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Why studying history is fighting a losing battle

ON reading that the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden was to be commemorated next year, the first question that arose for many people was: "Who won?" I'd to rack even my gigantic – some would say elephantine, as in fatheaded – brain, and felt rather as if I was checking the Hibs score.

With similar results.

It was, of course, a defeat. I'm told they teach Scottish history in school now, though we never got any. You had to leave school to learn your country's history. Maybe they thought all the defeats would just depress people.

They could make that the name of the subject. "Aw jeez, I've an hour of geography now." "That's nothing. I've got maths followed by double defeats."

If you're educated and therefore unfamiliar with Flodden, allow me to provide a detailed summary based on a quick look at Wikipedia. I promise you a stirring tale, so pour yourself a pint of sherry and harken as I tell of John "The Bastard" Heron, a demon called Plotcock, and Kelso's medieval equivalent of Elvis.

Actually, I've kind of peaked early there, deploying all my heavy artillery at the start, so allow me to proceed for the time being with a few limp arrows fired vaguely in the direction of historical background.

Basically, it was all Henry VIII's fault. The fat psychopath had been bumming himself up as overlord of Scotia. This put Scottish backs up. At the same time, we wanted to help the French, who were trying to stop Henry sitting on them too.

Scotland and France were part of the Auld Alliance, which was presumably known as the New Alliance at some point. Doesn't matter. To this day, the French have never heard of it. It's like our never reciprocated praise for Norway. You suspect they find it all a bit embarrassing.

James IV summoned his lieges and announced: "We march into Northumbria!" And everyone replied: "That sounds like a plan!" But privately they went away thinking: "What's the point of that?"

As a pretext for invasion, James cited the murder of a Scotsman by the aforementioned John "The B-word" Heron and, after a wee swallie, set off with 30,000 men for a pagger.

Unfortunately, with his heid messed up by medieval notions of chivalry, he had already given the English a month's notice that he was coming, writing to the Earl of Surrey: "I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but I plan on looping your heid aff. Please find enclosed a suggested itinerary."

In Northumbria, James wasted more time chatting up the local birds, Lady Heron and her daughter. Meanwhile, in the traditional manner, the Scots started fighting among themselves, with the Earl of Angus saying they should turn back.

James said he could just go hame well, upon which the earl burst into tears. This was never going to have a happy ending, was it? To sum up: we tellt them we were coming, started fighting among ourselves, and somebody went hame greetin'.

At the battle scene, the Scots were persuaded off their favourable position, as it wasn't fair (Earl of Surrey: "Jeez, what a dumbass this guy is"). Also, unlike the English, who put their plebs to the fore, the Scots put their officers in the frontline, where they were all killed, leaving no one to organise the traditional Scottish tactic of an orderly retreat.

Thus defeat turned into a rout. James was killed "by an arrow and a bill", it says here. Couldn't have been the leccy, so maybe it was the catering.

However, rumours soon started that James wasn't killed at all and, afterwards, there were several sightings of him shopping in Kelso.

If he'd heeded the demon Plotcock, none of this might have happened. According to legend, as the Scottish army gathered in Edinburgh, Plotcock appeared at the Mercat Cross, reading out the names of those who would be killed.

Be that as it may, the plot to invade England was a cock-up, and another glorious defeat was chalked up on the blackboard of Scottish history. I look forward to celebrating it next year, accompanied by the usual arguing and greetin'.

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