EVERY so often a nation may experience a disaster of quite phenomenal proportions, one that threatens its very existence and certainly damages the health of its people and their society and takes away many lives. Just as we are suffering such an event just now, so did the people of Glasgow and Scotland in the early years of the 16th century.

It was not coronavirus or bubonic plague but cataclysmic defeat in battle by a powerful and relentless enemy. The Battle of Flodden on September 9, 1513, saw more Scots killed in a few hours than are likely to be lost to Covid-19, and every part of the country was affected, including Glasgow.

With its Cathedral completed by Archbishop Robert Blackadder and its University – of which he was Chancellor – thriving and pulling in students and professors alike, Glasgow entered the 16th century in flourishing condition.

New buildings such as a fortified house and various church establishments were built before the time of Blackadder’s death in 1508, and his successor James Beaton continued to promote Glasgow while the development of city became something of a personal quest for him. He was assisted in this task by Matthew Stewart, 2nd Earl of Lennox, who had a town house in the city and became Provost of Glasgow in 1509.

The earl was close to King James IV, not least because his wife Elizabeth nee Hamilton was the grand-daughter of King James II and thus the king’s cousin. Lennox also had his own feudal armed force, and this would lead to his demise.

Archbishop Blackadder had been in the inner circle of King James IV, and was instrumental in the complex negotiations that surrounded James’s Treaty of Perpetual Peace signed with England’s Henry VII in 1502. Indeed, the Archbishop signed the treaty in London on behalf of James IV which brought the Scottish king an English wife, Margaret Tudor, the daughter of Henry VII. It also brought assured peace on the island of Great Britain, and Glasgow benefited from increased trade which saw the city expand, though not as yet outwith its defined borders.

Archbishop Beaton and the advisers of James IV, however, had to deal with a much more formidable, and indeed downright aggressive, king in the shape of Henry VIII who came to the throne on the death of his father in April, 1509.

With his sister being married to James, Henry felt the King of Scots was his to boss over, and he made noises about being overlord of Scotland. What really annoyed him, however, was James IV’s ties to France through the Auld Alliance – Henry was determined to make war on France and presumed quite wrongly that James would join him.

Far from it. In what was really a sideshow to the War of the League of Cambrai, James responded to the pleas of King Louis XII and invaded the north of England in a bid to draw Henry VIII away from France. Given what subsequently happened with his Protestant English Reformation, it is perhaps ironic that Henry was attacking France as part of the ‘Catholic League’ supporting Pope Julius II against Louis XII.

Henry’s wife Queen Catherine of Aragon had been left in charge when Henry went to France. The King had been politely asked by James IV to desist from his war in France and Henry’s negative reply was anything but polite.

James duly assembled the largest army in Scottish history and charged towards the border. Henry had organised an ‘army of the North’ led by Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey. Catherine called him into action and on September 9, 1513, the English waited on the moor of Branxton, or Brainston, at a place called Flodden Field.

The exact course of the battle is uncertain, but it seems that the Scots abandoned a good position when James insisted on charging at the English. The English troops were more experienced and its commanders far better. The result was nothing short of a massacre, with perhaps 10,000 Scots killed, including the King and the Earl of Lennox and the Archbishop of St Andrews and a host of nobles and clerics.

It is known that Lennox led a sizeable contingent from Glasgow and his lands around Loch Lomond, but at least one Glaswegian, a Michael Fleming, survived the battle and in gratitude he paid for an annual mass to be said on the anniversary of the disastrous battle.

Immediately after the battle, Edinburgh lay in wait for the arrival of the English army, and the citizens hurriedly built the defence known as the Flodden Wall, some of which is still extant.

Glasgow did no such thing, and the English army in fact went home as Henry was still intent on battling France first. Archbishop Beaton was at that point the primate of Scotland and he crowned the infant James V in Stirling on September 21, 1513.

Beaton would go on to become a member of the regency council that first ruled Scotland in the minority of James V, becoming Lord Chancellor of Scotland under James IV’s widow Margaret, who had been appointed queen regent. She married Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus, within a year of Flodden and that led to civil war.

After Flodden, the Earl of Lennox’s widow Lady Elizabeth Hamilton had carved up her dead husband’s estate, and her son John had become the 3rd Earl at the age of 22 or 23 – his exact birthdate is not known.

Lennox’s involvement an open rebellion against the queen regent and her new husband led to fears of Glasgow becoming a battleground. He had joined with the earls of Arran and Glencairn and had captured Dumbarton Castle which he held for many months.

In May 1515, John Stewart, the Duke of Albany and second in line to the Scottish throne, arrived at Dumbarton from his home in France with eight French ships loaned by King Louis XII. He then marched on Glasgow where he met no opposition, and went to Edinburgh where he was acclaimed as regent.

The formidable nature of his forces brought Glasgow a new building – Archbishop Beaton converted his house into a fortified castle with a round tower, and the Bishop’s Castle or Palace became known as Glasgow Castle.

That Castle would play a central role in Scottish history as Glasgow became an epicentre for the tumultuous events of the 16th century.