TRIAL AT TEWKESBURY
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.
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