The lead up to Bosworth
Richard was very aware throughout 1484 and 1485 of the potential challenge from the only remaining source – Henry Tudor. Through his reign he pursued diplomatic methods to nullify the threat. The political situation initially helped him.
In France, the death of king Louis left a minority government run by Anne Beaujeu, Charles VIII’s sister. Arrayed against them were the Orleanists, in the so called ‘Mad War’, so sought to bring Brittany to their side; this gave Richard the chance to offer military support to Brittany to help their long fight for independence, in return for the delivery by Duke Francis of Brittany of Henry Tudor to England. This came very close to success in 1484. Only a last minute flight from to France by Jasper and Henry Tudor saved them from capture.
Once in France, the political situation there played against Richard and for Tudor. For a short window, there was a real incentive for Anne and CVharles VIII to support an invasion by Henry against England, to de-stabilise possible support for the Orleanists.
During later 1484 and 1485 therefore, Henry Tudor prepared – gaining military support and a loan for his pending invasion. Henry Tudor wrote to leading magnates – very probably gaining secret support from the Stanleys and of course his mother Margaret Beaufort; and possibly corresponding with potential supporters such as Rhys ap Thomas in Wales and Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland.
Meanwhile Richard did everything possible to prepare against invasion, equipping ships to patrol the channel, an d working with his magnates – Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland; Lord Thomas Stanley and Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk. The scene was set.
The Bosworth Campaign
Henry Tudor, with his captains Jasper Tudor and John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, landed in Milford Haven on 7th August, landing in Wales to draw on the he Tudors’ traditional support in Wales. They moved north along the Welsh coast, then struck through to the English Midlands arriving near Bosworth by 21st August. They probably numbered around 5,000.
Richard meanwhile learned of the landing by 11th August. Orders went out to his magnates to gather their forces, and Norfolk and Northumberland met him with their forces at Leicester, numbering between 7,000 and 10,000. But the Stanleys, though they gathered substantial armies, of maybe 6,000 men, refused to join Richard; and equally refused to meet Henry Tudor, and shadowed both forces.
The battle of Bosworth is covered in many places – you can do worse than go to the Wikipedia site, from where these maps are taken. On the morning of 22nd August, Richard took up positions on the edge of a rise, and the Tudors, led by Oxford march to the foot of the hill, and an exchange of artillery took place until Norfolk in Richard’s vanguard charged down the hill to attack. During the fierce fighting, Norfolk was killed – when Richard spotted Henry Tudor and his bodyguard on horseback galloping towards the Stanley’s position. In a reckless do or die charge, Richard swept down in a cavalry charge and came close to overwhelming Henry.
At this point the Stanley’s finally chose their sides, and attacked the isolated King. Richard refused to flee; “I will die a king or win” he had declared. Stanley’s men hit before he could break through, and now the tables were turned. Richard’s horse was killed from under him. At some point he must have lost his helmet, and he was hit by several glancing blows that cut his scalp and took chips of bone off his skull. In agony he fought on, but a mounted man struck down with a dagger and pierced his skull. And then came a mighty blow from a heavy bladed weapon which opened his skull at the base of his head, and the last Plantagent king went to meet his maker. He died, wrote Polydore Vergil, 'fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies.' One of the Stanleys recovered Richard gold circlet from a thorn bush, and crowned Henry Tudor on the field of battle.
Richard's body was slung naked over a horse, his long hair tied under his chin, and taken to Leicester. There he was buried in Greyfriars Abbey in the chancel. The tomb bore the inscription:
I, here, whom the earth encloses under various coloured marble
Was justly called Richard the Third.
I was Protector of my country, an uncle ruling on behalf of his nephew
I held the British kingdoms by broken faith.
Then for just sixty days less two,
And two summers, I held my sceptres.
Fighting bravely in war, deserted by the English,
I succumbed to you, King Henry VII.
But you yourself, piously, at your expense, thus honour my bones
And you cause a former king to be revered with the honour of a king
When [in] twice five years less four
Three hundred five-year periods of our salvation have passed.
And eleven days before the Kalends of September
I surrendered to the red rose the power it desired.
Whoever you are, pray for my offences,
That my punishment may be lessened by your prayers