Alex Massie

Remembering 9/9

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The annual memorial service at Flodden. Photo courtesy of Grant Kinghorn.

Today marked the 497th anniversary of the battle of Flodden, perhaps the gravest military disaster in Scottish history and a fiasco that's still keenly recalled in these parts where Flodden is a bigger deal than Bannockburn. The story goes that some 50 men from Selkirk rallied to King James's colours but that only one, a man named Thomas Fletcher*, returned alive.

Commemorating that loss remains at the heart of the town's Common Riding ceremonies each June. Outside the Borders, however, I suspect Flodden is most familiar as the inspiration for the most beautiful of all laments, The Flowers of the Forest (known here simply as The Lilting). The tune predates Jean Eliot's lyrics and is most probably familiar to many from its use at funerals and upon Remembrance Sunday:

*When Fletcher reached Selkirk, he is said to have been carrying an English standard and, when asked to relate the story of the battle, simply waved the English flag before lowering it to the ground in silent mourning for the fallen. This ritual is re-enacted each year, though now to the tune of The Souters of Selkirk, as the burgh Standard Bearer "casts" the town colours at the climax of the Common Riding. As performed here by Ally Craig in 2007:

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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