Margaret Beaufort: Life Story

Chapter 8 : The Invasion of 1485

Throughout 1484 and 1485 Margaret was in constant communication with Henry. The extent to which Stanley was involved is not certain. Both Stanley and his brother William were somewhat hamstrung by the fact that their sons were in Richard’s control.

In early August Henry Tudor and his uncle Jasper landed at Milford Sound in South Wales. They marched north through West Wales and throughout the period of their march they were in constant communication with the Stanley brothers.

Once he reached Cardigan, Henry wrote to the Stanleys, informing them that he intended to cross the River Severn into England at Shrewsbury. This suggests that he was fairly confident of Stanley support but they never gave unequivocal demonstrations of allegiance to Henry. Henry also sent his chaplain to Margaret at Latham Castle to arrange a rendezvous.

When Henry reached Shrewsbury the gates were locked against him. The Mayor of Shrewsbury had sworn allegiance to Richard and said that he could not break that oath other than over his dead body. He was soon in a cleft stick however as one of William Stanley’s retainers, Roland Warburton, sent a message to Shrewsbury requiring the town to allow Henry to pass. Shrewsbury was heavily dependent on Stanley favour so the Mayor dealt with his promise by lying down on the road and permitting Henry’s horse to step over him. Henry and his men passed peacefully through Shrewsbury, carefully paying for all of their goods and refraining from any molestation of non-combatants. Previous Lancastrian armies had had a bad name for the treatment of civilians.

Meanwhile Richard had sent orders to the Stanley brothers to raise men to support him. Both Stanleys raised considerable contingents and marched towards the Midlands. During their march they were careful neither to meet with Henry’s army nor with Richard’s. This would keep their options open.

Henry seems to have been fairly certain of the Stanleys support for him. There were at least two secret meetings with the brothers en route the Bosworth, although Lord Strange was still being held by Richard as hostage.

Stanley and his army left Lathom on 15 August, heading for Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire, reaching the town Lichfield on 17 August. It seems that Stanley had put in a good word for Henry who arrived in Lichfield the day after he had left. Lichfield offered no resistance and neither did Tamworth. On 20 August Stanley sent a message to Henry that Richard’s army was close by and that battle could be expected within a few days.

The nobility of England were rapidly losing interest in fighting for rival kings. Of the nearly 60 peers of the realm in 1485 only half made any attempt to join Richard and only six were definitely part of his army.

The night before the battle it is likely that Henry met with his stepfather who no doubt had many messages of love and support from Margaret. Nevertheless, the Stanleys armies did not join those of Henry. Instead they stayed somewhat aloof, although four of Stanley’s best knights and retainers were sent into Henry’s vanguard

The Battle of Bosworth was not well recorded at the time and there are many different theories as to exactly what took place, some of which are now becoming clearer following extensive and continuing excavations and archaeological investigations at the site. What is clear is that the Stanleys waited and did not commit themselves to battle.

Before battle was joined Richard, suspicious that the Stanleys intended to join with Henry, ordered the execution of Lord Strange. The orders were not carried out.

The climax of the battle came when Henry apparently rode towards Sir William Stanley to request his support. Seeing Henry separated from the main body of his troops, Richard charged. Spotting the opportunity created by Richard being separated from the main body of his army, William Stanley led his troops in support of Henry. In the ensuing melee, a number of Henry supporters, including his standard-bearer, Sir William Brandon, were killed and so was King Richard.