The last post in the War Zone series outlined the three French wars that Henry VIII pursued during his long reign. None of these wars provided him with the triumphant success that he so longed for, with my concluding thoughts noting:
In summary, each of the three French wars did not live up to the dreams of conquest, with no real gains to show for each conflict over the course of four decades. This is not to say that Henry was a complete failure: each war was (mostly) waged on French soil, with Henry taking the initiative. Therefore, none can be deemed a defeat in a military perspective. But yet for all the scheming and plotting there was little to show that could rank Henry on the same level of kings of the past such as Henry V or even on the same level as his contemporaries Charles and Francis. Henry came, he saw, and ultimately, he underwhelmed.
And so, continuing with the wars of Henry VIII’s reign I’ve turned to what could be considered the greatest victory of his reign: the defeat of Scotland at the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513.
The Battle of Flodden Field (1513)
Henry VIII became king of England whilst still a teenager in 1509. His reign saw decisive breaks for English society, culture, and religion, all of which was in stark contrast to his father’s 24 year reign. Henry VII (r:1485-1509) was all about stability and security, which meant that in terms of foreign relationships he craved friendship rather than war. But Henry VIII had grown up a prince with wild, lofty ambitions; he wished to emulate the feats of his namesake, Henry V, in creating glory on the battlefield.
By 1512 war was declared against France, and although this French war (1512-14) and subsequent French wars completely failed to live up to the expectation of Henry V’s great victory at Agincourt, it could be argued that a battle against Scotland in 1513 was the military highlight of his reign. It is ironic, in many ways, that the scene of his greatest glory came when he was not even present in the country (due to campaigning in France).
England and Scotland had been at peace since the events of 1496-97, back when James IV fancied an invasion of England by taking advantage of the Perkin Warbeck crisis. The events of this conflict was outlined in the twelve edition to this series (you can read more here), with the outcome being an agreeable peace between the two nations. Scotland removed its support for Warbeck (who was captured later in 1497), and in return Henry VII married off his daughter, Margaret, to James IV.
This union would – over the course of a couple of centuries – lead to the union of the British crown (in 1603) and the creation of the British political state (in 1707). It also bought Henry VII peace with the north for the remainder of his reign. However, in the early years of Henry VIII’s reign, his brother-in-law, saw a distancing in the relationship. Henry wanted to claim over-lordship of the Scottish, an English claim dating back a couple of centuries. Rather than bow down to the English, James fancied a chance to grow his own kingdom by throwing in his lot with the French.
The wider European picture centred on the Italian wars of the period; the French had involved themselves in French affairs, which had thrown up a Catholic League to defend Italian states and the Pope. England backed the Pope and saw this as an opportunity to invade France, meanwhile the Scottish in turn saw this as a chance to unite in the Auld Alliance with France and invade England.
In August 1513, James invaded England with a sizeable force of 30,000 men. The man tasked with preventing the collapse of the English north was Thomas Howard, the Earl of Surrey. Howard was an interesting noble of the period: he had originally fought against Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth back in 1485, with his family being strong supporters of Richard III (Richard had in fact given Howard’s father the dukedom of Norfolk). Howard’s father died on the Bosworth battlefield, and Howard himself was wounded; after the battle. The Howards were viewed with suspicion by the new Tudor king, but eventually their loyalty was proved as the years ticked on. By 1513, Thomas Howard was operating in the role as controller of the north, however, even after almost three decades he had still not been given his father’s title as duke of Norfolk.
James took the chivalric decision to give the English one month’s notice of his intention to invade. In many ways, we could see this as a noble, honoured decision; in other ways, we could see this as incredibly foolish, for it allowed the English to prepare their defences. Ultimately, the two armies met at the village of Branxton, with the outcome being catastrophic for the Scottish: a whole host of Scottish nobles and luminaries were killed, topped off with the death of James IV himself. Thomas Howard was rewarded with this victory by being named as Duke of Norfolk, finally taking his father’s title 29 years after his death at Bosworth.
This was a massive victory for the English, but Henry VIII did not attempt to press stronger claims over Scotland until the 1540s. He would never match the victory of Flodden Field; something that must have grated him due to his not actually being physically there in 1513. As for Scotland, the country adapted to the death of a monarch. This period of history established something of a pattern with the premature deaths of monarchs: James III died in his mid-thirties; James IV was just forty; whilst his son James V died at the age of thirty in 1542. But despite the devastation of Flodden, the Scottish were not particularly worse off for it.