As a primary school boy in Aberdeen I was taught, with some gusto, about Scotland's glorious victory over the English at Bannockurn.

I cannot recall being taught about our terrible defeat at Flodden Field.

Yet a mature nation, particularly one that is contending for its independence, should consider its defeats every bit as much as its triumphs. As the 500th anniversary of Flodden approaches (it falls on September 9) there is every sign that we are taking the opportunity for sensible reflection on this catastrophe. These two books, each of them readable and authoritative, will help this process. Goodwin's is a traditional narrative, with a strong emphasis on personality; Sadler and Serdiville provide more in the way of quirky and unexpected insights.

Scotland's King James IV had led the largest army Scotland ever assembled just across the Border to fight what, it has to be said, was England's second-string army. The first army was in France at the time, led by England's blustering monarch Henry VIII. It was of course humiliating to be beaten by the B-team, but such was the sheer scale of the defeat that even such embarrassing considerations were subsumed. Flodden was a short-term disaster for Scotland.

But it was not a long-term disaster, and for this the defeated James IV, who died in the battle, must take some of the credit. If he is to be blamed for the various mistakes he made in his last hours, then he must in all fairness be praised for the administrative reforms he had introduced in trying to create a modern polity. Scotland just about held together after the defeat, and that reflected well on what the dead king had achieved in the years before the battle.

Nonetheless, the battle left a gaping void in Scottish life. Much of the country's elite was wiped out, and Scotland was for a time leaderless, bereft and vulnerable. Luckily the English were not interested in exploiting the many post-battle opportunities presented to them. Also, James had built a reasonably sophisticated system of government that just about survived. Scotland did not fall into anarchy. In a book about the Reformation I once wrote that "Confidence and authority drained out of the kingdom as fast as the blood had seeped from the bodies of the fallen". Maybe so, but Scotland recovered steadily and with surprising results.

Indeed it could be argued that after a generation or so, Scotland was doing rather well. Relations with England were appalling until the middle of the century, but then matters improved dramatically. In 1560 the Treaty of Edinburgh brought to a head a remarkable train of events after an English queen sent her army and her navy north not to fight the Scots, but to aid them in driving the French out of their country. At the same time Scotland was, in her remarkable Reformation, embarking on a quasi-democratic national experiment which was as much educational and social as religious in its import.

The almost utopian programme of social welfare and democratic education which Scotland introduced in the latter part of the 16th century was to have a very ameliorative influence over many generations to come.

For this reason I find it extraordinary that George Goodwin concludes his book by suggesting that Scottish self-confidence was lost for the rest of the 16th century. Rather, much was improving towards the end of the century, not least the significant improvement in relations with England. It was the 16th century that saw Scotland's (not always beneficial) alliance with France finally end, and the beginning of a new era of much more positive and constructive relations with our great neighbour to the south.

France had not helped Scotland in her time of extreme need, and the progressive course of Anglo-Scottish relations from the middle of the century onwards benefited Scotland enormously. Of course this new settlement was to be severely tested, notably in the 17th century, but the key point is that Flodden did not lead to the long-term dominance of England over a stricken and defeated nation. Far from it.

But these two books are mainly concerned with the build-up to the battle and, of course, the battle itself, rather than the extended aftermath. Both are well researched and comprehensive; John Sadler has already written extensively and well about the violent history of the Borders, and his intimate knowledge of the terrain around Flodden is a decided bonus.

John Sadler and Rosie Serdiville

The History Press, £16.99

The Battle Of Flodden 1513

George Goodwin

Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £20

Fatal Rivalry: Flodden 1513