THE BATTLE OF BOSWORTH FIELD (Aug. 22, 1485), was fought between Richard III and Henry, Earl of Richmond, afterwards Henry VII.
On August , Henry landed at Milford Haven and passed on without opposition to Shrewsbury, being joined by a large number of Welshmen. He then marched on to Tamworth, where he arrived on the 18th. On the 20th he was at Atherstone, where he was met by Lord Stanley and by Sir William Stanley, who both promised to desert Richard during the battle. Meanwhile Richard, having mustered his forces at Nottingham, marched to Leicester and encamped at Bosworth on the 21st.
On the next morning the two armies met between Bosworth and Atherstone at a place known as Whitemoors, near the village of Sutton Cheneys. The battle was mainly a hand-to-hand encounter, the Stanleys for some time keeping aloof from the fight till, at a critical moment, they joined Richmond. Richard, perceiving that he was betrayed, and crying out, "Treason, treason!" endeavoured only to sell his life as dearly as possible, and refused to leave the field till, overpowered by numbers, he fell dead in the midst of his enemies. The crown was picked up on the field of battle and placed by Sir William Stanley on the head of Richmond, who was at once saluted king by the whole army.
Among those that perished on Richard's side were the Duke of Norfolk, Lord Ferrers, Sir Richard Ratcliffe, and Sir Robert Brackenbury, while the only person of note in Henry's army who was slain was his standard-bearer, Sir William Brandon, who is said to have been killed by Richard himself.
The Dictionary of English History. Sidney J. Low and F. S. Pulling, eds.
London: Cassell and Company, Ltd., 1910. 198.
THE BATTLE OF BOSWORTH
By C. Oman
At last on August 1 Henry of Richmond set sail from Harfleur; the Regent Anne of France had lent him 60,000 francs, and collected for him 1,800 mercenaries and a small fleet. The adventurer was accompanied by his uncle, Jasper Tudor, the Earl of Oxford, Sir Edward Woodville, Sir John Welles, heir of the attainted barony of Welles, Sir Edward Courtenay, who claimed the earldom of Devon, his kinsman the Bishop of Exeter [Peter Courtenay], Morton, Bishop of Ely, and some scores of exiled knights and squires, among whom Yorkists were almost as numerous as Lancastrians. The French auxiliaries were under a Savoyard captain named Philibert de Chaundé. The Marquis of Dorset and Sir John Bourchier had been left at Paris in pledge for the loan made by the French government. Richmond did not desire to have the marquis with him, for he had been detected in correspondence with his mother the queen-dowager, who urged him to abandon conspiracy and submit to King Richard.
Stealing down the Breton coast, so as to avoid the English fleet, Richmond turned northward when he had passed the longitude of Lands End, and came ashore in Milford Haven on August 7. He had selected this remote region as his landing point both because he knew that he was expected to strike at the English south coast, and because he had assurance of help from many old retainers of his uncle the Earl of Pembroke. He was himself a Welshman and could make a good appeal to the local patriotism of his countrymen. On landing he raised not only the royal banner of England but the ancient standard of Cadwallader, a red dragon upon a field of white and green, the beast which was afterwards used as the device of the house of Tudor, and the sinister supporter of their coat-of-arms.
For a few days Henry received but trifling reinforcements, but he struck into the Cardiganshire mountains, a district where, if his adherents were slow to join him, he might hope to maintain an irregular warfare in the style of Owen Glendower. After a short delay the Welsh gentry began to come in to his aid; the wealthiest and most warlike chief Rhys ap Thomas consented to put himself at their head, after he had been promised the justiciarship of South Wales. Sir Walter Herbert had charge of the district in King Richard's name, but the levies that he called out melted away to the invader's camp, and he himself was suspected of half-heartedness.
Richmond met no resistance as he conducted his ever-growing host across Cardiganshire toward the upper Severn. By way of Newtown and Welshpool he came down on Shrewsbury, which opened its gates on August 15 after one day's parleying; this was a good omen, for hitherto the earl had received no help save from the Welsh. On the next day but one Sir Gilbert Talbot, uncle and guardian of the young Earl of Shrewsbury, joined him with 500 of the retainers of his old Lancastrian house.
From this moment onward English malcontents with small bodies of recruits kept pouring into Richmond's camp, but though he advanced boldly into the midlands, making directly towards Richard's post at Nottingham, his whole force was still small; he had not more than 5,000 men at the decisive battle that gave him the crown. His confidence was due to the fact that he had secret promises of aid from all sides; the Stanleys had let him pass Shrewsbury unmolested, and had sent him word that they would place the forces of Cheshire and Lancashire at his disposition when they had got Lord Strange [son of Thomas, Lord Stanley] out of the king's hands. Many other magnates had already given similar assurances.
Meanwhile Richard had received the news of the invader's landing somewhat later than he had expected, owing to the remoteness of Milford Haven. When he learnt that Richmond was marching straight towards him, he ordered out all the shire levies which had been so long ready, and summoned in his most trustworthy adherents in the baronage. Norfolk, Northumberland, and some twenty more of the peers rallied to his standard at Leicester within a few days,1 but the lords of the extreme south and west were still absent when the crisis came.
Lord Stanley, who had been summoned with the rest, sent a futile excuse, yet raised all Cheshire and Lancashire under his own banner and advanced as far as Lichfield. His son Strange made an attempt to escape from custody and join him, whereupon Richard put him in irons, and sent word to his father that if he turned traitor his son should be beheaded without a moment's delay. This did not prevent Sir William Stanley, who commanded a part of the Cheshire levies, from visiting Richmond's camp at Stafford, and pledging himself to join him on the battlefield; but the head of the house hung back as long as possible, to save the life of his heir.
On August 20 the earl's army advanced from Tamworth to Atherstone, while the king had gathered his forces at Leicester. On the 21st the one moved forward from Atherstone to the White Moor, a few miles south-west from Bosworth, while the other marched out from Leicester to Sutton Cheney; only two miles divided their camps, and it was obvious that a decisive engagement must take place next day. The host of the Stanleys, with Sir William leading its vaward, and Lord Stanley keeping discreetly to the rear, was near Bosworth that same evening, equidistant from the two hostile armies. Both the king and Richmond were aware of its approach, and neither was pleased, for Richard apprehended treason, and his rival had hoped to be openly joined by these cautious allies before the battle began.
The king was well aware that the spirit of his troops was unsatisfactory; his confidential advisers had warned him that treachery was on foot; and unless he could bear down the enemy by his first onset, his superior numbers—he had two men to Richmond's one—were not likely to avail him much. But he trusted to his own energy and military skill, and hoped to conquer despite the lukewarmness of the majority of his followers. Nevertheless he had dismal forebodings; his rest was broken by horrible dreams, and he showed next morning a face not only haggard, but disfigured with a death-like pallor.2 But his courage was unbroken, and he promised victory to his doubting captains in words of haughty confidence. His position was excellent; the army was drawn out in the usual three divisions on the slopes of Ambion Hill, a well-marked rising ground two miles south of Bosworth. It was partly divided from the enemy by marshy fields formed by the little river Sence. The king led the main battle, the Duke of Norfolk the vaward or right wing, the Earl of Northumberland the rear.
His adversaries, on the other side of the marsh, had formed their smaller host in two divisions only; the Earl of Oxford led the vaward, while the main battle was under Richmond's own command. Contrary to what might have been expected, they took the offensive, reckoning, no doubt, on treachery in the king's ranks. They moved off eastward, Oxford's corps leading, till they had circumvented the marshy ground, and faced the royalists with the sun at their backs and the wind also behind them—advantages of no mean importance in the archery-fight which always opened an English engagement.
When they had cleared the boggy tract, and began to advance up the slopes of Ambion Hill, with their western flank still covered by the impassable marsh, the king first opened upon them with his artillery, and then charged down upon them. Norfolk's corps came into collision with that of Oxford, while Richard attacked the earl's main body. Northumberland, on the other wing of the royal host, deliberately held back and would not get into action. Before ordering the line to advance, the king had sent orders to Lord Stanley to draw in to his banner, and, when he made no movement issued a command for the instant execution of his son Strange. But those charged with the matter wisely deferred obedience till the battle should be over, and the young man escaped with his life.
When the two armies came into close contact it was at once evident that many of the king's men were not inclined to fight. They hung back, kept up a feeble archery fire from a distance, and refused to close. Oxford, who had halted to receive the attack, bade his banner go forward again, and began to mount the slopes. On this more serious fighting began, for Norfolk with his son Surrey, and some others of the king's adherents, tried to do their duty, and fell hotly upon the earl's front.
At the same moment Richard himself, having marked the position of Richmond in the hostile line, charged at the head of his bodyguard, broke into the Lancastrian main body and seemed for a moment likely to prevail. He slew with his own hand, as it is said, Sir William Brandon, Richmond's standard-bearer, and encountered the earl hand to hand for a short space. But by this moment the battle was lost, for Sir William Stanley, who had been drawing nearer ever since the fighting began, now fell upon Richard's host in flank and rear. With a cry of treason the royalist main body broke up and fled. The Stanleys took up the pursuit, which passed away to the east with no great slaughter, for the pursuers understood that the vanquished had no heart in the struggle and had deliberately given them the victory.
King Richard, however, refused to fly, though faithful friends brought him his horse, and bade him escape while they held back the enemy for a moment. The usurper replied that at least he would die King of England, and plunged back into the fight. A moment later, shouting "Treason! treason!" as he laid about him with his battle-axe, he was ringed round by many foes and hewn down; his helmet was battered through and his brains beaten out.
It was the end of a brave man, and his courage touched the heart even of those who remembered his crimes. The finest stanzas written in fifteenth century England were given to his memory by an admiring enemy, a retainer of the Stanleys, who wrote the Ballad of Lady Bessie:—
Then a knight to King Richard gan say—good Sir William Harrington—|
He saith " all wee are like this day to the death aoone to be done;
There may no man their strokes abide, the Stanleys' dints they be so stronge.
Yee may come back at another tide, methinks yee tarry here too longe.
Your home at your hand is ready, another day you may worshipp win
And come to raigne with royaltye, and weare your crown and be our king".
"Nay, give me my battle-axe in my hand, sett the crowne of England on my head so high,
For by Him that made both sea and land, King of England this day I will dye.
One foot I will never flee whilst the breath is my brest within."
As he said so did it be—if hee lost his life he died a king.3
The battered crown which had fallen from Richard's helmet was found in a hawthorn bush, where it had probably been hidden by a plunderer, and set on the head of Richmond by Lord Stanley, while all the victorious army hailed the earl by his new title of Henry VII.
Along with the king there fell his chief supporter, John Duke of Norfolk; the Lord Ferrers of Chartley, Sir Richard Ratcliffe, his well-known councillor, Sir Robert Brakenbury, lieutenant of the Tower of London, Sir Robert Percy, controller of the royal household, Sir William Conyers, and about 1,000 others, as was reported, probably with some exaggeration, for the battle had not been hot nor the pursuit merciless.
The victors lost not above 100 men, of whom the only personage of note was the standard-bearer Sir William Brandon. The Earl of Surrey was taken prisoner, grievously wounded, and lodged in prison. Catesby was captured in the flight, and executed along with two yeomen of the king's chamber—a father and son named Breacher. These were the only lives taken in cold blood by Henry of Richmond.
The corpse of Richard was stripped and carried to Leicester across the back of a horse in unseemly fashion, with head and arms hanging down. It was exposed to the public view for two days, and then decently buried in the church of the Greyfriars. His monument was destroyed and his bones scattered at the dissolution of the monasteries.
1. If the Ballad of Bosworth Feilde can be trusted, there were with the king the following peers: Norfolk, Kent, Surrey, Lincoln, Northumberland, Westmorland [Ralph Neville, 3rd Earl], Zouch [John la Zouche, 7th Baron], Maltravers [Thomas Fitzalan, 7th Baron], Arundel, Grey of Codnor [Henry Grey, 7th Baron], Audley [James Touchet, 6th Baron], Berkeley [William, 1st Viscount Berkeley], Ferrers of Chartley [Walter Devereux, 7th Baron] and Ferrers of Groby [John Bourchier, 6th Baron], Fitzhugh [Richard, 6th Baron], Dacre [Thomas, 2nd Baron Dacre of Gillesland], Scrope of Bolton [John, 5th Baron], Scrope of Upsal [Ralph, 9th Baron], Lumley [George, 3rd Baron], and Greystock [Ralph de Greystoke, 5th Baron Greystoke]. Lovel seems to have been still with the fleet in the Channel. The list cannot be trusted for all the names.
2. Continuator of the Croyland Chronicle, Fulman, 1684, p. 374.
3. I have corrected some obvious verbal errors in Lady Bessie mainly from the parallel passage—nearly the same in wording—in Bosworth Feilde. See Percy Folio MS., iii., 257 and 362.
Oman, C. The History of England.
London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1906. 491-6.
Other Local Resources:
Books for further study:
Bennett, Michael. The Battle of Bosworth.
Stroud, Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing, 2000.
Chrimes, S. B. Henry VII.
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.
Gravett, Christopher. Bosworth 1485: Last Charge of the Plantagenets.
Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 1999.
Hallam, E., ed. Wars of the Roses: From Richard II to the Fall of Richard III
at Bosworth Field—Seen Through the Eyes of Their Contemporaries.
Grove Press, 1988.
Hammond, Peter. Richard III and the Bosworth Campaign.
Barnsley, Yorkshire: Pen and Sword, 2011.
Hicks, Michael. The Wars of the Roses 1455-1485.
New York: Routledge, 2003.
Ingram, Mike. Battle Story: Bosworth, 1485.
The History Press, 2012.
Jones, Michael K. Bosworth 1485: Psychology of a Battle.
Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus Publishing, 2002.
More, Sir Thomas. History of King Richard III.
Hesperus Press, 2005.
Ross, Charles. Richard III.
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011.
Rowse, A. L. Bosworth Field & the Wars of the Roses.
Wordsworth Military Library; New Ed., 1999.
Shakespeare, William. Richard III.
Folger Shakespeare Library, 2004.
Weir, Alison. The Wars of the Roses.
New York: Ballantine Books, 1996.
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