breadth of the kingdom, a fact readily confirmed by a study of the participation of the nobility – in many cases only recorded through their deaths in the battle. It was not practical to undertake a detailed documentary and fieldwork survey of all the roads of late medieval Scotland, but two interesting points did emerge. First, much can be discovered about the route of such roads, the availability and nature of river crossings, from documentary sources. For instance the payments, recorded by the Lord Treasurer, made on behalf of King James IV as he travelled on pilgrimage to Tain and Whithorn, provide a record of river crossings, overnight stops, etc. Second, an overview of late medieval military administration and campaigns suggests procedures that would have been well understood and put in practice in 1513, including detailed instructions for the call out of men to fight and initial gatherings supervised by sheriffs and other royal officers in the shires. These was followed by a convergence on regional gathering points like Stirling, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Lanark and Lauder, and finally the full muster at Ellem where the fighting force would have been arrayed and reviewed prior to the march into England.

All of this begs the question of who was involved. How large was the army? An examination of the sources for 1513, backed up by a wider review of medieval military campaigns, provides information on a whole range of people who took part in the campaign apart from those required to man the battles (battalions) on the day of the battle. They included specialist gunners and craftsmen to help with the artillery, French experts, baggage attendants and boys to look after the horses, and men – and even women – offering a range of other services. Over and above the people were large numbers of beasts, mostly horses, for carriage of goods and for riding, but also oxen for pulling the guns and other animals as meat on the hoof.

Contemporary reports on the Scottish army give a wide range of estimates of the number of fighting men from about 40,000 to over 100,000. The report written in the immediate aftermath of the battle by one of the English commanders, Sir Thomas Howard, for sending to Henry VIII, is especially interesting. He gives the Scottish army as 80,000 men, but then in the detailed account of what happened notes that the Scottish army was divided into five battles, and describes one, led by the Earls of Huntly, Errol and Crawford, as being 6,000 strong. Since all five battles would have been approximately of the same size, that would surely indicate that the army, on the basis of Howard’s reckoning, really consisted of 30,000 men, not the headline figure of 80,000 men.4 Even that figure of 30,000 may be too high.

A reasonably modest estimate for the overall numbers of men and beasts that went to Flodden, admittedly involving a good amount of guesswork, might be as follows:

Fighting men 20,000
Specialists 500
Non-combatants 15,000
Large pieces of artillery 17
Oxen for pulling guns, etc 400
Horses for riding 5,000
Carriage horses 100
Baggage horses 1,000
Sheep and cows for eating 200

Whatever the exact numbers involved there can be no doubt that the Flodden campaign involved people the length and breadth of Scotland and the defeat and aftermath affected communities everywhere. It is right that Flodden should not just be understood as a battle fought by two armies but, in the case of the Scots (and no doubt English when subjected to the same level of scrutiny) a fighting force backed by many others and representing communities all over the realm.

Additional fieldwork and map-based studies were undertaken in order to finesse and extend the results of this documentary research on the likely routes taken by James IV and his army to Flodden. As a result of this, a number of sites thought likely to have been used by the Scottish army, whether because they were mentioned in contemporary documents or are thought to have existed as structures in the early 16th century, were chosen for further investigation. Windy Windshiel, a multi-phase farmstead high on the north flank of the Whiteadder Valley, previously investigated by Flodden volunteer Barry Prater, was recorded and excavated. This confirmed the likely 16th or 17th century origins of its west ‘tower’ and revealed a dense scatter of medieval and early postmedieval artefacts, including a coin of Edward I. The ruins of a house at Spottiswoode were also investigated to ascertain its date, while a metal-detecting day was arranged at Johnscleugh on the upper Whiteadder where it is known that the Scottish artillery train sent south in 1496 was parked overnight. Permission to undertake this was not granted.

It is clear that churches, and in particular monastic houses, would have played a significant role at the time of the battle, and especially in its aftermath, when many wounded were trying to make their way home. A considerable number of churches and church sites were examined in the course of this project. One possible tangible link to the battle was found in a series of grave slabs, several at Coldingham Priory and single examples elsewhere, which are probably of early 16th century date and have a distinctive ‘cross-of-pain’ motif. Amongst the ecclesiastical centres examined in detail were Abbey St Bathans, Ancrum, Ayton, Bassendean, Bunkle, Chirnside, Coldingham Priory, Cranshaws, Eccles, Edrom, Fogo, Greenlaw, Hownam, Kelso, Longformacus, Mowshaugh, Nenthorn, Oxnam, Polwarth, Preston, Smailholm and Yetholm.

Following initial site visits a number were chosen for more detailed investigation. In May 2016 as part of an investigation of the ancient Stow Road between Yetholm and Kilham, which would have offered a rapid route back into Scotland for retreating elements of the Scottish army heading west or south-west, a search was made for the site of St Ethelreda’s Chapel in the Halterburn, near Yetholm, based on earlier research by Flodden volunteer, Tom Broad. Exploratory excavations on a raised mound in the narrow flood plain uncovered structural remains and medieval pottery, suggesting it as a possible location for the chapel, or perhaps an associated residence. At Abbey St Bathans, site of a late medieval Cistercian nunnery, test-pitting revealed later medieval settlement remains immediately east of the current church and churchyard, while the site of the purportedly earlier chapel of St Bathene, to the southwest, was excavated in order to reveal and record structural remains last seen, and perfunctorily recorded, in the 1860s. In addition, two days in May 2016 were spent recording the complex structural remains of the multi-phase medieval church of Preston, while a visit to a private burial place in the grounds of Wedderburn Castle, carried out with Flodden volunteer John Home-Robertson, revealed an inscribed medieval cross-head reputedly linked to members of the Hume family killed at Flodden and/or in the preceding campaign of 1497.

Discovery and Evaluation

The Project resulted in considerable achievements in terms of enthusing and involving a wide range of local interest groups and encouraging engagement at a national level. The archaeological and archival research covered here has also added considerably to our knowledge. The conception of the project has allowed a long overdue process of re-evaluation, with three main threads:

  • What do we know about Flodden?
  • What other things should we know about Flodden?
  • What can be done to advance our knowledge and appreciation of Flodden?

The archaeological component of the project may seem to have been about taking apart cherished views about Flodden without replacing them with solid new evidence. That, however, is a necessary part of a research process extending into the future. The search for archaeological evidence of military activity in September 1513 has not only raised issues about whether the right locations have been searched but also about the nature and interpretation of the evidence itself. More research based on comparative and experimental approaches should be undertaken to elucidate the kinds of remains to be expected from a late medieval battlefield like Flodden.

Conflict archaeology as a scientific discipline is still in its infancy, and it is to be hoped that the methodologies adopted by the archaeologists working on this project and the data recovered will help inform a wider debate on how to find and interpret the evidence of military activity and associate it with particular, documented activity. From the Flodden experience several challenges can be identified, including:

  • Gaining a better understanding of the kit employed by the combatants and the processes by which it might have been left on the battlefield. In the case of Flodden, it is easy to judge that most of the lead shot is of no relevance since relatively good documentary evidence indicates that firearms were not in use, but why no arrowheads and pike-heads? Both bows and pikes were of importance in the fighting and it would be reasonable to suppose that many heads, broken from their shafts, could have ended up in the ground in the course of fighting and not been recovered even by the most assiduous scavengers in the following days.
  • Tying particular archaeological features to events at the time of the battle. This at present seems, conceptually, an almost impossible task, but progress could be made in understanding the artefactual ‘background noise’ in landscapes like those around Flodden, and in generating more sophisticated models for artefact loss, recovery and disintegration.
  • Understanding the wider archaeological context of the battlefield and movements of the opposing forces before and after the battle. For instance, the expectation that archaeological excavations on Flodden Edge would produce useful information on the Scottish forces reported to have been camped there for a period of days did not materialise in concrete evidence for their presence there at all. It is to be hoped that in the future it will be possible in such a situation to either recognise processes through which evidence has disappeared or else interpret the absence of diagnostic features and artefacts as an indication that the Scottish camp was located elsewhere.

The archival work has shown that much of value can still be gleaned from documentary sources, even those which have already been calendared and published. Although study, so far, of local and private archives has been disappointing there is much still to be done in searching these collections and extending the study beyond the earliest accounts to include, ballads, legends, traditions, etc.

The names of a number of individuals, especially ones of high status who took part on both sides were already known. ‘The book of horses’ document is a reminder that it is possible to identify many other participants, a worthwhile task, not least because of the growing interest in genealogy.

The routes project could and should be extended to cover the mobilisation of the English forces. More could undoubtedly be learned from documentary research and study of early maps about the availability of routes in 1513, but the most useful new contribution is likely to come from archaeological investigations. The excavations undertaken for the project at Wark were a useful start in demonstrating the quality and nature of the remains that might mark a medieval military camp, and other work at Ellem has pointed to a more likely location for the muster of the Scottish army.

Archaeological survey and excavation of a muster point or camp used by one of the armies in the days before the battle is likely to produce more useful information than similar work on the actual battlefield itself. There the armies only stood for a matter of hours and it is reasonable to suppose that any discarded trinkets, pieces of equipment and clothing will have been assiduously hoovered up by the winners in the immediate aftermath of the fighting. In the case of an encampment, occupation was longer and there is the likelihood of detecting evidence for eating, sleeping, rubbish disposal, etc. In exceptional circumstances it might even be possible to use such archaeological evidence as evidence for the size and composition of the army in question.

The Flodden 500 Project has been successful in key research objectives:

  • Identifying archaeological evidence for the battle and associated military campaigns
  • Identifying new archival resources
  • Providing detailed information on the Scottish army and its routes to Flodden.

There is much that can and should still be achieved in terms of future research. In general terms it is good to say that there should be more of the same, including

  • more archaeological survey of the supposed battlefield, especially those fields not hitherto metal detected, including nos 15 and 22, and other fields extending westwards
  • more archival work, transcribing early documents already known and reappraising and reinterpreting chronicle sources
  • more research, documentary as well as archaeological, on routes to Flodden.

Amongst these aims there are several more particular priorities that should be considered and turned into carefully researched and resourced projects. For this writer there are three most deserving of immediate consideration:

  1. The discovery and excavation of a charnel pit at Flodden. It is reasonable to suppose that many of the Scottish dead will have ended up being buried in large pits near where they fell. Apart from providing information on the location of the fighting such a discovery could provide significant evidence on the nature of the fighting, the numbers of casualties, the quality of their life and where they came from. It ought to be possible, using our existing understanding of the battle and its location, and reports of earlier discoveries of bones, to design a new programme of geophysical surveys followed by targeted excavation.
  2. The creation of a database of those who participated in the campaigning in 1513. Much of this information is already available but is in need of being collated, ordered, expanded and cross-checked. Such a project will greatly improve our understanding of contemporary society and how war was waged. It will also fire the imagination of many with a general interest in history and allow some of them to identify the participation of ancestors.
  3. The excavation of one of the camps of one of the armies. On the one hand, excavation of a campsite may produce more information of value than more detailed survey of the supposed battlefield; on the other hand, work to date on the supposed Scottish camp on Flodden Edge has not provided useful information on events in September 1513. The way forward is to select for detailed examination a campsite used in the days before the Scots reached Flodden. Ellem could be the best option as far as the Scottish army is concerned, and detailed consideration needs to be given to locating and identifying encampments of the English army.

Underlying the successes of the Flodden 500 Project has been a threefold approach involving the participation of as many people as possible, the mixing of different research strands and disciplines, and perhaps most important of all, the desire to question the extent and sources of our knowledge. The Project has produced an important block of research material and an impetus that will hopefully mean that interest in, and knowledge of Flodden, will not stand still.


Buchanan, History. G Buchanan, The History of Scotland, trans J Aikman. Glasgow & Edinburgh, 1827-9. Hall’s Chronicle (by Edward Hall). London, 1846.
Henry VIII Letters & Papers. Letters And Papers Foreign And Domestic of the Reign of Henry VIII, ed J S Brewer et al. London, 1862-1932.
James IV Letters. The Letters of James the Fourth 1505-13, ed R K Hannay & D Hay. Edinburgh 1954.
Pitscottie, Historie. R Lindsay of Pitscottie, The Historie and Cronicles of Scotland. Edinburgh: Scottish Text Society, 1899-1911.
Stevenson, K & Pentland, G 2012 ‘The Battle of Flodden and its Commemoration, 1513-2013’, in A King & D Simpkin (eds), England and Scotland at War, c.1296 – c.1513. Leiden: Brill.
Stow, J 1605 The Annales of England. London.


  1. Pollard & Oliver 2002
  2. Stevenson & Pentland 2012: 367-69
  3. Stow 1605: 829
  4. Henry VIII Letters & Papers 1: no 2246