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On this day in 1485 – Battle of Bosworth

Henry Tudor had spent most of his life living in exile in France with his uncle, Jasper. Henry became a figurehead for the Lancastrians cause in the Wars of the Roses. Henry and Jasper set sail from Harfleur on 1st August 1485 and landed on at Mill Bay, Dale in Wales on 7th August 1485.

Henry and his army set up camp at the newly captured Dale Castle upon their landing few Welsh joined Tudor’s army as it set off on its march inland. The army set off towards Haverfordwest and Pembrokeshire. As the army moved King Richard III lieutenant in South Wales, Sir Walter Herbert failed to move the King’s army against Henry and eventually two of Herbert’s men, Richard Griffith and Evan Morgan defected to Henry’s army. As the army progressed another Welsh figure, Rhys Fawr ap Maredudd also joined Henry.

Henry began his march towards Aberystwyth but before he did he was able to persuade Rhys ap Thomas, King Richard’s Lieutenant in West Wales to join his side and set him on a southerly route to gather more Welshmen to the army. They would later reunite at Welshpool. By the 16th August Henry’s army crossed into England at Shrewsbury.

News of Henry’s arrival on Welsh soil reached King Richard on 11th August but there was a delay in messengers notifying of the King’s plans but finally on 16th August the Yorkist army began to gather with armies setting off for a meeting point at Leicester.

Henrys route to bosworthHenry’s route from Dale to Bosworth

With Henry Tudor taking the town of Shrewsbury and the army rested they set out once again eastwards picking up more and more followers and deserters from Richard’s army. Henry’s army slowly moved towards Staffordshire, Henry was delaying the inevitable meeting with Richard and his army. Henry’s decision to slow his army down was a tactical one as he wanted to gain more supporters; in particularly he was hoping to recruit his step father Lord Stanley to his cause.

Henry had two secret meetings with Stanley as he continued marching his army towards London. The second of these meetings was at Atherstone, Warwickshire. The Stanley’s would not commit either way as was typical of the Stanley family, they always assured that they had a member of the family on the winning side.

On 20th August Richard arrived in Leicester and was informed that Henry and his army were nearby. Richard instructed his army to march west and to cut the Tudor army off before they reached London. Richard’s army moved past Sutton Cheney towards Ambion Hill where they camped for the night. Meanwhile the following night Lord Stanley’s army camped on a hill nearby north of Dadlington and Henry and his army camped at White Moors.

On the morning of 22nd August Richard’s Yorkist army, which stood at approximately 10,000 men, left Ambion Hill. The army309 were separated into three clear groups; Norfolk led the first to the right protecting the 1,200 archers and cannons, Richard was in the middle that comprised of 3,000 infantry and finally on the left was Northumberland with 4,000 men. From Ambion Hill Richard could see the Stanleys and their army of 6,000 men, a concern for Richard as no one knew who Stanley or his brother would fight for.

Meanwhile, at White Moors Henry was readying his army. The Tudor army consisted of approximately 5,000 men Henry’s army consisted of less than 1,000 Englishmen and many of those had deserted Richard’s army. The rest of the army consisted of approximately 1,800 Frenchmen and some Scottish; the remainder were recruits that were picked up along their route in Wales include a vast amount of troops courtesy of Rhys ap Thomas.

As Henry’s troops began their march towards Ambion Hill it is believed that they passed a marsh at the southwestern part of the hill, meanwhile Richard sent a messenger to Lord Stanley ordering him to send his army to attack Henry and if he did not Richard would have Stanley’son, Lord Strange, executed. Stanley simply replied that he had more sons and with that Richard ordered the execution but the officers delayed. At the same time Stanley was being asked to declare for Henry but still Stanley delayed.

Henry handed control of the army over to the Earl of Oxford and retired with his body guards to the rear of the army, Henry had little military action and so relied on someone who was experienced in battle. Oxford decided to keep the army together instead of following Richard’s example of splitting the army into three. Oxford ordered the troops to go no further than 10 feet from the banners. The large army was flanked by horsemen on either side of the line.

Henry’s army were fired at by Richard’s cannons as they made their way around the marsh once they were clear Norfolk and the right flank began to advance and began firing arrows at the advancing Tudor army. Norfolk was at a disadvantage so Richard ordered Northumberland to send his troops in to assist but Northumberland failed to move.

With Henry’s army having the advantage Henry rode to muster Stanley into battle, Richard seeing this led a charge into Henry’s group where Richard killed Henry’s standard bearer, Sir William Brandon and even unhorsed John Cheyne, the former standard bearer of King Edward IV. The remainder of Henry’s bodyguards surrounded Henry and kept him out of the way of Richard’s group. Seeing Henry and his men engaged in battle with Richard caused Stanley to lead his men into battle to support Henry. The new development meant that Richard’s army was now outnumbered and slowly began being pushed back towards the marsh, during this Richard’s standard bearer Sir Percival Thirwell was cut down but kept holding the Yorkist banner until he was killed.

389The Battle of Bosworth recreation

It was reported by Polydore Vergil, who was the official historian of Henry VII, wrote;

Richard had come within a sword’s length of Henry Tudor before being surrounded by Sir William Stanley’s men and killed. The Burgundian chronicler Jean Molinet says that a Welshman struck the deathm blow with a halberd while Richard’s horse was stuck in the marshy ground. It was said that the blows were so violent that the King’s helmet was driven into his skull. The contemporary Welsh poet Guto’r Glyn implies the leading Welsh Lancastrian Rhys ap Thomas, or one of his men, killed the king, writing that he ‘killed the boar, shaved his head.”

With the news of Richard’s death spreading around the battle the Yorkist army fled with Northumberland escaping the battle alive but Norfolk was captured and killed.

228The site of the Battle of Bosworth

With Henry Tudor victorious and the battle over it is believed that Lord Stanley found Richard’s circlet in a hawthorn bush (this has never been proven nor disproven) and crowned Henry on Crown Hill near Stoke Golding. Around 100 of Henry’s men lost their lives compared to 1,000 of Richard’s men, the dead were taken to St James Church in Dadlington for burial, whilst Richard was stripped naked and thrown over the back of a horse and carried towards Leicester where he was put on display for the public to see that the old King was dead. Richard was then taken to the church of the Greyfriars where he was buried in an unmarked small grave where he would lie until he was discovered in 2012 and reinterred at Leicester Cathedral in 2015.

121King Richard’s grave

Back in 1485 Henry was proclaimed King Henry VII and dismissed his army only retaining a small group that he called the ‘Yeomen of his Garde’. He instantly called on Parliament to reverse the attainder that had been passed in his name and had the reign of Richard declared as illegal, this decision also reversed Richard’s decision to declare the children of King Edward IV as illegitimate therefore restoring Elizabeth to the title of Princess and making their forthcoming marriage easier. Henry also dated his reign from the day before the battle making anybody that fought for Richard traitors.

With the death of Richard saw the end of the Plantagenet dynasty and the beginning of the Tudors.

016The standards of Richard and Henry at the Bosworth visitor centre