Fighting Bosworth

Chapter 2 : Divided Loyalties

What of the support of the nobility? Thirty-eight English peers had been summoned to Parliament in 1484, yet only five can be proved to have joined Richard and fight for his cause, being listed in Henry’s Act of Attainder. In their absence and prevarication, the nobility had settled Richard’s fate. William Berkeley, the Earl of Nottingham, for instance, may have been present at the battle, but whether he actually engaged is another matter. He must have had divided loyalties: Berkeley, thirty years older than Tudor, seems to have known him from his time when he was resident at the Herbert household at Raglan between 1462 and 1469, since he testified in January 1486 that he had known Henry ‘ well for twenty years and more’.[1] A family history written in the seventeenth century attests to the earl’s decision to neither declare for one side or the other, stating that while he had sent men to the king’s side, he had sent money to Tudor, and ‘ neither of both with his person’ so that ‘he preserved the favour of both, at least lost neither of them’.[2]

The Ballad of Bosworth Field lists 23 names of the nobility who were apparently at the battle, but the poem itself is inaccurate and inconsistent, and cannot be relied upon to provide a reliable list of participants. Even if the ballad is correct and all 23 had been at the battle, there is no guarantee that they all actually fought for Richard. It remains particularly striking, for instance, that all the northern magnates were not later attainted: Northumberland, Westmorland, the two Lord Scropes, Lord Greystoke, Lord Dacre, Lord Fitzhugh and Lord Lumley. According to the Crowland Chronicler, ‘ many, for the most part those northerners in whom King Richard had so trusted, took flight before it came to hand-to-hand fighting ’. In particular, ‘ where the Earl of Northumberland stood, with a troop of a size and quality befitting his rank, no opposing force was visible, and no blows were exchanged in anger ’.[3]

Coat of arms of Sir Henry Percy 4th Earl of Northumberland KG
Coat of arms of Sir Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland (1446 - 1489)

Northumberland’s inaction was as decisive as the Stanleys’ decision to support Henry Tudor. Like so many individual examples from the battle, Bosworth was to be fought with the past in mind. Northumberland had long felt undermined by Richard, when, as Duke of Gloucester, he had increased his landholdings in the North, and sought to enhance his influence by retaining men in the area, many who had previously been loyal retainers of the Percies. In doing so, he came into competition with Northumberland, as former men of the earl’s swore service to the Duke. As Richard’s growing power continued to undermine the traditional authority of the Percies, tensions came to a head.

It is possible of course that Northumberland had grander designs in mind. The Spanish observer Valera suggested that Henry was later assured that ‘Tamorlant’, alias Northumberland, ‘in spite of the assistance rendered him during the battle ’ ‘had not really intended this Henry to be king, but had rather arranged for a son of the Duke of Clarence to become king and to marry a daughter of his ’. As a result, Henry had ‘him seized and held in prison until he handed over that son of the Duke of Clarence and did him homage together with two Earls his relatives, promising to serve him always like loyal vassals ’.[4] We know that Northumberland was imprisoned by Henry after the battle, though seems to have been released shortly before 6 December, when Giovanni de’ Gigli reported the earl’s release as a recent event. [5]

Henry quickly forgave Northumberland. He was made warden-general of the East and Middle marches.[6] The earl's subsequent energetic enforcement of Tudor policy in the region marked him as the leading instrument of an unpopular regime. These developments so undermined the earl's standing among his retainers that they failed to protect him, instead leaving him to be killed when he confronted a mob of protesters at South Kilvington, just outside Thirsk, on 28 April 1489. Henry issued a proclamation against the ‘rebels’ who had ‘ against all humanity cruelly murdered and destroyed his most dear cousin’.[7] Though the author of the Great Chronicle of London remarked that he had died for reason of the ‘deadly malice for the disappointing of king Richard at Bosworth field’.[8]

[1] Calendar of Papal Registers XIV 1484-92 (1960) pp.17-21.
[2] John Smith of Nibley, The Berkeley Manuscripts pp. 127-8.
[3] Hanham, p.57.
[4] Bulletin of Spanish Studies, p.36.
[5] Materials, I 198-9.
[6] Materials I pp.242-43.
[7] Materials II p.447.
[8] Great Chronicle, p.242.