Bosworth Field

Rumour and unrest was rife and letters were sent to the exiled Earl of Richmond, Henry Tudor, to invade, assuring him of support in driving Richard from the throne, Richard’s long time friend Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who had done so much to aid Richard in his elevation, now chose this time to change coats and join the rebels. He urged Henry Tudor to hasten to England and suggested marriage to Elisabeth, the eldest daughter of the late king, and together with her, take possession of the English throne. Buckingham promised armed support for Henry and began raising troops. Richard, through his many spies, got wind of the plotting and stationed loyal troops at strategic points in the West Country and on the Welsh borders to forestall any invasion plans. Bad weather in the channel forced Henry and his forces back to Brittanny. Without the promised invasion, Buckingham’s support faded away. Buckingham was named a traitor and was now a hunted man. He exchanged his lavish clothes for peasant’s rags and sought refuge in the lowly house of his servant Ralph Bannaster of Wem. Bannaster however, betrayed Buckingham who was taken to Salisbury and beheaded in the market square on 2nd November 1483.

Richard with a large army moved on westward determined to destroy any armed opposition and by the time he had reached Exeter, the rebel leaders had fled. Richard with his usual cunning confiscated the estates of the rebels and redistributed them among his northern supporters to the great chagrin of the south. Richard, with his cronies Lovell, Ratcliffe and Catesby now ruled with little reference to parliament, thus causing a seditious rhyme to circulate, a copy of which was found fastened to the Cross in Cheap side, reading, “The Cat, the Rat and Lovell our dog, now rule all England under a Hog”, a white boar being the motif on Richard’s personal livery. Two Londoners, Collingwood and Turbeville were arrested for this and imprisoned. At the subsequent trial, Collingwood was found guilty and sentenced to be hanged, drawn and his bowels cast into the fire. This was so swiftly and expertly done that it is said that. When the butcher pulled out his heart he spoke and said “Jesus, Jesus”.

At Christmas 1484, Richard learned from his spies overseas that Henry Tudor was preparing another invasion. The news pleased Richard for he realized that this could be the opportunity to rid himself at last of this final opposition. To fight however, he would need money and accordingly resurrected King Edward’s practice of “benevolences” whereby he sent collectors throughout the country, examining the accounts of all and extracting taxes there from. This move further alienated him from the populace.

Following the death of his wife, he had began to pay much attention to his brother’s eldest daughter, Elisabeth of York and rumors spread that he was to marry her and thus add more legitimacy to his claim to the crown. At this suggestion, even his closest confidantes Catesby and Ratcliffe were appalled. They made it clear that any such arrangement would alienate his support in the north and that even the Pope would refuse to condone a marriage of such close sanguinity. There was a measure of self interest in their protests as, should Elisabeth become queen, she could exact great revenge on those who had assisted in the reputed murder of her brothers. Their argument prevailed and in August, in the great Hall of St John’s hospital, Richard denied that marriage had ever crossed his mind and threatening anyone repeating the allegation with imprisonment.

On the 7th August 1485, Henry Tudor landed at Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire with a small force. His Tudor heritage earned him some support in Wales and his force grew as he moved east.  On hearing this, Richard was said to have rejoiced, writing to his supporters in every quarter that the hour of reckoning had come and he could finally rid himself of the last claimant to the throne and rule thereafter in tranquility. He sent out further letters demanding that all men of rank must now support him and that any man found not to have done so after the battle would lose not only his life, but his estates and titles too.

Richard’s mistrust of those around him can be clearly seen when his seneschal, Lord Thomas Stanley, requested permission to return to his estates in Lancashire. Richard agreed, but insisted that Stanley’s son, Lord Strange remained with the king as a hostage to ensure loyalty. Richard must have been all too aware of the conflicting loyalties facing Thomas Stanley, who had married Henry Tudor’s widowed mother, Margaret Beaufort. Could Margaret persuade him to change sides and support the invasion? Richard did not want to risk this and sent orders for Lord Stanley to meet him at Nottingham. Lord Stanley wrote to the king, begging to be excused and claiming that he had sweating sickness. Further, Lord Stanley’s brother William was Lord Chamberlain of North Wales and in sole command of forces that might counter any advance by Henry Tudor. Richard realized the danger in the situation and, learning that the young Lord Strange had attempted to escape, had him questioned, revealing that the William Stanley and his henchman Sir John Savage had planned to join Henry Tudor all along, but that his father Thomas remained loyal.  Richard forced Strange to write to his father, explaining his plight and urging him to join the king without delay. He had both nobles declared traitors and moved northwards gathering forces as he went.

Henry Tudor gathered forces as he neared Welshpool and more Welshmen joined at a muster outside the town. He felt sufficiently strong to demand the surrender of Shrewsbury which, after a few days resistance, capitulated. With Wales largely pro Tudor, Richard summoned his forces to meet at Leicester, but not all answered the call. An extract from a letter written by the Duke of Norfolk to a John Paston,  head of a family of Norfolk gentry reads “Wherefore I pray you meet me at Bury St Edmunds and that you bring with you such company of tall men as you may goodly make at my cost and charge besides, that which you have promised the king , and I pray, you ordain them with jackets of my livery and I shall content you at your meeting with me”.There is no record of Paston having brought any men badged with Norfolk’s white lion to the muster, but it is known that he was created Sheriff of Norfolk some two months later under Henry Tudor’s rule, possibly a reward for his reticence?

Treachery was in the air and many nobles were choosing sides based on their reckoning of who would triumph in the forthcoming battle. Even those on their way to Leicester to join the king were not to be trusted with those such as Sir Thomas Bourchier and Sir Walter Hungerford slipping away at Stony Stratford to join the rebels.

Richard celebrated the Feast of the Assumption of Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15th, demonstrating his confidence at the time, but shortly afterwards learned of the mass defections in Wales, plus the surrender of Shrewsbury.  By now he must have realized that he was not going to get the total support that he expected from the nobility. Norfolk continued raising troops but the Earl of Northumberland was proving less prompt, causing Richard to issue a summons for troops from York on 16th August.

Henry meanwhile, moved eastwards, keeping an escape route open into Wales. At Newport he was joined by Sir Gilbert Talbot, an important landowner, bringing with him 500 men. This was Henry’s first major English contingent and must have heartened him. It is known that William Stanley met up with Henry Tudor at Stafford where he explained that his brother Thomas could not declare for Henry until the last possible moment without condemning Lord Strange, his son, to death. Lord Stanley with his forces reached Litchfield on August 17th, then moved eastwards, retreating in front of Henry to give the impression that he was making for Richard’s muster at Leicester.

Richard left Nottingham on the 20th August and joined the muster at Leicester. His forces, reckoned by now to be between 10000 and 15000 strong and led by the Duke of Norfolk, and Earls of Northumberland, Surrey, Lincoln and Shrewsbury in what the Croyland Chronicle called “numbers greater than had ever seen before in England collected together on behalf of one person”, moved through Peckleton and Kirkby Mallory.  On the 21st,At Sutton Cheney,  learning through his scouts that Henry was nearing White Moors, he positioned his troops up on the commanding ground of Ambion Hill, west of Sutton Cheney and close to the village of Market Bosworth.