Richard III at War

From Bar­net to Bos­worth, dis­cover the blood­thirsty rise and tragic fall of the last Plan­ta­genet king

All About History - - CONTENTS - Writ­ten by Tom Garner

The term ‘Wars of the Roses’ wasn’t coined un­til the 19th cen­tury. In­stead the con­flict was known to con­tem­po­raries as the ‘Cousins’ War’

It is 22 Au­gust 1485. On a Le­ices­ter­shire battlefield an English king is fight­ing for his life. He has been be­trayed and un­horsed, but un­like the rest of his army he re­fuses to re­treat. Now alone and with­out his hel­met, the monarch is sur­rounded by en­e­mies. He re­ceives a cut to his lower jaw. Al­though he fights on, he take mul­ti­ple blows to the head. He is brought to his knees and a fa­tal blow from a hal­berd cuts through his skull. For good mea­sure, a sword then slices into the back of his head.

This king is Richard III and with his death, the rule of the Plan­ta­genet dy­nasty came to an end, and ar­guably, Me­dieval Eng­land it­self. The bat­tle’s vic­tor, Henry Tu­dor, Earl of Rich­mond, was the last Lan­cas­trian claimant to the English crown. As Henry VII, he and his de­scen­dents, which in­clud­ing his son Henry VIII and grandaugh­ter El­iz­a­beth I, would re­de­fine the na­tion.

In the­ory, Richard should have won the Bat­tle of Bos­worth but he suf­fered a cat­a­strophic de­feat. As his de­feat was so de­ci­sive, you might as­sume that Richard was not just a failed king but also a poor war­rior. In fact, Richard was a highly ex­pe­ri­enced soldier who un­til that fate­ful day had never been de­feated in bat­tle. He was per­son­ally coura­geous and could fight vig­or­ously de­spite hav­ing a dis­abil­ity. In an age where mar­tial achieve­ment was highly prized Richard was recog­nised, even among his en­e­mies, as a “gal­lant knight”. To­day he is best re­mem­bered for the mur­der of the Princes of the Tower, but even af­ter his death Richard’s battlefield courage was never ques­tioned. His mil­i­tary ca­reer is there­fore worth ex­plor­ing be­cause it re­veals a side of the king that Tu­dor pro­pa­ganda could not dis­pute and it may per­haps re­ha­bil­i­tate some of his ma­ligned rep­u­ta­tion.

A mil­i­tary up­bring­ing

Born on 2 Oc­to­ber 1452, Richard was named af­ter his fa­ther, the third Duke of York, and was the youngest sur­viv­ing son ofr Ce­cily Neville. No­body could have pre­dicted that he would one day be king, but his fa­ther’s po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions dic­tated his fate.

In 1452, the Lan­cas­trian Henry VI had been on the throne for 30 years but he was a weak monarch who lost his in­her­ited lands in France. The year af­ter Richard was born, the Hun­dred Years’ War ended in a hu­mil­i­at­ing English de­feat. The calamity caused Henry to have a men­tal break­down. The Duke of York, who had a strong claim to the throne, was ap­pointed

Pro­tec­tor of

the Realm by Par­lia­ment of Eng­land and ruled on Henry’s be­half. Al­though the king re­gained his men­tal fac­ul­ties, York was re­luc­tant to re­lin­quish power and civil war broke out in 1455. The con­flict be­tween the houses of York and Lan­caster be­came known as the Wars of the Roses and would rage for 30 years, only end­ing with Richard’s battlefield death at Bos­worth.

Richard grew up in a tense at­mos­phere where mil­i­tary for­tunes in­flu­enced his child­hood. York was ini­tially suc­cess­ful but af­ter his de­feat at Lud­ford Bridge in 1459 he sent his el­dest sons into ex­ile. The sev­enyear-old Richard re­mained at Lud­low Cas­tle with his mother and youngest sib­lings. The Lan­cas­tri­ans pil­laged Lud­low and Ce­cily was re­put­edly “un­manly and cru­elly treated” by the soldiers. Richard may have been wit­ness to his mother’s as­sault.

York fought back, and Henry was cap­tured at the Bat­tle of Northamp­ton but then took a dras­tic step. He per­suaded Par­lia­ment to ac­cept him as Henry’s heir but this brazen at­tempt to claim the throne led to fur­ther con­flict.

Henry’s queen, Mar­garet of An­jou, raised an army and the Lan­cas­tri­ans de­ci­sively de­feated York at the Bat­tle of Wake­field in De­cem­ber 1460. York was killed (along with Richard’s elder brother Ed­mund) and his head was dis­played wear­ing a pa­per crown to mock his royal am­bi­tions. Richard, who was only eight years old, was pro­foundly af­fected by his fa­ther’s death and over­saw his for­mal re­burial many years later.

His el­dest brother Ed­ward, Earl of March, was now the York­ist leader and de­spite the set­back at

Wake­field events moved quickly. Ce­cily sent Richard to the Bur­gun­dian Nether­lands for safety but Ed­ward won the Bat­tle of Mor­timer’s Cross on 2 Fe­bru­ary 1461. He then en­tered Lon­don with his pow­er­ful ally the earl of War­wick on 4 March.

Ed­ward was pro­claimed as King Ed­ward IV and on 29 March he won a very bloody but de­ci­sive vic­tory at Tow­ton. The Lan­cas­tri­ans were routed and Richard was able to re­turn to Eng­land.

In June that year, Ed­ward was crowned at West­min­ster Abbey, and Richard be­came Duke of Glouces­ter, which was a ti­tle he would hold un­til he be­came king him­self.

Four years later, the 12-year-old Richard moved to the house­hold of War­wick, who was the most pow­er­ful no­ble­man in Eng­land. Ed­ward ap­pointed War­wick as Richard’s tu­tor and it was un­der his tute­lage that he served his mil­i­tary ap­pren­tice­ship. Over the course of five years, the young prince fol­lowed War­wick around his north­ern fortresses. Serv­ing in the north of Eng­land was ar­du­ous but Richard would have been fa­mil­iarised with the fre­quent bor­der war­fare with Scot­land.

In mil­i­tary terms this would have been in­valu­able for a prince who was be­ing taught the art of war­fare in a tough en­vi­ron­ment by a highly ex­pe­ri­enced com­man­der.

How­ever, the fraught pol­i­tics of the era re­turned and Richard wit­nessed the dis­in­te­grat­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween War­wick and Ed­ward. In 1464, Ed­ward mar­ried El­iz­a­beth Woodville who was a rel­a­tively low­born no­ble­woman. War­wick, who had been a staunch York­ist, dis­ap­proved of the match and re­sented Ed­ward’s pa­tron­age of the Woodville fam­ily.

Richard re­turned to court in 1469 but War­wick re­volted in the same year and cap­tured Ed­ward be­fore im­pris­on­ing him. The king was re­leased in Septem­ber 1469 and it is pos­si­ble that Richard ne­go­ti­ated with his former men­tor to free his brother. Ed­ward soon ap­pointed Richard to the high mil­i­tary post of Con­sta­ble of Eng­land. In Septem­ber 1470, War­wick re­volted again and Ed­ward and Richard fled to the Nether­lands. War­wick re­leased Henry VI from cap­tiv­ity in the Tower of Lon­don and re­stored him in a spec­tac­u­lar volte-face that earned him the so­bri­quet of ‘King­maker’. Ed­ward re­ceived Bur­gun­dian sup­port and landed in Eng­land with Richard in March 1471. His mil­i­tary train­ing was about to be put to the test.

Bat­tle of Bar­net

Ed­ward, who was a dar­ing mil­i­tary com­man­der, quickly out­ma­noeu­vred War­wick and suc­cess­fully took Lon­don. Henry VI was re­cap­tured and War­wick of­fered bat­tle 16 kilo­me­tres from the cap­i­tal near Bar­net in Hert­ford­shire on 14 April 1471. This was Richard’s first ma­jor bat­tle and he would have to fight his former tu­tor. Chron­i­clers

Richard’s brother, King Ed­ward IV, was sup­pos­edly 6’5”, mak­ing him the tallest Bri­tish monarch of all time

for the Bat­tle of Bar­net name no York­ist com­man­ders, other than Ed­ward IV, but it is as­sumed that Richard played an im­por­tant role.

The York­ists were out­num­bered and the battlefield was shrouded in fog, which was made worse by smoke from ar­tillery fire. Richard re­put­edly com­manded Ed­ward’s right flank and he got lost in the fog while try­ing to find the duke of Ex­eter’s Lan­cas­trian soldiers. De­spite the dan­ger, he man­aged to ma­noeu­vre around War­wick’s left flank and put pres­sure on the Lan­cas­tri­ans. Ed­ward was then able to fight from the cen­tre and War­wick’s men were out­flanked. The Lan­cas­tri­ans be­gan to fight each other in the fog and a rout en­sued where War­wick was killed.

The death of the King­maker was a blow to the Lan­cas­tri­ans and Ed­ward was now on the of­fen­sive. Bar­net was also a suc­cess for Richard who been slightly wounded. His mil­i­tary ap­pren­tice­ship was over and he ac­com­pa­nied his brother to de­stroy the last se­ri­ous Lan­cas­trian re­sis­tance in Eng­land.

Clash at Tewkes­bury

Henry VI, who had been forced to ac­com­pany Ed­ward to Bar­net, was sent back to the Tower and the York­ist broth­ers pur­sued the Lan­cas­tri­ans across Eng­land. Henry VI’S heir, Prince Ed­ward of West­min­ster – his son by Mar­garet of An­jou – had landed in the south­west and linked up with the duke of Som­er­set and earl of Devon to form an army. The Lan­cas­tri­ans aimed to link up with Jasper Tu­dor, Earl of Pem­broke in Wales by cross­ing the River Sev­ern at Glouces­ter.

How­ever, the Lan­cas­tri­ans were re­fused en­try into Richard’s ducal cap­i­tal and they marched north to the next cross­ing at Tewkes­bury.

The York­ists hotly pur­sued the Lan­cas­tri­ans and caught them form­ing an ir­reg­u­lar bat­tle line on 4 May 1471. The battlefield was on for­mi­da­ble high ground that was dom­i­nated by streams, ditches, hedges and woods. Tewkes­bury Abbey was be­hind the Lan­cas­trian po­si­tions and it was in this dif­fi­cult ter­rain that Richard fought his first con­firmed com­mand.

Richard led the York­ist van­guard and im­me­di­ately be­gan an as­sault. The ter­rain bogged down the at­tack and the Lan­cas­tri­ans re­tal­i­ated with ar­rows and can­non fire be­fore Som­er­set charged the York­ist right flank. Richard ral­lied his men and re­formed his lines to face Som­er­set. His coun­ter­at­tack was so strong that the Lan­cas­tri­ans fal­tered. Ed­ward then un­leashed spear­men from a hid­den po­si­tion against Som­er­set’s di­vi­sion and the Lan­cas­tri­ans fled. The ground they ran over be­came known as the Bloody

Meadow for the fierce fight­ing that oc­curred there.

Ed­ward now at­tacked from the cen­tre while Richard as­saulted the un­pro­tected Lan­cas­trian right flank.

With the bat­tle turn­ing against him,

Som­er­set per­son­ally killed Lord

Wen­lock in anger be­cause his

“The ground they ran over be­came known as the Bloody Meadow for the fierce fight­ing that oc­curred there”

The most fa­mous por­trait of Richard III takes from the late 16th cen­tury and is prob­a­bly a copy of an orig­i­nal like­ness Richard III fa­mously fought at Bos­worth wear­ing a crown on his hel­met, which would have made him highly vis­i­ble on the battlefield The Bat­tle of Bar­net was Richard’s first com­mand, lead­ing the van­guard

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.