Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk: Life Story

Chapter 10 : Glory

Sir Thomas Howard was appointed as admiral in his brother’s place, and preparations for full-scale war with France proceeded. Surrey, despite his age (70) and any misgivings he might have had about the change in the overall English policy, was, nevertheless, a warrior at heart. Like every man of his generation (of whom there were few left) his childhood had been spent in an England reeling from its losses across the Channel, after the glory days of Henry V. There can be little doubt that to be engaged in the reconquest of France was Surrey’s and every other warrior’s dream.

But Surrey was not to be involved. Henry VIII, intelligent, and well-versed in the theory, if not the practice, of war, as well as soundly advised by Fox and his protégé, Thomas Wolsey, knew that the rear had to be protected: James IV was Louis XII’s ally, and, despite the treaty of Perpetual Peace, there was a strong possibility that a Scottish invasion would be attempted. 

Surrey received orders to prepare to guard the northern border. Frustrated though he was, he could do nothing but obey, but he blamed James IV for his disappointment saying ‘Sorry may I see [James] ere I die, that is the cause of my abiding behind. If ever he and I meet, I shall do all that in me lyeth to make him as sorry if I can.’

In August 1513, he headed north to prepare border defences – no doubt thinking that the most likely outcome was a few skirmishes, some broken bones and a couple of herds of cattle changing hands. But James had other ideas. Having eventually been persuaded by Louis XII to involve himself in the conflict, he called out his full host, and prepared for a large-scale invasion. Surrey did not have sufficient troops and sent messengers far and wide to raise more. Back in London, Queen Katharine, acting as Regent in Henry’s absence, gave orders for more troops to be gathered, and set out with them towards the north.

On 22nd August, James crossed the Tweed, probably with some 30,000 men, about half as many again as Surrey had collected. James IV set up his camp on a ridge above Branxton Moor. His position was more-or-less unassailable, so Surrey, using his knowledge of James’ chivalrous inclinations, wrote to him, offering to give battle in open field, where the two sides would be evenly matched. James may have been chivalrous, but he was not a fool, and he refused.  Surrey’s son, Sir Thomas, reconnoitred the surrounding area, and came up with a plan to approach James from the north, giving the impression that the route back to Scotland was blocked. Sir Thomas’ contingent approached across the marsh, and got into such difficulties that James gave the order that destroyed him – the Scots left the ridge, and descended to fight on the open ground. The battle was bloody, and could have gone either way, but the death of James in hand-to-hand combat decided the matter.

Surrey and his sons had scored a remarkable victory – Scotland never really recovered from the loss of its king and the flower of its nobility at Flodden, and the next sixty years of turmoil in the northern kingdom can be, at least in part, ascribed to the battle.

The English, of course, were beside themselves with glee, and Surrey most of all. Far from being overshadowed by glorious deeds in France, he had achieved a spectacular victory.  After burying the dead, he sent King James’ body, and also his bloodied surcoat, south to Queen Katharine, and wrote an account of the battle to Henry, who had been celebrating far less impressive victories at Tournai and Thérouanne.  He also knighted his younger son, Edmund.

Henry VIII was still in the dawn of his reign, but Surrey, Queen Katharine, and his other advisers knew enough of the king’s temperament to play down Flodden, relative to the king’s own successes. Henry was in no great hurry to congratulate Surrey – he had been back in England several weeks before he wrote his thanks. Nevertheless, he was not ungrateful, and, carefully coaxed by Surrey’s friend, Sir Thomas Ruthall, agreed that the dukedom of Norfolk might be restored.  

On 2nd February, 1514, Surrey was advanced to the dukedom – the crowning moment of his life, even if he had to share his day of triumph – the king’s friend, Charles Brandon, became Duke of Suffolk, whilst Lord Herbert became Earl of Somerset.  In addition, Norfolk, as he is now referred to, was permitted to tweak his heraldic achievement, with the addition of a Scottish demi-lion transfixed with an arrow in its throat.