Remembering the Battle of Flodden

Monday marks the fifth centenary of the Battle of Flodden.  The battle was fought on Brainston Moor, Northumberland, between an invading army of Scots under their king, James IV, and the English, lead by the Earl of Surrey. It was the last battle in which a British monarch – James –  died on the battlefield.

One of the books in our collection related to Flodden is Walter Scott’s second published work, Marmion: A tale of Flodden Field.  On discovering that Scott planned to write a poem on the event, a correspondent wrote to him enquiring whether it was acceptable for Scottish pride to write a poem commemorating a Scottish defeat. Scott replied that it was certainly a worthy topic, because at Flodden, “all was lost but our honour.[1]

Sp Coll BD20-a.16

Sp Coll BD20-a.16

These sentiments are clearly expressed by Scott as he describes the climax of the battle:
“The English shafts in vollies hailed;
In headlong charge their horse assailed;
Front, flank, and rear, the squadrons sweep,
To break the Scottish circle deep,
That fought around their king.
But yet, through thick the shafts as snow,
Though charming knights like whirlwinds go,
Though bil-men deal the ghastly blow,
Unbroken was the ring;
The stubborn spear-men still made good
Their dark impenetrable wood,
Each stepping where his comrade stood,
The instant that he fell.
No thought was there of dastard flight;-
Linked in the serried phalanx tight,
Groom fought like noble, squire like knight,
As fearlessly and well,
Till utter darkness closed her wing
O’er their thin host and wounded king”

However, the majority of the poem does not concern itself with the battle. Scott’s primary focus is the tale of Lord Marmion – a favourite noble of Henry VIII – and his cunning efforts to win the favours of the wealthy Clara de Clare. Scott uses the battle as a suitably dramatic setting for the climax of his narrative, and it is at Flodden field where Lord Marmion’s fate is decided.

We hold several copies of this poem, one of which dates from the year of publication, 1808, and is from the Old Library collection.  A memorable feature of this book are the fragments of graffiti that litter its pages.  Rather ironically, most of these additions are condemnations of the unscrupulous readers who chose to annotate the book!

Sp Coll BD20-a.16

Sp Coll BD20-a.16

Marmion seems to have inspired others to document the event.  Shortly after publication, the poem gave the libretti to a selection of songs based on its verses. We have a copy of Lochinvar, Lady Heron’s song, and The song of Fitz Custace, both part of our Farmer collection. The scores themselves are written for a selection of solo, piano, bagpipe, harp and chorus parts, and– like Marmion itself – sing of lovers who have either won or betrayed women’s hearts.

Sp Coll Farmer f192

Sp Coll Farmer f192

Published in the same year as Marmion, we also have a copy of The Battle of Flodden Field ; A poem of the Sixteenth Century. Based on a series of manuscripts and edited by Henry Weber, this poem is dedicated to Scott who is thanked for his insight and advice on choosing manuscripts. This poem, is  much unlike Scott’s work however, and is a more historical account of the battle itself. It ends with a timeless memorial to all those – from either side – who died in the battle:

“Praconia Post Funera Manent”  (proclamation remains after death) 

Sp Coll. 321

Sp Coll. 321

 


[1]                                              http://www.walterscott.lib.ed.ac.uk/works/poetry/marmion.html



Categories: Special Collections

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