Listening to the sad music of our history

I’ve been taking part in the Service at St Giles Cathedral to mark the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden – 9th September, 1513. The Service was organised by the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs.

The address was given by Alistair Moffat who recounted the tragic story of it all. The losses numbered 10000 dead including James IV himself and his brother, the Archbishop of St Andrews. He described going to the battlefield and feeling the atmosphere of the place – ‘tuning into the music of our sad history’

Scotland does this kind of thing well – the piper who played ‘Mist Covered Mountain’ and Isla St Clair who sang Flowers of the Forest.

For me it was a classic Scottish outing. For once, I forsook the Megabus and went by train – across the Forth Bridge and into Waverley – up the endless steps to St Giles – and then all the way back again.


  1. The Archbishop of St Andrews was in fact James’s illegitimate son, Alexander Stewart. Erasmus, whose pupil he had been, wrote a moving lament for the 20 year old: “Tell me what you had to do with Mars, the stupidest of all the poets’ gods, you who were consecrated to the Muses, nay, to Christ?…So many endowments of nature, so many good qualities, so many high hopes were swallowed up by one battle charge. Something of mine was lost there too. Namely, the pains I took in teaching you, for whatever in you came from my workmanship was mine.” I used these same words to lament the death in action in Afghanistan of one of my own pupils, a gifted musician and a gentle man. It is terrible that so little changes over half a millennium.

    1. Thanks very much Allan – I’ve had a couple of reminders!
      Like you I found that the event stirred feelings about other times and places – particularly the sad history of my native Ireland

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