To Die a King
King Richard III at Bosworth Fielde
Western Civ

Research Report
Web Resources

 King Richard III
Artist Unknown NPG 148
National Portrait Gallery London

What’s it all about, Alfie?

The Battle of Bosworth in 1485 saw the changing of power once more between the ducal Houses of York and Lancaster in England. What is more relevant is how this single battle encapsulates its era and all of the continual intrigues amongst the parties involved. Visible is the whitewash of the victor and the modern values awarded to winning, as opposed to, honour. Even more telling is the centuries long look back at this time and the reign of Richard III, and the mix of fact, fiction, and fantasy. So, shall we join the fray and see what Richard and Henry are up to?

Historical Background

For in this corner weighing …

On the Redmoor Plain, south of Market Bosworth in the Midlands of England, the sun reflected the armour into eyes. Today was August 22, 1485 and the forces of Henry Tudor and King Richard III quickly assembled. Their final encounter had been over two years in the making. Ever since the death of King Edward the IV in April of 1483, the stage had been set for a struggle for power. This new turn of events opened possibilities both at home and abroad.

But wait. You can’t tell the Players without a Program

Research Report

For it is A House Divided by

The news ricocheted throughout Britain and across the English Channel. To better understand the report of Edward IV’s death, you need to go back thirty-some years to find the smoking gun. The Hundred Years’ War between France and England had left England the loser. During the reign of King Henry VI, England had lost all of her possessions in France by 1451, save for the port city of Calais in Flanders. A weak monarchy allowed the two major houses of nobility in England (Lancaster and York) to battle for position as they jockeyed for prize and  power. One of these clashes was at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460, where both Richard’s father (Richard, Duke of York) and brother (Edmund, Earl of Rutland) were killed. This led to Richard living in exile in Flanders under the protection of Philip the Good, the Duke of Burgundy. Next year the wind of fortune saw Richard’s oldest surviving brother, Edward IV, proclaimed King of England over Henry VI. Richard returned to live in England as the brother to a king. So was the loss and gain, back and forth, rally and retreat between Lancaster (Henry VI) and York (Edward IV).

The Royale Hatfields and McCoys

And the story continues. Nine years later, a fleet commanded by the Earl of Warwick, the Kingmaker, and his son-in-law, Clarence (the brother to Edward IV no less) set sail from France to reinstate Henry VI. The Spider King of France, Louis XI, supplied the fleet in return for a promise of an alliance between England and France against Burgundy. End result? King Edward and Richard flee into exile to Holland under the protection of Charles the Bold of Burgundy, their brother-in-law, who is married to Edward and Richard’s sister, Margaret. Henry VI is released from the Tower of London and king once more. King Henry VI was king again, but not for long. In March of 1471, King Edward and Richard set sail from Holland with a fleet financed by Charles of Burgundy. New results are in. Clarence switches sides again and re-aligns with his brothers. Eight months later, King Edward is back in London. What of King Henry VI? After conferring with his advisers, King Edward has King Henry executed in the Tower the next day in the hopes of ending the civil war.

Full of Spies, Spiders & Snares

So, what does this all mean? To say the least, confusing! I thank the someone who invented surnames (last names); probably a historian or a student, going crazy trying to keep everyone’s first names straight! By 1483, war or the continual threat of war, in England’s internal struggle had gone on for over thirty years. Misleading is the idea that the Hundred Years’ War is over. Only in the instance of dealing with outside enemies did the English Houses unite. England’s main enemy, par excellence, was France. The Hundred Years’ War was now a Cold War. A French general burned the coastal town of Sandwich in 1457. King Edward IV had led an expedition into France in 1475. Louis XI (remember the Spider King of France) bought Edward off with money and a pension. Richard opposed this peace. In 1479, busy Louis convinced James III of Scotland to violate the Scottish truce with England so Louis could engage against Burgundy, England’s ally. Louis could snare Burgundy in his web, while England was preoccupied with Scotland. Edward IV designated Richard as commander of the Scottish campaign. Richard was successful in fending off Scottish raids and even took his army into Edinburgh.

& Brothers & Heirs

Richard was Edward’s defender and only brother. Did I forget to mention that Edward had his brother, Clarence, executed in 1478 for treason? These were tough times. You always needed to know who your enemies were. Spies were everywhere. Succession of reign, the continuity to maintain control was all-important. For Edward IV had just two sons: his first named Edward (the heir) and his second named Richard (the spare). Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, had one child, Edward. If you have a brother, why do you name your son after him?

But The King is Dead. Long Live…who is the King?

All this background gets us back to April 1483. Edward the IV is dead. Edward the V is to be king. He is a minor, 12 years old. More than likely, Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, is to be the Lord Protector during the minority of Edward V (the Last Will of Edward IV has not been found). Go back in time to the last minor king, Henry VI. Henry VI’s Protector was Richard, Duke of York, holding that office led to the Duke of York’s death at Wakefield. The reign of a weak king meant trouble. Prone to outside influence and international powers. Civil war and personal jeopardy. Exile, disinheritance, and death. In light of this, a joint session of the Lords and Commons proclaimed Edward V’s uncle, Richard, as king. Richard’s two nephews, Edward and Richard, were no longer in the line of succession and remained at the Tower. And from day one of Edward IV’s death, Henry Tudor lay in wait in Brittany to make a run for the crown as well.

If others lie in wait and call

Within months of King Richard’s coronation, Henry Tudor and his force (financed by Duke Francis of Brittany) set sail from Brittany hoping to align with the Duke of Buckingham (another sideswitcher and Richard’s cousin) and foment an insurrection. The insurrection fizzled like a dud firecracker and Henry never made landfall and returned to his Brittany base. Buckingham’s head rolled off the block, yet the threat and taint of Tudor hung like a pall over Richard throughout his reign. The intrigues, plannings, and plottings continued. Sporadic naval warfare ensued between France and England in the English Channel. Trade was disrupted. Who do you trust? King Richard surrounds himself more and more with his close circle from the North of England. In 1484, Richard forms the Council of the North as a means to solidify his power base. This northern power base, in turn, begins to disaffect some of the nobles from the south. The Council of the North also limits the power of one Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland. Richard keeps a certain Lord Stanley close to his side. Lord Stanley (his brother is William) is married to Margaret Beaufort. Margaret’s son by her first marriage is none other than Henry Tudor, who now waits in exile to claim the throne.

To arms, to arms, for

By the summer of 1485, Richard knows that Henry Tudor will land an invasion force in England. It was not a matter of if; it was a matter of when. Charles VIII of France was supplying Henry both men and ships. France remained an enemy of England, especially in the personage of King Richard. France remembered that Richard had opposed the truce of his brother with France in 1475. If Richard could solidify his reign, there was talk within court circles of Richard’s desire to reopen the campaign against France. Aspirations for the return of their French holdings, much less, the English claim to the throne of France still resided in England’s heart. The Scots were engaging England in naval battles. King Richard was the same Richard, Duke of Gloucester, that had taken Edinburgh, and Scottish memories were long. The enemies of before remained the enemies of today.

One Day at Bosworth

Henry Tudor  King Henry VII
Artist Unknown  NPG 416  National Portrait Gallery London
When Henry Tudor landed in Wales, he had a force of about four five hundred consisting of three thousand French and one thousand Scotch mercenaries, the remainder being Henry’s “English” backers. As Henry advanced eastward, he picked up some Welsh support and English defections. Richard knew of his arrival, but delayed his preparations on August 15th to celebrate the feast of the Assumption. His only son had died the year before. Anne, his wife, had died in the spring. From Nottingham Castle, King Richard’s banner waved in the wind with his motto "Loyaulte me lie" (Loyalty binds me) inscribed on it. The royal call to arms was to meet in the Midlands at Leicester and stop Henry’s advance to London. Richard’s kingship would be tested once more. This was the sum of his whole life of nobility: the battles, the successes, and losses. Loyalty was everything. Whose loyalty could he trust?

Who’s record is about

The problem with the history concerning this battle, and its causes, lie in the sources uncovered so far. They are either slanted (usually towards the House of Lancaster) or unreliable. The two most memorable sources are Sir Thomas More’s The History of King Richard the Third (More) and William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of King Richard the third. More’s work is dramatic literature, Shakespeare’s play is literary drama. Both works are not considered history. This is a common consensus as drawn from both pro and anti-Richardian scholars. Pro and con seems to size up most of the historians who research King Richard III. Somehow, the opinion is so polarizing that most do not occupy much of a middle ground. Additionally, there has been some historical hanky-panky. A portrait of Richard shows a slight hunchback. Under an infrared light, the “deformity” disappeared. Not original to the painting, the crooked back was added to conform/confirm to the tales of Richard's subsequent infamy. The master of the rolls (official histories) in the Tower during Henry’s reign was John Morton, nephew to Bishop Morton. One of the key figures in Henry Tudor’s ascension to power was Bishop Morton. During Richard’s reign, John Rous wrote a history praising Richard. After Henry’s coming to power, John rewrote a section, now praising Henry and deriding Richard. An earlier copy pinpointed the changes. Although certain aspects will forever remain a mystery, there are still new finds through the years. A recent one is The Lovell Chronicle which gives a decidedly Yorkist view, versus the Tudor view of the Bosworth Fielde from Bishop Percy’s Folio. The end of the Lovell Chronicle is titled Bosworth Field and is as follows:

                                             (The Battle of Bosworth by Graham Turner 48" x 32" Oil on Canvas)

Bosworth Field

On this red moor
on this done day
did the last King of England
fight bravely and sway

Not meekly in fearness
nor courage a’lack
Was to traitors and treason
his Lord was attacked

By Stanley to Henry
who was but a step
By William and Welshmen
as cowards did snatch
the Kingdom of England
for Frenchmen to pat
the crown of royal
on Tudor’s schemed head
and so remove Richard
for whom they had dread

And forget not also
the man of the North
Who nary did move
nor nary sally forth
Yet the Percy who held
his hand on that day
had nary a hand
to help him when pray
he collected those taxes
of King Henry renowned
and Yorkshire remembered
his failure that dawn
and smashed him
and kil’d him
and revenged that pawn

So sadly not Scots
So sadly not Welsh
So sadly not French
did give Henry most help
Was England and English
who rescued the foes
May God have no mercy
for friends like those

For many a lies
were seeded that day
Yet weeds will come forth
of that I can pray
These writings will surface
and straighten the course
and sing the due praise
of King Richard perforce
The Knight of the Rose
Betrayed Lord of the North

I write this in haste
I write this in flight
for Henry’s spies
do see thru the night
They search me out
and wish to snuff
my life and my flame
but ‘tis not enough

For the light of the truth
will yon remember this name
Of Good King Dickon
and so fair named
King Richard the third
I dare proclaim

The Lovell Chronicle
 discovered at
Sheriff Hutton Castle in
Yorkshire, England 1999
Source: The Richard Society

And as to what happened

Richard had two to three times as many men in the field compared to Henry. Richard’s army was a pooling of his various Lord's armies, whereas Henry’s foreign retinue were paid professionals. For King Richard’s reign began with a coup d’etat, and now he faced a coup de grace. As the armies engaged, both Henry and Richard remained out of the fray. Richard placed the armies of Percy in the rearguard. Lord Stanley and William Stanley had already established themselves as the flanks. After the initial thrust, Richard’s vanguard wavered as the Duke of Norfolk fell. Up to this time, both Lord and William Stanley were not engaged in the fighting. Percy’s force in the rearguard did not move. Holding off until you could determine the possible victor and then join the winning side was a tactic that the Stanley’s and Percy had used before. Henry and his rearguard moved in, away from the vanguards battle, closer to William Stanley. Suspecting treachery, Richard gambled. Drawing from his household retainers, with his crown on his head, he led a charge directly to Henry. If Richard could cut Henry down before any of the traitors showed their true colors, it would be over. A trial by ordeal. Once the waverers knew the outcome of the battle, it would be a fait accompli; and Richard could deal with the traitors afterwards. The element of surprise could finally disperse the lingering taint on his reign. As Richard’s band tore into Henry’s camp, the fighting was fierce. Richard cut down Henry’s standard bearer. Just as Richard came close to his goal, William Stanley’s men came in from the side. The Royal bee had landed in venus's-flytrap. Now outnumbered, Richard’s knights were slain and routed. Most of Richard’s loyal men of the North died in the field around him. Tradition has it that Richard’s horse, White Surrey, became stuck in the mud of a swamp as the Welshman pressed on. Richard may have called for a horse, as he yelled, “Treason,” but it was to keep fighting. For today, King Richard would live or die a King.

In the end

The end came from William’s Welsh pikemen, as they hacked Richard to death. More of Richard’s troops were still on their way to Leicester, but the battle was already over. The whole battle lasted just two hours, one thousand men died. Henry Tudor was now King, King Henry the VII. Henry promptly dated the date of his reign the day before the Battle of Bosworth. Almost half of Richard’s army never engaged in the fight, at least against the intended enemy, Henry. The naked, butchered body of King Richard was draped over a horse and tied on like a saddle, by a rope from his neck to his feet. Henry took his spoils to Leicester and dumped Richard in front of the town hall for all to see. After two days, the Grey Friars of St. Mary's buried Richard in an unmarked grave, close to the River Soar. In contrast, the body of King Henry VI  escorted by an honor guard to St. Paul’s, was buried in the chapel of Chertsey Abbey. At the age of 32, King Richard the III’s dreams died in the wet soil of his native England—whereabouts unknown.

"Wer assembled in the counsaill chamber, where and when it was shewed...that king Richard late mercifully reigning upon us was thrugh grete treason...piteously slane and murdred to the grete hevynesse of this citie." Council Minutes of the City of York, 23rd August, 1485

Historical Significance

It is his story

It is about the last King of England to die in battle, the last stand for chivalry, the end of feudalism and loyal ties, and the real end of the Hundred Years’ War. It is about social assumptions regarding history. Assumption: If princes disappear, then they must be dead. History is not assuming. Perhaps this could be Thomas More’s tongue in cheek phrase regarding history, “But of all this point, is there no certainty, and who so divineth upon conjectures, may as well shoot too far as too short” (More, Grafton Text 2nd ed., p. 9). In truth, aside from all of the conjectures, it is the more universal judgement that King Richard was a failure, because he lost. Or so it is written, or said. Forget the idea that what is written is must be true. Whether it is in print, on the air, or on the net, know your source. How does the source write, in what context, and by whom? Is there an agenda? Ultimately, is the narrative real or made-up, like some histories or Bosworth Field? For the tale is in the teller, truth be told.

Middleham Castle, Yorkshire
King Richard III's Favorite Castle

In Memoriam
Plantagenet, Richard
"Remember before God
Richard III, King of England
and those that fell at Bosworth Field,
having kept faith.
Loyaulte me lie"
The Richard III Society


Bennett, Michael.  The Battle of Bosworth. Gloucestershire:  Sutton Publishing Ltd., 1985.

Buck, Sir George.  The History of King Richard The Third.  Ed. Arthur Noel Kincaid.  Gloucester: Alan Sutton Publishing, 1979.

Hughes, Jonathan.  The Religious Life of Richard III.  Gloucestershire:  Sutton Publishing Ltd., 1997.

Kendall, Paul Murray.  Richard the Third.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1956.

Lovell, Francis Viscount. Bosworth Field The Lovell Chronicle. Erewhon: Imagination Press, 2001.

Pollard, A.J.  Richard III and the Princes in the Tower.  New York:  St. Martin’s Press, 1991.

Shakespeare, William.  The Tragedy of King Richard the third.  (first edition) Ed. John Drakakis. London:  Prentice Hall, 1996.

Sutton, Anne and Visser-Fuchs, Livia.  Richard III’s Books. Gloucestershire:  Sutton Publishing Ltd., 1997.

Tey, Josephine.  The Daughter of Time.  London:  Peter Davies, 1963.

Tudor-Craig, Pamela.  Richard III.  London:  National Portrait Gallery 27 June – 7 October 1973 London:  National Portrait Gallery, 1973.

Williamson, Audrey.  The Mystery of the Princes.  Towtowa, N.J.:  Rowman and Littlefield, 1978

Web Resources

Bosworth Fielde. from Bishop Percy’s Folio Manuscript. Ballads and Romances Ed. J.W. Hales and F.J. Furnivall, 3 vols. London, 1868. The Richard III and Yorkist History Server

Kosir, Beth Marie Richard III  A Study in Historiograpichal Controversy

More, Sir Thomas The History of King Richard the Third

Murph, Roxanne C. Richard III: The Making of a Legend Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1977

Oberdorfer, Richard  Norfolk Academy  Pursuing the White Boar  Approaches to Teaching Richard III

Potter, Jeremy Good King Richard? London: Constable and Company, 1983

Site created by:  James H. Buckingham

"Not a Duke, But a King!"

Bosworth Field  © 2001 James H. Buckingham