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The Battle of Bosworth marked a turning point in English history as the House of York’s’ rule ended prematurely and abruptly as a new dynasty took over.

King Richard's Field, near Shenton, Leicestershire by Bill Sibley

King Richard’s Field, near Shenton, Leicestershire by Bill Sibley

It was “a most savage battle” but it was an ill-documented one, as only one eyewitness account survives. Richard III was the first English king killed in battle since 1066, and he was the last of the Plantagenet dynasty who reigned for 331 years.

Richard was an energetic and efficient king, surrounded by an experienced body of councillors, during his very short reign. However, his attempts to extradite the exiled Henry Tudor failed, who inherited the Lancastrian claim through his mother Margaret of Beaufort (Lady Stanley). Richard’s loyalty proved his undoing, according to V B Lamb, as he was unable to recognise treachery in others or deal with it effectively when it became obvious.

Henry landed at Milford Haven on 7 August 1485 with a force of Lancastrian supporters, members of the Woodville family and foreign mercenaries, with financial support from his mother and the French. Many gentry families who supported Buckingham’s Rebellion in 1483 rallied to Henry’s banner, as he marched unopposed through Welshpool, Shrewsbury, Stafford and arrived in Litchfield on 19 August.

Richard III Meets Henry Tudor on the Battlefield

Richard III was the first monarch to swear the Coronation Oath in English.

Richard III was the first monarch to swear the Coronation Oath in English.

Richard was hunting in Sherwood Forest when messengers brought news of the invasion. He summoned his forces and moved his military headquarters to Leicester on 19 August. According to Alison Weir, Richard left Leicester “with great pomp, wearing his diadem on his head”, two days later and set up camp near Ambien Hill, overlooking the Redmore Plain near Market Bosworth.

He woke early in the morning on 22 August at his camp at Sutton Cheney, after spending a miserable night troubled by terrible nightmares, appearing “pale and death-like … as though surrounded by a host of demons.”  Richard recovered his nerve and moved his men to Ambien Hill where he saw the enemy forces approaching from the west.

Richard was not deterred when a Spanish mercenary warned Richard III he didn’t have a hope of winning.

“God forbid that I yield one foot. This day I will perish as king or have the victory.”

King Richard III Loses His Crown

Portrait of Henry VII of England (1457-1509)

Portrait of Henry VII of England (1457-1509)

The two armies clashed near Market Bosworth in Leicestershire on 22 August, barely lasting two hours. Richard, realising he was betrayed on all sides, rallied his loyal followers and made his final, desperate bid to save the day as he bore down on Henry’s red dragon banner. The standard bearer was killed and Richard was ready to strike Henry when Sir William Stanley’s forces intervened, which turned the battle’s tide in the Tudor’s favour.

Richard wasn’t going down without a fight as he bravely defended himself—until he was brutally stabbed several times and fell on the battlefield.

John Rous grudgingly admitted Richard “bore himself like a noble soldier and honourably defended himself to his last breath.” Croyland adds Richard “fell in the field like a brave and most valiant prince.”

All men withdrew their weapons when they heard Richard was dead and swore allegiance to Henry Tudor. Richard’s crown had rolled under a nearby hawthorn bush, so it was retrieved and placed on Henry’s head as he was proclaimed Henry VII, the Tudor dynasty’s first sovereign.

There were heavy casualties, especially among Richard’s immediate supporters. Vergil estimated one thousand died in battle whilst Northumberland and Surrey were imprisoned.  Lovell, Humphrey and Thomas Stafford escaped and fled into exile.

King’s Body Dishonoured After Death

Inscription on the monument in Richard's Field. The Battlefields Trust

Inscription on the monument in Richard’s Field. The Battlefields Trust

Richard III’s corpse was stripped, carried naked on horseback to a Franciscan convent in Leicester, where it was exposed to public view for two days to prove he was indeed dead. He was buried without a stone or epitaph, although Henry VII later provided a miserly sum of £10 to provide a coffin to house the dead king’s remains. Richard’s bones were thrown out of the coffin, which was used as a horse-trough outside the White Horse Inn, after the convent was dissolved during Henry VIII’s reign. The Tudors’ continuing hostility failed to provide a decent burial, as Richard III remains the only English king since 1066 whose remains are not enshrined in a royal tomb.

He had expected to win, but his mistakes on the battlefield cost Richard his throne. His army was far smaller than it should have been as he had failed to give his northern retainers enough time to move south to join him.

However, historians cannot agree where the actual battle took place. Colin Redmond suggests the fighting took place further south at Dadlington where some of the fallen were buried, whilst Alison Weir says evidence shows the battle was actually fought on Redmore Plain. V B Lamb says there are surviving records of Henry VII paying compensation for damages suffered in battle to landowners at Atherstone and Merevale.

Bosworth. The Battlefields Trust

Bosworth. The Battlefields Trust

Sources

Lamb, V B, The Betrayal of Richard III: An Introduction to the Controversy, Alan Sutton Publishing Limited, Stroud, UK, 1959 [Reprinted 1990]

Ross, Charles, Richard III, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1999

Weir, Alison, The Princes in the Tower, Pimlico (an imprint of Random House), London, 1992

The Battlefields Trust, Battle of Bosworth, 22 August 1485.

© 2010 Carolyn Cash

This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 28 August 2010.