Meantime hostilities had begun on the border by the ‘Ill Raid’ of Lord Home, the chamberlain, who was defeated by Sir W. Bulmer at Broomridge, near Millfield. Before leaving England, Henry had sent Surrey from Dover to defend the borders, and James had summoned his feudal array to meet him at the Borough Muir of Edinburgh. Before leaving Linlithgow he had been warned against the war by one of the best attested apparitions in history. Sir David Lindsay, who was present, told the story to George Buchanan. A version, enlarged after the event in the prose of Pitscottie, and turned into poetry by Scott in ‘Marmion,’ describes how a bald-headed old man, in blue gown, with ‘brotikins’ on his feet, and belted with a linen girdle, suddenly appeared at the king's desk while he prayed, and prophesied his defeat and death. In Edinburgh another apparition at the Cross summoned by name the citizens on the way to the muster to the tribunal of Plotcock (Pluto or the devil), and one only, who protested, escaped that fatal summons. James nevertheless advanced with haste to Norham at the head of eighty thousand men, according to the English reports, certainly with as large a force as any Scottish king had brought into the field, and with artillery hitherto unequalled. He took Norham on 28 Aug., after a six days' siege, during which he held a parliament or council at Twiselhaugh, and seized the smaller castles of Wark, Etal, and Ford within a few days. At Ford he met the wife of its owner, still a prisoner in Scotland, and, according to an early tradition (which Pitscottie first put into history, and Buchanan adopted), he was himself taken captive by the beauty of its mistress, and wasted in a criminal intrigue the precious days which allowed Surrey to advance to the border. Surrey was at Newcastle on the 30th ‘to give an example to those that should follow.’ On Sunday, 4 Sept., he sent from Alnwick a herald proposing battle on Friday, the 9th. James detained the English herald, Rouge Croix, and sent his own, accepting the challenge. Surrey advanced to Woolerhaugh, within three miles of the Scottish camp, which was on the side of Flodden, a ridge of the Cheviots. He then made a feint march, as if about to attack the Scots on the flank, and posted his force under Barmoorwood, only two miles distant. On Friday he approached Flodden, and James, fearing that the enemy would march to Scotland, left his strong position on the hill, setting fire to the litter of his camp. The smoke impeded the view, and the two armies were within a mile before they could see each other. They met at the foot of Brankston Hill, the Scots keeping the higher ground to the south, the English on the east and west with their backs to the north. The artillery began the battle. James advanced with his main body in five or six divisions, but two formed the reserve and did not engage. It was met by the English in the same order. The king himself fought on foot in the third division. He fell within a spear's length from Surrey. Only two commanders in his division, Sir William Scot and Sir John Forman, escaped death, and they were taken prisoners. The defeat was total except on the left wing, where Lord Home and Huntly had for a time the advantage. The Scots' loss was reckoned at ten thousand by the English. Among the slain were the king's son the archbishop, the Bishop of the Isles and two abbots, twelve earls, thirteen lords, and fifty heads of families only less than noble. Every part of the country felt the blow. James is said to have clad several men in the same dress as himself that he might not be known, and might take the place of an ordinary combatant. It was variously rumoured in Scotland that he survived, that he had been treacherously slain after the battle, and that he had gone to the Holy Land. But his body was recognised, and the sword, dagger, and ring in the Heralds' College attest his death. His corpse lay unburied till Henry VIII in mockery got leave from his ally, the pope, to commit the corpse of one excommunicated to consecrated ground; but, according to Stow, it was still left, lapped in lead, in a waste room in the Carthusian monastery of Sheen till Young, the master-glazier of Queen Elizabeth, gave it an ignoble burial with the bones from the charnel-house in the church of St. Michael's.
James left only one legitimate child, his successor, James V. Five other children of Queen Margaret, whose second husband was Archibald Douglas, sixth earl of Angus [q. v.], had died infants. His illegitimate children by Marion Boyd were Alexander Stewart [q. v.], archbishop of St. Andrews; James, to whom there is a solitary reference in a letter printed by Ruddiman as a possible candidate, when only eight years old, for the abbacy of Dunfermline; and Catherine, who married James, earl of Morton; James Stewart, earl of Moray (1499–1544) [q. v.], by Janet Kennedy; Margaret, who married John, lord Gordon, by Margaret Drummond; and Jean, who married Malcolm, lord Fleming, by Isabel Stewart, daughter of the Earl of Buchan; and probably Henry, called Wemyss, bishop of Galloway (Keith, Scottish Bishops, p. 278), by a lady of that name.
Several authentic portraits of James IV