The Battle of Bosworth

The Battle of Bosworth was one of the most significant battles ever fought on British soil. It brought an end to the middle ages, as well as bringing the Tudor family to the throne. The battle was fought between the King, Richard the third, and his rival claimant Henry Tudor. Henry Tudor would go on to be known as Henry the seventh. The battle was for the throne of England and the winner would go onto rule. The throne had been fought over for many years between the houses of York and Lancaster. Richard was the representative of the house of York and Henry of the house of Lancaster. This ongoing war was known as the war of the roses due to the symbols of both houses, Lancaster having the red rose and York having the white rose.The JourneyHenry’s claim to the throne was through marriage. His Grandfather, Owen Tudor, had been married to Katherine, wife of the former king Henry the fifth. So through this marriage Henry had a legitimate claim to the throne. Richard, when he had discovered Henry’s claim, planned to capture Henry for trial. When Henry had heard this he fled to France, where the French king Charles VIII supported Henry and gave him the means to return and fight. The French king supplied Henry with money and mercenaries in order for him to return and gain the throne.Richard knew that Henry posed a threat; if Richard was to defeat Henry then his throne would remain secure. So, in the summer of 1485, Richard set up a military headquarters in Nottingham. Here he summoned his supporting aristocrats and their personal armies. All but two of his supporters came. The two that didn’t were the Stanleys. The Stanleys were brothers; they were also two of the most powerful aristocrats in the whole of England. They owned an army of 5000. They both provided individual excuses to the king as to why they could not come. Due to his own suspicions, Richard took Lord Strange, son of Thomas Lord Stanley, hostage.There are many different speculations as to why the Stanleys did not turn up. The most obvious one is that of marriage. Thomas Lord Stanley was married to Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor and lead campaigner for the House of Lancaster. On the 1st of August Henry had set out from France for England. He landed on the 7th of August. On his way to battle Henry built up his army with support from the welsh aristocrats. However, Henry’s journey was overshadowed. Henry supposedly met with the Stanley’s on the 20th o august, two nights before the battle. It is thought that there they had come to some sort of arrangement. Henry then continued with his journey. Richard had already set out to intercept Henry on the 10th of august. The two armies were in sight of each other by the 21st of august. On the 22nd of August the battle was to be fought in Leistershire, in an open field near Bosworth. The Stanleys were also present but on their own. They did not side with either camp. On the morning of the battle the Stanley’s were to the north west of the Ambion hill in the distance, they had a clear view of the hill and Richard had a clear view of them. As Polydore Vergil reports, ” sending withal, to Thomas Stanley, who was now approaching the place of fight betwixt the two battles, that he could come to with his forces , to set the soldiers in array. He answered that the earl should set his own folks in order, while that he should come to him with his army well appointed.”The Army FormationsThe formation of the army was the key to the battle. Richard placed himself on top of the hill to give him the advantage. He placed him self between the Earl of Northumberland on his right, the eastern side of the hill, the Duke of Norfolk on his left, the western side of the hill. Richard was with the cavalry and had his men facing north expecting to attack Henry from this side. This was due to the fact that there south side was protected by a marsh which. This is reported by Polydore Vergil, This shows exactly where Henry placed his army. He was on the western side of the hill giving him protection on the right flank due to the marsh the place where the marsh would be is now covered with a forest. The area can be seen below in the picture:Henry himself, inexperienced in battle did not control his own flank. Polydore Vergil reports that Henry, “made a slender vanward for the small number of his people; before the same he placed archers, of whom he made captain John Earl of Oxford: in the right wing of the vanward he placed Gilbert Talbot to defend the same; in the left verily he sat John Savage; and himself trusting to th’aid Thomas Stanley.” This means Henry placed Oxford in the centre, Talbot on the left, and himself with John Savage on the left. Vergil is a very reliable source. He was a well known and respected historian. He would go out and interview people so as to gain details. His reports are thorough and very detailed. So with this in mind his accounts can be considered reliable. However, he was later so well respected that he was made court historian. This could have caused his accounts to be a bit biased as well as be used fro propaganda. Even though this is true Vergil’s history often presents pure facts making it good reliable history. So the armies would have been placed as below, the Stanley’s are clearly well away from the battle just far enough to see the battle from a safe distance.The Size of the ArmiesIt is not certain as to how man men Richard or Henry would have had. The sources claim that Richard would have had huge numbers of men. However it would have been impossible for Richard to place a very large amount of men on the hill. This is due to the size of the hill. On my visit to the site the hill was clearly too small for more than 12,000 men. In the picture the hill can be seen from the eastern side of the hill, in Northumberland’s position. However the sources seem to disagree with one another. In describing Richard’s army, Diego de Valera describes it as large as, “70,000 combatants.” However, this sum is too much to fit on Ambion hill so it seems that Valera is either misinformed or is biased to one side. Valera continually describes a Spanish man named, “Salazar,” in his account.This Spaniard is on the side of Richard III, by supporting this character Valera will be supporting Richard, as it is Richard that Salazar is fighting for. Making matters worse Salazar is foreign so his information is possibly old, exaggerated or just plain inaccurate. Polydore seems to have the more accurate and realistic figures, “for the number of all his soldiers, all manners of ways, was scarce, 5,000 besides the Stanleyeans, whereof about 3,000 were at the battle, under the conduct of William. The King’s forces were twice so many more.” So it seems that Henry’s army would have made up of 5,000 men and Richard’s would have had 10,000- 12,000. This seems to be quite accurate as this size would have been able to fit on the hill and it seems that Henry would have had 5,000 supporters, hence Henry’s need for the Stanley’s. To support the idea further the picture opposite can show how the area needed for the amount of men Valera reports would be much larger than the hill.Battle CommencesSo the two armies were in sight of each other on the night of the 21st of august. On the 22nd of August the battle commenced. Richard was on top of the hill facing the north with his cavalry. Polydore confirms his position,” “(Richard) drew his whole host out of their tents, and arrayeth his vanward, stretching it forth a wonderful length, so full replenished both with footmen and horsemen that to the beholders afar it gave a terror for the multitude…after this long vanward followed the king himself.” This shows Richard’s position but for his direction Jean de Molinet explains, ” The king had artillery of his army fire on the Earl of Richmond, and so the French, knowing by the king’s shot the lie of the land and the order of his battle, resolved, in order to avoid the fire, to mass their troops against the flank rather than the front of the king’s battle. Thus they obtained the mastery of his vanguard.” This is reported by Jean de Molinet. Jean de Molinet was one of the historians for the French earl of Burgundy. The earl of burgundy did not like the French king and so was pro-Richardian.However, there is no sign of bias in this information so it seems that the historian is reporting in a purely factual way. This shows that Richard was facing the north. This also implies what Henry was doing at this stage. Richard was expecting Henry to come out towards him facing the north. However, Henry’s military strategists knowing this to be the case faced him on the western flank away from the cavalry and towards the weaker flanks. This would mean disaster for Richard. Richard and Northumberland would have been unable to join the battle. Meanwhile, Henry was on the steeper western slope meaning the army of Richard would have to come down the slope and Henry would wait and defend. The spot Henry had picked to attack from was perfect. The slope was steep and so gave him protection and meant that Richard’s force would have to come down from the steep slope to fight. The sheer steepness of the slope can be seen in the picture below:By defending Henry could hold off Richard and maintain and advantage. This ploy is reported by Vergil, ” in the mean time th’Earl of Oxford fearing lest his men on fighting might be environed of the multitude commanded in every rank that no soldiers should go above 10 foot from the standards; which charge being known when all men had throng thick togethers, and stayed a while from fighting, th’adversaries were therewith afeared , supposing some fraud, and so they al forbore the fight a certain space, and that verily did many with right goodwill, who rather coveted the king dead than alive, and therefore fought faintly.” It would be impossible for Richard’s whole army to turn and face the west so as to fight Henry. Henry had either gained a purposeful advantage or stumbled and was lucky to gain such and advantage. Henry’s men were waiting at the bottom of the hill for Richard’s men, meanwhile Richard and Northumberland could only watch. Even watching was a challenge for Richard and Northumberland, this was due to the slope’s steepness. In the picture opposite the position of Henry, marked by his flag can only just be seen from the position of Richard and Northumberland.So this was Richard’s predicament. He was on top of the hill, his western flank was being attacked by Henry. Henry, however, was running out of men and soon, even with the strategy of defence, he would run out of men and soon be in a predicament of his own. He was unsure of what to do. This was also the case with Richard, he was stuck and unsure what to do next. Henry knew he had to take a risk. Henry decided to take an enormous risk. He was going to travel l towards the Stanley’s and ask for their assistance. But would the Stanley’s help Henry or Richard. However, due to Richard’s position on top of the hill , Richard was able to see the Stanley’s and any movement towards them he would clearly have been able to see Henry. The picture below shows the view from Richard’s position facing the northern side of the hill:Richard full of frustration saw Henry leave his men in a small group and with it he saw his one chance to finish the battle he would charge with his cavalry and face his rival claimant Henry. Vergil reports an account of this heroic charge, “While that battle continued thus hot in both sides betwixt the vanguards. King Richard understood, first by espials where Earl Henry was afar off with small force of soldiers about him; then after drawing nearer he knew it perfitely by evident signs and tokens that it was Henry; wherefore all inflamed with ire he strick his horse with the spurs, and runneth out of th’one side without the vanwards against him.” Richard had seen Henry breaking away from his army with a small number of soldiers. When he saw this he made a wild charge towards him, supported by his cavalry.This charge meant Richard could have won but due to the wildness of the charge there was no one to protect his rear from the Stanleys. This mistake is again accounted by the reliable Polydore Vergil, “Henry abode the brunt longer than every his own soldiers would have guessed, who were now almost out of hope of victory, when as lo William Stanley with tree thousand men came to the rescue: then truly in a very moment the residue all fled, and king Richard alone was killed fighting manfully in the thicket press of his enemies.” This show how important the interception by the Stanleys was, without it Henry was sure to have lost.As time has gone on later commentators have called Richard a demon, he was even demonised by William Shakespeare. He was branded a cruel and demonic person. However as the sources show it seems Richard was brave and valiant even in his last moments, fighting bravely to the death. As John Rous accounted, “for all that, let me say the truth to his credit: he bore himself like a gallant knight.” No matter what most enemies of Richard said most called him a valiant warrior who fought bravely in his last moments.