1485 Battle of Bosworth

Chapter 3 : Chief Protagonists

Richard III

Richard was thirty-two years old, and a veteran of the 1471 Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury which had reasserted his brother, Edward IV’s, hold on the throne. He had also campaigned extensively in the continuous low-level border warfare with Scotland.

Richard had spent much of his youth in the household of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick ( 'Warwick the Kingmaker') who was a talented general, and one of the most important figures in the Wars of the Roses. Edward IV, Richard’s brother, was also an extremely able commander, and won every battle he fought in. We can assume, therefore, that Richard had an excellent grasp of military tactics. He is known to had a copy of the Roman military tactician, Vegetius,’ book ‘ The Epitome of Military Science’ in his library. He was also the incumbent, with all of the resources that implies.

Richard's Commanders

Richard’s right hand man was John Howard, Duke of Norfolk. Despite being nearly thirty years older than Richard, they had been friends and associates for a long time. Norfolk was in command of Richard’s vanguard. During his youth, Norfolk had fought in the last campaign of the French wars, which led to the final defeat of the English at Castillon on 13th July 1452. Nine years later, he was present, for York at the Battle of Towton. One of the early chroniclers of the battle, Edward Hall, recorded that on Norfolk’s tent a placard with the following words was pinned ‘Jockey (John) of Norfolk, be not too bold, for Dickon, thy master, is bought and sold.’

Another of Richard’s commanders was Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland. Northumberland’s grandfather and father had both been killed fighting for Lancaster at the 1 st Battle of St Albans, and at Towton respectively. Following the latter battle, Percy, aged around 12, was put into the care of Sir William Herbert, a close associate of Edward IV. He was sent to Herbert’s seat at Raglan, where he met Herbert’s other ward, Henry Tudor. He later married Herbert’s elder daughter, Maud.

In 1469, Edward IV permitted Percy to inherit his earldom. Perhaps in gratitude, Northumberland took no part in the Readeption of Henry VI, and, when Edward IV landed in Yorkshire to try to regain the throne, although he did not join him, he did not prevent his passage. Northumberland was restored to the traditional Percy Wardenship of the Eastern March. In this role, he formed a working relationship with Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) but there were tensions as the two struggled for power and influence. Nevertheless, Northumberland had supported Richard when he replaced Edward V.

Henry Tudor

Henry, although aged 28, had never fought in a battle. He had been present, in the company of his guardian, the Yorkist Earl of Pembroke, Sir William Herbert, at the Battle of Edgecote in 1468, but how much he saw of the fighting is unknown. Like any young man of his class, during his childhood at that same Earl’s castle of Raglan, he had been taught to ride, to use a sword and to master archery – there is a record of his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, sending him money for bows and arrows.

He would also have had plenty of time in his exile in Brittany to study the theory of war, and to learn from his uncle, Jasper Tudor, the Lancastrian Earl of Pembroke, about the practical reality. Nevertheless, his military experience could not be compared with Richard’s.

Henry's Commanders

Chief amongst Henry’s men was John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford. His family had been faithful Lancastrians, with his father and brother being executed by Edward IV in 1462. Aged twenty, the new earl was permitted to inherit, as part of Edward IV’s strategy of reconciliation, but as soon as Warwick’s attempt to put Henry VI back on the throne began, Oxford joined the Lancastrians. He was present at Edgecote, a battle won by Warwick, and he also commanded the Lancastrian right wing at Barnet.

The battle was lost when Oxford’s men, returning from chasing the broken lines of the Yorkist, Lord Hastings, were mistaken by Warwick’s men for Edward IV’s troops. The cause of the confusion was the similarity of Oxford’s badge of the star, and Edward IV’s sun-in-splendour. Oxford, believing Warwick had turned coat again, fled the field. He occupied St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, but was eventually captured and imprisoned in Hammes Castle, one of the Calais forts. In 1484 he talked his warder, Sir James Blount into leaving Hammes with him, to join Henry’s forces. His arrival led to Henry being ‘ravished with joy.’

Henry’s other military man was his paternal uncle, Jasper Tudor. Jasper had led the Lancastrians at the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross – which he had lost, and had also been at the Battle of Barnet, under Warwick – another Yorkist victory. He had been significantly more successful in guerrilla and siege warfare, and was always very successful at raising troops. It is not actually proven that Jasper was at the Battle of Bosworth, although his presence seems very likely.

A third leader in Henry’s army was Sir Rhys ap Thomas, whose family had supported both York and Lancaster at different times, but who seems to have had a long-term affinity with Jasper. He brought some 500 men to Henry, and it was his support that enabled Henry to march unmolested through South Wales, and into England.

The Stanleys

The Stanley brothers, Thomas and William, were the wild cards. Thomas was Henry’s step-father, although the two had never met prior to Henry’s march through England towards the battlefield. Stanley’s son, Lord Strange, was being held by Richard as a hostage. The Stanleys were the most powerful family in north-west England. In the early years of the war, they were considered to be Lancastrian supporters, although Thomas Stanley achieved the remarkable feat of never actually engaging his forces throughout the entire war. He accepted Edward IV as King and served as his Chamberlain.

When Richard III took the throne, Stanley appeared to support him, and, together with his wife, Lady Margaret Beaufort, took part in the coronation. His wife soon became embroiled in Buckingham’s rebellion. Following her attainder and the confiscation of her lands, they were granted to Stanley. As Lady Margaret continued to send money to her son in exile, funds to which she could only have had access to through him, it seems reasonable to suppose that Stanley turned a blind eye to her activities.