Battle of Bosworth
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“ Who stole my bloody horse?”
The Battle of Bosworth (22nd August 1485) is classified as the last ruckus in the War of the Roses. It saw King Richard III slain on the battlefield and his successor Henry VII proclaimed king by a patriotic army of mercenaries, Welshmen, Frenchmen, felons, traitors and turncoats. The battle was so famous that years later no one could remember exactly what happened, where it had been fought or whether it had been a good idea after all.
Treachery, Treason and Leeks
England had gone through a long struggle between rival groups of aristocrats who had nothing better to do but to argue about the colour of roses. Some said the red rose (of England) was more noble but others said white was pure. After some politie discussions, leading on to debates and finally fights - the issue had appeared to have been resolved when King Edward IV killed his rivals in 1471. The Whites or the 'Yorkists' won whilst the Reds (the Lancastrian Bolsheviks) were broken and left only with a funny speaking Welshman called Henry Tudor as their standard bearer. Since there was a price on his head, Henry moved to a caravan park in Brittany where he lived with his uncle called Sir Jasper Tudor ('Do Not Touch Me'). Jasper was also Welsh and a creep.
That should have been that for the Lancastrians but in 1483 Edward IV died whilst trying to row off his excess body fat in a fishing expedition. His son Edward became King Edward V but needed to have his fancy dress day out (a coronation) to be 'King in the eyes of God'. But Edward was still in short tights so a regent was required or 'protector' as the title was then called. Dead Ed's brother Richard Duke of Gloucester stepped forth and then stepped over the bodies of everyone who got in the way. Richard then persuaded his mother Cecily to state that Edward IV was really her son by a long bowman called Jack the Cad and was therefore a bastard. Edward V had his coronation cancelled and was told to stay in the Tower of London to think about what next he wanted to do with his life. Richard helped him with that by adding Edward IV's younger brother Richard (Little Dickie). The two boys sent Richard a note that read We would like to disappear and travel the world. Their uncle granted them the first wish but forgot the second.
Now as King Richard III, the new monarch saw treason and dissent all around and had many people locked away. There was a rebellion and Henry Tudor sailed over to see if he could help but the rebels were defeated. Richard ordered another round of executions and asked the Duke of Brittany 'What Price that Welsh Leek?' in the hope his rival would meet his maker either there or as a prisoner back in England.
Who was Henry?
Henry Tudor's claim to the English throne was so piss-poor that many years later historians explained the murderous reign of his son Henry VIII was a direct consequence of this insecurity over their right to be a monarch.
Everywhere you looked on Tudor's family there were bastards. His father was a bastard half brother of King Henry VI after the latter's mother Catherine packed away her widow weeds and eloped with Owen Tudor. This Owen (Henry Tudor's grand father) had his head chopped off by Edward IV. On his mother's side, Margaret Beaufort was wrong-side-of-the-blanket member of the Beaufort clan who were descended from John of Gaunt. To Richard III (who had become an expert on bastards), Henry Tudor's claims were so pathetic that he hoped the English would laugh at him if the Welshman dared to come over uninvited.
In 1484 Henry Tudor and Jasper Tudor were told to leave Brittany. Unpaid gambling debts and dubious bounced cheques had seen their credit with the Duke downgraded. Richard sent over some more money in the hope the Duke would send the 'Turdors' (as Richard called them) into his hands but the French government intervened and invited Henry and Jasper into France proper instead. Richard then repeated his message/demand to France but he was ignored.
Richard threw a strop and banned all French onion imports but perhaps he shouldn't have been surprised. His French opposite number was Lady Anne of Beaujolais, regent for her nephew Charles VIII. By chance he was the same age as the recently disappeared Edward and had been arranging an exchange student swop. So Anne let Henry recruit an army in France but it would be made of criminals, tax dodgers and parking ticket wardens. Add to the mix, a few English tourists imprisoned for lewd behavior - and Henry Tudor had an army. Of sorts.
Richard received reports that Henry was pulling together an army but his mind got distracted to the matter of sex. His only son Eddie died suddenly in March 1485. Then Richard's wife Anne wrote herself out by dying a month later. Richard could have produced the two bastards in the Tower but someone had misfiled them and no one could locate the two boys. The only other possible male Yorkist heir was Edward Duke of Warwick (it seems everyone then was called Edward, a right bugger to work out which Ed was Ed). He was the son of Richard's louche brother George who had ended up in dead drunk in a barrel of wine a few years earlier. But this new 'heir' was a kid and not a very bright one at that. The issue of succession and new a marriage for Richard would have to go on hold for now.
The 'Turdors' landed their army in Wales. They hoped for Welsh solidarity but the locals were unimpressed with the army Henry had brought over. When valuables started going missing and virtues messed about with, the invaders headed into England looking for allies or quick escape routes if everything went tits up. Henry Tudor didn't inspire much confidence. He had never fought a battle and when he put his breastplate on the wrong way, there was much muttering amongst the ranks. The only loyal ones were the criminals since none of them could expect to be welcomed back in France. The entire enterprise looked doomed and would consign the Tudors as a tiny footnote in the history of those times.
Richard rallies his army
Whilst the Tudor army bumped and burgled its way across England, at Nottingham Castle Richard waited for his friends to turn up with their armies. The Duke of Norfolk arrived in time but the Earl of Northumberland marched very slowly. Impatient with the delay, Richard marched his men out of Nottingham and headed towards Coventry and Warwick Castle. Finally 'Timorous Percy' (Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland - also another supposed war leader who hadn't seen a sword flashed in anger either) caught up with Richard.
By now the King was in a foul mood and suffering a lot of funny dreams. His dead brother George Duke of Clarence kept turning up and suggesting they both go for a swim in a lake of wine. Clarence who had first called Edward IV a bastard had suffered for that with a complete immersion in a barrel of burgundy. Now Richard saw himself following that path to damnation.
The big 'missing' factor were two more allies of Richard. The Notorious Stanley Brothers: Lord Thomas and Sir William. Why Richard was pinning so much on those two who had changed sides quicker than change their underwear (which wasn't that often but this was the fag end of the Middle Ages) so there was an excuse. The King kept asking where they were and received back enigmatic replies like 'we're close by' and 'look behind you' but still there was no sign. Finally Richard pitched camp near Bosworth. Henry Tudor's army marched directly into their path. A reliance of cheap local guides and bad maps had brought them to a place where there was no retreat.
By now the Stanleys had arrived as well but they preferred to keep their distance. They placed their army on one side of the battlefield. Richard asked why they were standing over there and got the reply 'to protect the flank' but didn't elucidate further what they meant. Richard made a note in his thick black book. He would deal with those two later.
The armies spent the night within bowshot of each other. Richard had brought along some cannons which he fired in the direction of Tudor's camp but decided that would possibly persuade the invaders to make a run for it. So he had those silenced and spent another night having his dreams.
If Henry Tudor had his own nervous thoughts, he never had then written down or preserved later. On the balance of forces, he rather than Richard looked like crow pickings on the next day. But Henry was confident that Richard's 'loyal retainers' were waiting to stick the knife in - but only if Henry got up close and bloody with Richard.
As dawn broke, the armies got ready for the battle. No time for an English breakfast or a French croissant, the soldiers from both forces search each other for the fatal grapple. When Richard saw the size of Henry's army he almost fell of his horse at the puny array. Surely this could be settled in time for a hearty lunch! But as the English charged at the mixed array of Henry, the foreigners refused to run away and formed themselves in the the 'Swiss Cheese Wedge' in honour of the Swiss who were then one of the best fighting units in Europe (yes, I know if is hard to believe). Norfolk was so shocked at this 'foreign trick' that he fell off his horse and onto a long spear poking out of Henry's forces.
Richard saw this and urged a general engagement. At the back of the army were the Earl of Northumberland's soldiers but they refused to budge. Northumberland said to Richard "er..you start and we will be right behind you". Richard then sent another message to the Stanleys asking them to join in the attack on Tudor but they said 'there is another army coming, we better wait here'. Richard now underlined the Stanleys names in his black book and added Northumberland to the list.
Just then one of Richard's men shouted Hey King Dick! Look - 'Turdor' is over there. We can take him out no problem.
Death of a Dick
Richard had long wanted to lead a charge ever since he had read an early copy of Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Arthur and Auntie Gwennie. He had always preferred Arthur's enemies to the king himself and this looked like an opportunity to historically re-enact that scene. So down the hill did Richard and his cavalry charge.
Henry Tudor who found all the metal bashing a bore was shocked to see Richard coming straight at him. The few fat bodyguards he had placed around him were kebabbed by Richard's lance and tossed aside. There was blood and guts everywhere. Richard cried "Who is Henry Turdor? Who is Henry Turdor??" but others said they thought Richard was shouting "I am a turd!," ""I am a turd!!!"
Henry's soldiers looked to their leader and expected him to go one-to-one with Richard (in fact most wondered why they hadn't suggested that first without risking life and limb in the first place). But Richard couldn't get close and bagged his head with frustration. Just then he saw soldiers running towards him with very large pikes. Were the Stanleys about to come good and kick the Welsh shit as promised? Then he spotted they were Welsh too and then swerved their weapons so that they attacked Richard's troops.
Richard fell off his horse and was then jumped on by common soldiers who stabbed and ticked him everywhere. Richard cursed his lack of a horse and then fell silent. Outside the melee a captain shouted 'do what you like to the body BUT LEAVE THE FACE'. So Richard was killed and his body stripped naked by some of the necrophiliacs present (whether Tudor's or Stanleys' isn't recorded). The battle was over and Henry Tudor had won. Others like Northumberland reversed marched back towards home whilst Richard's army scattered and ran far away.
The battle had been won and Richard was well and truly dead. Henry Tudor was now King Henry VII. Yet it had been a right mess of a battle with dubious participants and dodgy leaders. Double and triple cross had been much in evidence. Henry's role was certainly less than heroic and this explains why the battle was never properly celebrated until some years later. Perhaps everyone got a bit embarrassed by their shabby dealings on that day and later Henry had Sir William Stanley's knightly noggin cut off for dissing his performance at Bosworth. Only Richard III couldn't live to regret that day, his body carted off and then dumped inside a church to underpin the foundations. It was discovered 600 years later.