I am pleased to welcome author Amy License to the Tudor Book Blog today. To celebrate her virtual tour, she has given us a "juicy" excerpt from her book Richard III: the Road to Leicester.
Taken from the chapters ‘Bosworth: August 1485’ and ‘Aftermath: 1485-2012’:
"If he was troubled by deserters or bad dreams, Richard’s mood on the morning of 22 August did not betray it. He assembled his men near Fenn Lane, between the villages of Dadlington, Sutton Cheney and Shenton. Vergil confirms the presence of this marsh and it was here that a recent excavation unearthed one of Richard’s gilt boar badges. For centuries Ambion Hill had been the favoured location but excavations in 2010 showed that it was likely to have been fought over a mile and a half away and spread over a considerable distance.14 They may have been between 8,000 and 10,000 strong, although some sources place the number much higher, and were led by Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk; his son Thomas, Earl of Surrey; and Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland. The Tudor army was about half their size, under the command of John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, and the Breton Philibert de Chandée. Vergil estimated their number at 5,000.
The moment was approaching. Richard paraded before his assembled troops, delivering a rousing speech against the Welsh ‘milksop’ and displaying both the crown and a large cross. This was designed to demonstrate that God was on his side, as a pious, anointed King of England. When Tudor’s army advanced midmorning, they found themselves under bombardment from Richard’s artillery. This was unexpected and forced them to respond quickly, regrouping themselves around the marsh. Croyland says that at this point, Richard saw the chance to attack them; his army ‘assaulted’ them with arrows, making ‘great showtes’ before descending into brutal hand-to-hand fighting. Something made them stop and regroup though, after which Tudor’s French forces appeared on Norfolk’s flank with the sun behind them. They crashed through the army with longspears and probably inspired the king’s comment, mentioned in a letter quoted by Alfred Spont in 1897, that ‘these French traitors are today the cause of our realm’s ruin’. Vergil states that this was the point when Richard was urged to flee the battlefield, but he chose to remain.
Perhaps this was when he spotted Henry, coming up with the rearguard of his army. His standards of the Red Dragon, St George and the Dun Cow were visible beyond the fighting, isolated from the main body of troops. Only a small group of troops huddled about him and Oxford was too far to come to his assistance. It presented an ideal opportunity; if Richard could charge down the hill and kill his opponent, the battle was his. Although writers like Holinshed presented Richard launching himself lion-like into hand-to-hand fighting with Henry, the fragment of a letter written by a surviving French soldier suggests that they were separated by a formation of pikemen. It seems likely that the hired mercenaries clustered protectively around Tudor but that he was still in grave danger, as Richard was close enough to kill his standard bearer, Sir William Brandon, and unseat Sir John Cheyney from his horse. It was at this moment, when Henry’s life was in ‘immediate danger’, that the Stanleys entered the field, on behalf of Sir Thomas’s stepson. Charging downhill at the head of 3,000 men, the new arrival took Richard by surprise and he was pushed back into the nearby marshland, according to a number of writers. Here, he lost his horse and possibly his helmet before, in Molinet’s words, a Welshman ‘struck him dead with a halberd’. A proclamation later issued by Tudor stated that he died at a place known as Sandeford, although the exact location of this has now been lost.
Even historians negative in their portrayals of Richard have acknowledged his bravery on the field of battle. During his lifetime, Mancini acknowledged his ‘renown in warfare’, Whitelaw recognised his ‘greatest valour’ and Edward IV wrote of his brother’s ‘proved skill in military matters’ in a letter to the Pope. Vergil wrote in 1520 that Richard’s courage was ‘high and fierce’ and that he fought ‘manfully’. In The Ballad of Bosworth Field, Richard is offered a fresh horse as a means of escaping the scene, with his knight suggesting that ‘another day thou may thy worshipp win’ and return again to rule. Richard replied that he would never flee so long as breath remained in his body. Then the poet, who possibly fought for the Stanleys and was in the thick of battle at this point, records that the king’s crown of gold was ‘hewn’ from him; other sources suggest that his helmet was beaten into his head. Death would follow swiftly afterwards, but his final moments would not be fully understood until the examination of his bones in 2012. With the loss of Richard III, the battle was over.
Word flew across the battlefield that the king had been killed. The fighting would have spread well away from the spot where Richard fell but gradually, the men were stilled by the news. They lowered their swords and axes and withdrew, to get their wounds attended to, to pray and to rest. According to William Hutton, writing in 1788, Richard’s crown was lost in his ‘last fiery struggle’, being found or concealed by ‘a private soldier’ in a hawthorn bush, ‘perhaps with a view to secure it for himself’.1 This must have been a lightweight coronet, specifically designed to sit around his crown; Ashdown-Hill speculates that it may have been gold or gilded metal, set with jewels or paste, of sufficient value to attract a thief. It was discovered by Sir Reginald Bray and handed to Stanley, who used it to crown Henry VII at once where they stood. The Tudor dynasty had begun. In the immediate aftermath, the field was scattered with bodies and debris. Estimates for the number of dead vary from the 10,000 given by the Castilian Report to Molinet’s 300 on either side.2 In the lull between Richard’s death and the cessation of all conflict, looters moved quickly among the bodies, stripping them of clothing, valuables or pieces of armour that could be melted down. Hutton includes examples of the way local people were still using their finds from the area 300 years later: a blacksmith living nearby was still using a sword blade as a drill and an old woman used another for a spit for roasting meat. Other trophies were collected too; Sir William Stanley selected a set of tapestries from Richard’s baggage train while Margaret Beaufort received his personal prayer book. The debris must have spread for miles and search parties would have been sent out to identify those who had been lost. Among them, in the swampy marshland, they found the body of the dead king.
As Croyland describes, Richard’s body was offered ‘many other insults’ and treated with ‘insufficient humanity’. Naked, he was thrown across the back of a horse, with a rope about his neck5 and his hands tied. Then he was brought back into Leicester on the same route by which he had ridden out in glorious splendour. The examination of his bones revealed that he had been inflicted with at least one humiliation injury, stabbed in the buttock, probably on this journey. Legend has it that his head struck upon Bow Bridge as they arrived, just as his spur had done, by ill omen, as he rode to battle. Holinshed records that he was uncovered, with ‘not so much as a clout to cover his privie members’ and carried ‘trussed … like a hog or calfe, his head and armes hanging on the one side of the horse, and his legs on the other side, and all besprinkled with mire and blood’. His white boar badge was ‘violently razed and plucked down from every sign’ because those rejoicing at his death ‘wished the memorie of him to be buried with his carren corpse’."