192 Bosworth

Bosworth field windowAt last in 1485 Richard got to meet his challenger in person at the Battle of Bosworth – a meeting he needed every bit as much as Henry Tudor.


192 Bosworth


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

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.

Bosworth field

The battle of Bosworth is covered in many places – you can do worse than go to the Wikipedia site, from where these maps are Bosworth Field Maptaken. 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 burial

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

7 thoughts on “192 Bosworth

  1. David, so happy you are healthy and back in the saddle. Please don’t overdo it.

    Coverage of the lead up to, and actual fighting of, the Battle of Bosworth was at the perfect level of detail for me. But I would have been perfectly happy with additional discussion (unlike your lack of discussion of a few of those older battles that you skipped because the English did not come out on top**).
    By the way, your website content is fabulous. So very helpful. On that note, when I click on the top map, the Wars of the Roses Family Trees page opens up. That page is very useful, but is most certainly not the map I was hoping to enlarge.

    **On your habit of skipping battles in which the English are trounced…I hope you do not continue that habit. I am looking forward to your telling of the American Revolutionary War from the British perspective (one we do not get on this side of the Pond). I am sure with some effort I could find such accounts, but I like the way you tell these stories. So I vote for you to not skip such accounts.

    One final note. Somewhere I read in a post of yours that by Episode 240 you stopped using “pooh.” Good. As much as I enjoy informality, too much use of “in the pooh” transports me back to middle school locker-room chat. I do not enjoy such trips, so a “pooh”-less History of England is most welcome (unless, of course, you reference Winnie the Pooh, which is always welcome).

    Stay healthy and best wishes, Spencer

    1. Solid advice Spencer! I shall up my coverage of the US revolutionary war from 3 to 4 minutes! Seriously it does worry me a bit – so many folks from the US listen and there’s a regular stream of ‘ha ha we beat you memes on Facebook’. And I assume that the subject is well covered by your school curriculum – so I fear a chorus of correction since my knowledge is basically there was an argument about tax, the Americans declared independence, and Britain was kicked out…Still it’s a way away, so we’ll see how I feel when I get there – and thanks for listening and for the thoughts!

      1. David, I can certainly understand your frustration with those Facebook memes. After all, we Americans are also subject to no small amount of online scorn. But I hope you’ll keep in mind that in most online conversations, it’s the angriest people who are most inclined to shout, and it’s the shouting that draws the most attention. I can assure you that, despite the memes, most of here in the States are rather less upset about the Stamp Act than we were in 1775, and in fact we tend to regard you Brits not only as allies but as friends and kinsmen too. Thanks for the work you do. I will keep listening to your podcast for as long as you make it.

        1. Hi Matthew and that’s lovely of you, and I hope and expect England and the US will always be friends. I must admit the general hatred thing just washes over me – there are so many sites! But the meme thing is irritating because they are never a call to a debate just a rather arrogant assertion; my problem is that put in that way, they always lead to anger and upset. I just don’t want than on my site, I am determined it will be a happy or intriguing place to go, or just not exist. I don’t get the mentality either; presumably people join because they like the podcast; many of the offending members are also paying members. So why would they take the aggressive approach? They seem to lack a basic instinct for human relationships. It bemuses me. Anyway, thank you – can I also admit to the deep, deep pleasure of deleting apost and removing the member?! Ah such JOY!

  2. David, thanks for the response.

    I completely understand your reluctance to discuss British involvement in the American Revolutionary War, given that some of my fellow Americans can be a bit obnoxious. But remember, you have a “trump” card. Anytime an American needles you with “nah-nah, we whupped yuh” at Lexington and Concord or Yorktown, you can remind the troglodyte of who is currently sitting in the White House, a-Twittering away. That should shut up anyone with half-a-brain. Anyway, shortly after that war, you get to regale us with the story of the British troops burning down the White House. I am sure you’ll enjoy that .

    The thing is, I like the way YOU tell stories (though I could use a few less references to pimples and pooh). Britain will take its lumps in the next 500 years of history, but they will also be successful plenty of times. The story most makes sense when both the ups and downs are told.

    Thanks for all your work and stay healthy.


    1. Hopefully my shoulders are broad enough to take a bit of banter…it’s more that it’s quite hard to cover the history of a different country – and doubly hard to then present it back to folks, many of whom will know it very well. I fear a roasting…or at least I would have to do double the research before I felt comfortable. But it is lovely of you, thank you for the kind words!

  3. Oh my God, the mathematical convolutions in that inscription!

    > When [in] twice five years less four
    > Three hundred five-year periods of our salvation have passed.

    i.e., ‘This monument was made in the year (300 x 5) – ((2 x 5) – 4)’

    Which would be 1494.

    Then there’s the period ‘sixty days less two, And two summers’ and the date ‘eleven days before the Kalends of September’.

    Bizarre! But it’s fun to imagine a bunch of dukes trying to work it out on their luxuriously gloved fingers.

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