1485 Battle of Bosworth

Chapter 4 : Preparations

Richard's Preparations

Following the Act of Attainder of 7th December 1484, Richard issued Commissions of Array (that is, instructions to the local gentry and office holders to raise forces in the King’s name). Men were to be prepared to march at half a day’s notice. Towns on the south and east coasts were prepared to meet and repel invaders. In the new year of 1485, Richard learned that Henry was having more problems raising money and troops than the King had previously anticipated. Nevertheless, preparations continued, for which money was needed. Richard requested loans from nobles, gentry and church, hoping to raise around £10,000. As is the way of demands for money from government that are not absolutely obligatory, the response was lack-lustre.

Richard needed to step up the pressure on Henry’s supporters. A charm offensive and an agreement to issue pardons won back some of those who had defected, including Elizabeth Woodville’s brother, Richard. Her son, too, the Marquess of Dorset slipped away from Henry’s court-in-exile. Henry moved swiftly, and the Marquess was captured and ‘persuaded’ to remain at the French court.

But events on the domestic front gave fresh impetus to Richard’s problems. His wife, Anne Neville, died. Anne, the widow of Edward of Lancaster, and the daughter of the Earl of Warwick, had brought a significant inheritance to her husband. The Warwick earldom was actually the property of her mother, Anne Beauchamp. However, Countess Anne’s rights had been violated when her estates were split before her death, between her two sons-in-law, Richard and his brother Clarence, married to the Countess’ elder daughter, Isabel. The marriage of Richard and Anne had brought him much of the influence he had enjoyed in northern England, but now rumours were afloat that he had poisoned her, in order to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York.

Whilst the idea that he poisoned Anne seems very unlikely – she probably died of tuberculosis - a marriage to his niece might have crossed his mind as a good solution to the problem of defecting Yorkists, and importantly, would prevent her being available as a bride for Henry. If Richard did consider the match, he soon had to abandon it – public outrage forced him to make a declaration at the Guildhall that he had no such intentions.

The very support that Richard had enjoyed in the north of England was a problem for him – the south and the north of England were never well integrated (even five hundred years later, they are still often seen as opposed). Richard’s reliance on his northern affinity was deeply resented in the south, where Edward IV had been so popular. Despite the return of some of the defectors, more were slipping across the Channel.

New armaments were ordered – gunpowder, lead, serpentines (a type of early cannon) as well as the traditional bows and arrows. Unsure exactly when, or even if, Henry would ever land, Richard was in a state of tension. In June, he gave orders for Francis, Lord Lovell, to prepare a fleet and keep watch in the area around Southampton, whilst he moved to Nottingham Castle, an enormous stronghold, conveniently located for marching to any part of the country. He also sent out further Commissions of Array.

To enable his Commissions to have the full force of law, Richard commanded that the Great Seal, normally kept in London, be brought to him, so that his communications and all the authority not just of him personally, but of the office of kingship.

As there was no standing army in England, it was expected that the men who would be mustered under the Commissions of Array should have practised archery, and be competent to fight. Whilst by 1485 there had been some dozen or so battles in the Wars of the Roses, the most recent had been in 1471, and there had been no external wars. The vast majority of men, therefore, had little experience of warfare, and were, other than the trained troops in individual lords’ retinues, amateurs.

Henry's Preparations

In France, Henry was being treated as a Prince of England, attending Mass at Rouen Cathedral preceded only by the French ‘ Princes du sang’ – the male descendants of St Louis with a claim to the French Crown. In May, Charles VIII informed his Parliament that he had funded his ‘ dearly beloved cousin ’ as the person with the best claim to the throne of England.

Charles VIII’s hostility to Richard had several background causes. France had favoured the Lancastrian cause since the marriage of Marguerite of Anjou, niece of Charles VII, had married Henry VI, to bring about a truce between the countries. Charles VII’s son, Louis XI, had given Marguerite considerable help. Additionally, when Edward IV had invaded France, accompanied by his brother Richard, Richard was one of the few of Edward’s nobles who had disagreed with the Treaty of Picquiny, which effectively bought Edward off. Finally, Charles feared that Richard would ally with Maximilian, King of the Romans and Duke of Burgundy, to invade France.

So Charles encouraged Henry, and agreed to lend him 40,000 livres tournois – a similar amount to that given to Marguerite of Anjou in 1471. The snag was the money was to be doled out in instalments. There is, in fact, no record that any more than the first instalment of 10,000 was ever received.

Henry then showed the flair for finance that was to characterise his kingship. He borrowed money as a personal loan from one of Charles’ Councillors – the Earl’s surety, other than his possessions, were two of his entourage – John Bourchier, Lord FitzWarin, and, in a delicious irony, Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, who had previously sought to return to England. Dorset was put on oath as a Knight of the Garter to remain in France until the loan was repaid. Henry agreed to pay the costs for their keep. We can assume Henry honoured his obligations, as both later returned to England.

Henry was also informed that his mother had money set aside to pay for men. Realising that the time had come – he had 500 or so gentry and nobles already in his entourage, and money to pay for soldiers and delay could only damage his cause – Henry made ready to sail.

He gathered another 4,500 men, apparently including 1,000 Scots under the leadership of Sir Alexander Bruce, and possibly Sir Bernard Stewart (or Stuart, in the French fashion), the Sieur d’Aubigny. Sir Bernard’s cousin was the Scottish Earl of Lennox, whose descendant would one day marry Henry’s granddaughter, Lady Margaret Douglas, fathering the branch of the royal family still reigning in Britain today.

The remaining men were French ex-soldiers, largely provided by the Marshal of France, Philippe de Crevecouer, whose ultimate desire was to sow so much dissension in England that he would be able to snatch back Calais. These men, who were generally considered a rather disreputable crew, were under the leadership of Philippe de Chandée.

A fleet of thirty ships, carrying Henry, his arms, horses and men, sailed from Harfleur, making for Milford in Pembrokeshire, Jasper Tudor’s former heartland, on 1st August 1485, landing on the 7th.