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At the Battle of Bosworth (aka Bosworth Field) in Leicestershire on 22 August 1485 CE, the Yorkist king Richard III of England (r. 1483-1485 CE) faced an invading army led by Henry Tudor, the figurehead of the Lancastrians. It was to be a decisive engagement in the long-running dynastic dispute known to history as the Wars of the Roses (1455-1487 CE). Henry won the day, largely because some of Richard's allies either switched sides or remained inactive during the battle. The king was unseated from his horse and butchered as he made a last-ditch attempt to personally strike down his direct opponent for the throne. The victorious Henry Tudor then became King Henry VII of England (r. 1485-1509 CE). The Battle of Bosworth used to be considered the end of the Middle Ages in England but, even if modern historians tremble at such picturesque and arbitrary cut-off points, the battle remains a pivotal event in English history. Bosworth has gripped the popular imagination ever since, largely thanks to William Shakespeares' play Richard III, which has immortalised that day in August when the last English king to be killed on the battlefield fell.
The Wars of the Roses
When Edward IV of England (r. 1461-1470 CE & 1471-1483 CE) died unexpectedly on 9 April 1483 CE, his young son became king. Edward V of England (r. Apr-Jun 1483 CE) was only 12 years of age and so he had a regent, his uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester. The duke, given the title Lord High Protector of the Realm, imprisoned Edward and his younger brother Richard in the Tower of London where they became known as the 'Princes in the Tower'. The boys were never seen again and Duke Richard made himself king in July 1483 CE. The king was widely accused of having killed his nephews in the most despicable act of the Wars of the Roses, even if the exact causes of their deaths remain a mystery.
News of the death of Richard's heir in 1484 CE boosted the Lancastrian cause. It was now a case of toppling Richard & the throne could be theirs.
Even Yorkists supporters were shocked at this turn of events, and the old foe the Lancastrians had not gone away completely. The latter group, still eager to claim the throne for themselves, were now led by their best hope, the exiled Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond (b. 1457 CE). Henry was, through the illegitimate Beaufort line, a descendant of John of Gaunt, a son of Edward III of England (r. 1327-1377 CE). It was not much of a royal connection but the best the Lancastrians could produce after years of purges by the Yorkist king Edward IV. Taking advantage of the discontent at Richard's court, Henry gathered around him some impressive support: the Woodvilles (family of Edward IV's queen, Elizabeth Woodville), nobles not happy with Richard's distribution of estates or favours, and Charles VIII of France (r. 1483-1498 CE), eager to cause any disruption that limited England's power abroad, particularly in Brittany. After an invasion fell apart due to bad planning in November 1483 CE, news of the death of Richard's son and heir Edward in April 1484 CE boosted the Lancastrian cause. It was now a case of toppling Richard, and the throne could be theirs.
The Opposing Armies
On 1 August 1485 CE, the Wars of the Roses reached boiling point when Henry Tudor set off from Brittany and landed with an army of French mercenaries at Milford Haven in South Wales, a force perhaps no bigger than 2,000-3,000 men and including only around 400-500 Englishmen. Henry's army swelled in numbers over the next week as it marched through Wales along the River Severn, to Shrewsbury, Coventry and finally the area around Leicester. The Welsh baron Rhys ap Thomas was offered the carrot of the Lieutenancy of Wales should Henry win, and this boosted the rebel army by another 800 men. A further 500 soldiers came with William ap Gruffudd via north Wales and 500 more with Gilbert Talbot, uncle of the Earl of Shrewsbury. Now with an army of perhaps 5,000 men, Henry had at least a chance of toppling the king and his much larger army if he could persuade some of Richard's men to defect either before or during the forthcoming battle.
Richard may have preferred to engage Henry as soon as possible before he had a chance to swell his numbers with even more defectors from the Crown.
Another weakness of Henry's army, besides numerical inferiority, was the fact that many of his fighting men were conscripted tenant farmers with only limited battle experience. Neither were they particularly well-equipped and so were mostly archers or spearmen. Still, Henry did have experienced mercenaries from France and Scotland who were armed with shields, swords, and pikes, and there were units of medieval knights, the heavy cavalry. In terms of command, Henry was a mere novice but he could call on the experience of his uncle Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, John de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, and the leader of his French mercenaries, Philibert de Chandée.
Richard, on hearing news of Henry's invasion force, left Nottingham Castle and assembled his supporters. The king's army consisted of a similar mix of troops to Henry's but with slightly better equipment and certainly more cavalry. Another advantage was that Richard had some heavy artillery pieces while Henry had only a number of light field guns. Unfortunately, as the king had been unsure where Henry Tudor's invasion might land, he had placed loyal nobles and troops around England, and this meant he could not command as large an army as he would have liked at Bosworth. It may also have been the case that Richard preferred to engage Henry as soon as possible before he had a chance to swell his numbers with even more defectors from the Crown.
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Although commanding a superior total force of some 8,000-12,000 men, Richard would be, just as Henry hoped, deserted at the last moment by some of his key allies. Amongst the most unreliable was Sir William Stanley, whose nephew Lord Strange was being kept hostage by Richard precisely to ensure loyalty. Stanley commanded 3,000 men at Bosworth and so his support would prove vital to whoever he gave it to. Another dubious ally of Richard's was Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, who would even refuse to engage his troops until he had a clear idea which side was going to win the day in the battle that would decide a kingdom. Richard was very likely aware of the treachery in the air and that now his past dark deeds would come back to haunt him. Shakespeare is, then, perhaps not far from the truth, at least in spirit, in his famous scene from Richard III when, the night before the battle, the troubled king is visited by the ghosts of all those nobles he had supposedly murdered. Perhaps Richard's conscience really was toying with his nerves on the eve of Bosworth:
My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain…
There is no creature loves me;
And if I die, no soul will pity me.
(Richard III, Act 5, Scene 3)
Despite the dubious hand that fate had dealt him on this day, the king did have one ace to play: himself. Richard was an experienced field commander, having fought with aplomb alongside his brother Edward at the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury in 1471 CE. In 1482 CE, Richard had also led an army into Scotland, occupied Edinburgh for a time and won back control of Berwick for the English Crown. This was a king more than capable of defending his throne on the battlefield, and even Shakespeare has Richard perk up a bit on the morning of the battle: "Conscience is but a word that cowards use…Our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law" (ibid). Indeed, according to one anonymous eyewitness, recorded in a letter of 1486 CE, the king was determined to settle the issue this day. He stated "God forbid I yield one step. This day I will die a King or win" (quoted in Turvey, 134).
Henry's force met the king's army at Market Bosworth, a small village near Leicester on 22 August 1485 CE. The king's army, which had arrived first, had formed at the top of Ambian Hill with Richard himself in command and wearing his battle crown and royal arms. The spot commanded the whole battlefield and had the added advantage of marshland protecting the king's flank. Without eyewitness accounts and only conflicting later reports, the exact details of the three-hour battle are not known.
Henry's forces may have charged first and then Richard's forward lines raced down the hill to meet what seemed a much smaller enemy army. Henry's troops stood their ground but reformed into a wedge shape which pushed back Richard's first attack. The king, who had remained on Ambian Hill, then noted that Henry was at the very rear of his lines with only a small number of troops around him. Deciding the quickest way to end the battle was to head straight for Henry and cut him down, Richard charged down the hill with his heavy cavalry. He may have been forced into this reckless act by the refusal of the Earl of Northumberland to mobilise his own force from the rear and into the central action. The duplicitous Northumberland, as it turned out, would remain inactive throughout.
Richard's Glorious Death
The king fought bravely and perhaps a little foolishly in his efforts to kill Henry Tudor with his own sword. Richard, although managing to strike down Henry's standard-bearer, had his horse cut from under him - hence, Shakespeare's famous line "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" (Act 5, Scene IV). The king was killed when Sir William Stanley finally decided who to support and directed his 500-cavalry force to further encircle Richard, cutting him off from his own troops. The king received many wounds but was finally felled by a Welsh pikeman, one Rhys ap Maredudd according to one chronicler. Richard was the first English king to be killed in battle since Harold Godwinson (r. Jan-Oct 1066 CE) at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 CE, and the last English monarch to fall on the battlefield. When the king had fallen, the Yorkists fled the scene having already suffered heavy casualties, amongst whom was the Duke of Norfolk. Henry had won the battle and, as Richard had no heir, also the kingdom.
The dead king's body was slung across the back of a mule and displayed, naked except for a piece of cloth, in the Church of Saint Mary in Newarke near the battleground and then buried at Greyfriars Abbey, Leicester. In 2012 CE archaeologists in Leicester excavated the site where they believed the ruins of Greyfriars Abbey were buried. Digging down from what was on the surface a car park, they revealed a skeleton which was male, had many marks of sword or dagger injuries and, most intriguingly, had suffered from curvature of the spine, one of Richard's supposed ailments. Researchers at the University of Leicester conducted DNA testing and confirmed that, with a probability of 99.9%, this was the skeleton of Richard III. The remains were eventually reinterred in a new purpose-built tomb in Leicester Cathedral.
Back in the 15th century CE, the victorious Henry Tudor, according to legend, was given Richard's crown, found by Stanley beneath a hawthorn bush at Bosworth Field. The new king was crowned Henry VII of England (r. 1485-1509 CE) on 30 October 1485 CE. Loyal followers were rewarded such as Stanley who was made Earl of Derby, Constable of England, and allowed to keep the rich hangings from Richard's tent at Bosworth. In contrast, such figures as the Earl of Northumberland got their comeuppance as Henry imprisoned them, presumably deeming them untrustworthy. The former Yorkist queen Elizabeth Woodville (c. 1437-1464 CE), on the other hand, was given an honourable retirement in Bermondsey Abbey, then just outside London. When Henry married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV in 1486 CE, the two rival houses were finally united and a new one created: the Tudors. Henry still had to face some challenges, notably, a Yorkist revival centred around the pretender Lambert Simnel, but this was quashed at the Battle of Stoke Field in June 1487 CE. The Wars of the Roses were finally over, half the English barons had been killed in the process, but England was at last united as it left the Middle Ages and headed into the modern era.
Battle of Bosworth
In August 1485, Henry Tudor, the leader of the Lancastrians, arrived in Wales with 2, 000 of his supporters. He also brought with him over 2, 000 mercenaries recruited from French prisons. While in Wales, Henry also persuaded many skillful longbowmen to join him in his fight against Richard III. By the time Henry Tudor reached England the size of his army had grown to 5,000 men.
When Richard heard about the arrival of Henry he marched his army to meet his rival for the throne. On the way, Richard tried to recruit as many men as possible to fight in his army, but by the time he reached Leicester he only had an army of 6,000 men. The earl of Northumberland also brought 3,000 men but his loyalty to Richard was in doubt.
Richard sent an order to Lord Thomas Stanley and Sir William Stanley, two of the most powerful men in England, to bring their 6,000 soldiers to fight for the king. Richard had been informed that Lord Stanley had already promised to help Henry Tudor. In order to persuade him to change his mind, Richard arranged for Lord Stanley's eldest son to be kidnapped.
On 21 August 1485, King Richard's army positioned themselves on Ambien Hill, close to the small village of Bosworth in Leicestershire. Henry arrived the next day and took up a position facing Richard. When the Stanley brothers arrived they did not join either of the two armies. Instead, Lord Stanley went to the north of the battlefield and Sir William to the south. The four armies now made up the four sides of a square.
Without the support of the Stanley brothers, Richard looked certain to be defeated. Richard therefore gave orders for Lord Stanley's son to be brought to the top of the hill. The king then sent a message to Lord Stanley threatening to execute his son unless he immediately sent his troops to join the king on Ambien Hill. Lord Stanley's reply was short: "Sire, I have other sons."
Henry Tudor's forces now charged King Richard's army. Although out-numbered, Richard's superior position at the top of the hill enabled him to stop the rival forces breaking through at first. When the situation began to deteriorate, Richard called up his reserve forces led by the earl of Northumberland. However, Northumberland, convinced that Richard was going to lose, ignored the order.
Richard's advisers told him that he must try to get away. Richard refused, claiming that he could still obtain victory by killing Henry Tudor. He argued that once the pretender to the throne was dead, his army would have no reason to go on fighting.
A few of his close friends agreed to accompany him on his mission. So that everyone knew who he was, Richard put on his crown. After choosing an axe as his weapon, Richard and a small group of men charged down the hill.
Henry's guards quickly surrounded their leader. Before Richard could get to Henry, he was knocked off his horse. Surrounded by the enemy, Richard continued to fight until he was killed.
Tradition has it that Richard's crown was found under a gorse bush. Lord Stanley, whose intervention had proved so important, was given the honour of crowning Henry VII the new king of England and Wales.
The Real Site of the Battle of Bosworth Field
The real site of the Battle of Bosworth Field, the concluding action of the Wars of the Roses, has been revealed following the announcement of its discovery last October. The traditional site on Ambion Hill near the village of Sutton Cheney in Leicestershire has been usurped, just as Richard III was by Henry Tudor on the afternoon of August 22nd, 1485. The real site, according to Glenn Foard of the Battlefields Trust, is about a mile south-west, in a dull, flat field on Alf Oliver’s Fenn Lane Farm. That is where a strikingly beautiful silver boar, similar to the one beloved by visitors to the British Museum’s medieval galleries, was found. It almost certainly belonged to a trusted knight of Richard’s retinue who fought and died alongside his king. The boar was Richard’s personal symbol, still worn by members of the fiercely loyal Richard III Society.
Two things come to mind. First, that hoary but valuable old question posed to generations of undergraduates: did the Middle Ages come to an end on Bosworth Field? Secondly, who will answer such questions, who will teach the Wars of the Roses to future generations, who will revise past certainties if our universities and our schools continue to neglect Medieval history? Everyone should know what happened on Bosworth Field and the consequences of the events that took place that day. Today’s revelations will hopefully encourage many more to find out.
In 1985 Colin Richmond claimed in The Battle of Bosworth that 'Richard's valiant death is almost the only feature of the battle of Bosworth we can be sure of'.
Into Battle Over Bosworth
Chris Skidmore praises Colin Richmond’s 1985 article, which offered a new theory, later confirmed, about the true location of one of the most famous battles in English history.
Articles that turn history on its head are rare, but this is what Colin Richmond’s piece, The Battle of Bosworth, achieved, demolishing centuries of accepted wisdom about where the fateful encounter between Richard III and Henry Tudor in 1485 was fought, so transforming our entire understanding of the event.
Historians have long known that the original name for Bosworth was the battle of Redemore that the battle had been fought upon a plain and that Richard III had been swept off his horse by Sir William Stanley’s men into a marsh. But where exactly was Redemore? Ever since the publication of William Hutton’s Battle of Bosworth Field in 1788 it had been assumed that the fighting had taken place at the base of Ambion Hill, near Sutton Cheyney in Leicestershire. The only problem was that its terrain did not reflect the geographical features mentioned in the sparse contemporary sources. Yet this had not prevented the opening of a battlefield centre at Ambion in 1974, complete with an ‘authoritative’ account of where Richard III’s last stand took place, commemorated by a marker stone.
Richmond had been leafing through signet warrants from Henry VIII’s reign, held in the National Archives, when he came across one from August 1511 allowing the churchwardens of Dadlington parish, near the battle site, to collect contributions for a chapel ‘standing upon a parcell of grounde wher Bosworth feld otherwise called Dadlyngton feld . was done’. The warrant had been catalogued in the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, but the crucial line mentioning Dadlington field had been omitted. Here was evidence, surely, that the battle of Bosworth had not been fought at Ambion Hill, but a few miles down the road, near Dadlington.
Published on the eve of the 500th anniversary of the battle, when Prince Charles and Princess Diana would come to visit the heritage centre, Richmond’s article seemed to throw a hand grenade into the celebrations. The media interest was immediate. ‘Was the Battle of Bosworth at Bosworth?’ The Times asked, devoting its front page to the discovery. But supporters of the traditional site at Ambion Hill would not go down without a fight. The curator of the battlefield centre, Daniel Williams, responded in History Today two months later, dismissing Richmond’s claim.
Richmond’s standard was taken up by Peter Foss, who combined his expert knowledge of local topography, geology and a close reading of the original sources to produce The Field of Redemore (1990), the first revisionist account, which sought to locate the exact site of Redemore. Foss’s further discovery in local records that ‘Redmor’ lay ‘in the fields of Dadlington’ reinforced Richmond’s argument. Other historians weighed in to the debate, including David Starkey in the October 1985 edition of History Today and Michael K. Jones in Bosworth 1485: The Psychology of a Battle (2002), claiming that it could have been fought much closer to Merevale Abbey, near the present A5.
In 1995 English Heritage decided to include the fields around Dadlington in its Register of Historic Battlefields, but it was not until 2004 that the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Battlefields Trust and Leicester County Council together secured funding for an archaeological project led by Glenn Foard to locate the battlefield site. The painstaking work would take years before, on March 1st, 2009, a small lead ball, 30mm in diameter, was discovered further west of Dadlington. By December 2010 33 lead projectiles had been uncovered, a greater number than from all other archaeological surveys on battlefields of the 15th century combined. The coup de grâce was the unearthing of a small silver gilt badge of a boar: Richard III’s insignia. Here, then, was proof that Richmond had been right: Bosworth had never been fought at Ambion Hill, but on the plainland several miles west near to Dadlington, around the marshy terrain of ‘Redemore’. Once again the media circus assembled, claiming the battlefield had been ‘rediscovered’. But it is perhaps thanks only to Richmond’s History Today article that we ever started to look elsewhere in the first place.
Chris Skidmore is Member of Parliament for Kingswood. His book Bosworth: The Birth of the Tudorsis published by Phoenix in paperback in June 2014.
Aiding from a distance
Stanley’s behaviour continued to puzzle Henry. When he entered the town of Lichfield, he found that Thomas had been there a few days before and had effectively “paved the way” for him. Henry was welcomed by the townspeople as the future King but Thomas Stanley stayed resolutely away.
Stanley had left his castle at Lathom on 15 August and was soon in position mid-way between the forces of Henry and Richard where he could turn whichever way he chose.
Henry and Lord Stanley did finally meet at Merevale Priory on 21 August, the day before the battle, and Henry came away pleased at Stanley’s promises. Jasper Tudor and the Earl of Oxford, Henry’s main advisers, were not.
This Day In History: The Battle of Bosworth Field (1485)
On this day in history, the Battle of Bosworth Field took place. It was the last major battle of the War of the Roses. This was a series of civil wars that ravaged England fro several decades.
Henry Tudor was a member of the Welsh elite and had at best a tenuous claim to the Crown of England. He had fled England and had sought refuge in France. With the help of the Duke of Brittany, he gathered together a force of mercenaries and exiled English soldiers He landed in Wales and then made his way into England. Henry was determined to win the Crown of England on the battlefield. The English King was Richard III a member of the House of York. He is remembered as a bloody tyrant and is believed to have killed his nephews to secure the crown, these are known as the tragic &lsquoPrinces in the Tower&rsquo.
At the battle King Richard III,is defeated and killed by Henry Tudor. The battle had nearly been a defeat for Henry Tudor, but Richard was betrayed by his ally. Deserted he was cut down by some of Henry&rsquos soldiers. After the battle, the royal crown, which Richard had worn into battle, was picked out of a bush and placed on Henry&rsquos Tudor&rsquos head. His crowning as King Henry VII was the beginning of the Tudor Dynasty. He became Henry VII of England. He found a dynasty that would last until Queen Elizabeth the first&rsquos death in 1603. It was to be one of England&rsquos most glorious periods.
England&rsquos defeat in the Hundred Years War with France meant that there were unemployed soldiers or &lsquomasterless men&rsquo in England. This coupled with bouts of madness suffered by King Henry VI, left a power vacuum in the land, meant that the land was increasingly lawless and the nobles grew stronger. The houses of Lancaster and of York fought for control of Egland at first and later the actual crown, after the death of Henry VI. For several decades the Houses of York and Lancaster fought a series of battles. The Wars saw one side gain an advantage before the other side made a comeback.
The present day site of Bosworth Field
The War of the Roses left little mark on the common English people but severely thinned the ranks of the English nobility. Many of the greatest nobles in England perished in their wars. Among the royalty who died were Richard of York Richard Neville the earl of Warwick. Several kings Henry VI and Richard III died in the wars. In 1486, King Henry VII&rsquos marriage to Elizabeth, the daughter of Edward IV, united the houses of Lancaster and York and this was the end the bloody War of the Roses. Their son was Henry VIII and they were the grandparents of Elizabeth I.
Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword, Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.
Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:
Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066. Available now from Amazon, Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.
Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.
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The Third Army – Lord Stanley at the Battle of Bosworth
There are not many conflicts that can boast of three armies taking part in one battle. It is possible to have different armies fighting on the same side, for example during the D-Day Landings, when a force of Americans, British and Canadians attacked the German defences in Normandy. However, the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 during the War of the Roses (basically an English civil war) can claim this, with some historians saying that there were actually four different armed forces on the battlefield, with Richard III’s vanguard deciding not to engage his enemy and duly going home without raising a sword.
However, we shall examine this later on. The three main armies in 1485 were the king’s, Yorkist army in the region of 10,000-12,000 The rebel, Lancastrian army of approximately 5,000 men led by Henry Tudor and the third force of about 6,000 men led by the one-time Lancastrian, but more recently Yorkist noble, Lord Thomas Stanley.
19th century engraving after a 16th century portrait, purporting to be of Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby
To understand why such a confusing situation was reached we need to consider the life and times of Lord Stanley, a magnate with extensive power and land in the northwest of England and North Wales. This scheming lord successfully manoeuvred his family between the warring factions with great skill and dexterity. Had he not, he and members of his clan would have perished in the thirty-year War of the Roses and at Bosworth field in August 1485.
It began in 1399, when the Stanleys supported the Lancastrian usurper, Henry Bolingbroke, to become Henry IV. However, by the time of Thomas Stanley becoming leader of the family sixty years later, they were teetering on the brink of a dilemma and not for the first time. In 1459 the Lancastrian queen, Margaret of Anjou, acting on behalf of her mentally unstable husband Henry VI, ordered Lord Thomas Stanley to attack his father-in-law, the Yorkist Earl of Salisbury. When the two main armies met at Blore Heath, Lord Stanley kept his contingent of 2,000 men a couple of miles away and out of the fray. A tactic he kept up his sleeve for future use!
By 1460 the new Yorkist king, Edward IV, rewarded Lord Stanley’s non-involvement at Blore Heath by endowing him with more land and power in the northwest of the country, as long as he remained loyal to him. This Stanley did for ten years until Edward IV fell out with Stanley’s brother-in-law, the ultimate noble, the Earl of Warwick, known as the ‘kingmaker’ due to his immense power. Stanley did not follow his in-law into the Lancastrian camp, but he ‘lent’ them his army for a period.
However after Edward IV’s restoration, Stanley was forgiven by the Yorkists for renting out his men to the opposition and he retained his power and land. He repaid this loyalty by partaking in an expedition into France in 1473 and played a major role in the capturing of the Scottish border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed under the command of Edward IV’s infamous brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in 1475.
Whilst all this was going on Stanley became a widower and never a man to miss a chance of canoodling with the opposition, he married none other than Lady Margaret Beaufort, also widowed and more importantly mother of the main Lancastrian heir, Henry Tudor. This situation was tolerated by Edward IV as he believed Stanley was keeping her and her son under control on his behalf.
Things changed in 1483 with the sudden and unexpected demise of Edward IV. Again, Stanley was up to his old tricks. Outwardly he supported the young king’s (Edward V) uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, while arranging the marriage of his eldest son, George to Joan le Strange a leading member of the Woodville family and related to Edward V’s maternal family who happened to be the sworn enemies of Richard. Stanley’s luck ran true once more and though he was injured when Richard led a violent attack on the Woodville’s during a king’s council meeting leading to him being imprisoned in the Tower of London.
Stanley was not executed. Was it because he was too powerful, with plenty of sons to take revenge on the neurotic Richard of Gloucester during a vulnerable and important period in his life? While Lord Stanley was in the Tower, Richard usurped the throne from his young nephew and looked again to the northern noble to assist him. Lord Stanley was freed from his prison and appeared as strong as ever at Richard III’s coronation in 1483. He even carried the ‘great mace’ during the ceremony and his wife held the train of Richard’s queen.
However, Stanley had difficulty manipulating Richard III to his advantage as he had done with other kings. Richard was shrewd and after an entire lifetime of fighting in the War of the Roses he was used to murdering his enemies. These included one of his own brothers and allegedly his own nephews, sons of his eldest brother, Edward IV. Like most great tyrants in history, such as Stalin in Russia and Nero in Rome, he was completely paranoid, not knowing whom to trust. This paranoia filtered down to all his nobles and when close friends began to rebel against him, he became psychotic and this would ultimately lead to his downfall. As for Stanley, Richard took all his wife’s lands from her as her son, Henry Tudor, became his main antagonist. In his totally deranged state, he gave all her lands to her husband Stanley, hoping upon hope that he would keep her under control and remain loyal to his Yorkist cause.
In 1485 Stanley realised that things were coming to ahead. From his wife he learned that his stepson, in exile in France, was about to invade. He therefore asked Richard for permission to return to his lands in the northwest of England and, ‘consolidate his power there’. Richard proved to be no mug and agreed, as long as Stanley left his son George as his replacement at his court. In 1485 with Henry Tudor’s invasion in Wales, Richard demanded Lord Stanley and his brother, Sir William Stanley, attack the Tudor rebel. When Lord Stanley replied that he could not do so because he had the ‘sweating sickness’, man-flu to you and me, Richard knew he could not trust the Stanleys. He marched north to meet Henry Tudor with George Stanley as his hostage hoping this would ‘help’ the Stanleys come to their senses and persuade them to join him, or at least stop Stanley from fighting alongside his stepson, Henry Tudor.
Just in case Lord Stanley had forgotten who was being held prisoner in the Yorkist camp, Richard sent a messenger to the Stanley’s HQ, on the night before the battle, notifying the lord that his son George would be executed during the battle if he did not aide him. Stanley sent Richard’s messenger back with the frank and glib response, ‘Sire, I have other sons’.
Therefore, on the morning of 22nd August 1485 on a field outside Market Bosworth we have three armies, with Stanley’s force holding the balance. Should he fight for his Lancastrian stepson, Henry Tudor, or save his eldest son’s life and assist the Yorkist king, Richard III? As at Blore Heath he sat on a hill watching the battle like a mob leader engrossed in a punch up between rival gangs.
Battlefield map showing the positions of the forces
When the schizophrenic Richard saw his chance to eliminate the rebel Henry Tudor, by charging at him with his cavalry, Lord Stanley made his move. With Richard unable to give the order to kill George Stanley as it looked as if he was about to murder Henry Tudor in the middle of the battle, Stanley gave the order for his men to charge down the hill and attack the king and his royal retinue. The Stanleys arrived in the nick of time with Richard a sword’s length away from Henry and it was Stanley’s men who unseated Richard from his horse and hacked him to death.
Before his demise Richard had ordered in his reserves, in the shape of Henry Percy (Earl of Northumberland) and his force to come to his rescue. It was a sizeable detachment and to some historians the ‘fourth army’ that was mentioned earlier. However, for reasons known only to himself, Northumberland literally turned his back on his king, leaving him to his fate and led his army away from the battle. He was to pay for this four years later when a Yorkist rebellion in the North of England found him, condemned him as a ‘rank traitor’ and executed him.
Henry Tudor is crowned on the battlefield
For his loyalty to his stepson, Lord Thomas Stanley was rewarded handsomely and this we would think would be the end to the story, but not so! It appears the Stanleys could not stop dabbling in Tudor politics and Thomas’s brother Sir William Stanley changed sides again and supported the Yorkist rebel, Perkin Warbeck. Unlike previous kings Henry Tudor, now Henry VII, did not see any threat from the Stanleys, as he had now firmly secured his throne and Sir William was executed in 1495. This marked the end of Lord Stanley’s influence in England’s affairs as he felt too weak to even reprimand his stepson for murdering his younger brother.
And so finally ends the story of an English noble who successfully negotiated his way through the turbulent waters of the War of the Roses and inadvertently helped set up the Tudor dynasty. A royal family who would produce our modern parliament, start the British empire in North America, support the arts, especially William Shakespeare and set the foundations of the protestant Church of England which is still the most popular religion in the country today. Where would modern England and for that matter, Britain be without the skillful and cunning manoeuvres of Lord Thomas Stanley?
By Graham Hughes, history graduate (BA) from St David’s University, Lampeter and presently head of history at Danes Hill Preparatory School, a leading British prep school.
Battle of Bosworth Field turning point in English, and Catholic, history
This weekend, the people of Leicestershire will commemorate the August 22, 1485 Battle of Bosworth Field, in which King Richard III was killed, leading to the crowning of Henry Tudor as King Henry VII of England.
The Bosworth Medieval Festival is similar to the Renaissance fairs I attended as a child in Texas - jousting, falconry demonstrations, period dancing, arts and crafts, and the rest.
Along with the stalls and games, there are also discussions and talks about Richard III, one of the most controversial kings in English history, but an adopted son of the people of Leicester.
What most people think of Richard’s short reign - just over 2 years - is influenced by William Shakespeare’s play, which paints the monarch as evil, murderous, and manipulative his body as twisted as his mind and soul. Most famously, the play lays the death of his two young nephews, the Princes in the Tower, at Richard’s feet.
Richard’s death largely brought the three-decade long War of the Roses to an end through a diplomatic marriage, the Lancastrian Henry Tudor managed to unite his family with Richard’s Yorkists.
After the battle, Richard was unceremoniously buried in Leicester’s Franciscan friary although over time the grave was lost until rediscovered in 2012, but more on that later.
Richard’s defenders - known as “Ricardians” - will note that Shakespeare was writing “Tudor propaganda” and that the then-reigning Queen Elizabeth I was Henry Tudor’s granddaughter.
The Richard III Society is on hand at the Bosworth Medieval Festival to discuss their maligned hero, and last year one topic was raised that caused the ears of Catholics to prick up:
Would England have become Protestant if Richard had won?
Henry VII’s son was, of course, Henry VIII, the author of the English Reformation. The reason Henry VIII sought an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was that he wanted a male heir. The reason this was so important is because Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne was a bit shaky (which had been true for most English monarchs since Henry IV, whose overthrow of Richard II was also treated favorably by Shakespeare.)
When the annulment wasn’t given by the pope, Henry VIII was declared “Supreme Head on earth of the Church of England” and the rest, as they say, is history.
A walk around Leicester demonstrates the destruction Henry wrought. Abbey Park gets its name from Leicester Abbey, which was torn down shortly after the king dissolved the monasteries which owned a lot of land. The foundations of the abbey were lost until the 20 th century. Over a dozen monasteries in Leicestershire were dissolved, a fraction of the hundreds around the country to be torn down.
The friary where Richard III was buried was also dissolved, and a mansion built on the site. The king’s grave was lost and rumor came about that he had been dumped into the nearby River Soar. Despite the fact the Franciscans hadn’t lived there for hundreds of years, the area was still known as Greyfriars, the popular name for Franciscans in medieval England. (There is also a Black Friars district named after the Dominican house that was dissolved in 1538. The Dominicans returned to Leicester in the 1800s but are now in a different part of the city.)
In 2012, an archeological dig began where records showed the Franciscan church would have stood. Fairly quickly, a body was discovered fitting the description of Richard, and DNA analysis later conclusively proved it was the fallen king.
Now the Greyfriars site includes the King Richard III Visitors Centre, which includes Richard’s burial site, although his remains were reburied in the Anglican Leicester Cathedral, across the street.
The location of his burial caused some controversy itself, since the city of York thought they were the more appropriate final resting place, and several Catholics advocated a Catholic burial for the pre-Reformation monarch. (A Catholic Mass was eventually celebrated by Cardinal Vincent Nichols at the Dominican’s Holy Cross Priory for the repose of Richard’s soul.)
So, if Richard had won, would the landscape of England have changed? Would it be more like Italy, where centuries-old monasteries and convents still dot the landscape?
The Reformation in England did not begin over a theological point, like it did in continental Europe, but because of the political realities that were planted at Bosworth. But a Richard victory may not have ended the War of the Roses as conclusively as happened in history.
Richard instituted numerous legal reforms that were popular during his short reign, but it is impossible to know where these might have led in the religious sphere.
The king’s personal piety was well-documented, and his prayer book is still extant and kept in the library of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Of course, the Church of England today is more amenable to Catholic expression than in the years after Henry VIII, especially after the rise of the Anglo-Catholics in the 19 th century. I joined an Anglican pilgrimage in honor of St. Wigstan earlier this summer: It included the recitation of Hail Mary’s and the invocation of the saints.
Still, this weekend at Bosworth Field, as the final battle of Richard III is reenacted for the crowd’s entertainment, I might take a moment to wonder: What if?
Of course, I have to be quick. The jester fire performance is only ten minutes later.
Rhys was the youngest legitimate son of Thomas ap Gruffydd ap Nicolas of Llandeilo in Carmarthenshire, and Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Gruffydd of Abermarlais, also in Carmarthenshire.
In 1460, after decades of increasing unrest among the nobility and armed clashes, the supporters of Richard, Duke of York, challenged the right of King Henry VI of the House of Lancaster to rule England. Most Welsh landholders claimed their titles through grants made by Henry's father and grandfather for loyalty to the English crown during the revolt of Owain Glyndŵr. They therefore generally supported Henry, rather than the rival Yorkist claimants to the throne.
In 1461, when Rhys ap Thomas was twelve or thirteen, a Lancastrian army raised in Wales under Jasper Tudor, the Earl of Pembroke, moved into England but was defeated at the Battle of Mortimer's Cross by Edward, Earl of March (the eldest son of Richard of York who had been killed a few weeks before). Rhys's grandfather Gruffydd ap Nicholas was killed in the battle. Within a few weeks, Edward had been proclaimed King Edward IV, and the main Lancastrian armies were crushed at the Battle of Towton in Yorkshire.
Some Lancastrians, including Rhys's father Thomas, continued to resist in Wales. Thomas and his brother Owain defended Carreg Cennen Castle near Llandeilo. They were forced to surrender in 1462 after a siege. The victorious Yorkists slighted the castle to prevent it being used as a Lancastrian stronghold again. The lands of the defeated Lancastrians were confiscated, and Thomas, with the young Rhys, went into exile at the court of Philip the Good, the Duke of Burgundy.
Thomas and Rhys returned to Wales in 1467, and reacquired at least some of their former lands. This was during a period which included the Readeption of Henry VI, when many former Lancastrians regained their lands, and contrived to keep them even after the subsequent victory of Edward IV in 1471.
Thomas died in 1474. Rhys's two elder brothers had already died, and Rhys inherited his father's estates.
In 1483, Edward IV died. His son, Edward V was still a minor. Edward's surviving brother Richard of Gloucester and the Duke of Buckingham moved to prevent the unpopular relatives of Elizabeth Woodville, Edward's Queen, from sharing in power or even dominating the government during the young King's minority. However, Richard went further, declaring Edward's children illegitimate and seizing the throne himself. The young Edward V and his younger brother (the Princes in the Tower) disappeared and were probably murdered. Buckingham turned against Richard and led a revolt aimed at restoring the House of Lancaster, in the person of the exiled Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, to the throne. The revolt failed. Buckingham himself had raised a force at Brecon in mid-Wales, but storms and floods prevented him crossing the River Severn to join other rebels in England, and his starving soldiers deserted. He was soon betrayed and executed. The same storms prevented Henry from landing in the West Country.
Rhys had declined to support Buckingham's uprising. In the aftermath, when Richard appointed officers to replace those who had joined the revolt, he made Rhys ap Thomas his principal lieutenant in south west Wales and granted him an annuity for life of 40 marks. Rhys was required to send his son Gruffydd ap Rhys ap Thomas to the King's court at Nottingham as a hostage, but he excused himself from this obligation by claiming that nothing could bind him to his duty more strongly than his conscience. He is supposed to have taken an oath that
Whoever ill-affected to the state, shall dare to land in those parts of Wales where I have any employment under your majesty, must resolve with himself to make his entrance and irruption over my belly.
Nevertheless, he is presumed to have carried on some correspondence with Henry Tudor, who was preparing another attempt in France to overthrow Richard. The intermediary was Dr. Lewis Caerleon, who was personal physician to Lady Margaret Beaufort, Henry Tudor's mother. 
On 1 August 1485, Henry set sail from Harfleur in France. With fair winds, he landed at Mill Bay near Dale on the north side of Milford Haven, close to his birthplace in Pembroke Castle, with a force of English exiles and French mercenaries. At this point, Rhys should have engaged him. However, Rhys instead joined Henry. Folklore has it that the Bishop of St. David's offered to absolve him from his previous oath to Richard. The Bishop also suggested that Rhys fulfil the strict letter of his vow by lying down and letting Henry step over him. This undignified procedure might have weakened Rhys's authority over his men, so instead, Rhys is said to have stood under the Mullock Bridge about 2 miles (3.2 km) north of Dale while Henry marched over it.
Henry's and Rhys's forces marched separately through Wales, with Rhys recruiting 500 men as he proceeded. They rejoined at Welshpool before crossing into England. Rhys's Welsh force was described as being large enough to have "annihilated" the rest of Henry's army.  On 22 August, they met Richard's army near Market Bosworth. In the resulting Battle of Bosworth, Richard launched an attack led by John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk. According to a contemporary ballad, Rhys's men halted the assault. "Norfolk's line began to break under pressure from Rhys ap Thomas's men" and the Duke was killed by an arrow shot.  Hoping to turn the tide and win the battle rapidly by killing his rival, Richard and his companion knights charged directly at Henry. The king was unhorsed and surrounded. The poet Guto'r Glyn implies that Rhys himself was responsible for killing Richard, possibly with a pollaxe. Referring to Richard's emblem of a boar, the poet writes that Rhys "killed the boar, shaved his head" ("Lladd y baedd, eilliodd ei ben").  However, this may only mean that one of Rhys's Welsh halberdiers killed the king, since the Burgundian chronicler Jean Molinet, says that a Welshman, one of Rhys' men (suspected to be Wyllyam Gardynyr),  struck the death-blow with a halberd.  Guto'r Glyn himself says that Rhys was "like the stars of a shield with the spear in their midst on a great steed" ("A Syr Rys mal sŷr aesaw, Â’r gwayw’n eu mysg ar gnyw mawr"). He was knighted on the field of battle.  
Rhys demonstrated his continuing loyalty to Henry by suppressing a Yorkist rebellion at Brecon in 1486, and taking part in the campaign against the pretender Lambert Simnel in 1487 and the subsequent campaigns against Perkin Warbeck. He played a part in the defeat of the Cornish Rebellion of 1497, capturing the rebel leader Lord Audeley, for which he was awarded the honour of Knight Banneret.
As reward for his loyalty to Henry, he acquired many lands and lucrative offices in South Wales. He was appointed Constable and Lieutenant of Breconshire, Chamberlain of Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire, Seneschall and Chancellor of Haverfordwest, Rouse and Builth, Justiciar of South Wales, and Governor of all Wales.
He was also a Privy Councillor and in 1505 he was made a Knight of the Garter, which he celebrated with a great tournament at Carew Castle in 1507. After the death of Henry VII, he remained a supporter of his son, Henry VIII and took part in the Battle of Guinegatte in 1513. He was one of the Garter Knights to accompany Henry VIII in 1520 at his meeting with Francis I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. 
Rhys was married twice: to Eva, daughter of Henri ap Gwilym of Cwrt Henri and to Janet, daughter of Thomas Mathew of Radyr, who was widow of Thomas Stradling of St Donats. However, although Rhys had numerous mistresses and several illegitimate children, his legitimate son Gruffydd ap Rhys ap Thomas died in 1521. Rhys himself died at Carmarthen Priory in 1525. After Henry VIII suppressed the monasteries, Rhys's tomb was moved to St. Peter's Church, also in Carmarthen.
Rhys's estates and offices were meant to pass to his grandson and heir Rhys ap Gruffydd, however they were taken by the Crown and given to Lord Ferrers for life. Rhys ap Gruffydd was later beheaded by Henry VIII in 1531 for treason after fighting Ferrers and provoking civil unrest amongst the citizens of Carmarthen who were still angry about the disinheritance.
The current claimed heirs of Rhys's are the Lords Dynevor, although with existing unclaimed heirs with the most famous and prominent being the Evanses of Carmarthen, Vaughans of Carreg Cennen Castle, Morgans of Llandeilo and Williamses of Dynevor Castle. Each of these unclaimed heirs all claim to be a descendant from one or multiple of Rhys's illegitimate children with each having claim to the baronet whilst also having claims in their own rights [Speculation from Oral Traditions carried out in Carmarthenshire].