The song Flowers of the Forest is known to have been played as early at 1615, although it may have been composed even before that. The lyrics in use at that time are not documented.
The “traditional” lyrics of today were composed by Scottish poet Jean Elliot in 1756. They were published anonymously and initially were presumed to be the original, or at least some version of centuries-old, lyrics. Poet Robert Burns, however, recognized a certain modernity in the structure and eventually uncovered both their pedigree and their author.
Those lyrics are a lament to the loss of some 10,000 soldiers (some estimates are higher) at the Battle of Flodden Field on September 9th, 1513, a number that included King James IV and much of the nobility of Scotland.
The song became immensely popular after it was played at the Funeral of Queen Victoria on February 2nd, 1901. It has become a standard, usually played on bagpipes, during Commonwealth funerals for fallen soldiers. It is the official lament of the Canadian armed forces and is currently used regularly by Great Britain, Canada, and Australia. It is likely that the same held true 100 years ago.
The connection between the First World War and the bagpipe tune is cemented, for many, by the words of Australian songwriter Eric Bogle from 1977 in his song No Man’s Land. He wonders at the gravestone of fallen soldier “Willy McBride” whether the pipes played Flowers of the Forest at his funeral in 1916.
Having listened to all of these songs this most recent Armistice Day anniversary, I thought to revisit the Battle of Flodden Field. This was a user-made scenario for Pike and Shot, but one in which I had some disappointment. I wondered if there existed, and in fact found, a user-made scenario for Field of Glory covering the same clash.
Flodden Field was a peripheral battle in the War of the League of Cambrai. Scotland had entered that war in support of their French alliance and launched an invasion of England. The lead up to the invasion gave both sides a chance to prepare armies and within weeks those two armies clashed in what is called The Battle of Flodden or The Battle of Branxton. The Scottish army had the edge in numbers and faced an English border guard while the English King and his army was fighting in France (Thérouanne in now Pas-de-Calais). Nevertheless, the result was a massively one-side victory for the English.
Various factors are credited as delivering the victory to the English. James is blamed for several tactical mistakes leading up to the battle. Also, while the Scots were armed and trained, courtesy of the French, in the latest in infantry warfare, they were still an army without experience. Most often the fight is seen as a victory of the English bill over the Scottish pike. The Scots had used pike formations to notable success since the First Scottish War of Independence. They had more recently been trained in the German and Swiss tactics that had come to dominate the battlefields of continental Europe. However, the moors of Northumberland did not support the same kind of battle of maneuver as did the southern-European plains. In particular, the battle was fought across marshy ground and this terrain broke up the Scottish formations, giving the advantage to the English weapons and tactics. Notably, the Swiss themselves would have their pike formations defeated by the French armies only two years latter, at the Battle of Marignano in September of 1515, permanently moving the bar for the state-of-the-art in warfare.
The scenario I played was created by the same user as several other scenarios I’ve played and appreciated lately, so I felt good about giving it a go.
The battlefield is a more traditional setup than the Pike and Shot version. If your eyes are up to it, note the additional group of units in the bottom right of the mini-map. Because Field of Glory does not allow phased entry, the player was instructed to forgo moving reinforcements until Turn 3. I honored those instructions.
This battle is evenly matched in points. While the notes say that English longbow units were weakened to account for weather, nothing is mentioned about the relative effect of the marsh terrain (clearly shown on the above screenshot) on the Scottish pikes versus the English bills.
I begin to execute my plan. I am advancing to engage the Scots on my right, but to my left I will hold back and wait for my additional arrivals. In reality, it may have taking some taunting to get the Scottish army to advance from their heights into the marshland where the battle took place.
By turn 3, I’ve begun my engagement. I’m trying to to shift the weight of my army to the right, counting on the reinforcements from Sir Edwin Stanley’s force, which I have just begun moving towards the sound of the guns.
By turn 9, the Scottish wings have collapsed, leaving only the King defending the center.
While it is not clear whether particular disadvantages of the Scottish formations are modeled, a lack of leadership and tactical skill is definitely baked in. The Field of Glory AI will tend to struggle in an evenly-matched battle, some initial tense moments aside, the English advance inevitably to victory.
In the end, the result is not terribly ahistoric and probably evolved similarly to the actual battle.
Dule and wae for the order sent our lads to the Border;
The English, for ance, by guile wan the day:
The Flowers of the Forest, that foucht aye the foremost,
The prime o’ our land are cauld in the clay.
For the War of the League of Cambrai, the first scenario featured in Pike and Shot is of the Battle of Revenna. The battle was one of the larger field battles of the war and, important to this context, one of the more balanced ones. In it the player commands the Spanish, who have a smaller army defending prepared defenses against the French.
In playing this scenario I lost my first play through and only then read an account of the actual fight. What struck me is how closely my reactions matched that of my historical counterpart. My initial plan was to use my defenses to counter the French numerical superiority. The problem is that well-positioned French artillery were able to strike part of my position (the cavalry) and it became clear that simply waiting out the French attack was a losing stratagem. At that point I initiated an attack with the right wing of my cavalry, mirroring the actual battle. As a result of the artillery damage combined with bad terrain, the force of my attack was blunted, my cavalry began to fail, and my center eventually succumbed to superior numbers. I’m impressed by the scenario design which shoehorns the unsuspecting player into the historical, and failed, strategy. Presumably the “game” is to, knowing what failed, come up with an alternative plan that succeeds.
The Battle of Revenna was notable for the extended artillery duel that preceded the battle and, indeed, forced the eventual outcome. It may have been a first in terms of both the extended use of field artillery and its effectiveness in driving the outcome. Gamewise, that is more interesting to me than trying again and again to “beat” the historical outcome.
I decided to go back to the beginning of the war. Europa Universalis has as one of the (relatively few) stock scenarios a War of the League of Cambrai start.
The war that commenced in 1508 continued the Italian War pattern of pan-European involvement in the struggles for control of Italy. At the outset, both France and Spain were entrenched in Italy, with France controlling Milan and Spain controlling Naples. As part of the fallout from the earlier wars, however, Pope Julius II was displeased with Venetian independence, particularly with regard to the cities of Romagna, recently released from Borgia control. Julius called upon first Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian and then France to dislodge Venice from the area.
During the course of the war, sides were fluid. Treaties and alliances were made and remade as the various rulers attempted to maximize their advantage and control. It is a situation that would tend to push the EUIV diplomatic algorithms beyond their limits.
As such, the opening of the scenario has some notable departures from the historical situation. Earlier in 1508, Maximilian had tried and failed to attack Venice with his armies and had thus entered into a truce. In game terms, this would preclude the League of Cambrai from being formed in December of 1508 with a renewed attack from France and the HRE.The scenario opens with Venice (which I chose to play) at war with both France and Austria, with large armies from both closing in.
Similar to the above, League signatories Castile and the Papal States are not at war with Venice. In fact, Venice is on fairly decent terms with both. Given that they weren’t military involved with the war, this may be a necessary hack to the scenario to make sure that those two powers are able to align with Venice, as happened in July, 1510.
As I began, I moved my Venetian army, united, to deal with the French invaders. Historically, the loss at the Battle of Agnadello is blamed in part on the division of the Venetion forces due to an inability of the commanding Orsini cousins to agree on strategy. Given the almost 4:1 French superiority of numbers, it is hard to imagine that Venice could have done anything other than lose completely, faced with the might of both France and the HRE. Such it was in my game, as I eventually lost all territory except Venice itself, protected from attack by my fleets.
It was at this point that the game completely veered off from the course of history.
Historically, Venice’s adversaries had made a pact before the invasion in which they agreed to a partitioning of the spoils of war. In defeat, Venice was forced to give up the entirety of her Northern Italian territories.
In the game, however, the French merely demanded war reparations in the form of both a lump-sum payment and a monthly tribute. While burdensome, this was well warranted by the scale of the loss and considerably more palatable than the historical result.
This lead me to a lengthy period of peace in Italy that was completely ahistorical. I shouldn’t say total peace, because the Pope was up to various machinations in Northern Italy, but peace relative the pan-European conflict that the War of the League of Cambrai was turning into at this same time period.
With less than six months to go before the historical end of the War, my peace was shattered by the Ottoman empire. In an attempt to extend their hold over Greece, they challenged by claim to the Greek island of Corfu. The resulting war was decidedly lopsided. The Ottoman forces were invincible on land, but their navies were quickly dispatched by the Christian coalition, with the huge Venetian galley force being decisive. It took several years, but eventually the Ottoman Empire buckled under the Venetian blockades.
One other fallout from my light peace agreement is that the Austrian claim on Verona was never satisfied. In mid-1517, they again declared war (this would have been after the real war came to a close, so drawing historical parallels is problematic) to make good on their claim.
Dealing with Austria was not so easy as the Ottomans. The continental Turkish holdings (primarily Greece, in this context) was separated from Italy by Hungary and Austria. The Ottomans were unable to bring their considerable land armies to bear against my island holdings. The HRE, by contrast, had land access to all of Italy except Venice itself, making my navy almost totally irrelevant. I did defeat whatever Austrian ships were nearby and, even while still bashing the Turks into submissions, could protect Venice proper. But on the Italian mainland I could only watch as the Austrians took my territories, one by one. Furthermore, in this case, the allies who gladly joined the “Crusade” against the Ottomans demurred when it came to fighting the HRE.
In both cases, balanced land battles were simply not on the plate. In large part, one of my goals in playing this particular scenario was to test out the Total War Battle Mod and this foiled my attempt.
My idea here was to modify the files for “random” scenarios in Pike and Shot, both the campaign version and the skirmish version, and use that to build appropriate armies for EU4 battles. The Total War Battle Mod is supposed to skew the results in EU4 based on a user input descriptor of the off-line tactical battle. I thought my work in Pike and Shot was bearing considerable fruit. I stripped down the army choices in the stock “Pike and Shot” campaign to only those appropriate to the War of the League of Cambrai time period. Then I added back in variants of the armies – no artillery or all-infantry, for example. This allowed me to create roughly armies of my choice, but random on randomly-generated maps. Less successful was the fiddling with the Battle Mod. It may have been working, and I just couldn’t see the results. Suffice to say I’m not quite sure how it is supposed to work.
Snap Back to Reality
In actuality, by March of 1513, Venice had joined with France by entering an agreement to retake Northern Italy and divide it between them. After some initial, rapid advances, the French army was caught by surprise while besieging Novara, in the present-day Piedmont region of Italy.
This battle is included in the stock scenarios for Pike and Shot. The player takes the French side of the battle. The French were alerted to the approach of Swiss Mercenaries, but were caught by surprise by a night march and began the battle unprepared for the Swiss relief force. The French have superior numbers as well as a better mix of infantry, cavalry and artillery. The trick is, and the scenario tells you in the introduction, you are disorganized in the initial deployment. If you simply use your units to fight the nearest enemy, as I did in my first play through, you will lose, just as the French did. The scenario is also a reminder that just because your Landsknechts look the same size as the Swiss pike formations doesn’t mean that they are. Look at the actual count before charging.
The scenario is winnable if you are able to learn a few of these lessons. The French did not have that opportunity. Their loss at Novara forced them to retreat entirely from the Italian peninsula and inaugurated several years of defeats and left Venice in the lurch.
Two of those defeats are portrayed in Pike and Shot via user-created scenarios. The Battle of the Spurs (above screenshot) models the involvement of England in the conflict. Another user-made scenario depicts the Battle of Flodden (below screenshot).
The Battle of Flodden pits the English “second string” against a Scottish army trained to fight in German formations. It was a huge loss for the Scots and, by extension, another in a string of losses for the French cause.
These two battles were historically one-sided fights and, likely for that reason, didn’t make it into the released scenario set. For the Battle of the Spurs the set up is so one-sided, it seems designed almost to illustrate how hopeless the cause was. The French had hoped to out-maneuver and surprise the English, but instead were spotted and wound up facing a foe with combined arms outnumbering their horse four-to-one. In this scenario, the battle starts with this mistake already having been made. The designers notes say it is “very difficult.” You don’t say.
For the Battle of Flodden, the player is given command of the victorious English and is asked to reproduce the landslide victory. This is easier said than done. The English “Bill and Bow” units, the backbone of their army, are no match for the Scottish pike formations. Unfortunately this does not jive with the historical result, nor the scant information I’ve read about the battle thus far. It was perhaps the last battle in England fought between medieval armies (albeit with the support of field artillery). Like Cynocephalae for the ancients, it was also a test of the Scots traditional use of pike formations versus the English use of the bill. Although the Scots had been trained in German-style battle, their pike units were not the equivalent of the Swiss “Keils” or the German Landsknecht. Furthermore, the tactics of the Swiss were less than suitable for the marshy ground from which they made there attack. A contemporary battle report notes that “the English halberdiers decided the whole affair” and the battle is held as an example as the end of the era of pike.
None of this is evident when I play the English in this scenario. I have no doubt there is a “trick” that would allow the player to recreate the historical victory. The usual tricks don’t work. Defeating the Swiss can be a matter of picking a wing and gaining local superiority in numbers. Unfortunately, the number of Scots pike units makes it very difficult to out-maneuver them. There always seems to be a couple more ready to jump into the breach.
Anyway, back to the war.
Eventually, the French King (Louis XII) died and Francis I succeeded him. Francis formed a new invasion force and moved to regain Milan. In an episode that defies rules of most any period game, the Pope made peace with France and returned control of Milan to Francis, according to his royal claim. However, the Swiss Mercenaries were concerned that they wouldn’t be paid for defending Milan unless they actually defeated the French armies, and refused to give up the fight.
The resulting battle once again pitted the Swiss Infantry against a mixed force of French cavalry and artillery in combination with German Landsknecht in a flashback to Novara. Once again, the Swiss stole a march on the French and began the attack before the French were fully organized. This time (in reality and in the stock scenario in Pike and Shot) the French were victorious. The loss of the battle and the subsequent desertion of the remaining Swiss mercenaries meant the end of the war.