The Battle of Bosworth

England, 22nd August 1485

 

Although it seems a trifle abrupt, some historians suggest that the end of this battle (sometime around lunchtime on the 22nd) marks the end of the Middle Ages in Britain. Certainly, it marked the end of the Plantagenet dynasty and heralded the coming of a new Tudor age.

Perhaps it also marked the end of an age of warfare as well. Bosworth Field saw the last charge of mounted knights in Britain and Richard III was the last English King to die in battle (George II was the last British King to lead his army in person at Dettingen in 1743).

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King Richard III

Richard III had only been King for two years when Henry Tudor (then Earl of Richmond) sailed from exile in France. He left Harfleur on 1st August, 1485. Henry was supported by Rhys ap Thomas (knighted at Bosworth by Henry), but the Welsh supporters of Henry were never rewarded as well as the English supporters.

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King Henry VII

The pivotal events leading to the battle must have given Richard intimations of treachery. The Earl of Northumberland brought Richard's supporters from Yorkshire to Nottingham at a very leisurely march. Thomas, Lord Stanley, was Henry's father-in-law and had decided to await events before committing himself (even though his son, Lord Strange, was Richard's hostage). Sir William Stanley (Thomas' younger brother) was involved in a conspiracy with Henry.

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King Richard's Well

(Richard is said to have drunk from this well during the battle)

On the morning of the 22nd, Richard already held the better position with his troops assembled on Ambion Hill. The Yorkist vanguard was composed mainly of archers and men-at-arms under the command of the Duke of Norfolk, the Royalist cavalry comprised the second line, under Richard himself, and the rear was taken by the Earl of Northumberland, who was to keep an eye on the movements of the Stanleys.

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Richard's View from Ambion Hill

(path marks possible line of Richard's charge)

Henry himself had no military experience and the Earl of Oxford was appointed to  command the vanguard of Henry's army. Gilbert Talbot was to command the right wing and Sir John Savage, the left. Henry took his position at the left with Sir John Savage, the left wing having been left very weak. This suggests that Henry and Oxford were expecting that position to be covered by the Stanleys, although at this point, they made no move to do so.

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Ambion Hill from Henry's Position

Richard's vanguard attacked first, whilst Henry's army was still wheeling into line to face the Royalists. There was a volley from the cannons and archers before Norfolk and 8,000 men charged downhill towards the Earl of Oxford. Henry's army completed their line and had time to unleash a volley of arrows in return on the charging Royalists. The Earl of Oxford had his standards planted in the ground where they stood and gave out orders that no man was to move more than ten paces from them. After some furious fighting the Royalists were unable to make an impact on Oxford's wedge-shaped formation and retired back up Ambion Hill. The Royalists tried again, but still made no impact and Norfolk was killed in this attack. His son, the Earl of Surrey, took over command of this part of the King's army. The Earl of Northumberland had been ordered to move up in support of Norfolk, but had made no move to do so.

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Northumberland's Position on Ambion Hill

Henry Tudor's Dragon Banner

With a stalemate to his front, Henry (accompanied by a bodyguard of about 200 knights) decided to ride across to the Stanleys and see if he could persuade them to enter into the fray on his side. Richard observed Henry's dragon banner moving across the battlefield to his right and saw an opportunity to end the battle at one fell stroke. Richard led the charge of his knights (approximately 1,000 men) downhill towards Henry's banner. This must have been a memorable sight, the last charge of mounted knights at the end of the age of medieval chivalry. With the whole power of the charge behind him, Richard transfixed Sir William Brandon (Henry's standard bearer) with his lance. The lance broke and Sir William Brandon and the dragon banner crashed to the ground.

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King Richard Kills Sir William Brandon

by Graham Turner (Studio 88)

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Map of the Battle Site

Throwing away his broken lance and drawing his sword, Richard tried to hack his way through the bodyguard to kill Henry. Henry and his men fought back well, but would have been overwhelmed by this all-out attack. However, the treacherous Stanleys saw this as the moment they had been waiting for. With a cry of 'A Stanley! A Stanley!' Sir William Stanley charged with his 4,000 retainers into the flank of Richard's cavalry. This was now a decisive turning point in the battle. Richard's victorious downhill charge had been turned into a rout by Sir William Stanley. Richard was unhorsed but refused a remount and returned to the fight wielding his battle-hammer. Richard was now surrounded by enemy soldiers. Sir Percy Thirlwall (the King's standard bearer) was gallantly still holding Richard's banner aloft, even though both his legs had been cut off.

King Richard's Boar Banner

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The Site of Richard's Death

King Richard died alone, fighting bravely against a horde of men-at-arms. He was cut down by a Welsh soldier armed with a halberd and his body was mutilated and stripped.

The Earl of Northumberland, seeing the Stanleys charge into Richard's column, left the field with his men without taking part in the battle. The field was now Henry's and seeing that the day was lost the Earl of Surrey and the rest of the Royalist army fled. Henry mounted a small hill (later called Crown Hill) and was crowned with Richard's crown (this would have been a gold diadem fitted to his helmet) which tradition has it, had been found hanging in a thorn bush (thus the association with thorns in the Tudor crown).

On the way out to the battle on the morning of 21st August, Richard had struck his spur on the Old Bow Bridge in Leicester. A wisewoman apparently said that 'where his spur struck, his head should be broken.' Richard's naked body was placed over a horse and taken back to Leicester where legend has it, his head struck the very stone his spur had on the Old Bow Bridge. A plaque, there today, commemorates this incident. For two days, Richard's naked body was put on display in the Church of St. Mary of the Annunciation. Then, the Grey Friars claimed the body and put it in a plain tomb. During the Reformation, Richard's bones were taken and thrown into the River Soar and the stone tomb was used as a watering trough at the White Horse Inn (by 1758 it had been broken up and used to repair the cellar steps). Apart from Edward V, Richard III is the only English king since 1066 not to have a permanent and accredited tomb.

 

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