Richard lll and the Battle of Bosworth

I have just been reading a suggestion that Shakespeare`s play about Richard lll may have been a more current political satire directed against the Cecils. The article went into some depth about the misdirections involved in the play and may or may not be true of course. Mentioned in the article was the turncoat action of the Stanley`s, so I thought my readers might enjoy an excerpt from the prologue of my novel about a much later occurrence, the Lincolnshire Uprising. (see the link at the end to that article)

The excerpt below presents MY view of the Battle of Bosworth and Richard lll`s role therein. Enjoy.

Battle of Bosworth Field

August 1485

The early morning sun of 22nd August 1485 picked out the silvery column of Richard’s soldiery moving into position on Ambion Hill, south of the town of Market Bosworth in Leicestershire. His men had been instructed to ensure that every bit of armour and weaponry, that could be polished, was polished to the highest shine.

Richard had hardly slept a wink and looked dreadful, come the sunrise, but harangued his men into battle readiness, nonetheless. He had been worrying about betrayal – would Northumberland fight when he was needed? Would the Stanleys come to him as he had bid them do?

And what of his own betrayal, of his brother’s trust, and his betrayal of his nephews too? Their ghosts had mocked him in his dreams during an all-too-short night “We’ll see you in Hell before we can rest easy!” – this from a child of twelve, and a child of nine, dressed in black velvet, curling blond ringlets framing their sweet faces. Richard woke in a cold sweat, long before dawn, sleep forgotten, heart pounding!

The two Stanley brothers and their troops had met up late in the evening before, and were already set in lines about half a mile from the royal lines, and perpendicular to them. As soon as Richard saw them he sent the Royal Herald to instruct them, once more, to settle in behind his lines and fight for the safety of England, against a treacherous mixture of Welsh and English opportunists, and Scottish and German mercenaries.

The Baron Stanley slowly sent back an ambiguous message to say he was best placed where he was so that he could outflank Henry Tudor’s forces if they began to look effective. So they would stay put for the moment, thank you.

His brother, Sir William, did not bother to send back any message at all, as he had been branded a traitor the week previously, anyway, and his son was taken hostage. In a rage at this news, Richard declared that George, Lord Strange, should be “…executed forthwith…” but it appeared that by this time everyone was too busy to carry out the order.

Almost by the time he had finished talking to the returning Herald, and looked back down the hill, Tudor’s three troops, normally a centre and two flanks, had performed a tight wheeling movement and formed a trapezoid with the narrow end pointed up the hill. It was like a truncated triangle – much puzzling Richard and his generals and captains, none of whom could explain the tactic. But they could not afford to puzzle for long – the battle would commence very soon.

Nor was there any hesitation from Henry Tudor’s forces. They started marching confidently uphill, cannonballs flying over their heads, from their own gunners, towards Richard’s troops at the hilltop. Richard’s own cannon had been set at the side of Ambion Hill to enfilade the Tudor foot-soldiers.

Once they were within bowshot range of each other, men began to fall on both sides.

Soon afterwards, Richard sounded the charge and his men went flying down the hill at the Tudor army.

Richard and his generals soon discovered what the unusual formation was for, when his men found it difficult to get at the enemy in enough numbers to make an impact. This was especially so, since Oxford’s orders to the rebels had been to stay firm in formation, continually closing ranks “… if men either side of you should fall!” It made them a small and difficult target and Richard decided his forces must withdraw and regroup.

It was at this point that he must have had a rush of blood to the head, and decided on an all-or-nothing move. If it went on like this without the Stanleys or Northumberland choosing to intervene on the King’s side in a decisive move, the Tudor army could wear his men down and they would soon start suffering defections from the ranks at the very least, possibly even a rout?

Richard had already seen where Henry Tudor himself was, surrounded by a horse-borne troop of no more than one hundred men, if that, and able to move quickly wherever they may be needed in the heat of battle. The red dragon of Cadwallader was fluttering in the breeze above them. They were, in fact starting to move now, towards Stanley’s troops, presumably to get them to engage in the battle on their side. If that happened, it was clear to Richard that the day would be lost.

And so Richard decided that he and his knights – a troop of about eighty men – could take them in a surprise move, attacking downhill. It would be the stuff of troubadours and songsters, through the ages, come true!

He turned, and looked into the eyes of his men with a silent, understood, question… “Do we go, will you follow me?” To their credit, not one of the soldiers wavered, even though, if the move failed, it would be almost certain death for all of them.

But, if they killed the upstart Henry Tudor, the battle would be finished in time for an early lunch and England would be at peace at last. The only person to call for a withdrawal so they could regroup and fight another day was not a soldier but one of Richard’s administrators, Catesby. As a lawyer, he could probably define the word GLORY but could not live by the concept, it was so alien to his being. No-one took the slightest bit of notice of him, however, and Richard himself pushed the man away.

So, within seconds they were committed!

And, thus, in a lull in the clashing sounds of battle, all eyes turned to the top of Ambion Hill as the slight figure of the hunchbacked King Richard III spurred his glorious white charger to a canter. He was surrounded by, and followed by, eighty silvery armoured knights of the realm in full battle array. It was a sight to behold!

Most of the foot soldiers on both sides stopped what they were doing (unless actually fending off an enemy soldier!) so the lull turned to almost silence until what seemed like an almighty animal ROAR came from somewhere on the hillside.  It was a frightening, alien, noise that everyone eventually realised came from Richard’s slender, almost feminine, throat. This roar was followed by huge bellows from the following knights as they saw the same red mist as their King.

They were halfway down the hill before anyone on the Tudor side reacted to, or even realised, what was happening. The troop around Henry tightened ranks and made sure their leader was protected by at least two ranks of horsemen. The huge knight Sir John Cheney spurred his horse ahead of the Tudor troop, the intention of the giant soldier being, of course, to block and kill the oncoming wild man.

But size was not a factor today! Cheney o’towered Richard by nearly a foot when standing on the ground and he had a much longer reach but he stood no chance against the berserker king – before he could even raise his sword he was flung from his horse by Richard’s gleaming pole-axe.

Richard laid about him with the pole-axe, each blow taking another Tudor defender. Some blows were returned but he felt nothing, cared nothing for anything but Henry Tudor’s head, to which he was getting nearer by the second.

Henry, himself, was saved twice.

The first time by his standard bearer, Sir William Brandon, who launched himself between the attacking king and his master. A huge man himself, Brandon was killed by a blow that would have been mighty close to Henry’s head if he had not intervened. He left a young wife at home with a one-year-old boy, Charles, who was destined to have a different life altogether from that of his father…

Henry was saved, secondly, by the quick thinking of his stepfather’s brother, Sir William Stanley. Stanley spurred his horse into action and yelled at his men to follow him downhill at the rear of Richard’s charging cavalry group. Perhaps they should be able to stop at least some of the attackers getting to Henry.

And, if they saved the day for the Tudor cause, he would be hailed as a hero rather than scorned as a traitor. But, just before he set off with his own cavalry he turned to his best bowman, standing close by, and told him to “…slow Richard down, kill him if you can!…”

Most men would have blanched at the order, knowing they must fail, but John Wickham practised his bowmanship by targeting hares in their mad month of March, when they leapt unpredictably around the fields playing up to potential mates. So, before Stanley reached the rear of Richard’s troop and got in his way, Wickham had already managed to let off three arrows at his target.

The first glanced off the coronet that the King wore over his helmet. The second punctured the rear flank of Richard’s glorious white charger. The horse did not feel it, he was probably seeing a similar red mist as his rider but it did make him stumble a little. And, as he stumbled, Wickham’s third arrow found a gap between two pieces of armour and lodged in the hunched back of King Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England, and knocked him from his horse.

To be fair, Richard did not feel the arrow, any more than the horse had felt the one that hit its backside, and he simply rolled once and leapt lithely to his feet.

His squire offered him the use of his horse but Richard waved him away, laying about him like a whirling Dervish with his silver pole-axe, fetching blood with nearly every strike, shouting “Treason,….traitors,…treachery!” but it was to no avail. There were too many enemy foot-soldiers about him by now and one Welsh soldier thrust his halberd so hard into Richard’s helmet that halberd, helmet and hair penetrated more than an inch into his brain through his skull.

Despite this fatal blow, he kept moving and thrashing about him with the pole-axe. But more and more sharp-pointed daggers, sharp-edged broadswords, and halberds cut or gouged bloody pieces from his head and torso. Stout oak staffs and Welsh or English boots broke a few bones, too, as he lay there.

Eventually, one man even used Richard’s own pole-axe to scalp the wretch on the floor – they truly hated him for what he was reputed to have done to the little princes – until Henry Tudor’s voice cut through the skirl, and shouted… “Enough! He may be the enemy – but the man died a hero’s death! Leave him be!

The panting men pulled back into a circle surrounding the body of their enemy, and the silence was then broken by a single shout, possibly from Sir William Stanley himself…“The King is dead! Long live the King!

So saying, he took the coronet that Richard had been wearing over his helmet, dented slightly from his bowman’s first arrow, and placed it on Henry Tudor’s head, to lusty cheers all around. For his part, Henry Tudor smiled a tight-lipped smile – his teeth were in a terrible state and he rarely showed them if he could help it.

For the most part, the fighting stopped almost immediately and Henry in ‘kingly magnanimity’ held no desire to punish common working folk for simply doing what they had been told to do by their masters. He simply sent them home.

A few diehard Yorkists who could expect little from the new regime tried to regroup to carry on the fight but were chased down and became trapped by the lie of the land and were mercilessly put to death.

Henry Tudor, now King Henry Vll of England and Wales, by right of conquest, ordered that Richard’s body be taken to Greyfriars’ Abbey in Leicester, there to lie openly so it may be seen that the former King was now, indeed, dead.

The men responsible for this last transfer of the body were none too gentle and for some odd reason known only to themselves – for he was dead and posed no threat – they tied his hands together before they draped his body over his, now limping, white charger (someone had retrieved the arrow from the horse’s rump!)

On the way in to Leicester they passed by the same stone bridge Richard had ridden across earlier, on his way to battle, sending sparks from the stone when he struck the bridge with a spur. This time, draped as he was over the horse it was his head that struck the stone in the same spot in the narrow centre of the bridge, an event one of the local seers claimed to have seen in a vision. It was fortunate he was dead, too, otherwise the blow may have killed him.

The last Plantagenet was exhibited for viewing by his former subjects for two days in the abbey, so they should know he was truly gone. And then the body was unceremoniously dumped in a hastily dug grave, slightly too small for his five foot eight inch height. They did not bother with a coffin since no-one was paying for the funeral and it would have been a waste of good oak.

The article that sparked this post off is here…


And if you wish to read a review before you purchase, the Historical Novel Society Review is here…

Captain Cobbler: The Lincolnshire Uprising, 1536