The College of Arms holds three artefacts that have a traditional association with the battle of Flodden, where English and Scottish forces famously met in September 1513.

Sword detail1 A4These items - a sword, a dagger and a ring - were deposited in the College of Arms in 1681 by the sixth Duke of Norfolk; the entry in the College Chapter book recording this deposit (which the duke ratified by a deed in 1682) describes the artefacts as "the very Sword and dagger and a gold ring set with a Turquoise Stone which his Ancestor the Duke of Norfolk took from James the 4th, King of Scotland, at the Battle of Flodden Field, where the said King was slain". Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey (and subsequently second Duke of Norfolk), had been the English commander at the battle of Flodden; the defeat of the Scots and the slaying of their king played an important part in English historical identity generally and the story of the Howard family in particular. To this day the coat of arms of the Howards contains an 'augmentation' or small addition signifying the victory, being a version of the Royal arms of Scotland with the lion shown cut off at the waist and pierced by an arrow.

A sketch of the sword and dagger, made before 1774 by Francis Grose, Richmond Herald, was illustrated as the frontispiece to The Battle of Flodden Field by Henry Weber (Edinbugh 1808). In 1850 the then Garter King of Arms, Sir Charles George Young, wrote a short piece about the items and the tradition relating to them in the journal Archaeologia. The sword and dagger were exhibited in 1933 at a Grosvenor Place exhibition on the reign of Elizabeth I, and the following year all three artefacts were displayed at the Heralds' Commemorative Exhibition put on to mark the 450th anniversary of the College of Arms.

Unfortunately considerable doubts about the age of the sword and dagger have subsisted since the early part of the twentieth century, if not before. The 1934 Commemorative Exhibition catalogue stated (p. 42) that "According to expert opinion of the present day, the sword must be some forty or fifty years later" than the battle of Flodden. Expert opinion has been consulted again several times since and it has always tended to similar conclusions, confirming that the sword and dagger constitute a pair and dating them, on stylistic grounds, to the later sixteenth century at the earliest, and also stating that the ring cannot be reliably dated.

Dagger A4In February 2013, in commemoration of the forthcoming anniversary of the battle, and in the hope of learning more about the items in its custody, the College commissioned Dr Ralph Moffat, Curator of European Arms and Armour at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, an acknowledged expert on weaponry of the period, to conduct an examination of the sword and dagger. His report, which can be read in full here (a pdf file), points out that the use of a sword together with a shorter left-hand parrying dagger is itself characteristic of a later age than the battle of Flodden, and cites earlier scholarly opinion that would support a later date for the form of the hilt of both weapons. The report also points out that the sword blade has been refitted and may be older than its present hilt. It concludes that "the sword and dagger can be dated to the late sixteenth century. The sword blade, however, may well be an older example that has been reused and refitted to the hilt".

The probability that the sword in its present form and the dagger date from long after Flodden may be seen as disappointing, although the tantalizing possibility that the sword blade is older than its hilt and the undatability of the ring may hold out some hope that the tradition is not wholly unfounded. However it is of interest that here are three artefacts that have been - rightly or wrongly - associated with Flodden since the 1680s at the latest. Together with other traditions relating to or stemming from the time of the battle, they indicate the great significance that Flodden has held for subsequent ages throughout Britain.


We use session cookies to improve your experience with our website. If you continue using our website without changing your settings, or accept, we'll assume you are happy to receive the cookies set. To find out more about how we use cookies, please read our privacy policy.
To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

I accept cookies from this site.