Go in­side Richard III’S great­est bat­tle


The Lan­cas­tri­ans de­ploy

Af­ter ar­riv­ing out­side Tewkes­bury fol­low­ing a forced march, the Lan­cas­tri­ans de­ploy in three di­vi­sions known as ‘bat­tles’ in fields south of the town. Som­er­set and the earl of Devon com­mand the right and left flanks re­spec­tively. Lord Wen­lock has com­mand of the cen­tre, ac­com­pa­nied by Prince Ed­ward of West­min­ster. Queen Mar­garet of An­jou is the Lan­cas­trian fig­ure­head but she takes refuge away from the battlefield.

Richard at­tacks

Ed­ward IV’S army ar­rives on the field and he com­mands the York­ist cen­tre. Lord Hast­ings com­mands the right and Richard the left. Ditches, dykes and hedges dom­i­nate the battlefield and Ed­ward hides 200 spear­men away from his left flank as a pre­cau­tion. Richard be­gins the bat­tle by bom­bard­ing Som­er­set’s di­vi­sion with vol­leys of ar­rows and ar­tillery fire. The noise cre­ates chaos and con­fu­sion among the Lan­cas­trian lines and Som­er­set at­tempts to ad­vance and out­flank Richard’s po­si­tion.

Wen­lock fails to as­sist Som­er­set

Richard turns his di­vi­sion to face Som­er­set and many of his men shel­ter be­hind a hedge be­fore at­tack­ing. The Lan­cas­trian mo­men­tum breaks and a sec­tion of Ed­ward IV’S di­vi­sion as­sist Richard. Som­er­set ap­peals to Wen­lock for re­in­force­ments but the Lan­cas­trian cen­tre re­mains in its po­si­tion. The York­ist spear­men then ap­pear from the woods on the left and at­tack Som­er­set’s rear. His men flee to­wards Tewkes­bury.

Som­er­set kills Wen­lock

Ed­ward IV uses Richard’s de­ter­minedly suc­cess­ful fight­ing against Som­er­set to launch a gen­eral ad­vance. The tall king is highly vis­i­ble and fights with great vigour. Som­er­set re­treats to the Lan­cas­trian cen­tre, de­nounces Wen­lock as a traitor and per­son­ally kills him. It is later writ­ten that Som­er­set kills Wen­lock by strik­ing his brains out with an axe.

“The york­ist spear­men then ap­pear from the woods on the left and at­tack Som­er­set’s rear”

A fu­tile sanc­tu­ary

Som­er­set and other Lan­cas­tri­ans take refuge in Tewkes­bury Abbey but Ed­ward drags them out af­ter two days, quickly has them tried, and ex­e­cutes them.

The York­ists are vic­to­ri­ous and the Lan­cas­tri­ans lose around 2,000 men in­clud­ing Som­er­set, Devon, Wen­lock and Prince Ed­ward. Queen Mar­garet is cap­tured and pa­raded back to Lon­don in tri­umph.

The Bloody Meadow

Many Lan­cas­tri­ans be­come trapped near the River Sev­ern and ei­ther drown or are killed by the pur­su­ing York­ists through dykes and hedges.

Such is the scale of the killing that the area be­comes known as the Bloody Meadow.

had not sup­ported the at­tack against Richard. The Lan­cas­tri­ans were in to­tal rout and many sought sanc­tu­ary in Tewkes­bury Abbey, in­clud­ing Som­er­set.

Ed­ward dragged Som­er­set and other Lan­cas­tri­ans out of the abbey and Richard over­saw their trial in his ca­pac­ity as Con­sta­ble of Eng­land. These men were sen­tenced to death and be­headed in Tewkes­bury mar­ket­place.

Tewkes­bury de­ci­sively de­stroyed the Lan­cas­tri­ans. Mar­garet was cap­tured, Prince Ed­ward and other lead­ing fig­ures were killed and Jasper Tu­dor (along with his nephew Henry) went into ex­ile. On 21 May 1471, Ed­ward re-en­tered Lon­don in a pro­ces­sion that was led by Richard with Mar­garet pa­raded in a char­iot.

Richard then vis­ited the Tower of Lon­don on the same evening with a del­e­ga­tion of no­ble­men. The cap­tive Henry VI of­fi­cially died that night of “melan­choly” but it is more likely that Ed­ward or­dered him to be mur­dered. It is un­known what Richard’s di­rect in­volve­ment in Henry’s death was, but he was now Ed­ward’s favourite gen­eral and a sea­soned soldier at the age of 19.

It should also be noted that in ado­les­cence, Richard had de­vel­oped id­io­pathic sco­l­io­sis (cur­va­ture of the spine) that lifted his right shoul­der higher than his left. This con­di­tion com­monly de­vel­oped be­tween the ages of ten and 18 and as he grew older his curved spine would have put pres­sure on his lungs and per­haps caused short­ness of breath.

How­ever, Richard would not have been con­sid­ered de­formed. He did not limp and good tai­lor­ing and cus­tom-made ar­mour could dis­guise the sco­l­io­sis. Per­haps the only ef­fect the con­di­tion would have had on Richard was that it might have made him more de­ter­mined to prove him­self as a war­rior, par­tic­u­larly com­pared to his strap­ping brother Ed­ward. Richard’s fight­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties were cer­tainly undis­puted, which was no mean feat for some­one with a slight dis­abil­ity.

Chastis­ing the Scots

For the rest of Ed­ward’s reign, Richard was his pre­em­i­nent com­man­der. Bar­net and Tewkes­bury gave him pres­tige while his roles as Con­sta­ble and Ad­mi­ral of Eng­land al­lowed him a con­sid­er­able mil­i­tary author­ity sec­ond only to the king. Richard’s in­ter­est in mar­tial af­fairs was gen­uine and his book col­lec­tion re­flected a fas­ci­na­tion with chivalry.

When Ed­ward in­vaded France in 1475, Richard op­posed the re­sult­ing Treaty of Pic­quigny be­cause it de­nied him the chance to emu­late the ex­ploits of his fa­ther, who with Lord Tal­bot, had al­most cap­tured Charles VII in 1441 dur­ing a dar­ing cam­paign.

By the late 1470s, Richard rarely ap­peared at court be­cause of his ad­min­is­tra­tive du­ties in gov­ern­ing the north of Eng­land. He was also able to gain fur­ther fight­ing ex­pe­ri­ence from An­glo­di­vi­sion

Henry Tu­dor marched more than 200 miles from Wales to fight Richard III at Bos­worth

Scot­tish war­fare. In 1480, James III of Scot­land broke his treaty with Eng­land and the Scots be­gan ex­ten­sive bor­der raids.

Ed­ward ap­pointed Richard as his Lieu­tenant Gen­eral in the north and an Ital­ian vis­i­tor to Eng­land, Do­minic Mancini, noted, “Such was his renown in war that when­ever a dif­fi­cult and dan­ger­ous pol­icy had to be un­der­taken, it would be en­trusted to him.” James’s brother, the Duke of Al­bany, treach­er­ously promised to as­sist Ed­ward in re­turn for the Scot­tish crown. Al­bany ac­com­pa­nied Richard when the English in­va­sion be­gan in the sum­mer of 1482. Richard com­manded ap­prox­i­mately 20,000 men and laid siege to the im­por­tant bor­der town of Ber­wick­upon-tweed. Ber­wick had changed hands many times over the cen­turies but in 1482 it was un­der Scot­tish rule. While the English laid siege to the town James III as­sem­bled an army to march south but he was im­pris­oned by his own no­bles at Ed­in­burgh Cas­tle. Richard broke off from Ber­wick and marched north, leav­ing Thomas, Lord Stan­ley in charge of the siege.

He burned Scot­tish towns and vil­lages en route be­fore cap­tur­ing Ed­in­burgh by early Au­gust.

Richard had reached the Scot­tish cap­i­tal with­out los­ing any men and con­trolled the city by or­der­ing his troops to re­frain from mo­lest­ing the cit­i­zens or steal­ing goods. The Scots asked for a truce and Richard won great con­ces­sions.

Al­bany would swear al­le­giance to James in re­turn for re­stored es­tates and the English would peace­ably leave Ed­in­burgh if the Scots aban­doned Ber­wick. The Scots, who were in no po­si­tion to fight, agreed and Richard ea­gerly sped back to Ber­wick. Some Scot­tish troops at­tempted to raise the siege but Richard forced them back. The town’s cas­tle fell on 24 Au­gust and Ber­wick has re­mained English ever since.

The Scot­tish cam­paign was the most tri­umphant of Richard’s mil­i­tary ca­reer. When Ed­ward IV heard the news of Ber­wick’s cap­ture he was ex­ul­tant.

He ju­bi­lantly wrote of Richard to the pope and thanked, “God, the giver of all gifts, for the sup­port re­ceived from our most lov­ing brother, whose suc­cess is so proven that he alone would suf­fice to chas­tise the whole king­dom of Scot­land.”

usurpa­tion and re­bel­lion

Richard’s suc­cess in Scot­land was not cel­e­brated for long as events over­took his life. Ed­ward IV died on 9 April 1483 and was suc­ceeded

“Richard com­manded ap­prox­i­mately 20,000 men and laid siege to the im­por­tant bor­der town of Ber­wick-upon-tweed”

by his 12-year-old son Ed­ward V. As the new king’s only sur­viv­ing pa­ter­nal un­cle, Richard be­lieved he was vul­ner­a­ble against the machi­na­tions of the Woodville fam­ily and took ac­tion to se­cure his po­si­tion. He was named as Lord Pro­tec­tor of Eng­land dur­ing his nephew’s mi­nor­ity and per­son­ally in­ter­cepted the young king un­der armed es­cort en route to Lon­don.

Richard lodged the king in the Tower of Lon­don, where he was joined by his nine-year-old brother. He then de­clared the boys to be il­le­git­i­mate and was crowned as Richard III on 6 July 1483. His neph­ews dis­ap­peared shortly af­ter­wards in the tower, which was not sur­pris­ing given that the ci­tadel was Eng­land’s most for­mi­da­ble fortress, and se­crets could be eas­ily con­tained. The mys­te­ri­ous fate of the Princes in the Tower per­ma­nently stained Richard’s rep­u­ta­tion, along with his usurpa­tion of Ed­ward V’s crown.

Nev­er­the­less, at his ac­ces­sion his mil­i­tary po­si­tion was very strong. Richard was not only king, but also Eng­land’s most pre­em­i­nent gen­eral. His main Lan­cas­trian op­po­nent was Henry Tu­dor but he was liv­ing in ex­ile in Brit­tany.

De­spite this, rebels rose up in sev­eral English coun­ties in Henry’s favour and the Duke of Buck­ing­ham de­clared his sup­port for them. This was sig­nif­i­cant be­cause Buck­ing­ham had been one of Richard’s sup­port­ers and was one of the most pow­er­ful men in Eng­land. Richard’s mil­i­tary re­sponse was swift. In two weeks be­tween Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber 1483 he quashed the re­bel­lion. Sup­port for Buck­ing­ham failed to ma­te­ri­alise and Richard marched south to cut a wedge be­tween the duke in Wales and rebels in Eng­land.

Buck­ing­ham’s army dis­in­te­grated and he was cap­tured and ex­e­cuted. Mean­while, Henry had sailed with a small fleet to Ply­mouth but some of his ships were forced to re­turn to France af­ter a storm. Henry him­self re­turned to France af­ter he learned of Buck­ing­ham’s fail­ure.

Richard was vic­to­ri­ous but the re­bel­lion was un­set­tling. A few hun­dred rebels es­caped to France and al­lied with Tu­dor while the re­volt showed that there was a vi­able ri­val to the throne. It also showed that the king did not en­joy the to­tal sup­port of former York­ists, which would have im­por­tant con­se­quences in the near fu­ture.

death at Bos­worth

Richard ruled un­easily through­out 1484 but on 7 Au­gust 1485 Henry landed in Wales with a small in­va­sion force of 2,000 men. The king re­sponded quickly and raised 8,000 men, which he based at Le­ices­ter. Richard did not want to de­lay in case Henry man­aged to per­suade his pow­er­ful step­fa­ther Thomas, Lord Stan­ley (along with his brother Sir Wil­liam Stan­ley to join him. The two op­pos­ing armies, along with Stan­ley’s, all met in an area near Mar­ket Bos­worth in Le­ices­ter­shire.

Each army had grown with Richard’s num­ber­ing 10,000, Henry’s 5,000 and Stan­ley’s a fur­ther 4,000-6,000. Henry com­manded a largely mer­ce­nary force of French, Bre­ton, Scot­tish, Welsh and English troops while Richard’s was raised en­tirely within Eng­land. With­out the hov­er­ing pres­ence of Stan­ley, Richard held the ad­van­tage and was con­temp­tu­ous of his ri­val.

From what we know of Richard’s char­ac­ter he was fas­ci­nated by chivalry so he prob­a­bly wel­comed a bat­tle to set­tle the score with Henry in com­bat. Both armies de­ployed their van­guard into a front­line on 22 Au­gust while Stan­ley’s force po­si­tioned it­self equidis­tant away from the battlefield. A swamp lay in be­tween and as Henry ad­vanced around it, Richard or­dered an at­tack. Dur­ing this fight­ing Henry was spot­ted and pointed out to Richard by scouts. He de­cided

Over 30 can­non­shot were found at Bos­worth, more than any other dis­cov­ered on a Euro­pean me­dieval battlefield

on a risky gam­ble: the king would charge and per­son­ally kill his ri­val to end the bat­tle.

Wear­ing a dis­tinc­tive crowned hel­met, Richard led his mounted force around the edge of the bat­tle and di­rectly charged at Henry. The king slammed into his ri­val’s ret­inue and un­horsed Sir John Cheyne while Henry’s stan­dard-bearer Sir Wil­liam Bran­don was killed. Henry was in real dan­ger and Richard would only have been a few yards from him but it was at this point that the Stan­leys en­tered the bat­tle.

Wil­liam Stan­ley com­mit­ted his men to as­sist Henry and the ma­jor­ity of Richard’s men fled the battlefield. The king was un­horsed by this stage and al­though he was of­fered a mount to es­cape he sup­pos­edly de­clared, “God for­bid that I re­treat one step. I will ei­ther win the bat­tle as a king – or die as one.” The bat­tle was lost and Richard died fight­ing and alone.

What­ever else he was, Richard was a war­rior king and de­ter­minedly acted as one un­til the end. As an oth­er­wise hos­tile con­tem­po­rary noted, “He bore him­self as a gal­lant knight and acted with distinc­tion as his own cham­pion un­til his last breath.” This is ar­guably how we should view Richard III, not as a dis­torted vil­lain but a com­plex war­lord whose con­tro­ver­sial life re­flected the dark times he lived in.

Richard Neville, Earl of War­wick tu­tored the young Richard in war­fare The his­tor­i­cal black­en­ing of Richard’s rep­u­ta­tion be­gan dur­ing the reign of his Tu­dor suc­ces­sor Henry VII Richard III fought valiantly but in vain at the Bat­tle of Bos­worth and was killed fight­ing on foot The Duke of Buck­ing­ham fails to cross the River Sev­ern with his army. Richard crushed Buck­ing­ham’s re­bel­lion and re­ferred to him as the “most un­true crea­ture liv­ing” The Bat­tle of Tewkes­bury was a de­ci­sive en­gage­ment

Richard III’S skele­ton was dis­cov­ered un­der a car park on the site of the Greyfri­ars Fri­ary Richard III is now promi­nently in­terred at Le­ices­ter Cathe­dral

Thomas, Lord Stan­ley brings Richard’s crown to the vic­to­ri­ous Henry Tu­dor. The hith­erto ob­scure Lan­cas­trian was fa­mously crowned as Henry VII on the battlefield

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