The Battle of Bosworth Field


Photo courtesy of Des Knock
© 2005

On the morning of August 22nd, two armies faced each other in a field ringed by the villages of Dadlington, Shenton, Upton and Stoke Golding. King Richard held the advantage with an estimated 12,000 troops. He drew up his men in a column battle order, a long line of bowmen in front with cavalry on either side. The van was commanded by John Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, behind which was a body of men-at-arms under Richard’s personal command, and, as rearguard, some 3,000 men under the Earl of Northumberland.

The 5,000-strong Tudor army, was composed largely of French and German mercenaries and Welsh di

ssidents. Formed in line, John de Vere, Earl of Oxford held the van, with Sir Gilbert Talbot on the right and Sir John Savage on the left. Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond was in a secure position behind the main lines with his personal bodyguard.

Two other forces also assembled; one, to the north of the field, was led by Sir William Stanley. To the south, another host was commanded by his brother, Lord Thomas Stanley. Lord Stanley, who was married to Margaret Beaufort, had the distinction of being Henry Tudor’s step-father.

“The king had the artillery of his army fire on the earl of Richmond, and so the French, knowing by the king’s shot the lie of the land and the order of his battle, resolved, in order to avoid the fire, to mass their troops against the flank rather than the front of the king’s battle.” (Jean Molinet – 1490)

The Battle of Bosworth commenced as the Earl of Oxford led the Tudor troops to the attack. Their advance up the slope of Ambion Hill struggled against a cloud of arrows and cannon. The Duke of Norfolk launched a counteroffensive, which smashed into the Lancastrians, forcing them back. Quickly, Oxford formed his troops into a wedge around their banners, and they held their own in fierce hand-to-hand fighting. Norfolk’s men retreated briefly, disconcerted at this unorthodox formation, but then renewed the attack.

Meanwhile, the Stanley armies remained apart from the battle, waiting to see which way the tide turned.

That turning came when, in the midst of the melee, the Duke of Norfolk was killed, and his son, the Earl of Surrey, was captured. Henry and his bodyguard — some 50 men — galloped off toward Sir William Stanley’s position, perhaps to solicit his support to press home the advantage.

Richard saw the movement of men and banners, recognized Henry’s aim, and leading his own bodyguard, he spurred his horse through the battling vanguards towards Tudor. His assault crashed into Henry’s retinue. Richard’s first blows killed Henry’s standard-bearer, Henry Brandon, causing Tudor’s Red Dragon banner to be trampled into the mire. With his battle axe, Richard continued to bludgeon his way towards Henry Tudor, unhorsing the giant Sir John Cheyney.

He was within feet of his target, when the brunt of Sir William Stanley’s army collided with the small Yorkist force. Within minutes, Stanley’s troops flooded the field and tipped the battle in Henry’s favour. Meanwhile, the Earl of Northumberland remained behind Ambion Hill, unaware of Richard’s dire need, or unwilling to become involved.

His horse, White Surrey, killed under him, Richard found himself stranded with a dwindling bodyguard, hard-pressed by Stanley’s troops. He resisted an opportunity to escape and refused the offer of another horse (contrary to Shakespeare’s account). Crying “Treason! Treason!”, he continued to flail at the enemy with his battle axe as his loyal friends fell in his defence.

Though he was “pierced with numerous and deadly wounds,” his death came from a heavy blow to the head that smashed his helmet, knocking off his crown, which came to lie, as legend would have it, under a hawthorn bush.

With King Richard’s death, his army lost heart and fled. Oxford’s troops pursued and slaughtered many Yorkists in flight. Richard became the last English king to die as a soldier — in a battle which lasted only two hours and was over by 8 a.m.

A few days later, the Civic Records of the city of York, recorded: “King Richard, late mercifully reigning upon us, was…piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this City…”













Bosworth Field Today …

(Above) The view over the original site of the battlefield, looking toward Market Bosworth
from Ambion Hill (6 Jul 10)



(Below) The confirmed site of the battlefield, towards Fenn Lane, beyond the treeline
in the mid-ground, just glimpsed through the trees at left (6 Jul 10)

Related Links

Link to: The Fate of Richard III’s Body by John Ashdown-Hill

Link to Bosworth Battlefield

Link to Battle of Bosworth: dig finally pins down long disputed site from The Guardian of October 28, 2009

There’s a video, a good look at the boar badge, and a map here (commercial first):

And in the Daily Mail, whose historical accuracy leaves something to be desired: