And now: The Lost Bones of a Scottish King

Flodden Field. Source: Wikipedia

Flodden Field. Source: Wikipedia

Oh, lawks-a-mercy, what a tangled web.

Digging up a king from a car park has enthused everyone else who thinks they might have a similar unidentified monarch out there.

And the Scots are no exception: the man credited as Scotland’s greatest king died on the battlefield.

And you will not beLIEVE the convoluted soap opera which is the story of his bones.

Born in 1473, son of  James III and Margaret of Denmark, it is generally accepted that James IV was A Good King.He quashed rebellions with efficiency, bringing the last Lord Of The Isles into submission. He maintained an uneasy peace with England, give or take the abortive invasion of 1496 to support a man who said he was one of the princes in the Tower.

He was a man of culture, who spoke several languages with ease; and he granted the Edinburgh College of Surgeons a charter. He carried out an extensive building programme, and fostered two great dockyards and an extensive navy.

But his treaties with France and England got him into hot water. When Bluff King Hal invaded France, history says that James felt himself compelled to invade England.

He didn’t get very far: to Flodden Field, to be exact. And he was shot through the head with an arrow, and Scotland, some argue, was never quite the same again.

And that’s where things get very hazy. The truth is, no-one knows where James’s body lies.

But it could be beneath a Surrey golf course.

It seems that a Christian burial might have been a bit of the problem after James offended the Pope. Back when His Holiness liked Henry VIII, James broke a treaty with England. It was rather hopefully named the Treaty of Perpetual Peace.

But James invaded and thus the Pope said he wasn’t a Catholic any more, and so when he died there was nowhere royal enough and uncatholic enough to bury him.

So – according to a book called The Flower of Fame, printed in 1575. – the Earl took the body home and stashed it in a storeroom at a monastery in Sheen, Surrey.

And everything was all right for 20 years until that pesky Henry dissolved the monasteries and Sheen was razed to the ground.

And then all hell let loose. One rumour says James’s skull was removed and used as a football, before Elizabeth I’s master glazier snaffled it as a souvenir. Eventually it seems someone had a little respect and the skull was buried in a church in the City of London, now long torn down and covered with a pub called – I am not making this up – the Red Herring.

So the Flodden 1513 Club – yes, there is one –  favours the theory that James’s body is sited beneath the 14th fairway of the Mid-Surrey Golf Course, his head under The Red Herring.

Meanwhile, the College of Arms in London is reputed to have James’s sword, dagger and personal ring shoved in an oldfish tank of old Zulu artefacts and other war trophies. Read a letter to the Scottish Herald on the subject here.

But it’s all one to the Flodden 1513 Ecomuseum, which has just carried out a dig to see if the King’s body might have been whisked off to Norham Castle, Northumberland – a castle near the battlefield – after his death.

So far, though, the only bones found have been those of a deer.

We are none the wiser: which is a shame, because the total sum of all wisdom on James IV and his body’s fate amounts to foolishness.

But then: now Richard III has been found under a Leicester car park, anything is possible.

An. Y. Thing.


 ‘The dead body of the King of Scottes was found among the other carcasses in the fielde and from thence brought to London, and so through London streets on horseback. And  from thence it was carried to Sheene (neere unto Brentford), whereat the Queen then lay,and there the perjured carcas lyeth unto this day unburied.’ 

The Flower of Fame, 1575


20 thoughts on “And now: The Lost Bones of a Scottish King

  1. How is it that such powerful kingdoms can’t keep track of their dead kings?! Ye Gads, tis a mystery for sure. Surely you can track their mobile phones. 🙂

  2. It would be good if he was found, Kate… but then, everyone will be digging up everywhere hoping they’ll find some hidden royalty buried beneath! Love the Red Herring!!!

  3. How fascinating! I am so grateful to curious history-chasers willing to so deeply invest of themselves to solve, if possible, a 500 year old mystery! It’s almost unimaginable to consider 10,000 dead on both sides in the Battle of Flodden. I can’t help but wonder what’s under that golf course and I don’t suppose it’s any time too soon there’ll be permission to dig it up, but please keep us posted on the search for James!

  4. I think this looks almost likeit should be a post for the 1st April 😉 I’ll be impressed if you ever get to the bottom of this mystery!

  5. Somewhere in the otherworld, the dead monarchs are raising a tankard to the kingfinders, I’m sure.

    Perhaps a kind of cow patty bingo is in order?

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