On the 18th of August Henry’s army did a detour, heading south east instead. Richard III feared he would be heading through London so he quickened his army’s pace. Leaving Nottingham for Leicester on August 19, he reached Leicester on the twentieth. Richard III’s forces now surpassed 60,000 (according to the French Chronicler Molinet). Richard III had issued proclamations threatening every man of property on pain of death and loss of his lands if they did not march with him, he also issued proclamations ordering every town to close their doors to their invader, Henry Tudor’s forces.
“Leicester had been important since Roman times, with the Normans building a castle, around which it developed into a medieval market town with an abbey and three friaries, as well as a number of active guilds. The city had Lancastrian connections earlier in the century; Henry IV had passed through it on his way to claim the throne … In Richard’s short reign, he had already paid two visits there, staying in the castle, from where he had mustered loyal troops to defeat Buckingham in 1483. Vergil relates that on that August day, he marched into the city at dusk, as the sun was setting over the town’s spires and rooftops.” (Licence)
This did not deter Henry however. He kept on marching and so did Richard. Spending the night at the Blue Boar Inn, bringing his own bed with him, he resumed his journey the following day. Richard III’s last night on this earth was uneasy. According to Shakespeare’s play he saw the ghosts of those he had killed. There is no evidence that he poisoned his wife or that he was the mustache twirling villain in his play and many other versions that came during the Tudors’ regimes. But given that he knew that the battle was only days away, he must have felt some dread. Though he was the more experienced fighter, Richard III was a soldier first and foremost. He knew that nothing was certain when it came to battle. It could swing both ways. One sixteenth century chronicler said that there was a tale about somebody from Henry Tudor’s camp pinning a jest on Norfolk’s tent mocking him and Richard, and warning of their impending doom. “Jack of Norfolk be not to bold, for Dickon they master is bought and sold.” Polydore Vergil (another sixteenth century chronicler) said that Richard also slept badly and that the following morning, hours before the battle, he complained of “a multitude of demons” making his face “even more pale and deathly.” The Crowland Chronicle reported that his ill dreams made him rise up early and search for his chaplains for an early Mass.
It is hard to make assumptions on this subject when most sources are from much later, however given that Richard III was a very pious man who had previously expressed interest in going on a crusade and had forced his brother’s mistress Jane Shore to do harsh penance –by walking on the streets barefoot wearing only a chemise and carrying a lamp- it is very possible that he spent his last night praying to God for victory. A Spanish mercenary commander named Salazar returned to his native country after the battle was over to report what the last words spoken to him by the King to the Catholic Kings (Ferdinand and Isabella). When he warned Richard that his men would betray him, Richard told him: “God forbid that I yield one step. This day I will die as a king or win.”
With his men assembled near Fenn Lane, between the villages of Dadlington, Sutton Cheney and Shenton, Richard III prepared to meet his enemy. Henry, Vergil also says, was “somewhat appalled” and worried that Stanley would not make true on his promise, but appearing as stoic as the Plantagenet King, he marched on. The fight would be over in two hours. As Richard III had predicted, he would die a King or win. And Henry would gamble everything as well. But in the end, it would be Henry who would be left standing, taking Richard’s crown and becoming the founder of a new Dynasty that would eclipse the once powerful Plantagenets.
- Richard III: Road to Leicester by Amy Licence
- Henry VII by SB Schrimes
- Tudor by Leanda de Lisle
- Blood Sisters by Sarah Gristwood