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The Scottish Wars of Independence

Part II

Ewan J. Innes, MA(Hons Scot. Hist.) FSA Scot


Synopsis:  This essay summarizes the history of the Scottish Wars of Independence from 1329 on.

Please see my copyright policy if you wish to cite any part of this essay.

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Much of the reason for James' success was the lack of interest in England for yet another war in Scotland. Henry VII was interested only in staying on the throne and made every effort to maintain the peace, including the marriage of his eldest daughter to James in exchange for perpetual peace. A peace which would last so long as Henry VII was alive.

When Henry VIII took the throne, the atmosphere changed. Henry was determined on a war with France and despite a great deal of diplomatic effort on James' part in aid of peace, war broke out in 1512 although James would take no action until 1513. When Henry left for France in the summer of 1513, he left England well prepared for any attack by James. A last attempt by James to get peace was made in August 1513. The envoy was treated with contempt by Henry and rejected on August 12. On August 22, James crossed the border.

James reduced several castles, including Norham with his new guns and took up a fortified position on Flodden Edge overlooking the river Till. Surrey, in charge of the English forces, attempted to lure James down from the hillside to no avail marched around the Scots until they had threatened to block off the Scots supply routes. On a rainy miserable day, the Scots finally gave battle. The Scots guns were manoeuvred round the hill but could not depress enough to do any damage to the English lines. By contrast, the English guns were wreaking havoc in the Scottish line. The order was finally given to charge, and in a mass the Scots slid down the slope and attacked a well prepared enemy. James was killed and along with him nine earls, thirteen barons, an archbishop, and most of the other nobility. Thousands upon thousands of ordinary Scots were also slain. Surrey himself lost two-thirds of his own picked retinue in the battle.

James' body was taken to London where Henry planned a splendid funeral. The funeral never took place and the embalmed head was eventually hacked off by Elizabeth's master-glazier who used it as a pot-pourri until he tired of it.

The long term ramifications of Flodden were great. The loss of so many nobles in one day was a huge blow. Organisation for defence was put in place and in Edinburgh orders went out that women were not to wail in the streets but were instead to go to church, and that everyone must help to build the city wall (which still stands today in places). The new lords made arrangements for the gathering of war material and for the coronation of the new king. Henry however, made peace with France in 1514; a peace in which Scotland was included.

Flodden's greatest impact would be in the collective psyche when future problems arose with England. There was no rush to war, indeed there was every attempt made to avoid it at all costs. The 'Flodden Complex' would affect Scottish domestic and foreign policy for many years afterwards.

This has been a brief and not very complete coverage of the period between the death of Bruce and the death of James IV nearly two hundred years later. I have touched on some important points, and skirted round others for the sake of space and interest. Much of this period (and afterwards) is very complicated. The inter-relations and conflicts amongst the noble families and the crown are confusing and at times often incomprehensible. Further study of the period covered is recommended for anyone interested in it.


R. Nicholson Scotland - The Later Middle Ages (ISBN 0-9018-2484-4)
M. Lynch Scotland - A New History (ISBN 0-7126-3413-4)
More Detail
A. Grant Independence and Nationhood - Scotland 1306-1469 (ISBN 0-7131-6309-7)
J. Wormald Court Kirk & Community - Scotland 1470-1625
Even More Detail
N. MacDougall James IV (Excellent Book. Published by John Donald, Edinburgh 1989)
L.J. MacFarlane William Elphinstone and the Kingdom of Scotland, 1431-1514 (Aberdeen, 1985. Invaluable study of this enigmatic bishop and of the times.)

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