7 – Battle of Bosworth Field – 1485
Edward IV became undisputed king in 1471 and reigned until his death in 1483 when he was succeeded by his son Edward V. However, Edward and his brother Richard, Duke of York, were declared illegitimate by Parliament as the marriage between their parents was invalid because the king had a pre-contract of marriage with someone else. Edward IV’s brother became King Richard III in 1483 and it’s likely that the illegitimacy claim was just a way of justifying his usurpation of the throne. Richard probably had his nephews killed although The Princes in the Tower mystery is still one of the most enduring in British history.
Richard III has been vilified throughout history but this could have simply been a case of the Tudors rewriting history. In the meantime, Henry Tudor was in exile in France and his mother urged him to stake his claim for the throne now that Edward IV had died. After a failed attempt to land in England, he finally crossed the English Channel with French assistance and landed in south Wales in August 1485. Although he initially only had 2,000 men, he managed to gain support so by the time he faced Richard’s army near Ambion Hill which is south of Market Bosworth in Leicestershire, his army totalled 5,000 men.
Even though Richard’s army numbered at least 10,000 (up to 15,000 according to some accounts), he was to ultimately lose the battle. Henry was inexperienced in combat and was sensible enough to allow John de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, to command the troops. Another issue was the presence of the Stanley’s (Sir William and Thomas) who had a 6,000 man army. While they had discussions with Henry prior to the battle, they did not immediately take part. Instead, they hung back and waited to see what would happen before making a decision.
At one point in the battle, Richard spotted Henry at the rear of his force and noticed that he wasn’t well defended. He made the fateful decision to try and end the battle there and then and he charged at his rival for the crown. Henry sensibly did not try to engage in the ensuing melee and some of Oxford’s pike men protected the Tudor until extra bodyguards arrived to force Richard back.
William Stanley saw what was happening, made his move and sent his men into battle on Henry’s side. Although Richard had to retreat initially, he refused to flee and threw himself into battle once more. He is supposed to have said: “God forbid that I retreat one step. I will either win the battle as a king, or die as one.” It was the latter outcome for Richard as he was eventually surrounded and hacked to death. When his skeleton was found in 2013, 10 wounds were found including 8 to the skull. Once news of his death spread, his army fell apart and Henry had his victory and his crown. Indeed, he was crowned Henry VII that very day on a nearby hill.
This was essentially the end of the War of the Roses although Henry did have to deal with a pretender called Lambert Simnel in 1487. Simnel claimed to be Edward, Earl of Warwick who was the leading male Yorkist claimant to the throne. Henry dealt with the matter at the Battle of Stoke Field that year and actually pardoned Simnel. The Tudor Dynasty was to reign until the death of Elizabeth I in 1603.