1485 Battle of Bosworth

Chapter 1: Background

The Battle of Bosworth was fought on Monday, 22nd August 1485. The battle has always been considered as one of the most significant in English history because it brought to the throne a new dynasty, the Tudors, whose 118 year tenure would cover a period of profound social, religious, economic and political change, not just in England and Wales, directly controlled by the Tudors, but throughout the rest of the British Isles and Europe. At the time, however, the battle was only one in a long series over thirty years as rival branches of the royal house fought for the throne.

By 1485, the King was Richard III, of the House of York, but he was challenged by Henry Tudor, who had a claim, although not a very strong one, as the senior male of the House of Lancaster.

There are no absolutely contemporaneous eye-witness accounts of the engagement, but a number of documents from the following quarter century record it in detail. Despite this wealth of sources, for centuries the exact location of the battlefield was lost. It was known to have taken place in Leicestershire, somewhere between Sutton Cheney, Fenny Drayton, Dadlington and Stoke Golding, all small villages or hamlets between the town of Market Bosworth to the north, and the old Roman road, now the A5 to the south,. By 2004, there were four competing locations, based on different interpretations of the sources.

Much of this controversy has now been cleared up by the extensive archaeological work taken during the period 2003 – 2014 by The Battlefields Trust, funded partly by Leicestershire City Council.

The work has both revealed the most likely location of the battle, and also discovered that artillery played a major part in the fight. The work is published in ' Bosworth 1485: A Battlefield Rediscovered' and is highly recommended for anyone interested in understanding the brilliant multi-disciplinary work undertaken to uncover the detail of this seminal battle.

In 1399, Richard II was deposed by his cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster. Richard had displayed increasingly tyrannical tendencies, and his overthrow was supported by a majority of his nobles. Richard was childless, but had nominated Roger Mortimer, the son of his cousin, Philippa of Clarence, as his heir.

The Mortimer claim fell into abeyance during the reigns of Henry IV and his son, Henry V. Henry V was the very model of mediaeval king – determined, ruthless, physically courageous and obsessed with war. His successful campaigns in France eventually won recognition that he would succeed Charles V of France (a man with serious mental illness, presiding over a faction-torn nobility), provided he married Charles’ daughter, Katherine de Valois.

The marriage took place, and a son was born. This son, who inherited the Crown of England as Henry VI before he was two, and was also crowned as King of France when he was just ten years old, proved to be very different from his father. His reign saw the loss of the French territories and increasing unrest at home. Eventually, in 1461, he was deposed by Edward of York, a descendant of the Mortimer branch of the royal family.

The Lancastrians enjoyed a brief resurgence 1470-1471, but York regained the throne, reigning as Edward IV, until his death on 9th April 1483. Edward’s son, another Edward, was twelve on his father’s death, and, within a few weeks was deposed by his paternal uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who reigned as Richard III.

Following the death of the Lancastrian Henry VI, and his son, Edward of Lancaster, the next Lancastrian heir (in England – there were others in the Portuguese, Castilian and Burgundian royal families) was Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond.

Richard III’s actions split the Yorkist party, and many began to support Richmond, who had been in exile in Brittany, and then France, since 1471.

In 1483, an early rebellion against Richard III, led by Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, failed. Henry had shipped for England, but, suspecting that the waiting troops who were assuring him of Buckingham’s success were not genuine, retreated. By early 1485, Henry, together with his uncle, Jasper, Earl of Pembroke, John de Vere, Earl of Oxford and a significant number of long-faithful Lancastrians, and recently disaffected Yorkists, were ready to mount a full-scale invasion, having borrowed money from Richmond’s second cousin, King Charles VIII of France.

War of Words

PR is nothing new, and both sides issued statements, denigrating the other side. Having been promised French aid, Henry opened his campaign by writing to potential supporters in England and Wales. In the letters, which he signed HR, to imply Henry Rex, rather than Henry Richmond, he wrote of his gratitude for those who sought to help him to his right inheritance and ‘the just depriving of that homicide and unnatural tyrant which now unjustly bears dominion over you’.

This was probably a reference to the mysterious disappearance of Richard’s nephews, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, who had never emerged from the Tower of London, after entering it in 1483, ostensibly to prepare for Edward V’s coronation. Henry also swore a public oath (on Christmas Day, 1483) that, should he gain the Crown of England, he would marry Elizabeth of York, elder daughter of the late Edward IV, and, on the supposition that her brothers were dead, the senior Yorkist heir.

Richard retaliated, first with a mass Act of Attainder on 7th December 1484, which condemned not just Henry, but his chief supporters, as traitors. The condemned included Jasper Tudor; Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset who was Edward IV’s step-son; John de Vere, Earl of Oxford; Courtenay, Bishop of Exeter, and Sir Edward Woodville.

In a later proclamation on 23 rd June 1485, Richard focused on the weakness of Henry’s claim to the Crown – the Beaufort family from which he was descended had begun in illegitimacy, and although that was later rectified by marriage, the taint of bastardy hung about them. Contrary to what is often stated, Richard did not claim that the marriage of Henry’s grandparents, Owain Tudor and Katherine de Valois, had not taken place – rather, he suggested that Owain was illegitimate.