This is an excellent book by Peter Reese detailing the tragic battle of Flodden where King James the IV's Scottish army was defeated by the northern army of England commanded by Thomas Howard, the Earl of Surrey. The story is seen from the perspective of both armies and their leaders, Scotland's Stuart monarch- arguably the most successful and competent of that royal family- and on the opposing side, King Henry the eighth of England's loyal servant with his northern levies.
Reese portrays the campaign and subsequent defeat of the larger and more powerful Scottish army as a needless tragedy brought about by James's over-ambitious desire to 'teach Henry a lesson' following the English king's high-handed arrogance and aggression he frequently displayed to his northern neighbours. The author clearly makes the point that this aggression was by no means one-sided and James himself comes across as somewhat rash, (despite his obvious successes in ruling his country)uncompromising and (surprisingly) slightly naive. Reese's vivid description of the battle itself, the tactics employed by the rival armies and the terrain it was fought over is first-class and the reader is left in no doubt that the Scottish king with his French military advisors was seriously outclassed by the highly competent Surrey. Reese argues persuasively that the defeat at Flodden opened the gates for Scotland's gradual weakening as a military power and ultimate loss of an independent monarchy despite the fact that the first king of the united kingdoms was in fact a Scottish king.
The pace of the book is fast, suitably so, and the style informative whilst not neglecting any detail necessary to tell the whole story of why James risked so much on what was sadly so little. Perhaps a part of the tragedy is that this Scottish army was representative of all of it's people, Highland or Lowland, united in common loyalty to their king and country in a cause which really did not deserve such sacrifice. The author clearly describes exact events and decisions taken which led to the Scots losing a battle they really ought to have won had they been better led.
Excellent diagrams(of battle manoeuvers and marches)and an extremely helpful modern day guide to any who wish to follow the routes of the contending armies or simply to visit the muddy slopes of Branxton are contained within the text.
All in all an absolutely superb work by Peter Reese, superior in most aspects to Niall Barr's book on the same subject.
This author has brought enormous clarity and first class interpretation of the facts to this history of the background to, and the outcome of, the Battle of Flodden.
He takes time to set the scene by examining the backgrounds of the two warring Kings, in this case James IV of Scotland and Henry VIII of England. James had come to his throne in a relatively poor country destabilised by an unfortunate history of regal assassinations and child monarchs, whilst Henry had been the beneficiary of his frugal father's well stuffed treasury and the high expectations of his people. The Treaty of Perpetual Peace which celebrated the marriage of Henry's sister Margaret Tudor to James IV didn't really work out: the appetite of these two young monarchs for war, glory and supremacy was too strong to be denied.
The outcome was an absolute and genuine tragedy for Scotland. James died on the battlefield, his blood stained outer garment being sent South as a trophy, leaving yet another child monarch (Henry's own nephew, don't forget), in yet another unstable regency situation, to rule a country deprived of the flower of its youth and fighting men noble and otherwise, and much of its treasury.
This is very good history, as it shows clearly what took place and why, and also shows how different things might have been had cooler heads and a greater ability to compromise been in play. However, who are we to criticise given the various military insanities which are currently destroying lives and countries right now in the 21st century - we have access to so much knowledge and learn so little!!
This book excellently deals with the most crushing defeat ever inflicted on a Scottish army by the English, as James IV's attempt to invade and ravage Northumbria was decisively halted by the Earl of Surrey. Reese gives us a useful potted history of Anglo-Scottish relations before the battle, which included the startlingly honest revelation that, before Edward I's attempts at conquest, most cross-border wars were started by the Scots. The personality of James IV has been dealt with in other books published in the run up to the 500th anniversary but Reese does as good a job as anyone in this regard. What made this book stand out for me in comparison with the others was the strategic and tactical analysis of the respective campaigns of James and Surrey, usefully illustrated by Reese's own visits to the locations associated withthe battle. His description of how the battle itself unfolded is first rate. Also important is his coverage of the aftermath and why Flodden is, to the wider populations of both England and Scotland, a largely forgotten battle. His examination of Scottish amnesia goes beyond the obvious observation that nobody wants to remember a thrashing; England's monarch Henry VIII by contrast did not want his own paltry achievements on the battlefield to be overshadowed, nor did Surrey want to big himself up from fear of attracting Henry's murderous jealousy. Reese is refreshingly honest in ascribing the credit for this brilliant achievement of English arms where it belongs: with the leaders of the English army. Too often books covering this subject imply that that the Scots threw away victory, rather than that the English earned it. Despite the Scots outnumbering and outgunning their English opponents and, as the book shows, outmanoeuvring them, Surrey used generalship and local knowledge of the terrain to minimise the Scots' advantages. Reese shows that James was not a great general, but also that Surrey was a very good one. He also hints at the fighting spirit of the English, something again which Scottish writers describing this battle are often reluctant to recognise. I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in Anglo-Scottish history.
It's the first time I have read a book by Peter Reese and it won't be the last! The way that he describes the lead up to the expedition and battle is so real. It is such a sad story but is cast to history. It is such a shame that it has never been part of our history lessons in school. It would make a tremendous Hollywood film and would maybe stir up more emotions than Braveheart! Oh, what a loss to Scotland James IV was.
This is a fantastic read. Other reviewers have mentioned that it takes a while to get to the actual battle, but the detailed analysis of English-Scottish relations for the few hundred years prior set the story of the battle up so well. I loved the way Mr Reese describes the personalities, weapons, royal courts and feuding. I stumbled across the battlefield rather by accident recently so sought a book to explain in more detail. Could not have chosen better, a truly fine author.
Most of us have heard of Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn, when Scotland bravely fought for independence, but Falkirk and Flodden had as much impact and are barely mentioned. For some reason Culloden is seem as more important, despite having a more inevitable result. This book tells the story of the battle sympathetically and involves the reader in what happened.
Living only a few miles from the battlefield I thought it incumbent to learn more about what happened. Especially with the upcoming independence vote. It appears that the Scots got it wrong then and again when they spent all their money on land speculaltion in the newly discovered Americas and had to get England to bail them out. Scotland has been dealt some poor hands but the dealers were the Scots themselves.
Bought this to remind myself about the Border Wars and the fact that it's the 500th anniversary of Flodden this year. Thoroughly enjoyable and I am now in the process of forcibly encouraging the rest of the family to read it. It is as exciting as a novel with the lingering sadness of knowing how it all turned out. Highly recommended.