Bosworth Field

Henry meanwhile, had arrived at Litchfield on the 20th. His forces camped somewhere between Litchfield and Tamworth that night. Henry himself disappeared from the camp overnight, possibly to prepare his mind for the coming fight. The historian Polydor Vergil states that Henry merely got lost and spent the night incognito in a nearby town, rejoining his worried troops in the morning, excusing himself by saying that he had gone to meet certain influential friends and had received “some good news”.

Vergil goes on to state that Henry traveled to Atherstone on the 21st, to where William and Thomas Stanley were camped “taking one another by th’hand and yielding mutual salutation, each man was glad for the good state of th’others, and all their minds were moved to great joy”. Henry was further heartened when a number of Richard’s captains deserting the king, arrived with their troops to join the rebels.

Richard’s forces spent the night on Ambion Hill and, as the sun rose at 5.15 on the 22nd August 1485, he marshalled them and brought them down from the height to better array them for the battle. He disposed them in two divisions, the van ward being commanded by the Duke of Norfolk and Brackenbury, with the Earl of Northumberland in the rear. Archers were placed in front of Norfolk’s troops. Richard placed himself and his bodyguards behind Norfolk.

It must have been a daunting sight for Tudor’s men as they moved forward, seeing the might arrayed against them. Henry Tudor divided his force of 5000 in three divisions, the main centre under the experienced Earl of Oxford, plus two small flanking units under Sir John Savage on the left and Sir Gilbert Talbot on the right. An area of marshland protected his force on the right and He himself, with a small contingent of horsemen and some infantry, placed themselves some distance behind the main battle. The Stanleys meanwhile, had arrived with their force of 3000, but stood off some way to the south. Henry sent word to Lord Stanley to come and join the ranks, but Stanley replied that he would move once Henry’s forces were deployed, not a very reassuring answer at that moment!

There are a number of versions of the course of the battle, Molinet, a Burgundian historian states that Richard’s artillery engaged the front of the rebels, causing them to edge to the left exposing a gap between them and the marsh , while others talk of Richard’s hand gunners opening the battle. Vergil’s version seems the more likely. He states that Henry’s centre advanced and was met with a volley of arrows from Norfolk’s archers, causing the troops to bunch up and expose some ground between them and the marsh. This move also presented their backs to Stanley’s forces and if he were to aid Richard, now was the time. Norfolk’s troops also advanced and the two sides met with a great crash of arms. From Richard’s viewpoint he could see the gap and if he were to send his cavalry in, he could roll up Henry’s right wing in a pincer movement between them and Norfolk’s men. Richard however, had other ideas. Through the gap he could see the banners and standards of Henry and his entourage. If he could reach them and kill Henry his problems would be over. Without hesitation he charged forward, followed by his small band of retainers, aiming direct for Henry. So fierce was his assault that he tore through those surrounding Henry, slashing and cutting until he came to Henry’s standard bearer William Brandon, felling him with a blow. He next attacked a John Cheney, described as a man of great fortitude, who also fell beneath the king’s onslaught.

Behind Richard, his followers were fighting desperately against the foot soldiers who were trying to protect Henry. So fierce was the fighting that Richard’s own standard bearer, Sir Percival Thirlwell was beaten down and had both legs hacked off, but Richard’s small force came ever closer to where Henry Tudor stood. It was at this moment that the treacherous Stanley’s chose to intervene, streaming in from the south and striking the king’s forces on their left flank. Stanley had chosen his moment well. He knew that Richard would not forgive his failure to act earlier and also knew that Henry, now in deep trouble, would be suitably grateful for this timely intervention.  Panic spread through Richard’s men and many turned and fled, suffering much slaughter in their flight. Many others surrendered, including Northumberland’s division which had taken no part in the battle, either because he had not had time to deploy or, as Vergil suggests, he was keeping his options open. The speed of the surrender accounts for the relatively small number of deaths during the battle. Vergil estimates that royalist losses were 1000, while Henry Tudor’s amounted to no more than 100, but Molinet suggests 300 deaths on either side.

Richard meanwhile, with his army disintegrating around him was now surrounded, many of his knights had been unhorsed and were fighting on foot, his followers urged Richard to escape but he replied “God forbid that I yield one step. This day I will die as a king or win”. With his horse bogged down in the marshy ground, Richard bravely struck at his enemies until at last he was pulled from his horse and hacked to death. While history has been cruel to Richard, there is no doubt of his bravery and fortitude when facing his death.

Virgil states that, following the battle, Henry “got himself to a near hill” where he commanded his troops to tend the wounded and bury the dead. He praised the nobility and gentlemen with his immortal thanks, promising that he “would be mindful of their benefits”. The troops replied with great shouts of “God save King Henry” and Lord Stanley placed the golden coronet, so recently on the helm of Richard, on Henry’s head.

Richard’s naked body was slung across a horse, with one of his heralds being forced to ride it and taken to Leicester and left on show for two days for all to see at the church of St Mary, following which he was buried without ceremony at Grey Friars near St Martin's church.

Richard’s death ended the bloody dynastic War of the Roses and ushered in a new age. The uniting of York and Lancaster with Henry’s marriage to Elizabeth secured the throne for the Tudors and finally brought peace to England.

About The Author

Since his retirement Jim Keys has indulged his passion for history, writing two books on Britain’s past: The Dark Ages and The Bloody Crown. He is currently writing the last of the trilogy, Fighting Brits which covers Britain’s military struggles from the Armada to Afghanistan. Read more about Jim »