The Battle of Bosworth Field

Henry VII Bosworth

On the 22nd of August 1485, the battle of Bosworth Field was fought, making the end of the Plantagenet Dynasty and the start of the Tudor one. When the two armies met, Richard III had the advantage, mustering more than 10,000 men. Henry’s armies barely numbered 5,000. They consisted mercenaries (French, Scottish, German) and loyal Welsh and English noblemen. Previously, Richard had been woken up early requesting a Mass to be said, the rest of his men were startled by the arrival of Henry’s troops, which had arrived earlier than expected.

Richard iii
Richard’s last prayer before engaging into battle was:
“God deign to free me thy servant King Richard from every tribulation, sorrow and trouble in which I am placed and from all the plots of my enemies… and defend me from all evil, from the devil and from all peril present, past and to come.”
Shortly after, the two armies clashed.

Henry’s loyal supporters also included the Queen Dowager’s closest relatives, Edward Yorkists, and the Earl of Oxford (John de Vere) who was a renown Lancastrian loyalist and saw Henry as the last scion of Lancaster. He was a well seasoned warrior who studied from the best military books in history, from Roman Generals to Christine de Pizan who had also written extensively on the art of warfare. He knew how to push the enemy to the point of exhaustion and that’s exactly what he did with Norfolk’s forces. After driving a wedge through his vanguard, he allowed Henry’s infantry to push right through and slay most of his men. In addition Richard III’s ally, the Earl of Northumberland faced desertion from some of his men, and others had rebelled the day before prompting the Earl to keep himself neutral during the whole ordeal. But nothing proved more decisive than the Stanleys who switched sides the moment William Brandon -Henry’s standard bearer- fell.

“Backwards we cannot fly: so that here we stand like sheep in a fold circumcepted and compassed between our enemies and doubtful friends.”
“Backwards we cannot fly: so that here we stand like sheep in a fold circumcepted and compassed between our enemies and doubtful friends.”

Before the battle began, Henry gave his own motivational speech which comes from a secondary source, the Edward Hall Chronicle written nearly seventy years after the event, but it’s likely true. Thomas Stanley was reminded of his oath the day before, his brother William, promised him that they would join. Now both stood still, watching as the two armies clashed. According to the ‘Ballad of Bosworth’, a much later account, William scouted on ‘a mountain full high’ where he looked down ‘into a dale full dread’, waiting to see what happened. While Henry doubted his stepfather’s loyalties, Richard had no reason to. He had taken his eldest son, Lord Strange, hostage. This guaranteed Stanley’s neutrality, however some historians like Chris Skidmore have stipulated that in the confusion, George Stanley must’ve fled his captors or either they were killed in battle, which would make sense why as soon as Henry’s standard bearer (Brandon) fell, he and his brother’s forces moved in to aid him.

According to various sources, when Richard saw Stanley’s men galloping down from the hill to join Henry Tudor he cried “Treason! Treason! Treason!” He was unhorsed and killed then stripped off all his clothing and put on a horse for everyone to see.

Henry VII in the
Henry VII in the “White Queen” placing the bloody crown on his head.

The story that his crown was found in a thornbush is a myth, it was picked up by William Stanley who handed it to his brother Thomas who “unto the King Henry then went he, and delivered it, as to the most worthy to wear the crown and be their King.”

Henry VII’s rule would last twenty nine years, his son would go on in history as one of the most infamous kings, dividing historians in their opinions as to whether he was a good or bad king, and his granddaughter would become one of the greatest female monarchs in history. But it all started with the first Henry Tudor, an obscure boy who was born in an uncertain time but who was destined for great things.

Sources:

  • Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter
  • The Rise of the Tudors by Chris Skidmore
  • Henry VII by SB Chrimes
  • Foundations: England from its Earliest Beginnings to the Tudors by Peter Ackroyd
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