Sunday, April 03, 2011

Battle of (the new) Bosworth Field?

I like to have a bit of a dig around into an area’s history when we pass through, and knowing that we were heading this way, made a point of watching the Time Team Special about the Battle of Bosworth. Tony Robinson isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (I still can’t get Baldric out of my head), but I do like the programs.

Using material researched and complied by Dr Glenn Foard of Huddersfield University, the program casts doubt on the accepted wisdom of the location of the battle. Interesting stuff, and it’s still available to watch on 4OD.

On the back of this, I was in Stoke Golding Post Office the other day and spotted a slim paperback by a local historian, Peter Foss. Using documentary evidence, rather than archaeology, The Field of Redemore proposed the same theory as Foard, namely that the battle and subsequent demise of Richard III took place a couple of miles to the south-west of where it’s always been assumed.

A bit of background could be in order, I think. The War of the Roses, as it’s come to be known, was civil war in England and at the time of Bosworth Field had been on and off for 30 years. It arose from rival claims to the throne, from the Houses of Plantagenate and Tudor. The “roses” refer to their respective power bases, the white rose of Yorkshire for the Plantagenates, and the red rose of Lancashire for the Tudors.

The Plantagenates had been incumbent since the middle of the 12th C, but after the disastrous final years of the Hundred Years War with France (where England lost most of her possessions on the other side of the channel), the time was ripe for a change. The Tudors did have a legitimate if somewhat tenuous claim, and pursued it in the best Medieval tradition, by force of arms.

Several serious skirmishes had taken place, but none conclusive enough to unseat the King. Richard’s ascent to the throne was mired in controversy. Edward IV, his brother, died in April 1483, leaving his 12 year old son, Edward V, as apparent heir. Richard met the young heir on his way to London, dismissed his men-at-arms and replaced them with his own men, ostensibly for protection. On their arrival the young Edward was housed in the Tower of London, with his little brother Richard. As the Tower was a Royal residence as well as a prison at this time, this wasn’t as suspicious as it first appears. But the youngsters made fewer and fewer appearances in public, until they ceased to be seen at all.

Meanwhile, Richard made his claim to the throne as the late King’s brother, stating that he had proof that the both young Edward and Richard were illegitimate, the result of an affair between the Queen and a commoner. The claim was ratified, and Richard became King Richard III in on the 26th June, 1483. He was 30 years old.

The following 2 years were uncomfortable (uneasy lies the head…), rumblings from the Lancastrians and mutterings about the fate of the princes in the tower unsettling his stability.

It was in this climate of uncertainty that Henry Tudor decided to act. He landed from his exile in France at Milford Haven on August 7th 1485. He brought with him a hard core of supporters and French mercenaries, and augmented his forces on his march eastward through Wales.

So it was with around 5000 men at his disposal that he arrived at Mancetter, near Atherstone, ready to do battle. At only 28, he was inexperienced in warfare but had as his commanders well-seasoned men, Sir John Savage, Sir Gilbert Talbot, and the Earl of Oxford.

The dispositions of the army is the first area of dispute. Originally it was believed that they were quite close, to the south and west of Ambion Hill. But the archaeological evidence suggests that they were further away, a mile or so along the old Roman Road known as Fenn Lanes from Fenny Drayton. Richard’s larger army of around 10,000 troops it is agreed were camped on Ambion Hill.

There was a third army in the area, however. Sir William Stanley and his brother Lord Stanley were ostensibly King’s men, but their loyalty was in a degree of doubt. William Stanley was married to Henry’s mother, after all. So, to ensure his co-operation, Richard was holding his son hostage.

This force was drawn up on the high ground upon which Stoke Golding and Dadlington are built.

The battle commenced with Henry’s forces moving towards Ambion Hill, but swinging around to the north to avoid soft ground were several streams came together. They were met by artillery fire (a large number of cannonballs have been found along a NW-SE axis south of Shenton and north of the Fenn Lanes) before engaging in typical hand to hand fighting. The experienced commanders on Henry’s side formed a wedge and forced their way through Richard’s battle line splitting it in two. But all was not lost for Richard, he still had vastly superior numbers and a lot of uncommitted troops at his disposal.

It was at this point where things go a little awry. Henry, his inexperience probably outweighed by his enthusiasm, rode forward along the road with a smallish guard to see what was going on.

From his vantage point on Ambion Hill Richard saw him move out and saw an opportunity to finish the battle in one fell swoop. So, with his own guard of mounted knights, spurred down the hill, straight for the poorly defended pretender. They clashed and the outcome was in the balance, in fact Henry’s standard bearer was cut down, so close was the fighting. But then William Stanley decided to throw in his lot with Henry, and rolled his forces down the slope from Stoke Golding. Of course, in so doing he condemned his hostage son to death….

Richard and his mounted force had no chance and were beaten back into the same boggy ground that Henry’s commanders had been at such pains to avoid.

They were cut to pieces, Richard himself falling victim to a halbard (pike) wielded by one of Henry’s Welshmen.

This all happened 1¼ miles from his memorial stone near Shenton Station.

His stripped body was taken to Leicester, and after being displayed for public scrutiny, was buried at Greyfriars Monastery. During Henry VIII’s Disolution, the monastery was dismantled and Richard’s remains lost. He remains one of the few English Kings who’s final resting place is unknown.

Back at the battlefield, Henry was crowned King Henry VII on Crown Hill, just outside Stoke Golding.

Richard could very well have prevailed had it not been for the treachery of the Stanleys. England may well have been very different without Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I. William, however, got his come-uppance. Convicted of treason, he was beheaded by Henry VII 10 years later.

There was a final battle at East Stoke in Nottinghamshire where a mainly mercenary army of Yorkists was destroyed 2 years later, but Bosworth Field is considered the decisive battle of the War of the Roses. The Plantagenates were no more, and the Tudor Dynasty was established. Richard III was the last English king to die leading his men into battle.

It is said that the victor writes the history, and in this case it’s probably true. Since his short reign, Richard III has been vilified, portrayed by Shakespeare as a hunchbacked weakling - "rudely stamp'd", "deformed, unfinish'd", and cannot "strut before a wanton ambling nymph." He is described as being evil and manipulative, prepared to stop at nothing to achieve his aims. His apparent murder of the “Princes in the Tower” is held to show his poisonous nature. It’s to be remembered, of course, that Henry VII’s chroniclers wrote the account, and that Henry himself would benefit if Edward V and his brother were to disappear…..

The last of the Plantagenates, John of Gloucester, Richard’s illegitimate son, was executed by Henry VII in 1491.

So ended one Royal dynasty, and another begun.

The site of the battle. (Use the navigation buttons to move around)

View Larger Map

Most of the action took place in the area bounded by Fenn Lanes, Mill Lane and Shenton Lane, south of Shenton. The Stanleys were to the south, at Stoke Golding and Dadlington, Henry was to the east, Richard was to the north-west (where the Battlefield Centre is).

King Richard III’s view from Ambion Hill

The Stanley’s positions are obscured by the trees of Ambion Wood to the left of centre. Henry Tudors army was in the distance to the right of centre.

Sir William Stanley’s position below Stoke Golding….

And brother Lord Stanley below Dadlington.

The initial engagement, south of Shenton

Probable location of Richard’s death, just north of Fenn Lanes. Near Mill Lane.

Dadlington Church.

A lot of the battlefield casualties were buried here.

Sorry for the length of this post. I hope it’s been of interest…..


bigive55 said...

Sorry but would rather read about your boat and interesting stuff.

Geoff and Mags said...

Fair enough....