10 Facts About the Battle of Bosworth

10 Facts About the Battle of Bosworth


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From June 1483 to August 1485, the short reign of King Richard III was a tumultuous one.

After Parliament declaring the children of his brother, Edward IV, illegitimate, Richard, then the Duke of Gloucester and the Lord Protector, ascended to the throne and was declared King of England.

While many speculate and debate about the validity of his accession and his involvement in the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, all can agree that his reign ended on August 22, 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth. On this day, Richard III, and many of his closest supporters, were killed by the Lancastrian forces of Henry Tudor.

This marked the ending of one era and the beginning of another.

Wars of the Roses historian Matt Lewis visits the Tower of London to talk through one of the building’s greatest mysteries: the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. He talks through the possibility that the two young boys were not murdered on the infamous King Richard III's orders, but in fact survived their uncle's reign.

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1. It was fought near, but not on, Bosworth Field

Despite its name, the Battle of Bosworth did not occur on Bosworth Field. In fact, it is three miles south of Market Bosworth. The battle has also been known as the Battle of Redemore Field or Dadlington Field.

In 2009, The Battlefields Trust eliminated two of the three proposed battle sites, including the popular belief that the battle occurred on Ambion Hill.

During their research and excavation, The Battlefields Trust also found over 22 cannonballs, which is the most to be found on a medieval battlefield.

2. Richard was known for his military leadership and skill

Following the death of his father, the Duke of York, Richard was brought up by Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick. He trained as a knight in Warwick’s castles in the North, mainly Middleham Castle.

He led military campaigns along the Scottish border. Richard also fought in many decisive battles of the Wars of the Roses, such as Barnet, Tewkesbury, and Bosworth.

While contemporary sources criticise Richard’s ambition and seizing of the English throne in 1483, most also seem to agree that he was a capable military leader and fought valiantly at Bosworth.

Richard fought in the Battle of Tewkesbury.

3. Yet Henry Tudor was relatively inexperienced

After the death of Edward of Westminster at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471, Henry Tudor was effectively considered the only Lancastrian heir. Through his mother’s line, he could trace his lineage back to John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III and father to Henry IV.

But much of his life was in exile in Wales and France. He was cared for by his paternal uncle, Jasper Tudor, who fought alongside him.

Bosworth was considered the first military battle of Henry Tudor’s career.

4. The Yorkist troops vastly outnumbered the Lancastrians

Henry Tudor sailed over from France with around 2,000 troops. On his march to the Battle of Bosworth, his numbers at least doubled. Without initially having the pledged support of the Stanley family’s army, Henry Tudor went to battle with around 4,000-5,000 men.

But the royal army of Richard III numbered at least 10,000, if not 15,000. Therefore, the Lancastrian forces were outnumbered either 2:1 or 3:1.

5. King Richard did not actually offer to give his kingdom for a horse

Richard III.

Despite the famous lines of William Shakespeare’s Richard, the actual king did not attempt to flee the battlefield when the battle’s tide turned against him. It is said that Richard wore a crown over his helmet into battle, easily identifying himself as the king.

While some did try to convince the king to flee, he was resolved to win the battle or die alongside his men.

6. The battle was swayed by Sir William Stanley’s involvement

During the majority of the battle, both Sir William and Sir Thomas Stanley remained on the sidelines. Richard III had Thomas Stanley’s son, Lord Strange, held hostage as he attempted to coerce him into fighting for the Yorkists.

With a private army of around 6,000 men, the brothers heavily influenced the outcome of the Battle of Bosworth. It is said that the brother became involved after Richard led a direct charge on Henry, who had been separated from his main force.

The Stanley army attacked Richard’s back flank and effectively changed the outcome of the Battle of Bosworth.

7. It was the final battle of the medieval period in England

While the exact dates of the medieval period are speculated and debated on, the Battle of Bosworth is often considered one of the final moments of the medieval period in England.

The reign of Henry VII, and his dynasty who followed him, begin the early modern period of English history.

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8. Richard III was the final English king to die in battle

After the death of Richard III, no English king would later die on the battlefield. Many would still lead their men and fight in battle, yet none would die.

George II would be the last English king to fight in battle in 1743.

9. Henry Tudor became Henry VII and ended the Wars of the Roses

Although it has been dismissed by experts, it was once said that Sir Thomas Stanley had found Richard’s circlet in a hawthorn bush.

Despite these exact details having no contemporary evidence, it seems true that Henry was crowned with fallen Richard’s circlet following his victory at Bosworth.

Sir Thomas Stanley hands the crown to Henry Tudor after the Battle of Bosworth. This image depicts the moment described by Polydore Vergil.

Henry would be officially crowned and anointed King Henry VII on 30 October 1485. He married Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth of York, and joined together the Houses of York and Lancaster.

While their union was most definitely symbolic, all accounts describe a rather happy marriage between the two.

10. But his throne was not secure after Bosworth

Despite the conflict known as the Wars of the Roses coming to a close with the Battle of Bosworth, Henry Tudor’s throne was anything but secure.

There were Yorkist uprising during his reign. Two of the most important are the uprisings behind Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck. Both were considered Yorkist heirs, either as Edward, the earl of Warwick or Richard of Shrewsbury, the Duke of York.

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Both were found to be pretenders. Lambert was pardoned and given a job in the royal household, but Perkin was executed on 23 November 1499.


Battle of Bosworth Field

In the last major battle of the War of the Roses, King Richard III is defeated and killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field by Henry Tudor, the earl of Richmond. After the battle, the royal crown, which Richard had worn into the fray, was picked out of a bush and placed on Henry’s head. His crowning as King Henry VII inaugurated the rule of the house of Tudor over England, a dynasty that would last until Queen Elizabeth’s death in 1603.

In the 1450s, English failures in the Hundred Years War with France, coupled with periodic fits of insanity suffered by King Henry VI, led to a power struggle between the two royal houses whose badges were the Red Rose of Lancaster and the White Rose of York. The War of the Roses left little mark on the common English people but severely thinned the ranks of the English nobility. Among the royalty who perished were Richard of York Richard Neville the earl of Warwick and kings Henry VI and Richard III. In 1486, King Henry VII’s marriage to Elizabeth, the daughter of Edward IV, united the houses of Lancaster and York and formally ended the bloody War of the Roses.


8 Essential Facts about the Battle of Bosworth Field

The Battle of Bosworth Field occurred on 22nd August 1485 and marked the end of the reign of the House of York and King Richard III. The battle began the rule of the Tudor dynasty which was to last until the death of Elizabeth I on 1603. During the battle itself King Richard was killed, in the company of his household knights, while making an attempt to engage Henry Tudor in personal combat.

The modern perception of the battle has been heavily influenced by its portrayal through the works of William Shakespeare and the propaganda of the Tudors. When Shakespeare puts the words ‘a horse, a horse’ in the mouth of King Richard, he painted a picture of a cowardly King seeking to flee the fight. More recent interpretations suggest this was not the case.

Richard’s remains was for many years lost to history, but their rediscovery sparked new interest in the Battle of Bosworth Field. The quest to locate Richard was driven and masterminded by Philippa Langley MBE. The account of this process makes a fascinating read on the Looking for Richard page of the Richard III Society website.

The Battle of Bosworth Field marked the end of an era in several ways. It is thought by many to be one of the most significant events of the middle ages in England. In our article we bring you here 8 essential facts about the battle – ideal for any one interested in increasing their knowledge of this event and for High Speed History fans of all ages.

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Some Interesting Facts About the Battle of Bosworth

As history reveals, this battle took place on 22 August 1485 between the Houses of Lancaster and York. It extended across England in the latter half of the 15th century.

This scene captures Richard III charging into battle as a hail of cannon fire fell down on Henry Tudor’s army as they struggled to make their way around the marsh. They pressed on until the armies met in the moors and the war became then a brutal clash of steel, skin, and blood. This mosaic artwork captures a monumental event in the epic finale to the English war of roses.

Marking a significant date in British history, this battle marked the death of Richard III, Yorkist King and it didn’t extend beyond noon of the same day.

1. It Wasn’t Fought in Bosworth

It only became known as the battle of Bosworth from around 25 years after it was fought. Instead, contemporaries knew it as the battle of ‘Redemore’, meaning place of reeds. Other names for the battle included ‘Brownheath’ and ‘Sandeford’.

Bosworth Battlefield from Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Center and Country Park

The site of where the conflict took place has now been located two miles from the battlefield centre, close to the villages of Dadlington and Stoke Golding. The landscape would have been a marshy plainland (later to be drained), across which ran a Roman road.

2. The Battle Site Stretched for Miles

The number of men in this battle is astounding. All the artwork that documented it doesn’t give the impression that Richard III had around 15000 fighting by his side. Or that Henry Tudor’s army was composed of 5000 men with the support of another 6000 from the Stanely Brothers. Now take a moment to imagine the magnitude of such battle.

3. Richard Ventured While Henry Watched

Source: Getty Images – King Richard III

Henry was a novice when it came to battles and he remained at the back while his forces were led by the Lancasterian General John de Vere. With his vast experience in war and battles, Richard came prepared with an arsenal of 140 cannons, which launched more than 30 shots. Never in European medieval history was that amount of cannon shots ever documented.

Source: Wikipedia – King Henry VII Tudor

4. Richard was Betrayed

Anyone who hasn’t heard of this battle might think that Richard III won. Quite the contrary. A betrayal among his Earls led to his demise and defeat. The Earl of Northumberland Henry Percy stood still and didn’t engage. Consequently, Richard’s strategy was compromised.

5. The King of York Refused to Flee

Historians reported that Richard III was offered a horse to flee the scene when his defeat was inevitable. The courageous King refused and said:”This day I will die as a King or win”. This mosaic artwork documents the exact moment when Richard III charged alongside 200 men with his crown over his helmet. He later died by a Welsh halberdier and a dagger he had blows and gouge marks on his skull.

The Battle of Bosworth Mosaic Reproduction by Mozaico

This story is an immortal one, further immortalized by this mosaic reproduction. It is a battle of treachery, victory and defeat that rippled through British history.

If you love exploring history and would like to know more about mosaics, take a look at our History of Mosaics blog! You love famous paintings and artworks? Explore these Mosaic Reproductions that will amaze you!

Would like to know more about another mosaic reproduction? Let us know in the comments!


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The Battle of Boswoth Field: Facts and Information

The Battle of Bosworth Field was pretty much the last conflict of the Wars of the Roses, between the House of Lancaster and the House of York. It was fought on 22nd August 1485 and saw the Lancastrian leader, Henry Tudor (Henry VII), defeat the Yorkist forces and kill Richard III.

  • The exact site of the battlefield is still unknown.
  • Richard III tried to charge Henry, knowing that killing him would effectively bring an end to the battle. Richard managed to kill Henry’s standard-bearer, Sir William Brandon, but he failed to get close enough to Henry.
  • Richard III’s horse got stuck in the boggy ground of the battlefield. It is said that he was offered other horses by his men so that he could escape, but Richard refused. He fought on by foot until he was overwhelmed by the Lancastrian forces.
  • Richard III was the last Yorkist King, and the last English monarch to die on the battlefield.
  • After the battle, Richard III’s crown was found on the battlefield and Henry was crowned at the top of Crown Hill, near Stoke Golding. According to legend, the crown was found in a hawthorn bush by Lord Stanley.

Contents

During the 15th century civil war raged across England as the Houses of York and Lancaster fought each other for the English throne. In 1471 the Yorkists defeated their rivals in the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury. The Lancastrian King Henry VI and his only son, Edward of Lancaster, died in the aftermath of the Battle of Tewkesbury. Their deaths left the House of Lancaster with no direct claimants to the throne. The Yorkist king, Edward IV, was in complete control of England. [3] He attainted those who refused to submit to his rule, such as Jasper Tudor and his nephew Henry, naming them traitors and confiscating their lands. The Tudors tried to flee to France but strong winds forced them to land in Brittany, which was a semi-independent duchy, where they were taken into the custody of Duke Francis II. [4] Henry's mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, was a great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, uncle of King Richard II and father of King Henry IV. [5] The Beauforts were originally bastards, but Henry IV legitimised them on the condition that their descendants were not eligible to inherit the throne. [6] Henry Tudor, the only remaining Lancastrian noble with a trace of the royal bloodline, had a weak claim to the throne, [3] and Edward regarded him as "a nobody". [7] The Duke of Brittany, however, viewed Henry as a valuable tool to bargain for England's aid in conflicts with France, and kept the Tudors under his protection. [7]

Edward IV died 12 years after Tewkesbury on 9 April 1483. [8] His 12-year-old elder son succeeded him as King Edward V the younger son, nine-year-old Richard of Shrewsbury, was next in line to the throne. Edward V was too young to rule and a Royal Council was established to rule the country until the king's coming of age. Some among the council were worried when it became apparent that the Woodvilles, relatives of Edward IV's widow Elizabeth, were plotting to use their control of the young king to dominate the council. [9] Having offended many in their quest for wealth and power, the Woodville family was not popular. [10] To frustrate the Woodvilles' ambitions, Lord Hastings and other members of the council turned to the new king's uncle—Richard, Duke of Gloucester, brother of Edward IV. The courtiers urged Gloucester to assume the role of Protector quickly, as had been previously requested by his now dead brother. [11] On 29 April Gloucester, accompanied by a contingent of guards and Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, took Edward V into custody and arrested several prominent members of the Woodville family. [12] After bringing the young king to London, Gloucester had two of the Woodvilles (the Queen's brother Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers, and her younger son by her first marriage Richard Grey) executed, without trial, on charges of treason. [13]

On 13 June Gloucester accused Hastings of plotting with the Woodvilles and had him beheaded. [14] Nine days later Gloucester convinced Parliament to declare the marriage between Edward IV and Elizabeth illegal, rendering their children illegitimate and disqualifying them from the throne. [15] With his brother's children out of the way, he was next in the line of succession and was proclaimed King Richard III on 26 June. [16] The timing and extrajudicial nature of the deeds done to obtain the throne for Richard won him no popularity, and rumours that spoke ill of the new king spread throughout England. [17] After they were declared bastards, the two princes were confined in the Tower of London and never seen in public again. [18]

Discontent with Richard's actions manifested itself in the summer after he took control of the country, as a conspiracy emerged to displace him from the throne. The rebels were mostly loyalists to Edward IV, who saw Richard as a usurper. [19] Their plans were coordinated by a Lancastrian, Henry's mother Lady Margaret, who was promoting her son as a candidate for the throne. The highest-ranking conspirator was Buckingham. No chronicles tell of the duke's motive in joining the plot, although historian Charles Ross proposes that Buckingham was trying to distance himself from a king who was becoming increasingly unpopular with the people. [20] Michael Jones and Malcolm Underwood suggest that Margaret deceived Buckingham into thinking the rebels supported him to be king. [21]

The plan was to stage uprisings within a short time in southern and western England, overwhelming Richard's forces. Buckingham would support the rebels by invading from Wales, while Henry came in by sea. [22] Bad timing and weather wrecked the plot. An uprising in Kent started 10 days prematurely, alerting Richard to muster the royal army and take steps to put down the insurrections. Richard's spies informed him of Buckingham's activities, and the king's men captured and destroyed the bridges across the River Severn. When Buckingham and his army reached the river, they found it swollen and impossible to cross because of a violent storm that broke on 15 October. [23] Buckingham was trapped and had no safe place to retreat his Welsh enemies seized his home castle after he had set forth with his army. The duke abandoned his plans and fled to Wem, where he was betrayed by his servant and arrested by Richard's men. On 2 November he was executed. [24] Henry had attempted a landing on 10 October (or 19 October), but his fleet was scattered by a storm. He reached the coast of England (at either Plymouth or Poole) and a group of soldiers hailed him to come ashore. They were, in fact, Richard's men, prepared to capture Henry once he set foot on English soil. Henry was not deceived and returned to Brittany, abandoning the invasion. [25] Without Buckingham or Henry, the rebellion was easily crushed by Richard. [24]

The survivors of the failed uprisings fled to Brittany, where they openly supported Henry's claim to the throne. [26] At Christmas, Henry Tudor swore an oath in Rennes Cathedral to marry Edward IV's daughter, Elizabeth of York, to unite the warring houses of York and Lancaster. [27] Henry's rising prominence made him a great threat to Richard, and the Yorkist king made several overtures to the Duke of Brittany to surrender the young Lancastrian. Francis refused, holding out for the possibility of better terms from Richard. [28] In mid-1484 Francis was incapacitated by illness and while recuperating, his treasurer Pierre Landais took over the reins of government. Landais reached an agreement with Richard to send back Henry and his uncle in exchange for military and financial aid. John Morton, a bishop of Flanders, learned of the scheme and warned the Tudors, who fled to France. [29] The French court allowed them to stay the Tudors were useful pawns to ensure that Richard's England did not interfere with French plans to annex Brittany. [30] On 16 March 1485 Richard's queen, Anne Neville, died, [31] and rumours spread across the country that she was murdered to pave the way for Richard to marry his niece, Elizabeth. The gossip alienated Richard from some of his northern supporters, [32] and upset Henry across the English Channel. [33] The loss of Elizabeth's hand in marriage could unravel the alliance between Henry's supporters who were Lancastrians and those who were loyalists to Edward IV. [34] Anxious to secure his bride, Henry recruited mercenaries formerly in French service to supplement his following of exiles and set sail from France on 1 August. [35]

By the 15th century, English chivalric ideas of selfless service to the king had been corrupted. [36] Armed forces were raised mostly through musters in individual estates every able-bodied man had to respond to his lord's call to arms, and each noble had authority over his militia. Although a king could raise personal militia from his lands, he could muster a large army only through the support of his nobles. Richard, like his predecessors, had to win over these men by granting gifts and maintaining cordial relationships. [37] Powerful nobles could demand greater incentives to remain on the liege's side or else they might turn against him. [38] Three groups, each with its own agenda, stood on Bosworth Field: Richard III and his Yorkist army his challenger, Henry Tudor, who championed the Lancastrian cause and the fence-sitting Stanleys. [39]

Yorkist Edit

Small and slender, Richard III did not have the robust physique associated with many of his Plantagenet predecessors. [40] However, he enjoyed very rough sports and activities that were considered manly. [41] His performances on the battlefield impressed his brother greatly, and he became Edward's right-hand man. [42] During the 1480s Richard defended the northern borders of England. In 1482, Edward charged him to lead an army into Scotland with the aim of replacing King James III with the Duke of Albany. [43] Richard's army broke through the Scottish defences and occupied the capital, Edinburgh, but Albany decided to give up his claim to the throne in return for the post of Lieutenant General of Scotland. As well as obtaining a guarantee that the Scottish government would concede territories and diplomatic benefits to the English crown, Richard's campaign retook the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, which the Scots had conquered in 1460. [44] Edward was not satisfied by these gains, [45] which, according to Ross, could have been greater if Richard had been resolute enough to capitalise on the situation while in control of Edinburgh. [46] In her analysis of Richard's character, Christine Carpenter sees him as a soldier who was more used to taking orders than giving them. [47] However, he was not averse to displaying his militaristic streak on ascending the throne he made known his desire to lead a crusade against "not only the Turks, but all [his] foes". [41]

Richard's most loyal subject was John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk. [48] The duke had served Richard's brother for many years and had been one of Edward IV's closer confidants. [49] He was a military veteran, having fought in the Battle of Towton in 1461 and served as Hastings' deputy at Calais in 1471. [50] Ross speculates that he bore a grudge against Edward for depriving him of a fortune. Norfolk was due to inherit a share of the wealthy Mowbray estate on the death of eight-year-old Anne de Mowbray, the last of her family. However, Edward convinced Parliament to circumvent the law of inheritance and transfer the estate to his younger son, who was married to Anne. Consequently, Howard supported Richard III in deposing Edward's sons, for which he received the dukedom of Norfolk and his original share of the Mowbray estate. [51]

Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland, also supported Richard's seizure of the throne of England. The Percys were loyal Lancastrians, but Edward IV eventually won the earl's allegiance. Northumberland had been captured and imprisoned by the Yorkists in 1461, losing his titles and estates however, Edward released him eight years later and restored his earldom. [52] From that time Northumberland served the Yorkist crown, helping to defend northern England and maintain its peace. [53] Initially the earl had issues with Richard III as Edward groomed his brother to be the leading power of the north. Northumberland was mollified when he was promised he would be the Warden of the East March, a position that was formerly hereditary for the Percys. [54] He served under Richard during the 1482 invasion of Scotland, and the allure of being in a position to dominate the north of England if Richard went south to assume the crown was his likely motivation for supporting Richard's bid for kingship. [55] However, after becoming king, Richard began moulding his nephew, John de la Pole, 1st Earl of Lincoln, to manage the north, passing over Northumberland for the position. According to Carpenter, although the earl was amply compensated, he despaired of any possibility of advancement under Richard. [56]

Lancastrians Edit

Henry Tudor was unfamiliar with the arts of war and was a stranger to the land he was trying to conquer. He spent the first fourteen years of his life in Wales and the next fourteen in Brittany and France. [57] Slender but strong and decisive, Henry lacked a penchant for battle and was not much of a warrior chroniclers such as Polydore Vergil and ambassadors like Pedro de Ayala found him more interested in commerce and finance. [58] Having not fought in any battles, [59] Henry recruited several experienced veterans to command his armies. [60] John de Vere, 13th, Earl of Oxford, was Henry's principal military commander. [61] He was adept in the arts of war. At the Battle of Barnet, he commanded the Lancastrian right wing and routed the division opposing him. However, as a result of confusion over identities, Oxford's group came under friendly fire from the Lancastrian main force and retreated from the field. The earl fled abroad and continued his fight against the Yorkists, raiding shipping and eventually capturing the island fort of St Michael's Mount in 1473. He surrendered after receiving no aid or reinforcement, but in 1484 escaped from prison and joined Henry's court in France, bringing along his erstwhile gaoler Sir James Blount. [62] Oxford's presence raised morale in Henry's camp and troubled Richard III. [63]

Stanleys Edit

In the early stages of the Wars of the Roses, the Stanleys of Cheshire had been predominantly Lancastrians. [64] Sir William Stanley, however, was a staunch Yorkist supporter, fighting in the Battle of Blore Heath in 1459 and helping Hastings to put down uprisings against Edward IV in 1471. [65] When Richard took the crown, Sir William showed no inclination to turn against the new king, refraining from joining Buckingham's rebellion, for which he was amply rewarded. [66] Sir William's elder brother, Thomas Stanley, 2nd Baron Stanley, was not as steadfast. By 1485, he had served three kings, namely Henry VI, Edward IV, and Richard III. Lord Stanley's skilled political manoeuvrings—vacillating between opposing sides until it was clear who would be the winner—gained him high positions [67] he was Henry's chamberlain and Edward's steward. [68] His non-committal stance, until the crucial point of a battle, earned him the loyalty of his men, who felt he would not needlessly send them to their deaths. [63]

Lord Stanley's relations with the king's brother, the eventual Richard III, were not cordial. The two had conflicts that erupted into violence around March 1470. [69] Furthermore, having taken Lady Margaret as his second wife in June 1472, [70] Stanley was Henry Tudor's stepfather, a relationship which did nothing to win him Richard's favour. Despite these differences, Stanley did not join Buckingham's revolt in 1483. [66] When Richard executed those conspirators who had been unable to flee England, [24] he spared Lady Margaret. However, he declared her titles forfeit and transferred her estates to Stanley's name, to be held in trust for the Yorkist crown. Richard's act of mercy was calculated to reconcile him with Stanley, [21] but it may have been to no avail—Carpenter has identified a further cause of friction in Richard's intention to reopen an old land dispute that involved Thomas Stanley and the Harrington family. [71] Edward IV had ruled the case in favour of Stanley in 1473, [72] but Richard planned to overturn his brother's ruling and give the wealthy estate to the Harringtons. [71] Immediately before the Battle of Bosworth, being wary of Stanley, Richard took his son, Lord Strange, as hostage to discourage him from joining Henry. [73]

Henry's initial force consisted of the English and Welsh exiles who had gathered around Henry, combined with a contingent of mercenaries put at his disposal by Charles VIII of France. The history of Scottish author John Major (published in 1521) claims that Charles had granted Henry 5,000 men, of whom 1,000 were Scots, headed by Sir Alexander Bruce. No mention of Scottish soldiers was made by subsequent English historians. [74]

Henry's crossing of the English Channel in 1485 was without incident. Thirty ships sailed from Harfleur on 1 August and, with fair winds behind them, landed in his native Wales, at Mill Bay (near Dale) on the north side of Milford Haven on 7 August, easily capturing nearby Dale Castle. [75] Henry received a muted response from the local population. No joyous welcome awaited him on shore, and at first few individual Welshmen joined his army as it marched inland. [76] Historian Geoffrey Elton suggests only Henry's ardent supporters felt pride over his Welsh blood. [77] His arrival had been hailed by contemporary Welsh bards such as Dafydd Ddu and Gruffydd ap Dafydd as the true prince and "the youth of Brittany defeating the Saxons" in order to bring their country back to glory. [78] [79] When Henry moved to Haverfordwest, the county town of Pembrokeshire, Richard's lieutenant in South Wales, Sir Walter Herbert, failed to move against Henry, and two of his officers, Richard Griffith and Evan Morgan, deserted to Henry with their men. [80]

The most important defector to Henry in this early stage of the campaign was probably Rhys ap Thomas, who was the leading figure in West Wales. [80] Richard had appointed Rhys Lieutenant in West Wales for his refusal to join Buckingham's rebellion, asking that he surrender his son Gruffydd ap Rhys ap Thomas as surety, although by some accounts Rhys had managed to evade this condition. However, Henry successfully courted Rhys, offering the lieutenancy of all Wales in exchange for his fealty. Henry marched via Aberystwyth while Rhys followed a more southerly route, recruiting a force of Welshmen en route, variously estimated at 500 or 2,000 men, to swell Henry's army when they reunited at Cefn Digoll, Welshpool. [81] By 15 or 16 August, Henry and his men had crossed the English border, making for the town of Shrewsbury. [82]

Since 22 June Richard had been aware of Henry's impending invasion, and had ordered his lords to maintain a high level of readiness. [83] News of Henry's landing reached Richard on 11 August, but it took three to four days for his messengers to notify his lords of their king's mobilisation. On 16 August, the Yorkist army started to gather Norfolk set off for Leicester, the assembly point, that night. The city of York, a historical stronghold of Richard's family, asked the king for instructions, and receiving a reply three days later sent 80 men to join the king. Simultaneously Northumberland, whose northern territory was the most distant from the capital, had gathered his men and ridden to Leicester. [84]

Although London was his goal, [85] Henry did not move directly towards the city. After resting in Shrewsbury, his forces went eastwards and picked up Sir Gilbert Talbot and other English allies, including deserters from Richard's forces. Although its size had increased substantially since the landing, Henry's army was still substantially outnumbered by Richard's forces. Henry's pace through Staffordshire was slow, delaying the confrontation with Richard so that he could gather more recruits to his cause. [86] Henry had been communicating on friendly terms with the Stanleys for some time before setting foot in England, [34] and the Stanleys had mobilised their forces on hearing of Henry's landing. They ranged themselves ahead of Henry's march through the English countryside, [87] meeting twice in secret with Henry as he moved through Staffordshire. [88] At the second of these, at Atherstone in Warwickshire, they conferred "in what sort to arraign battle with King Richard, whom they heard to be not far off". [89] On 21 August, the Stanleys were making camp on the slopes of a hill north of Dadlington, while Henry encamped his army at White Moors to the northwest of their camp. [90]

On 20 August, Richard rode from Nottingham to Leicester, [91] joining Norfolk. He spent the night at the Blue Boar inn (demolished 1836). [91] Northumberland arrived the following day. The royal army proceeded westwards to intercept Henry's march on London. Passing Sutton Cheney, Richard moved his army towards Ambion Hill—which he thought would be of tactical value—and made camp on it. [90] Richard's sleep was not peaceful and, according to the Croyland Chronicle, in the morning his face was "more livid and ghastly than usual". [92]

The Yorkist army, variously estimated at between 7,500 and 12,000 men, deployed on the hilltop [93] [94] along the ridgeline from west to east. Norfolk's force (or "battle" in the parlance of the time) of spearmen stood on the right flank, protecting the cannon and about 1,200 archers. Richard's group, comprising 3,000 infantry, formed the centre. Northumberland's men guarded the left flank he had approximately 4,000 men, many of them mounted. [95] Standing on the hilltop, Richard had a wide, unobstructed view of the area. He could see the Stanleys and their 4,000–6,000 men holding positions on and around Dadlington Hill, while to the southwest was Henry's army. [96]

Henry's force has been variously estimated at between 5,000 and 8,000 men, his original landing force of exiles and mercenaries having been augmented by the recruits gathered in Wales and the English border counties (in the latter area probably mustered chiefly by the Talbot interest), and by deserters from Richard's army. Historian John Mackie believes that 1,800 French mercenaries, led by Philibert de Chandée, formed the core of Henry's army. [97] John Mair, writing thirty-five years after the battle, claimed that this force contained a significant Scottish component, [98] and this claim is accepted by some modern writers, [99] but Mackie reasons that the French would not have released their elite Scottish knights and archers, and concludes that there were probably few Scottish troops in the army, although he accepts the presence of captains like Bernard Stewart, Lord of Aubigny. [97] [98]

In their interpretations of the vague mentions of the battle in the old text, historians placed areas near the foot of Ambion Hill as likely regions where the two armies clashed, and thought up possible scenarios of the engagement. [100] [101] [102] In their recreations of the battle, Henry started by moving his army towards Ambion Hill where Richard and his men stood. As Henry's army advanced past the marsh at the southwestern foot of the hill, Richard sent a message to Stanley, threatening to execute his son, Lord Strange, if Stanley did not join the attack on Henry immediately. Stanley replied that he had other sons. Incensed, Richard gave the order to behead Strange but his officers temporised, saying that battle was imminent, and it would be more convenient to carry out the execution afterwards. [103] Henry had also sent messengers to Stanley asking him to declare his allegiance. The reply was evasive—the Stanleys would "naturally" come, after Henry had given orders to his army and arranged them for battle. Henry had no choice but to confront Richard's forces alone. [39]

Well aware of his own military inexperience, Henry handed command of his army to Oxford and retired to the rear with his bodyguards. Oxford, seeing the vast line of Richard's army strung along the ridgeline, decided to keep his men together instead of splitting them into the traditional three battles: vanguard, centre, and rearguard. He ordered the troops to stray no further than 10 feet (3.0 m) from their banners, fearing that they would become enveloped. Individual groups clumped together, forming a single large mass flanked by horsemen on the wings. [104]

The Lancastrians were harassed by Richard's cannon as they manoeuvred around the marsh, seeking firmer ground. [105] Once Oxford and his men were clear of the marsh, Norfolk's battle and several contingents of Richard's group, under the command of Sir Robert Brackenbury, started to advance. Hails of arrows showered both sides as they closed. Oxford's men proved the steadier in the ensuing hand-to-hand combat they held their ground and several of Norfolk's men fled the field. [106] Norfolk lost one of his senior officers, Walter Devereux, in this early clash. [107]

Recognising that his force was at a disadvantage, Richard signalled for Northumberland to assist but Northumberland's group showed no signs of movement. Historians, such as Horrox and Pugh, believe Northumberland chose not to aid his king for personal reasons. [108] Ross doubts the aspersions cast on Northumberland's loyalty, suggesting instead that Ambion Hill's narrow ridge hindered him from joining the battle. The earl would have had to either go through his allies or execute a wide flanking move—near impossible to perform given the standard of drill at the time—to engage Oxford's men. [109]

At this juncture Richard saw Henry at some distance behind his main force. [110] Seeing this, Richard decided to end the fight quickly by killing the enemy commander. He led a charge of mounted men around the melee and tore into Henry's group several accounts state that Richard's force numbered 800–1000 knights, but Ross says it was more likely that Richard was accompanied only by his household men and closest friends. [111] Richard killed Henry's standard-bearer Sir William Brandon in the initial charge and unhorsed burly John Cheyne, Edward IV's former standard-bearer, [112] with a blow to the head from his broken lance. [113] French mercenaries in Henry's retinue related how the attack had caught them off guard and that Henry sought protection by dismounting and concealing himself among them to present less of a target. Henry made no attempt to engage in combat himself. [114]

Oxford had left a small reserve of pike-equipped men with Henry. They slowed the pace of Richard's mounted charge, and bought Tudor some critical time. [115] The remainder of Henry's bodyguards surrounded their master, and succeeded in keeping him away from the Yorkist king. Meanwhile, seeing Richard embroiled with Henry's men and separated from his main force, William Stanley made his move and rode to the aid of Henry. Now outnumbered, Richard's group was surrounded and gradually pressed back. [113] Richard's force was driven several hundred yards away from Tudor, near to the edge of a marsh, into which the king's horse toppled. Richard, now unhorsed, gathered himself and rallied his dwindling followers, supposedly refusing to retreat: "God forbid that I retreat one step. I will either win the battle as a king, or die as one." [116] In the fighting Richard's banner man—Sir Percival Thirlwall—lost his legs, but held the Yorkist banner aloft until he was killed. It is likely that James Harrington also died in the charge. [117] [118] The king's trusted advisor Richard Ratcliffe was also slain. [119]

Polydore Vergil, Henry Tudor's official historian, recorded that "King Richard, alone, was killed fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies". [120] Richard had come within a sword's length of Henry Tudor before being surrounded by William Stanley's men and killed. The Burgundian chronicler Jean Molinet says that a Welshman struck the death-blow with a halberd while Richard's horse was stuck in the marshy ground. [121] It was said that the blows were so violent that the king's helmet was driven into his skull. [122] The contemporary Welsh poet Guto'r Glyn implies the leading Welsh Lancastrian Rhys ap Thomas, or one of his men, killed the king, writing that he "killed the boar, shaved his head". [121] [123] Analysis of King Richard's skeletal remains found 11 wounds, nine of them to the head a blade consistent with a halberd had sliced off part of the rear of Richard's skull, suggesting he had lost his helmet. [124]

Richard's forces disintegrated as news of his death spread. Northumberland and his men fled north on seeing the king's fate, and Norfolk was killed. [113]

Although he claimed [125] fourth-generation, maternal Lancastrian descendancy, Henry seized the crown by right of conquest. After the battle, Richard's circlet is said to have been found and brought to Henry, who was proclaimed king at the top of Crown Hill, near the village of Stoke Golding. According to Vergil, Henry's official historian, Lord Stanley found the circlet. Historians Stanley Chrimes and Sydney Anglo dismiss the legend of the circlet's finding in a hawthorn bush none of the contemporary sources reported such an event. [113] Ross, however, does not ignore the legend. He argues that the hawthorn bush would not be part of Henry's coat of arms if it did not have a strong relationship to his ascendance. [126] Baldwin points out that a hawthorn bush motif was already used by the House of Lancaster, and Henry merely added the crown. [127]

In Vergil's chronicle, 100 of Henry's men, compared to 1,000 of Richard's, died in this battle—a ratio Chrimes believes to be an exaggeration. [113] The bodies of the fallen were brought to St James Church at Dadlington for burial. [128] However, Henry denied any immediate rest for Richard instead the last Yorkist king's corpse was stripped naked and strapped across a horse. His body was brought to Leicester and openly exhibited to prove that he was dead. Early accounts suggest that this was in the major Lancastrian collegiate foundation, the Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady of the Newarke. [129] After two days, the corpse was interred in a plain tomb, [130] within the church of the Greyfriars. [131] The church was demolished following the friary's dissolution in 1538, and the location of Richard's tomb was long uncertain. [132]

On 12 September 2012, archaeologists announced the discovery of a buried skeleton with spinal abnormalities and head injuries under a car park in Leicester, and their suspicions that it was Richard III. [133] On 4 February 2013, it was announced that DNA testing had convinced Leicester University scientists and researchers "beyond reasonable doubt" that the remains were those of King Richard. [134] On 26 March 2015, these remains were ceremonially buried in Leicester Cathedral. [135] Richard's tomb was unveiled on the following day. [136]

Henry dismissed the mercenaries in his force, retaining only a small core of local soldiers to form a "Yeomen of his Garde", [137] and proceeded to establish his rule of England. Parliament reversed his attainder and recorded Richard's kingship as illegal, although the Yorkist king's reign remained officially in the annals of England history. The proclamation of Edward IV's children as illegitimate was also reversed, restoring Elizabeth's status to a royal princess. [138] The marriage of Elizabeth, the heiress to the House of York, to Henry, the master of the House of Lancaster, marked the end of the feud between the two houses and the start of the Tudor dynasty. The royal matrimony, however, was delayed until Henry was crowned king and had established his claim on the throne firmly enough to preclude that of Elizabeth and her kin. [139] Henry further convinced Parliament to backdate his reign to the day before the battle, [117] enabling him retrospectively to declare as traitors those who had fought against him at Bosworth Field. [140] Northumberland, who had remained inactive during the battle, was imprisoned but later released and reinstated to pacify the north in Henry's name. [141] The purge of those who fought for Richard occupied Henry's first two years of rule, although later he proved prepared to accept those who submitted to him regardless of their former allegiances. [142]

Of his supporters, Henry rewarded the Stanleys the most generously. [61] Aside from making William his chamberlain, he bestowed the earldom of Derby upon Lord Stanley along with grants and offices in other estates. [143] Henry rewarded Oxford by restoring to him the lands and titles confiscated by the Yorkists and appointing him as Constable of the Tower and admiral of England, Ireland, and Aquitaine. For his kin, Henry created Jasper Tudor the Duke of Bedford. [144] He returned to his mother the lands and grants stripped from her by Richard, and proved to be a filial son, granting her a place of honour in the palace and faithfully attending to her throughout his reign. Parliament's declaration of Margaret as femme sole effectively empowered her she no longer needed to manage her estates through Stanley. [145] Elton points out that despite his initial largesse, Henry's supporters at Bosworth would enjoy his special favour for only the short term in later years, he would instead promote those who best served his interests. [146]

Like the kings before him, Henry faced dissenters. The first open revolt occurred two years after Bosworth Field Lambert Simnel claimed to be Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick, who was Edward IV's nephew. The Earl of Lincoln backed him for the throne and led rebel forces in the name of the House of York. [141] The rebel army fended off several attacks by Northumberland's forces, before engaging Henry's army at the Battle of Stoke Field on 16 June 1487. [143] Oxford and Bedford led Henry's men, [147] including several former supporters of Richard III. [148] Henry won this battle easily, but other malcontents and conspiracies would follow. [149] A rebellion in 1489 started with Northumberland's murder military historian Michael C. C. Adams says that the author of a note, which was left next to Northumberland's body, blamed the earl for Richard's death. [117]

Contemporary accounts of the Battle of Bosworth can be found in four main sources, one of which is the English Croyland Chronicle, written by a senior Yorkist chronicler who relied on second-hand information from nobles and soldiers. [150] The other accounts were written by foreigners—Vergil, Jean Molinet, and Diego de Valera. [151] Whereas Molinet was sympathetic to Richard, [152] Vergil was in Henry's service and drew information from the king and his subjects to portray them in a good light. [153] Diego de Valera, whose information Ross regards as unreliable, [101] compiled his work from letters of Spanish merchants. [152] However, other historians have used Valera's work to deduce possibly valuable insights not readily evident in other sources. [154] Ross finds the poem, The Ballad of Bosworth Field, a useful source to ascertain certain details of the battle. The multitude of different accounts, mostly based on second- or third-hand information, has proved an obstacle to historians as they try to reconstruct the battle. [101] Their common complaint is that, except for its outcome, very few details of the battle are found in the chronicles. According to historian Michael Hicks, the Battle of Bosworth is one of the worst-recorded clashes of the Wars of the Roses. [100]

Historical depictions and interpretations Edit

Henry tried to present his victory as a new beginning for the country [155] he hired chroniclers to portray his reign as a "modern age" with its dawn in 1485. [156] Hicks states that the works of Vergil and the blind historian Bernard André, promoted by subsequent Tudor administrations, became the authoritative sources for writers for the next four hundred years. [157] As such, Tudor literature paints a flattering picture of Henry's reign, depicting the Battle of Bosworth as the final clash of the civil war and downplaying the subsequent uprisings. [100] For England the Middle Ages ended in 1485, and English Heritage claims that other than William the Conqueror's successful invasion of 1066, no other year holds more significance in English history. By portraying Richard as a hunchbacked tyrant who usurped the throne by killing his nephews, the Tudor historians attached a sense of myth to the battle: it became an epic clash between good and evil with a satisfying moral outcome. [158] According to Reader Colin Burrow, André was so overwhelmed by the historic significance of the battle that he represented it with a blank page in his Henry VII (1502). [159] For Professor Peter Saccio, the battle was indeed a unique clash in the annals of English history, because "the victory was determined, not by those who fought, but by those who delayed fighting until they were sure of being on the winning side." [59]

Historians such as Adams and Horrox believe that Richard lost the battle not for any mythic reasons, but because of morale and loyalty problems in his army. Most of the common soldiers found it difficult to fight for a liege whom they distrusted, and some lords believed that their situation might improve if Richard were dethroned. [106] [148] According to Adams, against such duplicities Richard's desperate charge was the only knightly behaviour on the field. As fellow historian Michael Bennet puts it, the attack was "the swan-song of [mediaeval] English chivalry". [117] Adams believes this view was shared at the time by the printer William Caxton, who enjoyed sponsorship from Edward IV and Richard III. Nine days after the battle, Caxton published Thomas Malory's story about chivalry and death by betrayal—Le Morte d'Arthur—seemingly as a response to the circumstances of Richard's death. [117]

Elton does not believe Bosworth Field has any true significance, pointing out that the 20th-century English public largely ignored the battle until its quincentennial celebration. In his view, the dearth of specific information about the battle—no-one even knows exactly where it took place—demonstrates its insignificance to English society. Elton considers the battle as just one part of Henry's struggles to establish his reign, underscoring his point by noting that the young king had to spend ten more years pacifying factions and rebellions to secure his throne. [160]

Mackie asserts that, in hindsight, Bosworth Field is notable as the decisive battle that established a dynasty which would rule unchallenged over England for more than a hundred years. [161] Mackie notes that contemporary historians of that time, wary of the three royal successions during the long Wars of the Roses, considered Bosworth Field just another in a lengthy series of such battles. It was through the works and efforts of Francis Bacon and his successors that the public started to believe the battle had decided their futures by bringing about "the fall of a tyrant". [162]

Shakespearian dramatisation Edit

William Shakespeare gives prominence to the Battle of Bosworth in his play, Richard III. It is the "one big battle" no other fighting scene distracts the audience from this action, [163] represented by a one-on-one sword fight between Henry Tudor and Richard III. [164] Shakespeare uses their duel to bring a climactic end to the play and the Wars of the Roses he also uses it to champion morality, portraying the "unequivocal triumph of good over evil". [165] Richard, the villainous lead character, has been built up in the battles of Shakespeare's earlier play, Henry VI, Part 3, as a "formidable swordsman and a courageous military leader"—in contrast to the dastardly means by which he becomes king in Richard III. [166] Although the Battle of Bosworth has only five sentences to direct it, three scenes and more than four hundred lines precede the action, developing the background and motivations for the characters in anticipation of the battle. [165]

Shakespeare's account of the battle was mostly based on chroniclers Edward Hall's and Raphael Holinshed's dramatic versions of history, which were sourced from Vergil's chronicle. However, Shakespeare's attitude towards Richard was shaped by scholar Thomas More, whose writings displayed extreme bias against the Yorkist king. [167] The result of these influences is a script that vilifies the king, and Shakespeare had few qualms about departing from history to incite drama. [168] Margaret of Anjou died in 1482, but Shakespeare had her speak to Richard's mother before the battle to foreshadow Richard's fate and fulfill the prophecy she had given in Henry VI. [169] Shakespeare exaggerated the cause of Richard's restless night before the battle, imagining it as a haunting by the ghosts of those whom the king had murdered, including Buckingham. [170] Richard is portrayed as suffering a pang of conscience, but as he speaks he regains his confidence and asserts that he will be evil, if such needed to retain his crown. [171]

The fight between the two armies is simulated by rowdy noises made off-stage (alarums or alarms) while actors walk on-stage, deliver their lines, and exit. To build anticipation for the duel, Shakespeare requests more alarums after Richard's councillor, William Catesby, announces that the king is "[enacting] more wonders than a man". Richard punctuates his entrance with the classic line, "A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!" [164] He refuses to withdraw, continuing to seek to slay Henry's doubles until he has killed his nemesis. There is no documentary evidence that Henry had five decoys at Bosworth Field the idea was Shakespeare's invention. He drew inspiration from Henry IV's use of them at the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403) to amplify the perception of Richard's courage on the battlefield. [172] Similarly, the single combat between Henry and Richard is Shakespeare's creation. The True Tragedy of Richard III, by an unknown playwright, earlier than Shakespeare's, has no signs of staging such an encounter: its stage directions give no hint of visible combat. [173]

Despite the dramatic licences taken, Shakespeare's version of the Battle of Bosworth was the model of the event for English textbooks for many years during the 18th and 19th centuries. [174] This glamorised version of history, promulgated in books and paintings and played out on stages across the country, perturbed humorist Gilbert Abbott à Beckett. [175] He voiced his criticism in the form of a poem, equating the romantic view of the battle to watching a "fifth-rate production of Richard III": shabbily costumed actors fight the Battle of Bosworth on-stage while those with lesser roles lounge at the back, showing no interest in the proceedings. [176]

In Laurence Olivier's 1955 film adaptation of Richard III, the Battle of Bosworth is represented not by a single duel but a general melee that became the film's most recognised scene and a regular screening at Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre. [177] The film depicts the clash between the Yorkist and Lancastrian armies on an open field, focusing on individual characters amidst the savagery of hand-to-hand fighting, and received accolades for the realism portrayed. [178] One reviewer for The Manchester Guardian newspaper, however, was not impressed, finding the number of combatants too sparse for the wide plains and a lack of subtlety in Richard's death scene. [179] The means by which Richard is shown to prepare his army for the battle also earned acclaim. As Richard speaks to his men and draws his plans in the sand using his sword, his units appear on-screen, arraying themselves according to the lines that Richard had drawn. Intimately woven together, the combination of pictorial and narrative elements effectively turns Richard into a storyteller, who acts out the plot he has constructed. [180] Shakespearian critic Herbert Coursen extends that imagery: Richard sets himself up as a creator of men, but dies amongst the savagery of his creations. Coursen finds the depiction a contrast to that of Henry V and his "band of brothers". [181]

The adaptation of the setting for Richard III to a 1930s fascist England in Ian McKellen's 1995 film, however, did not sit well with historians. Adams posits that the original Shakespearian setting for Richard's fate at Bosworth teaches the moral of facing one's fate, no matter how unjust it is, "nobly and with dignity". [182] By overshadowing the dramatic teaching with special effects, McKellen's film reduces its version of the battle to a pyrotechnic spectacle about the death of a one-dimensional villain. [183] Coursen agrees that, in this version, the battle and Richard's end are trite and underwhelming. [184]


10 Facts About the Battle of Bosworth - History

By Cassidy Cash

“What, would you have my weapon, little lord?”

Richard III Act III Scene I

The Battle of Bosworth was immortalized for posterity in Act V, Scene 3 of William Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of Richard III. While dramatically depicting a fierce battle that resulted in the start of a historic family dynasty, what the play does not tell you is that the weapons Henry Tudor used to win that classic battle were equally as intense.

When it came to using weapons in battle, Henry Tudor’s army was well equipped with some of the finest swords, longbows, daggers, and fighting implements of the time. Here’s a look at ten facts about the weapons Henry used at the Battle of Bosworth that were just as fierce as his army.

1. Many of the men were armed with small daggers.

Called a “rondel” and used to dispatch soldiers that had been dismounted or in hand to hand combat, we know they used this particular weapon due to triangle shaped wounds in the skulls uncovered by archaeologists.

2. The Longbow was indispensable.

Known to military history as the English longbow, this iconic medieval weapon was usually 6-7 feet in length and enabled a skilled bowman to launch up to 12 arrows per minute. The longbow was the primary, dominant, and most favored military weapon of this period.

3. The halberd is thought to have killed Richard III.

A combination of a spear and a battle axe, contemporary records combined with modern exhumation of Richard’s body, tell us that Richard III was disposed by a team of Welsh soldiers armed with halberds.

4. Excalibur type swords were real.

Perhaps the most iconic of medieval weapons, the sword actually varied greatly in length and the type of blade. War swords were standard military issue for knights before the 1300s, and remained in use through the 16th century.

5. Spears were used to fight of advancing armies on horseback.

An “old standard” of medieval weaponry the spear had a diamond shaped head and sometimes a crossbar. It could be used to cut or stab, but the butt of the spear could also be buried in the ground at an angle to stop an advancing
cavalry.

6. Those spiked balls you see in movies were real, and used at Bosworth.

Long poles, or strings of chain, with a spiked metal ball at the end were called Maces. Clergymen who fought in the battle used maces because they were forbidden from drawing blood. The maces would break the bones of their victim inside their armor and were more effective against armored knights than swords because of their crushing power.

7. Handguns made one of their first appearances to history during this battle.

The original handguns were very inaccurate and used mostly to frighten people in order to gain the advantage during battle. However, it was during the War of the Roses that develops on the handgun were made allowing it to be safer to use and more accurate. It would go on to replace the longbow over the next hundred years.

8. The Battle Ax was a hand held weapon used by horsemen.

This particular weapon looked like a modern day hammer or nightstick with a short handle and the head of an ax. Horse riders used a leather strap attached to the handle to keep the weapon attached to them while they rode into battle. Richard III is said to have lead his troop into battle carrying his battle-axe.

9. The Arbalest was last used at the Battle of Bosworth.

During the reign of Henry VII’s son, Henry VIII, crossbowmen would rise up to form the vanguard of the army, but during the Battle of Bosworth, these specialized crossbows made of steel and quite large, could shoot with greater strength than their successors.

10. Farm equipment helped against the cavalry.

Soldiers would often use a common farm implement called the billhook during the War of the Roses to pull riders off their horses where they would then be executed by dagger.

It’s truly formidable the battle implements of the medieval period. When we look at Shakespeare’s plays, it provides a great context for his works when we consider how the real environment in which these stories were set was at once so unmerciful and unforgiving a climate. Masters of these great weapons was truly an art.

“Conscience is but a word that cowards use,
Devised at first to keep the strong in awe:
Our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law.”


10 medieval dates you need to know

The Norman conquest of 1066 marked a dramatic and irreversible turning point in English history. Events began with the battle of Hastings, in which the Anglo-Saxon king Harold II attempted to defend his realm from the Norman invasion forces of William, Duke of Normandy (later known as William the Conqueror).

Harold’s English troops numbered around 5,000, compared to a well-equipped Norman force of 15,000 infantry, archers and cavalry. Although the English had some initial success using shield-wall tactics, they proved no match for William, who was a formidable warlord. English defences were eventually broken down and King Harold was killed. His crushing defeat and gory death on the battlefield is famously recorded in the Bayeux tapestry, which was completed in the 1070s.

Following William’s success at the battle of Hastings – dubbed by Andrew Gimson the “most durable victory of any monarch in English history”– William the Conqueror set about transforming the face of Anglo-Saxon England. He skillfully secured his hold on the lands he had invaded, replacing the English ruling class with Norman counterparts and building defensive fortresses at strategic points throughout the kingdom.

Under William the feudal system [a hierarchical system in which people held lands in return for providing loyalty or services to a lord] was introduced, the church reorganised and England’s links to Europe strengthened. The legacy of 1066’s Norman conquest can still be seen today in Britain’s language, culture and social structure.

1085: The Domesday Book is completed

The Domesday Book is England’s earliest surviving public record, unsurpassed in depth and detail until the introduction of censuses in the 19th century.

Towards the end of the 11th century England came under threat from Danish invaders. William the Conqueror (who had himself been an invader two decades earlier) realised the need to catalogue the country’s financial resources in order to assess how much taxation he could reap from the land to fund a potential war. He therefore commissioned a massive survey of England’s landholdings and financial assets. The monumental resulting document, the Domesday Book, extensively catalogues the kingdom’s taxable goods and records the identities of England’s landholders at the time.

The Domesday Book is significant because it provides a unique and remarkably rich historical source for medievalists. Its vast amount of information offers historians, geographers, linguists and even lawyers invaluable insights into the nature of England’s government, landscape and social structure at the time. The book now survives in two volumes: Great Domesday and Little Domesday.

1095: The First Crusade is decreed

Pope Urban II’s official call for “holy war” in 1095 heralded the beginning of centuries of religious conflict. The crusades were a significant and long-lasting movement that saw European Christian knights mount successive military campaigns in attempts to conquer the Holy Land. Religious conflict peaked during the 12th and 13th centuries and its impact can be traced throughout the Middle Ages.

Muslims in the Holy Land were not the only target of the crusades. Crusade campaigns were directed against a variety of people viewed as enemies of Christendom. Military campaigns against the Moors in Spain and Mongols and pagan Slavs in Eastern Europe have now also been recognised by historians as part of the crusade movement.

The crusades had a huge impact on medieval life in Britain. People from all walks of life were involved – everyone from peasant labourers to lords and kings took up the fight for Christendom. Richard the Lionheart (r1189–99) considered the quest to conquer the Holy Land to be so important that he was absent from England for many years of his reign, waging war in the Middle East.

These intercontinental military expeditions also had a much wider impact on global relations. They led to an unprecedented interaction between east and west, which had an enduring influence on art, science, culture and trade. Meanwhile the shared fight for Christendom arguably also helped to foster ideological unity within Europe. In the words of historian Linda Paterson, the crusades “transformed the western world and left a profound legacy in inter-cultural and inter-faith relations nationally and worldwide”.

1170: Thomas Becket is murdered

Bloody proof of overflowing tensions in the ongoing power struggle between the medieval church and crown, the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170 has gone down in history for its shocking brutality.

In 1155, after enjoying a successful career in the clergy, Becket (1120–70) became chancellor to King Henry II. Friendship and rapport developed between the two men and in 1161 Henry appointed Becket as archbishop of Canterbury.

However, following Becket’s appointment as archbishop, his harmonious relationship with the king was short-lived. Trouble began to emerge as it became clear that Becket would now fight for the interests of the church, often in opposition to the wishes of the crown.

Becket began to challenge the king over a wide range of issues and their turbulent disagreements lasted several years. Their relationship disintegrated to such an extent that between 1164 and 1170 Becket lived in France to avoid Henry’s wrath. He returned to Canterbury in 1170 but was soon in conflict with the king again, this time over the excommunication of high-ranking clerics.

This dispute was the final straw for Henry. According to popular legend he lost his temper with the archbishop, asking “Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?” Believing this to mean that the king wished Becket dead, four knights travelled to Canterbury to seek out the archbishop. On 29 December 1170 they brutally murdered Becket in his own cathedral.

In 1173, three years after his death, Becket was canonised. His murder transformed him into a martyr figure and his shrine at Canterbury Cathedral became a major European pilgrimage site. The priest’s murder was extremely damaging to Henry’s reputation and in 1174 Henry visited Becket’s tomb to pay penance for his actions.

1215: Magna Carta is signed

Sealed by King John at Runnymede on 15 June 1215, Magna Carta (meaning ‘great charter’) has become one of the founding documents of the English legal system.

At the time of its creation, however, the document’s long-lasting significance was not immediately recognised. Following a period of political and military upheaval in England, John was reluctantly forced to sign Magna Carta as part of peace negotiations with rebel barons. Drafted as part of a peace treaty, the initial document contained specific grievances dealing expressly with King John’s rule. At the time the agreement had little impact, as King John swiftly backtracked on its promises, prompting civil war.

Magna Carta’s real significance lay elsewhere. Buried within its many clauses were certain adaptable core values that ensured its influential legacy in English history. As the first document to establish that everyone, including monarchs, was subject to the law, Magna Carta laid the foundation for legally limiting the power of the sovereignty. Its 39th clause, meanwhile, ensured the right of all ‘free men’ to a fair trial.

The fundamental principles laid down in these clauses proved central to the establishment of the English legal system. The original document was adapted several times in subsequent years and three of the clauses from the original Magna Carta still remain on the statute books today. These establish the liberties of the English Church (Clause 1), the privileges of the City of London (Clause 13) and the right to trial by jury (Clauses 39 & 40).

1314: The battle of Bannockburn

The battle of Bannockburn saw Scottish leader Robert the Bruce take on the English king Edward II in a pivotal conflict in Scotland’s fight for independence.

In 1296 Anglo-Scottish tensions spilled over into open warfare when English forces under Edward I invaded Scotland. By 1314 the Scottish Wars of Independence had been raging for many years and Edward II’s hold over Scotland had begun to crumble. In an attempt to restore his grasp on the kingdom Edward II amassed a large body of troops to relieve Stirling Castle, which had been besieged by the forces of Robert the Bruce. However, Edward’s attempt to regain control backfired, as the Scots prepared to face the English forces head-on in what became the battle of Bannockburn.

The battle took place on 23 and 24 June 1314. Although the English force boasted greater numbers, the Scottish were well trained and well led, fighting on land they were motivated to defend. Their knowledge of the local land also worked in their favour, as they tactically targeted terrain that would be difficult for Edward’s heavy cavalry to operate on. English casualties were heavy and Edward was forced to retreat.

Bannockburn dealt a significant blow to English control over Scotland and Edward’s withdrawal left swathes of northern England vulnerable to Scottish raids and attacks. Robert the Bruce’s victory proved decisive for Scotland, solidifying the country’s independence and strengthening his grip over his kingdom. In 1324 Robert finally gained papal recognition as king of Scotland.

1348: The Black Death comes to Britain

The summer of 1348 saw the first outbreak of the bubonic plague in England, leading to an epidemic of huge proportions. The disease is estimated to have killed between a third and a half of the population – a devastating and unprecedented death rate.

Known as the Black Death, the bubonic plague was caused by a bacterium now know as yersinia pestis. Without any knowledge of how it was transmitted the disease spread like wildfire, particularly in urban areas. The writer Boccaccio saw the plague ravage Florence in 1348 and described the symptoms in his book The Decameron: “The first signs of the plague were lumps in the groin or armpits. After this, livid black spots appeared on the arms and thighs and other parts of the body. Few recovered. Almost all died within three days, usually without any fever”.

The dramatic death toll had a significant impact on the social and economic landscape of Britain in the following decades. Writing for History Extra, Mark Ormrod has argued that in the long-run the epidemic led to a “real improvement in the quality of life” for medieval people. He suggests that “the drop in the population resulted in a redistribution of wealth – workers could demand higher wages, and tenant farmers could demand lower rents, giving the poor more expendable income”.

1381: The Peasants’ Revolt

The first large-scale uprising in English history, the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381 threatened to overturn the existing social structure and undermine the country’s ruling elite.

The revolt was prompted by the introduction of a third poll tax (raised to fund the war against France), which had a particularly damaging effect on the poor. Unrest began in Essex, spreading rapidly to East Anglia, St Albans, Bury St Edmunds and London. As events escalated, government ministers were attacked and their homes destroyed. The chaos reached a peak as rioters captured and executed the king’s treasurer and the archbishop of Canterbury.

Soon, the rioters’ demands extended far beyond abolishing the third poll tax. They called for the abolition of serfdom and outlawry, and the division of lordship among all men. They also railed against the corruption of the church, demanding that its wealth be distributed among the people.

Faced with the threat of escalating violence in his capital city, the 14-year-old King Richard II met with one of the central figures of the revolt, Wat Tyler, to discuss the rioters’ grievances. However, violence broke out at the meeting and Tyler was murdered by William Walworth (Lord Mayor of London). Following Tyler’s death, government troops sought out and executed those who had rebelled, and resistance soon died out.

1415: Henry V defeats the French at Agincourt

Soon after becoming king of England in 1413, the ambitious young Henry V turned his attention to expanding his realm. During his father’s reign he had pushed for an invasion of France, and as the country was undergoing a period of political turmoil under its elderly monarch, Charles VI, it was the perfect time to launch an assault on the vulnerable kingdom.

After landing in France on 13 August 1415 and besieging the town of Harfleur, Henry’s troops marched on Calais. The French army met them at Agincourt and Henry’s men found themselves outnumbered as a bloody battle ensued. Despite this the French death toll was significant and Henry claimed victory.

Agincourt has gone down in history as a legendary victory for England and for Henry. However, historian Ralph Griffiths suggests that it was in fact a close-run and far from decisive battle. He argues that contemporaries exaggerated Henry’s achievements in France.

However, patriotic Agincourt propaganda undoubtedly had sticking power in the Middle Ages. The defeat proved devastating to French morale, while Henry’s reputation on the continent was enhanced dramatically. Henry was welcomed back to Dover with triumph and the story of his illustrious victory at Agincourt was celebrated for centuries to come.

1485: Richard III is defeated at the battle of Bosworth

The last significant clash of the Wars of the Roses, the battle of Bosworth saw the Lancastrian Henry Tudor (the future Henry VII) defeat Richard III in a bloody fight for the English throne.

Following Richard’s deposition of Edward V in 1483, Henry challenged the Yorkist king as a usurper. In August 1485 Henry launched an attack on Richard in an attempt to seize control of England. Richard’s army of 15,000 vastly outnumbered that of Henry, who had only 5,000 men. Confident of defeating his challenger, Richard was reportedly overjoyed at Henry’s arrival in England and even delayed facing his troops in order to celebrate with a feast day.

However, once the battle began, Richard’s strong initial position was undermined by the desertion of his troops and the defection of Lord Stanley (who had previously fought on the Yorkist side and commanded significant troops). The Yorkist forces were defeated and Richard was killed on the battlefield.

The discovery of Richard’s skeleton in Leicester in 2012 has told us much about how the defeated king met his death. Writing for History Extra, Chris Skidmore states that “several gouge marks in the front of the skull seem to have been caused by a dagger, perhaps in a struggle. The two wounds that would have killed Richard include the back part of his skull being sheathed off if this did not kill him, a sword blade thrust from the base of the skull straight through the brain certainly would have done the job”.

As the last major conflict of the Wars of the Roses and one that heralded the end of the Plantagenet dynasty, the battle of Bosworth marked a significant turning point in British history. It signalled the end of the medieval era and beginning of the Tudor period.

Ellie Cawthorne is Staff Writer on BBC History Magazine.