On 22nd August 2021, it was exactly 536 years since The Battle of Bosworth Field ended.
A hugely significant moment in English history, the battle marked the end of the Wars of the Roses and the defeat of Richard III by Henry VII, a young usurper who launched one of the greatest royal dynasties in history.
In the UK, especially, you’re expected to have a brief working knowledge of the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors. These 7 facts will make you sound super knowledgeable in a short space of time so you can impress your friends with how much you “just love” the Tudors.
7. What is Wars of the Roses?
The Plantagenet Family ruled England for over 3 centuries. Towards the end of their reign, they became divided into two factions: Lancaster and York, and civil war emerged in the mid-fifteenth century.
The First Battle of St Albans, 1455, marks the start of the Wars of the Roses. Richard of York captured Henry VI, subsequently becoming Lord Protector. Fighting continued sporadically for the next 30 years, with both Yorkists and Lancastrians vying for the throne.
Who were Richard III and Henry Tudor?
Kind Richard III was Richard of York’s son. He took the throne in 1483 under controversial circumstances after the suspected murder of his young nephews (known as the princes in the tower) to gain his position.
Meanwhile in France, a young Welsh man named Henry Tudor, of Lancastrian descent, was being primed to take the throne. His first attempt to usurp Richard III came not long after his coronation in 1483, and ultimately, failed. But Henry was readily supplied with troops from French allies and 7th August, 1485 travelled again to England for a second attempt.
The Battle of Bosworth Field
Two weeks later, the defining moment arrived. On 22nd August 1485, the Battle of Bosworth Field began – and ended. Henry Tudor was crowned victor, marking the start of the Tudor Dynasty and the end of the Plantagenets.
It was the final battle of the Wars of the Roses and Richard and Henry, respectively, were the last King to die and King to be crowned as a result of combat.
The Tudors now mark the beginning of the Early Modern Period in English History, and the end of the Middle Ages.
6. Was Bosworth the Actual Location?
Although known as the Battle of Bosworth Field, the exact location of this final historic battle has been debated. For centuries we believed the battle’s location was the nearby Ambion Hill, where Richard had situated his troops to provide a strategic advantage.
But in 2009, new artefacts were uncovered by archaeologist Glenn Foard’s team, some 2 miles from Ambion Hill. Among those discovered was a badge emblazoned with Richard III’s emblem – a boar; confirming this field to be the new, most likely heart of the battle.
The find is one of the most historically significant of the last few decades, changing not only our viewpoint on the Battle of Bosworth Field, but uncovering methods of warfare that shaped the entirety of European war.
5. The Battlefield and Military Strategy
When Henry and Richard met on the battlefield, Richard III had the advantage with an estimated 8,000 – 12,000 troops, a far larger number than Henry’s estimated 5,000-7,000; and without the disadvantage of tiredness from over 200 miles of travel. Furthermore, Richard was an experienced military leader, whereas Henry was young with no actual battle experience.
Whilst Richard was heavily involved in the battle, Henry stayed close to the back of his own troops, relying on military advice from men more experienced – such as his appointed commander John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford.
On paper, Richard should have had it in the bag. But there was a third party, the Stanley brothers, who waited and watched, and who eventually decided the winner…
4. Lord Thomas Stanley – Kingmaker
Lord Thomas Stanley was married to Henry VII’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort; but that alone wasn’t enough to guarantee his loyalty to Henry. In fact, for the preceding years he had worked for the Yorkists, appointed as Order of the Garter and helped quash the Rebellion of Buckingham in 1483, although there is some speculation he was playing the role of double agent.
It appeared Stanley’s relationship with the Plantagenets could be classed more as an uneasy business arrangement than true loyalty.
Which is why, when he returned home from court in the summer of 1485, Richard III insisted his son be sent in his place, effectively holding the boy hostage to keep Stanley under control.
Becoming a Kingmaker
Lord Thomas Stanley and his brother Sir William Stanley at first showed no outwards preference at the Battle of Bosworth Field, they refused entreaties from Henry’s side and threats from Richard’s, choosing to station their forces in a 3rd location and watch which way the battle turned.
Despite this, there is a suggestion that they always intended to support Henry. This alone was no guarantee of loyalty and until the last moment Henry didn’t know whether to trust his stepfather would support his claim.
As Henry made his way across Wales, he was unopposed by the Stanley’s, ignoring Richard’s entreaties. Writings from the Croyland Chronicle, show Stanley refused to join Richard III of York when ordered, citing ‘sweating sickness’ as a reason; suggesting a reluctance to show loyalty to the King.
Whether Richard realised the impact of the Stanley’s decision, or simply out of desperation, he sent the Lord a message threatening to execute his son if he did not support Richard. Reportedly, Stanley’s reply was “Sire, I have other sons.” Savage.
Once the Battle turned in Henry’s favour and Richard found himself separated from the bulk of his forces, Stanley showed his true allegiance. Quickly moving in support of Henry, the addition of his 5,000 troops all but guaranteed the Tudor’s victory.
3. Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland
Although it was the Stanley’s that ultimately decided the outcome of the battle, Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland’s actions – or inaction, can also take some of the blame for Richard’s loss.
On the Yorkist side, there are two prevailing theories about the 4th Earl of Northumberland’s role in the battle. One is that he simply refused to join the fray, leaving Richard III without his support. The other is that because of the position of his troops (at the back of Richard’s army) he simply could not intervene until it was too late.
2. Richard’s Death
Richard III is painted as a hunched, unattractive and cowardly King – largely due to propaganda by the Tudors. Although not a popular monarch, he was a brave warrior in battle and was often found in the middle of the fray.
The Father of English History, contemporary Italian historian, Polydore Vergil, confirms this: “King Richard, alone, was killed fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies.”
In the end, it’s estimated Richard got within an arm’s length of Henry before falling under the volume and expertise of his strongest fighters. One of which, Welsh Lancastrian Rhys ap Thomas, may have struck the fatal blow.
Historians finally examined Richard’s remains in 2015, after the deposed King’s body was discovered under a car park in Leicester. They concluded Richard lost his helmet during the battle and of the 11 wounds to his skull, there were 2 that were most likely to have been fatal: “a large sharp force trauma possibly from a sword or staff weapon, such as a halberd or bill, and a penetrating injury from the tip of an edged weapon.”
1. The Aftermath – the Tudor Rose and Marriage
Henry’s ascension to the throne marked the end of the Wars of the Roses. Recognising the need to settle tensions between the two lines and solidify his new position, Henry Tudor declared himself King by ‘right of conquest’, retroactively dating his reign to the day before the Battle of Bosworth Field.
By doing this, he could now charge those who fought on Richard III’s side with treason and confiscate their lands and property. This helped solidify his position whilst weakening that of the Yorkists.
In a symbol of peace and unity between the Lancaster’s and the York’s, he then married Elizabeth, Richard III’s niece, merging the two households and introducing a new symbol for both – the Tudor Rose.
Henry VII reigned more or less peacefully until his death in 1509, when his son Henry VIII took over.