The King’s Coat

"King Jamie hath made a vow,
Keepe it well if he may:
That he will be at lovely London
Upon Saint James his day"

Flodden Field is a grim, soaked name:  soaked in rain, soaked in blood.  The name is dark with lowering clouds, heavy against a gangrenous sky of gray and green.  It is without warmth, save for the life forces absorbed into the parasitic ground as the great men lay dying.  It is a name without horizon; a killing field symbolizing Scotland's shame and despair.

In 1513, King Henry VIII was in France.  He rode arched Friesian horses into his small battles,  feeling their muscular spirits through his hands and legs.  He wore suits of armor tattooed with gems so audacious that they made the sun look away in a fit of pique.  His tents were thick with tapestries; animals, a frozen heraldic population, stared from within their embroidered forests.  Local girls ran out with wild, scented garlands in their hands to take a look at the young and beautiful English king.

He left his wife at home.

Queen Katherine was made regent in the king's absence.  Symbolically, the cold and knight-errant island was hers.  But although she was mild and devout, a pale nun in cold velvet, there were fires lurking inside her.  Isabella of Castile was her mother:  leader of the Spanish Inquisition, a warrior against the Jews and Muslims; fearless, intolerant, brilliant.  It was her blood that warmed her daughter's pallid faith.

When it became known in Scotland that the king of England was away to France, James IV – linguist, scientist, builder, adulterer – raised his head from his mistress' breast to listen. 

The 'Auld Alliance' with France, nearly 250 years old, had to be honored.  England was ripe for invasion.  So, despite his queen's protestations and precognitive dreams, a massive army – with an arrogance as heavy as the armor on their backs – was assembled.

Queen Margaret begged him not to go to war with her brother.

"Then bespake good Queene Margaret,
The teares fell from her eye:
'Leave off these warres, most noble King,
Keep your fidelitie.'"

Flodden Field is located in Northumberland, the darkest and saddest of English counties.  The two armies met there in October 1513, behind a mourning veil of rain that beaded on the blades of swords like bold crystals.  Katherine wisely named the Earl of Surrey – 70 years old, memories of past battles stitched into his skin – as the commander of her army.  James, yearning for a chivalry which never existed, led his own army.  Overcome by foolish courage, he galloped beneath the royal standard of Scotland, a blood-red lion that roared in dismay.

The result was a famous English victory, at the cost of 1,500 men.  But the flat, blank field was suddenly mountainous with 10,000 Scottish corpses, and somewhere amongst them lay James IV, punished for his futile dreams.

His torn and bloody coat was sent to Katherine, who proudly had it delivered to her husband.  No one knows what Henry thought as he ran the shattered cloth through his fingers.  It is doubtful that he felt any guilt for his widowed sister, mourning far away from home.

"That day made many a fatherlesse child,
And many a widow poore,
And many a Scottish gay lady
Sate weeping in her bower."

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11 responses to “The King’s Coat

  1. I loved this line:Suits of armor tattooed with gems so audacious that they made the sun look away in a fit of pique.And this one. I could SEE it happen. Very Othello-esque!James IV… raised his head from his mistress' breast to listen.

  2. Such a sad story. I wonder what is left of the battlefield now.You make these stories come to life, Aubrey. I find myself hesitating before I read each new one- because I know you will transport me to another time.

  3. [this is grander than a golden chalice of meade]

  4. I love your style of writing. It's so beautiful….you really make history come to life!

  5. This reminds me of History lessons in high school …. Australia being a Commonwealth country history leaned more towards Britain and Europe than it did towards the Americas.

  6. You do a gorgeous job with history. Are these meant to be part of any larger work, or just things as they strike you?This gives me such writing faith of my own…. from my perspective you are fearlessly writing what you do best, although not many would head down this path. It is so unique and fearless!

  7. How vivid. You actually make learning history fun. Of the many lines that grabbed me, this one particularly stands out: But although she was mild and devout, a pale nun in cold velvet, there were fires lurking inside her. Love it.

  8. Suga' – Initially I thought that James line was a little…florid, but like you, it was an image so clear, so right, that I couldn't get it out of my head. It had to stay.
    pyrit – I don't know…meade tastes mighty good.
    Shutterbug – thanks! History makes me sentimental sometimes, and the subject makes me run with it and make it lively.
    Emjay – this reminds me; in summer school (high school) there was a teacher of European history going to the different classes, trying to recruit students. He'd say things like 'We have kings! Queens! Scandal! Torture! Execution!'. Foolishly, none of us took that very tempting bait.
    p/writebrained – this just struck me. I'm reading a biography of Henry VIII, and I was reminded of the irony and tragedy of the events around Flodden. Reading about it, and researching it, made me positively weepy.
    Wbaby – yay for history! Katherine was absolutely, suffocatingly religious – especially in her later years, when Henry all but deserted her. But she had a warrior spirit – as was also evident in her later years.

  9. Hi You make these stories come to life, Aubrey. I find myself hesitating
    before I read each new one- because I know you will transport me to
    another time.Generic Drugs

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