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Northumberland history lover brings alive one of Britain's bloodiest battles

John Sadler's new book Blood Divide: A Novel of Flodden Field promises to appeal to lovers of fiction and fact alike

John Sadler, from Belsay and his new book, Blood Divide: A Novel of Flodden Field
John Sadler, from Belsay and his new book, Blood Divide: A Novel of Flodden Field

Local history isn’t just an interest for John Sadler.

He lives it, quite literally sometimes as the military historian, author and lecturer is also a battlefield tour guide and historical interpreter who dons various costumes to bring his favourite subject alive.

And the latest book by the father-of-two from Belsay, Northumberland, who set up popular local reenactment group Time Bandits, promises to do the same for us.

Blood Divide: A Novel of Flodden Field aims to vividly recreate for readers the horrors of what was one of Britain’s bloodiest battles.

Fought on the border of north Northumberland and Scotland, the Battle of Flodden, whose 500-year anniversary was marked with a series of commemorative events last year, left more than 12,000 dead including the Scots King James IV along with virtually all of his noblemen.

It was the largest ever battle between the two kingdoms and, after a bloodbath in the field near Branxton, saw the smaller English army emerge victorious

Sadler’s novel, which fleshes out and constructs motives for some real-life characters whom history knows little about, will, say publishers, “put you in the heart of the action; the stink, sweat and fear, the curtain of red mist”.

John, who has taken part himself in Flodden re-enactments and hosted a tour to the site during last year’s commemorative events, says: “I’ve always been interested in this particular battle, the biggest ever fought in Britain and one which is well known in the north of England but not so much in the south.

John Sadler, from Belsay in Northumberland, who has written a new book, Blood Divide: A Novel of Flodden Field
John Sadler, from Belsay in Northumberland, who has written a new book, Blood Divide: A Novel of Flodden Field

“Scotland has very difference views obviously!”

And reverberations are still being felt, he says. It’s even more topical with the rallying of Scottish pride during the recent campaign for independence, with many Scots reflecting on the battle as a source of national pride.

“It’s remarkable how passionate people still are,” says John.

“Flodden has had a romantic gloss put on it whereby it’s perceived as a glorious defeat.”

But despite Scots’ claims of English aggression, “it was the other way round”.

“They were the aggressors and we were defending.

“They blamed the English for killing all the nobles and take no notice of the fact they were attacking us. It was a defensive battle not an aggressive one for us.”

He notes that while in Scotland a new visitor centre was built to commemorate Bannockburn, for Flodden “we re-painted a telephone box and put leaflets in it”.

Blood Divide, which is published by Lion Fiction, is the first historical fiction title for the author of more than two dozen non-fiction titles and he says the genre frees him up to explore ideas behind the cold facts.

“Generally speaking there just aren’t enough records of the time. This is fiction to put flesh on the bones of people, to explore characters and motivation to a degree: fiction gives that kind of freedom.”

The father of two daughters - one working in business in London and the other a captain in the Royal Engineers who read his books but “overdosed on castles and battlefields when they were about 10” - hopes readers, especially those who might not be the type to pick up a factual history book, will be inspired to find out more.

Having a good starting point thanks to his broad knowledge of the iconic 1513 battle, the writing of the book then took about 19 months, he says.

Inspired by Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe books, he’s gone for “boys’ own history, good fun and gratuitous violence!” with characters such as the shrewd Sir Thomas Howard, leader of the English forces; his opponent Alexander, 3rd Lord Hume; and Isabella Hoppringle, Abbess of Coldstream, pitched into its bloody action.


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