THE WARNING BEFORE FLODDEN by Tom Bryson
A commissioned short play inspired by the 1874 painting by the Scots painter John Faed, displayed in the Wolverhampton Art Gallery’s Victorian Rooms. This was one of six plays commissioned through New City Playwrights based on displayed artwork and objects and performed in the Art Gallery space and in local schools over a two-week run.
(Directed by Ali Belbin, actors Greg Hobbs, Dan Hagley, Hema Mangoo)
Today, September 9 is the 500th anniversary of a bloody battle in 1513 that changed the course of UK history. Some argue that a different outcome and the Act of Union between England and Scotland might never have happened.
I was drawn to write a short play based on the Battle of Flodden as part of a commission to celebrate the refurbishment of Wolverhampton Art Gallery’s Victorian Collection. As a dramatist/novelist – I wanted to give the play strong human conflict hence the emphasis on the quarrel between King James of Scotland and King Henry VIII of England over Margaret and ‘Sir Andrew’. Quarrels within families (including Royals) can lead to the most dire consequences – even the fall of a nation and the course of history changed. As some historians have commented would the Act of Union between England and Scotland have happened without Flodden? Or if a different outcome, which country might have been the senior/junior partner?
To give the story some contemporary resonances I ‘mirrored’ or ‘paralleled’ the story of the rivalry between two kings with rival Scotland and England football fans and their respective ‘military’ leaders. ‘Gaz’ and ‘Big Jock’. In The Battle of Flodden King Henry didn’t turn up – he was already fighting in France! In the Caledonian pub car park fight it’s ‘King’ Big Jock who doesn’t turn up!
I was intrigued by the legend of a ‘ghost’ issuing a warning (in Faed’s painting and very Victorian) not to go to war that went unheeded. And so I used St John’s materialization again in the modern setting.
As they say, ‘Never let the truth (or history for that matter) get in the way of a good story’
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- Flodden 500 Years On: The Flower of Scotland, Lying Cold in the Clay (blogs.spectator.co.uk)