It is not known exactly when the flag was introduced into the Common-Riding. The flag is mentioned first in 1703. However, it was certainly used long before then. The standard-bearer, or Cornet, was a young man. He was chosen to mark the bravery of the youths of Hawick at a battle. The battle took place at Hornshole in 1514.
In those days England and Scotland were separate countries. They were often at war with each other. In 1513 the Scottish army under King James IV suffered a terrible defeat at the Battle of Flodden.
King James put his army in a good position at Flodden (Flodden is about six miles south of Coldstream). His back was to Scotland and his face to England. The Earl of Surrey, who led the English Army, marched round the Scots. He drew his army up behind. This forced the Scots to turn round in order to fight and made it impossible for many to escape back to Scotland if they were defeated. It was a very daring thing to do because if Surrey was defeated he also could only retreat into enemy country.
The battle began at 4 p.m. on 9th September. It carried on well into the night. Although the Scots fought with great bravery they were defeated. In this terrible battle the King himself died. Also an archbishop, four abbots, twelve earls, seventeen lords, 400 knights and about 10-12,000 men were killed. This was about a third of the whole Scottish Army. In a country of only about three quarters of a million, almost every family in Scotland had someone who was killed.
Sir William Douglas and almost all of Hawick's fighting men were among the dead. This was most of the able-bodied men of the town. There is a famous Scottish lament, a song of mourning, for those killed at Flodden - "The Flowers of the Forest".
The loss of so many fighting men meant that the whole Borders area was left with no real defence against the English. The Earl of Surrey realised this. Although he too had lost many men he split up his surviving men, almost half of these troops going home ("After Flodden was decided, Surrey had his troops divided"). The remaining troops organised raids. These raids were carried out to make sure that the people of the Borders could cause the English little trouble. Lord Dacre, whose title was Warden of the Marches, sent some troops to Teviotdale. With great cruelty they plundered, burned and killed. They left famine and destruction behind them. Towns and houses were burned. Cattle and sheep were taken by the hundred and crops destroyed.
Some of these soldiers stopped at Ashkirk after raiding the surrounding area. They decided they had gone far enough from their base in England. On their way home they halted at Hornshole. Hornshole is only about two miles from Hawick and was a convenient stopping place before crossing the border. Here the River Teviot narrows into a deep, dark pool and the English camped on the steep, shady banks.
When news of their presence was brought to the people of Hawick the thought that a party of English raiders was advancing towards the town, burning and destroying all in their path, must have caused great alarm and fear. The number and strength of the English were not known. So, with great bravery, the youths of Hawick set off to meet them. They carried what weapons they could find such as spears, halberds, swords and clubs. They met the English near Hornshole where they soundly defeated the enemy and captured a flag. Proudly carrying the flag they returned in triumph to Hawick. This must have cheered the people greatly in those hard, sad times.
This event became part of the Common-Riding ceremonies soon afterwards. A flag is proudly carried by the young man (the Cornet) chosen to honour his famous predecessor.
One interesting thought about the original Cornet is that he could have been Sir James Douglas. We are not certain what his date of birth is but some people believe he was born in 1498. If this is so then Sir James would have been sixteen in 1514. So he would likely have been a member of the Hawick party. Indeed with his family background it is possible that he would have been the one who took the flag and carried it proudly back to Hawick.