Monday, 9 September 2013

The Battle of Flodden Field … and the bizarre tale of the King’s Head

September 9th –  Today (9th September 2013) is the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden Field, one of the bloodiest ever fought on British soil, between the English and the Scots.

According to Stow, in his “Survay of London written in the Year 1598” (*), sometime after the battle, the decapitated head of the defeated Scottish King, James IV, ended up being buried in  the church of St Michael, Wood Street, just off Cheapside.

The church was later  burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666, rebuilt  by Christopher Wren between 1670-75, and modified  in 1887-88, only to be demolished in 1897.

Nothing remains of it at its former site, now occupied by the “Red Herring” public house.

St Michael's Wood Street - the Wren version rebuilt after the Great Fire

The site is visited on our special “Lost Wren Churches of London” walk.

Please note that this walk, and indeed any of our others, can be booked by e-mail ( or phone (020-8998-3051).

(*) The relevant part of the text reads more-or-less in full as follows: “There is …  , … without any outward monument, the head of James, the fourth king of Scots of that name, slain at Flodden field, and buried here by this occasion: After the battle the body of the said king being found, was enclosed in lead, and conveyed … to the monastery of Shene in Surrey … .  Since the which time workmen there, for their foolish pleasure, hewed of his head; and Lancelot Young, master glazier to her majesty [Elizabeth I], … seeing the same dried from all moisture, and yet the form remaining, with the hair of the head, and beard red, brought it to London to his house in Wood Street, where for a time he kept it … , but in the end caused the sexton of that church to bury it amongst other bones … “.

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