Originally published 08/18/2013
IF IT weren’t for the history, Branxton Hill in north Northumberland would be an ordinary patch of farmland essentially indistinguishable from a thousand other northern English fields. But there is history – and tragedy – aplenty here. As the clouds part, the land is washed with sunshine, the barley whispers in the breeze and you remember that the fate of a nation was once decided on these quiet and ordinary fields. For this is Flodden.Five hundred years ago this place was a charnel house; on these fields were piled high the bodies of the Scottish dead. All very gallant; all very dead. Ten thousand of them, it is reckoned, though it is hard to be precise about these matters half a millennium later. At any rate, Scottish corpses outnumbered their English counterparts two to one. Among them King James IV himself, his natural son, the bishop of St Andrews, and no fewer than 13 earls. All of them lying cold in the clay.For centuries Flodden was the yin to Bannockburn’s yang. To recall one was to implicitly recall the other. They balanced one another perfectly; one a triumph the other a disaster. But no more, I think. The 700th anniversary of Bannockburn next year will be loudly celebrated; the 500th anniversary of Flodden next month will be recalled with barely a whisper....
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