THE BATTLE OF BOSWORTH
22ND August, 1485
The Battle of Bosworth, (or Bosworth Field), was the last significant battle of the Wars of the Roses, the civil war between the Houses of Lancaster and York, that raged across England during the 15th century. Across the English Channel, in Brittany, Henry Tudor, a descendant of the greatly diminished House of Lancaster, seized the opportunity, during Richard’s difficulties, to challenge Richard’s claim to the throne.
Henry’s first attempt to invade England in 1483 was frustrated by a storm, but at his second attempt he arrived, unopposed, on the 7th August, 1485, on the south-west coast of Wales. Marching inland, Henry gathered support as he made for London. Richard mustered his troops and intercepted Henry’s army south of Market Bosworth in Leicestershire. Thomas, Lord Stanley, and Sir William Stanley, brought a force to the battlefield, but held back whilst they decided which side it would be more advantageous to support. Richard divided his army, which outnumbered Henry’s, into three groups. One group was assigned to the Duke of Norfolk, and another to the Earl of Northumberland. Henry kept most of his force together, and placed it under the command of the experienced Earl of Oxford. Richard’s vanguard, commanded by Norfolk, attacked but struggled against Oxford’s men, and some of Norfolk’s troops fled the field. Northumberland took no action when signalled to assist his king.
Richard therefore gambled everything on a charge across the battlefield to kill Henry and end the fight. The Stanleys, seeing the king’s knights separated from his army, intervened. Sir William Stanley led his men to Henry’s aid, surrounded and killed the king. After the battle Henry was crowned king on the field. Polydore Vergil, a Tudor historian, recorded that “King Richard, alone, was killed fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies.” Richard had come within a sword’s length of Henry Tudor before being surrounded and killed by Stanley’s men. The Burgundian chronicler, Jean Molinet, stated that a Welshman struck the death-blow with a halberd, while Richard’s horse was stuck fast in the marshy ground.
Richard’s body was brought back to Leicester, publicly displayed and then given for burial to a group of Franciscan friars. It was rumoured that an alabaster monument was constructed over the grave in 1495, paid for by the new king. With the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry Tudor’s son, Henry VIII, that friary disappeared, and along with it any clear record of Richard’s grave. Stories and rumours about where Richard’s mortal remains lay - or what happened to them – circulated over the ensuing centuries – most of which were inaccurate.