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on 6 January 2014
I was encouraged to buy George Goodwin's book on Flodden having read his earlier, fascinating book on the background to the wars of the Roses and the battle of Towton. Fatal Rivalry does not disappoint. It is well written, well researched and conveys a captivating account of the influence of the European renaissance and technological progress (printing, armaments) on the courts of Henry VIII of England and James IV of Scotland and also on the conduct of warfare. For someone who is new to this period, it provides a great introduction to a critical period of Anglo-Scottish history, and an important reminder of the importance of the historical stories which are believed at different times. The account of the battle itself also reminds us to beware of thinking that just because something happened, it was bound to happen. It wasn't.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 August 2013
The title of George Goodwin's book, "Fatal Rivalry: Flodden, 1513: Henry VIII and James IV and the Decisive Battle for Renaissance Britain", really sums up the book's contents in that one sentence. But there's a lot of great details about the two kingdoms, uneasily sharing a single island, and their diplomatic and military history. By the way, Henry VIII was not at the battle but his foe, Scotland's James IV was killed by English troops.

The most interesting person, hands down, was James IV, of the House of Stewart. He ruled Scotland after his father's - James III - death under somewhat murky circumstances. He came to the throne in 1488 and was killed in battle 25 years later. His reign straddled the reigns of the English kings, Henry VII and Henry VIII. In 1503, he wed Margaret, the daughter of Henry VII and sister of Henry VIII. The marriage was an attempt to solidify the often rocky relationship between the House of Tudor and the House of Stewart. Things were quiet for a few years but each country's relationships and pacts between the continental powers of Austria, France, Spain, and the Vatican added to the unrest between the two countries.

James was a true Renaissance spirit in the artistic sense, but was also accomplished in battle. Goodwin gives both James and the two Henrys nuanced portrayals in his book. One interesting fact that I've never read anywhere else concerns Henry VII obsession to insure the continuance of the House of Tudor. Evidently Henry had a great fear of eternal damnation and wanted to make sure chancery masses for his soul continued after his death. He felt the if his descendents retained power, Henry would be sure of having these masses said.

Goodwin's book is quite detailed about the events leading up to the Battle of Flodden, as well as the aftermath, but he writes in a very readable way. I'm not sure this book will appeal to the casual reader of history, but to readers interested in the background of the English/Scottish relationship, and, in particular, how Elizabeth I's successor in 1603 was the Scottish king James VI, this book is great reading. There are plenty of maps and plenty of pictures of the leading characters of the time. Another book I can highly recommend is Thomas Penn's book, "The Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England".
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on 22 October 2013
There actually isn't all that much about the Battle of Flodden, possibly the biggest battle ever fought on British soil, in this book. Flodden's obvious rival is Towton, about which Goodwin has already written. As with his account of Towton, Goodwin delves deep. I was in Spain when I read this book and was rather surprised to realise that I was only a few hundred yards from the final resting place of someone mentioned in Goodwin's background (to a war between Scotland and England).

Goodwin does background a lot better than he does foreground; in fact, he should write a compendious history of the Anglo-Scottish wars, because I'd buy it, even if no-one else did. At his best, he is very readable and he does argue his case pretty well.

All the same, Goodwin leans a bit too far to the Scottish side here. Henry VIII is a monster - not an especially hard case to prove, especially when the name Howard crops up frequently. James IV, King of Scots, by contrast, is an all-round Renaissance hero, only ever trying to do the best for his country, which would certainly make him a first for his dynasty. Countless times, Goodwin reminds us what a paragon James supposedly was. It's boring and not at all convincing.

Goodwin really goes off the rails, though, when discussing the Scottish army, which James led to the disaster at Flodden. Goodwin recognises the significance of the Macedonian-inspired Swiss system, but he doesn't appear to draw the right conclusions. I hazard a guess that he knows little about classical history. The army of Philip II and Alexander III of Macedon, the one which Renaissance potentates were desperate to replicate, had, in its centre, a "phalanx", armed with a huge pike, called a "sarissa". Flanking the phalanx were archers and slingers. The real sharp end of the army, however, comprised two elite formations: the Hypaspists (heavily armed and armoured infantry) and the Companions, the heavy cavalry, who had spent every waking moment perfecting their battlefield skills.

Goodwin must know, but refuses to emphasize, that James IV was trying to build a Renaissance/Macedonian army on the cheap. You need a phalanx? Stick an enormous pike in the hands of an untrained soldier and repeat a few thousand times. To be fair, Goodwin is, I think, well aware of this deficiency of the Scots. That still leaves the Hypaspists, the Companions and the artillery.

Scotland couldn't produce forces equivalent to the Hypaspists and Companions because those elite soldiers needed to be devoted to their king - something which no Scottish aristocrat ever truly was - and trained almost from birth. Scotland's inability to breed decent horses was always going to be a problem, too.

James had the phalanx, then, but not much else. At enormous expense, he tried to compensate with artillery. Philip II had found the hard way that artillery could be decisive. The artillery available to James had advantages over the Macedonian scorpions in terms of lethality, but the Scottish cannons were hard to manoeuvre and extremely slow to re-load.

If James was the Renaissance Man of Goodwin's imagination, he must have known that the Macedonian juggernaut stopped working when it lacked its cutting edge: the Companions and the Hypaspists. At Pydna, 168 BC, devoid of the support that Philip II would have taken for granted nearly two centuries earlier, the Macedonian phalanx was chopped to bits by Roman swords. The English at Flodden mostly lacked anything so scientifically lethal as a gladius, but the effect was the same.

All in all, I can give only a lukewarm welcome to this book, which is published to milk the five hundredth anniversary of the engagement, rather than because the author displays any particularly special insight. Since next year sees the seven hundredth anniversary of Bannockburn, I suspect I can guess what Goodwin is working on right now.
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on 10 October 2013
The book does more than it boasts on the cover. It compares the development of renaissance Scotland and England during the reigns of Henry vii, Henry viii and James iv. This was well written and presented a rich panoply of cultural and political evolution. It left me wanting to know more about James who he conjured into life with great skill.I only gave it four stars because the treatment of the battle, although very well explained with clear maps, seemed to lack the passion of the rest of the book. I have also read his Towton book and came to the same conclusion. I would not want this fairly minor quibble to deter any potential reader and wholeheartedly recomend it.
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on 22 June 2014
I very well written book with a very good clear insight to the background of the events that lead to this unessacary conflict between Scotland and England, and in the interests of France, I feel on most occasions the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France , was to Scotland's disadvantage as France never did anything to assist Scotland unless it suited their own purposes as we saw in the aftermath Of Queen Mary Stuart's treatment in England , where they did nothing to help her. I have not read any book by George Goodwin but I thoroughly enjoyed this book, it was very refreshing interesting and very much alive. Mr Goodwin clearly has excellent knowledge of this particular period as he beautifully describes the events that lead up the Flodden and the relatively peaceful relations between both countries which the Perpetual peace, the Marriage of the Thistle and the Rose was intended to do in 1503. Sadly it was the stupidity of James IV of Scotland and the arrogance and ruthless ambition of Henry VIII of England, who thought he was another Henry V. However James IV for me is the more to blame for allowing his own vanity and ambition to overrule the best interests of his country, Scotland and allow himself to be dragged into a conflict by others, the French should have been left to fight their own battles. In fairness it was James who invaded England not Henry who invaded Scotland, Scotland suffered a defeat that had a major impact on the Scottish mind, they never invaded England again at the behest of France. Henry VIII later on was equally as stupid trying to impose his will and ambition on Scotland . Very enjoyable book , my over riding opinion was it was so unnecessary in the first place. I most certainly would recommend this book to those who share an interest in the Stuart/Tudor period and I will look out for more books from this author
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on 1 March 2016
Like a few other reviewers, I felt that that the background was handled better than the battle itself, but the decision to put the battle's name on the cover (presumably in order to benefit from the 500th anniversary) may be the culprit here. I also feel that there is a little too much hero-worship of James, not least of all the attempt at making him almost entirely free of responsibility for the disaster at Flodden. James had evidently secured an excellent position at Flodden Hill and arguably should have stayed there, or he should have scouted the northern side of the position more effectively - which would probably have made him realise that the ground water could be a problem. The lack of initiative from those commanding the Scottish wings could well stem from an unclear set of orders, but the net result was that a larger army was destroyed in detail. One aspect to note is the decision of the English to not give quarter, resulting in an extremely high casualty rate of Scottish nobles. These observations aside, the book is well-written and does give the intelligent lay reader a good overview of the period.
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on 18 July 2014
Bannockburn part II, the empire strikes back. Scotland came second in this one.
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on 7 November 2013
I would usually dislike a "war story", but the build up to the battle of Flodden is so well crafted by this author, that by the time the battle description arrived I was on the edge of my seat. This is not a story of blood and gore however, the emphasis is on tactical issues, the methodology of war at this time and the styles of leadership of the protagonists. A book for those interested in the events that lead to the Union of Scotland with England and who may feel that the Mary Queen of Scots story has had its fair share of telling. The relationships between James IV and the two Henrys (VII and VIII) is very interesting. A beautifully researched piece of work.
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on 18 October 2013
I was ignorant as to the life and achievements of King James IV of Scotland and, in many ways, wished Fatal Rivalry had focused only on that. Some of the material was too tangential and at times the narrative drifted, unfocused. Flodden itself was almost an afterthought (despite being the subheading of the title). I appreciate the author was setting the context but, as I say, some of the detail included was too obscure. Still, a fascinating introduction to a King who really deserves a higher profile.
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on 18 August 2013
The story of Flodden and the years leading up to the battle are very well covered in this book. This is an interesting period, with Scotland wanting to be recognised by the leading European powers as a fully independent state. In order to pursue this aim the dashing ambitious Scots monarch James IV, against advise from older and wiser heads, decides, with the encouragement of widespread anti-English sentiment, to invade England. Meanwhile young King Henry VIII is away campaigning with the main English army in France. What can possibly go wrong? Well, as it turns out lots.

The complexity of the politics, the history, and the personalities of the leading characters involved are well covered. In ways this battle was probably one of the final acts of the middle ages in Britain. It's a fascinating story well told, and it might easily have all ended so differently. A very good book, with some contemporary political parallels perhaps?
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