Battle of Bosworth Field
The Battle of Bosworth Field was fought on the 22nd August 1485 and was the last major battle in the War of the Roses between the Yorkists who were led by King Richard III and the Lancastrians, led by Henry Tudor, Duke of Richmond.
Henry had landed in the county of his birth in Pembrokeshire on the 7th August 1485 with a small force, mainly of French mercenaries. His main aim was to take the throne of England from King Richard III, although Henry did not have any military experience. But he was accompanied with his uncle, Jasper Tudor the first earl of Pembroke and John De Vere, Earl of Oxford who was both seasoned and was greatly experienced.
Richard III had fought with Lancastrians in the past and had defeated them, so he thought Henry would be no different when he heard that Henry had landed in Pembroke. The King had the support of eight thousand men. But the Stanley brothers, Sir William Stanley and Thomas Stanley who had pledged their allegiance to Richard, were distrusted in Richard’s view, even though William Stanley was Richard’s stepfather. Richard had good reason to be suspicious. In the past they had a history of acting very cunningly, holding back from final commitment to either side, always keeping on good terms with the winners.
Henry gathers support
Henry gathered support as he marched through his native father’s Wales. By the time he had crossed into the Midlands he had amassed an army five thousand strong. They were made of French mercenaries, loyal exiles and Welshman. But they were still a few thousand short of Richard’s professional army.
Deployment and Battle
The battle would possibly hinge on who would reach Ambion Hill. It had a high vantage point from which arrows and artillery could be used to repel any attacks made. Richard and Henry believed that whoever would reach the hill first would be in a good position.
Richard reached the hill first, with his men well rested prior to the battle. Henry’s men however had trouble lining up on the rough rugged ground. Richard missed a good opportunity to finish the battle before it had even started, as he could have charged Henry’s disorganised army, inflicting such a blow that Henry would have no choice but to retreat or die as he lay. However Richard missed his chance.
When Henry’s men were finally ready they fired arrows and cannon to try and force Richard to move from his strong defensive position. Richard decided to meet them down the hill, but when he called Henry Percy the Earl of Northumberland who commanded the right flank of Richard’s army to join with his reserves, the earl refused, holding his forces back from the action.
There are reasons why Percy refused to join the battle. One reason is that he thought that the difficult, wooded terrain along with the narrow frontage hampered the Earl’s attempts to reach Richard quickly, but it’s likely that the Earl’s refusal to support Richard was a calculated and intentional move. Proof of this is when he was captured afterwards he was released and kept all his lands.
Although the Earl’s refusal to go into battle hampered Richard’s efforts in the battle it was the Stanley’s that tipped the battles’ outcome.
As the battle raged on Richard’s military commander John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk was killed and the armies of the Stanley’s and Northumberland still did not commit to the battle. Richard thought that both of the earls had betrayed him and his close counsel advised withdrawal as Henry’s men were beginning to get the upper hand in the melee. It was at this time Henry uncertain of which way the battle was going left the main army and rode up to Lord Stanley, asking him to join the battle on his side.
Upon seeing Henry’s position Richard attempted to charge Henry’s small detachment. Richard’s household cavalry hacked down Henry’s small detachment of knights and killed Henry’s standard bearer William Brandon. But as Henry was within sight of Richard the tide turned, as Sir William Stanley came to Henry’s rescue. Stanley’s troops threw themselves into the battle, encircling Richard and his household. In the fighting Richard’s standard bearer Percival Thirwall had his leg hewn away, but still held the standard until he was finished off by Stanley’s men.
Richard was overwhelmed, rumoured to be at the hands of a Welshmen, but sources such as the hostile Polydore Virgil agree that Richard died bravely. With Richard dead, the Yorkists surrendered, conceding defeat, and although it was the decisive battle, there was still Yorkist fighting until the battle of Stoke in 1487, which brought an end to the War of the Roses.
Richard III was the last king to be killed in battle and the only king to have a strong northern powerbase. Richard was also the last of the Plantagenet kings. His body was taken by the victors to Leicester, where his body was paraded through the streets, being naked and battered and was accidently crushed against the parapet of a bridge across the River Soar. He was buried in the church which is now Leicester’s city cathedral, but he was later exhumed and thrown in the River Soar. His probable resting place is in a car park near the former site of the Church of Greyfriars.
Henry Tudor was crowned Henry VII marking the beginning of the 118 year reign of the Tudors in England. He sought to try and backdate his administration to a date prior to the battle of Bosworth Field in order to attaint for treason men who had fought for the former King Richard III.
King Richard used in popular culture
The battle is a key setting in William Shakespeare’s Richard III, and much of the mythology surrounding it seems to derive from inventions of Shakespeare for dramatic license, which were otherwise unrecorded in the century before the play. It has also been depicted in Blackadder where Richard wins the battle, but is accidentally killed by his great nephew Prince Edmund, when Richard attempts to borrow his horse.
* Michael Bennett: The Battle of Bosworth
* Peter Foss: The Field of Redemore: The Battle of Bosworth, 1485
* Christopher Gravett: Bosworth 1485, Last Charge of the Plantagenets
* Michael K Jones: Bosworth 1485
* Paul M Kendall : Richard the Third
* Various internet sources