Battle of Bosworth Field

Battle of Bosworth Field

The Battle of Bosworth Field was the last significant combat in the Wars of the Roses (1455–1485), fought between the House of Lancaster and the House of York. The battle ended the Plantagenet dynasty in England and established the Tudors on the throne. On August 7, 1485, Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, landed at Milford Haven in Wales to lay claim to the English throne as heir in the Lancastrian line. Henry, who had earlier fled to France, took advantage of growing opposition in England to the rule of King Richard III, who had seized the English throne from 13-year-old King Edward V and was suspected of then causing the murder in the Tower of London of Edward and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York.

Henry had with him a small group of followers, including two seasoned soldiers—his uncle Jasper Tudor, 1st Earl of Pembroke (later 1st Duke of Bedford), and John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford—and some 1,800 French mercenaries but quickly gathered additional forces in Wales and western England. Shrewsbury rallied to him, and by August 20 and his arrival at Atherstone in Warwickshire, Henry had more than doubled his force.

Richard III marched from London northwest to meet Henry at Bosworth Field, 12 miles west of Leicester and 3 miles south of Market Bosworth, in the Midlands of central England. Thomas Stanley, 2nd Baron Stanley, husband of Margaret Buford and thus stepfather of Henry, had been in communication with Henry Tudor and refused to add his troops to those of Richard. Stanley and his brother, Sir William Stanley, did bring about 3,000 men to the battleground but refused appeals to join either side.

By the time the armies deployed on Bosworth Field, Henry had no more than 5,000 men, while Richard III some 10,000 men. Richard’s superior numbers were offset, however, by the fact that many of his men were of dubious loyalty. Richard deployed his troops on the gently rising Ambion Hill, positioning them in three groups, or “battles,” with his archers in front and cannon on the flanks.

John de Vere, Earl of Oxford, commanded Henry’s forces. De Vere deployed his troops in two “battles.” Sir William Stanley positioned his own men to the north, beyond the battle lines between the two sides, while Lord Thomas Stanley held his men off to the south.

De Vere attacked the Yorkish center, confident of treachery in its ranks. The Lancastrian charge was repulsed, but the Earl of Northumberland, commanding Richard’s left wing, then refused Richard’s order to advance. Simultaneously the Stanley brothers joined the battle on Henry’s side, attacking the king’s flank and rear.

Advised to quit the field, Richard refused. Seeing Henry’s banner and declaring that he would remain king of England, Richard and a few followers charged, apparently hoping to kill Henry and reverse the battle. Richard slew Sir William Blandon, Henry’s standard-bearer, with a single blow; unhorsed Sir John Cheney; and may actually have engaged Henry himself before being surrounded and killed by a sword cut to his head. Sir William Stanley picked up the king’s golden crown and placed it upon Henry’s head. The battle was over. In all the Lancastrians lost some 100 men. The accepted figure of 1,000 lost on the Yorkish side is probably exaggerated.

The Battle of Bosworth Field had immense political ramifications. The defeat of the Yorkists and the death of Richard III ended the Plantagenet dynasty that had ruled England since 1154. Henry, officially crowned five weeks later in Westminister Abbey as Henry VII, began the Tudor dynasty. Although Yorkish insurgencies occurred periodically during the next decade, Henry put all of them down. His marriage to Elizabeth of York also helped heal the divisions that caused the Wars of the Roses. During his 24-year reign Henry restored order in the kingdom, dramatically increased royal authority, built up the treasury, and laid the foundations for four centuries of English greatness.

References

Lander, J. R. The Wars of the Roses. New York: St. Martin’s, 1990.

Ross, Charles. The Wars of the Roses. London: Thames and Hudson, 1976.

Rowse, A. L. Bosworth Field and the Wars of the Roses. New York: Macmillan, 1966.

Steward, Desmond. The Wars of the Roses. New York: Viking, 1995.

Weir, Alison. The Wars of the Roses. New York: Ballantine Books, 1995.