04/12/2011

RICHARD III AT BOSWORTH. WHAT REALLY HAPPENED? - READING MILITARY HISTORY MONTHLY

In my quest in search for the true Richard III, I've found and read  an article from  Military History Monthly,  December Issue: "Bosworth. What really happened?"
I'm not a fan of wars, battles and military technical details at all, but this analysis draw my attention, starting from its title: What really happened? How was it possible that the smaller, weaker army led by Henry Tudor defeated the apparently well-equipped and more numerous contingent fighting on Richard Plantagenet's side? 
Last summer in July I visited the small  Church of St James at Sutton Cheney, in the tiny village of Bosworth Market, where King Richard is said to have prayed and heard his last holy mass before his death,  and I was also at Bosworth Field (see On the Footsteps of Richard III). The sense of sadness I experienced in those places, especially  facing that beautiful huge plain where the final battle took place, was deep indeed.  I'd really like to understand what happened there. What about you?

Battlefield archaelogy has transformed our understanding of how king Richard III lost his throne. Military History Monthly assesses the evidence in this interesting essay I want to share with you. 

King Richard III had somewhere between 10, 000 and   15, 000 men on the battlefield. These included his own and his leading supporters' retinues, plus shire-levies from London, the South East and the Midlands. Furthermore he had an impressive train of artillery and - according to the magazine - a number of men equipped with handguns. 
Henry Tudor's army was, instead, much weaker. However unpopular Richard may have been in some quarters, the Yorkist incumbent, based in the mainly pro- Yorkist and wealthy south-eastern part of England, was playing a strong hand. The usurper, attempting to revive a discredited and much-decayed  Lancastrian cause on the basis of a somewhat tenuous claim to the throne, had been able to master only around 5,000 men. Some 2,000  of these were French mercenaries, the rest  mainly men raised  in South Wales in the Tudor interests by Henry's uncle, Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke. (From the mentioned article pp. 18/19)
But the balance was more even than at first appears:

1. Henry Tudor's mercenaries probably also included handgunners and artillery men.
2. The powerful Stanley affinity brought to the battlefield somewhere between 5,000 and 8, 000 men and their allegiance uncertain  were first kept waiting in the wings (one of the hypothesis - not in this article - states it was because King Richard kept one of Stanley's sons as a prisoner)   but then in the final part of the fighting, they supported Henry Tudor crashing the Yorkist forces.
3. Disloyalty contributed to Richard's defeat. The rearward battle commanded by the Duke of Northemberland appears to have hung back and take no part in the fighting. Accident or treachery?


Substantially, Bosworth was a modern battle fought by professionals led by experienced military commanders: Richard III on one side and the Earl of Oxford on the other one. But the details remain obscure and we  are left with the impression that  treachery highly contributed to the final result.

The article goes on describing the probable strategies used by both sides always reminding us that the precise course of the struggle on the Yorkist right is unknown.


Richard's army may have been divided into three battles, commanded by the Duke of Norfolk (with the "vaward"), himself ("the main") and Northumberland (the"rearward"). (...)His plan may have been to use superior numbers to envelop the flanks of the heavily outnumbered Tudor force as they closed - after they had advanced across the marsh to engage the Yorkist front, under fire from cannon, handgunners and longbowmen. If this was the plan, it was too obvious for a wily old veteran like the Earl of Oxford. (...)
Oxford shifted his entire army to the left and then hurled it against the Duke of Norfolk's men on the royalist right. Oxford's move was a gamble ... A lesser man then Oxford might have flunked it. (pp 19-20)
Henry Tudor

King Richard III

After reading the dramatic narration of those events in Sharon Kay Penman's The Sunne in Splendour, even these highly technical description conveys a certain tragic emotionalism to me.
What seems sure is that in the supreme crisis of the battle, king Richard led a mounted charge which would became the context for Shakespeare's famous scene. It may be that the king saw an opportunity to crush Oxford's attack or, having the Stanley already started their advance (if they had not moved before, they certainly did in the final phase and opposing king Richard), he may have decided on a final, desperate attempt to reach the usurperer on the other side of the field and cut him down. We know the rest. The sad, tragic end of a great king: King Richard was both the second and last English King to die in battle. After the victory, Tudor had him stripped and paraded ignominiously through the streets of Leicester.

I found the final part of the article, recognizing Bosworth as the end of an era and the beginning of a new one, particularly interesting:

"Bosworth was the last great battle of England's Middle Ages in more senses than one. It was a battle of a transitional era in society, politics, and military affairs. Feudal anarchy was giving way to a modern state. The Yorkist government of Edward IV had been a modernising one with strong support among local squires, yeoman farmers and urban traders. The Tudors, though they claimed the Lancastrian mantle, were in the same mould" (p. 20)


The source for this essay in Military History Monthly - December Issue is Sir Charles Oman, A history of the Art of War in the Middle Ages (in two volumes by Greenhill Books 1991 hardback or 1998 paperback). 
A report on the Battlefields Trust investigation of the Bosworth battle site can be found at www.battlefieldtrust.com

19 comments:

alfie said...

Thank you for a very interesting post.I am not english and certainly not a scholar, so it is great when I can get these historical facts in small doses ;-)
I wish that I could take a trip like the one you described in"On the Footsteps of Richard III ". Sounds like a fantastic tour.

Musa/Fabo said...

Very interesting post and article in Military History magazine. Though I love Shakespeare it is good to get the historical details of what happened at Bosworth so we all know the difference between a play and history.

Thank you Maria

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Alfie
I'm not English nor a scholar either either. My interest in Richard III has grown little by little. However it started with The Sunne in Splendour, which I read for the reasons I mention in my review. But I think you might guess without reading it ;-)
@Musa/Fabo
I love Shakespeare too. Apoet, not a scholar. A genius who deserves to be forgiven. :-)
Thank you both for visiting and commenting. Have a good Sunday!

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

Thanks for this interesting post. I have to admit that I am more interested in the politics and dynasty side rather than the military history side, so it was nice for me to see something in that area summarised so clearly.

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

Thanks for this interesting post. I have to admit that I am more interested in the politics and dynasty side rather than the military history side, so it was nice for me to see something in that area summarised so clearly.

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Sam
As I say in the first part of my post, I'm not at all interested in the military aspect either, but searching the truth about King Richard, I found this article quite interesting.
Thanks for passing by. Have a good Sunday!

Sophia Rose said...

I enjoyed your review of the Military History article because I've always been interested in this period- last of the War of the Roses/beginning Tudors. I tend to pity Richard a little since most of my casual reading has been written by Ricardian sympathizers.

Thanks for the posting.

MARIA GRAZIA said...

Same for me, Sophia Rose.
I've started loving him, more than pitying, as a literary figure - as Dickon - thanks to Sharon Kay Penman, and now I want to discover more about the historical character.
Thanks to you for dropping by and commenting!

Rachel said...

My dear Grazia, loved this post because I love reading and knowing ever more. So interesting and now I'm so curious. Dear, I'd like to say too that I'm so and so happy and that I've sent you the email. Thanks a lot, with lots of kisses, Rachel :)))))))

JaneGS said...

Now you've got me wanting to read the whole article myself. Fascinating post. Interesting to think of Bosworth as the last medieval battle, and I'm surprised that RIII was only the second king to die in battle.

I would love to visit Bosworth myself.

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Rachel
Hi, Rachel. Thanks for your support and your enthusiasm.Kisses to you!
@JaneGS
I hope you'll find the magazine and will be able to enjoy the rest of the article. Moreover, I wish you'll get to visit Bosworth and the other sites
linked to Richard III's history.
Thanks for your comment!

maribea said...

Hi Maria Grazia, I know how much involved with Richard's life you became after reading that book. I got a completely different image reading Philippa Gregory...as always, truth is difficult to detect and prove...but I think I want to read that book as soon as possible. Intriguing historical men and women are so fascinating to me!

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@Maribea
You know I've read Philippa Gregory's White Queen recently, but I wouldn't compare her to Sharon Kay Penman's work. Ms Penman worked on her "The Sunne in Splendour" for about 12 years before publishing it and the result is extraordinarily beautiful. I hope you'll find the time to read it. It's quite an engaging reading (more than 900 pages) but it's worth it.
Thanks for your contribution, MB!

Barbara Gaskell Denvil said...

A really interesting post. Thanks for putting it up. Richard III is one of my great heroes too - and the enigma of the Battle of Bosworth is still being argued by historians. (The devious and expert general on the Tudor side seems to have been De Chandee, a highly experienced French mercenary.)
For all her story-telling skills, Philippa Gregory is certainly no historian, but Sharon Kay Penman's book is a splendid read.
Can I mention my own? This is the link to the Richard III Society review of my medieval adventure novel which actually starts on the Bosworth battlefield.
http://www.richardiii-nsw.org.au/?p=6512
The Richard III website (www.richardiii-nsw.org.au)also holds a wealth of fascinating information and is well worth a look for all history lovers.

MARIA GRAZIA said...

Thanks Barbara for linking to that review and telling us about your novel. I read about on The Richard III Society facebook page. And, of course, I've visited the Richard III website!
Thanks for visiting and commenting.

OneMoreLurker said...

Thanks for this post MG, it's interesting to know a little more about that battle, that was a result no one expected because apparently Richard had the upper hand.

His, was a sad ending and in general the way the Yorkist line ended was sad.

OML :)

MARIA GRAZIA said...

@OneMoreLurker
Sad indeed! At least, there are many people interested in making the truth known. It makes everything a bit less sad.
Thanks for passing by!

Lisl said...

This is a great essay and link to "more to come." I had been researching Richard a lot lately, though had to concede early on to slow down and take smaller bites, as I am *way* out of my league on this one. My degree is not in history and I am pretty inexperienced in researching military theory and manuevres.

However, it interests me a great deal and so essays/articles as here do a lot for my understanding and satisfaction. I, too, have grown rather fond of Richard and am very pleased to have come across the writings of someone else who approaches the topic with an open mind (sans the auto condemnation) and bears an actual *feel* for the events and real people who lived through them.

Hope to see more from you!

Anonymous said...

This is a very late comment. And it was prompted by servetus' Legenda. Keeping up with all favourite posts over December, with all the other things the month brings...
But, I read The Daughter of Time at 13/14, and have been a Ricardian ever since, (and reading all the other Tey/Alan Grant novels since.) And highly recommend Tey. I was even a member of the Richard III Society and have been reading And history.
As a history grad, and librarian, I have become more open to less-optimal explanations of Richard's involvement in his nephews death. But the questions remain. And some things remain pretty well documented - Richard III was a great Lord of the North, an advocate of his king/brother, a very good administrator. In a time of civil war, without forensic evidence, and with the subsequent Tudor "documentation" highly suspect, how do we judge.

In short, an exploration of an historical person in a better historical drama than that of the Bard, would be welcome. Warts and all. Preferably the non-documented hunchback. :)

fitzg