In the late 15th Century full time professional armies were rare.
The major source of soldiers for the armies who fought in the
Wars of the Roses were Lord's retainers and tenants who served
for a short time. As such the loyalty of the men who fought was
based upon their Lord's ability to pay them. It was because of
this that the leaders of armies were never really sure of who
they could rely upon.
were made up of archers who were very skilled with the longbow
and men-at-arms. High-ranking men-at-arms wore expensive armour
that was designed to deflect a sword or spear. These men often
carried battle-axes, maces (clubs) or hammers. Common soldiers
made more use of spikes and hooks which were intended to knock
an armoured man to the ground rather than pierce his armour. It
is important to remember that chivalry was kept for non-lethal
combat tourneys, in reality hand to hand combat was brutal and
bloody. Weapons were designed to maim and kill as quickly as possible.
all battles of the Wars of the Roses became a hand-to-hand fight
between the men-at-arms on foot, after the archers had fired their
arrows. Cavalry was also used in some battles by a skilled commander.
armies had field artillery (cannons) but they were only used at
the start of battles, not only because of the time it took to
load and fire them but because they often exploded in the artillery
of the forces that met at Bosworth had been on forced marches
mainly over rough terrain, some for over a week, with very little
Leaders that had formed alliances either under duress or for
political ends governed the forces that met in battle.
although indebted to Richard for his support, was not happy with
Richard's actions and resented his owns troops' loyalty to the
had a history of choosing sides not through loyalty, but to further
their own power. To ensure Stanley's loyalty, Richard had taken
his son hostage.
spent much of his as an exile life in France, and was therefore
not an experienced commander. At the time his claim to throne
was tenuous at best coming as it did through the female side of
a ruthless king, indeed it is claimed that he may have been responsible
for the death of his nephews to ensure his power. He had many
enemies and those who sided with him, became as hated as the king
Battle of Bosworth took place on 22nd August 1485. The accounts
of what happened in the conflict are very sketchy but this is
the widely accepted version.
were the first to attack, under the command of the Earl of Oxford,
they met Richard's vanguard, under the command of the Duke of
Norfolk, who charged downhill in to a desperate hand-to-hand struggle
between hacking and slashing ranks of common soldiers. The first
part of the battle lasted an hour, and although their ranks were
severely depleted Henry's men had managed to kill Norfolk, depriving
Richard of a valued commander.
and Northumberland, commanded by Richard had remained non-combatants.
As the battle
became more desperate, Henry and his entourage became cut off
and were spotted by Richard from the top of Ambion Hill. Richard
seeing his enemy's depleted ranks, spurred forward, apparently
furious and determined to slay his opposite number, and with him
thundered a glittering array of some 1,500 mounted knights in
the last great cavalry charge of the medieval era.
writhing wall of steel and horseflesh heading towards him, it
appears that Henry was dumbstruck and his command faculties fled
temporarily. Nevertheless, Henry and his faithful retainers formed
a tight knot and braced themselves for the impact.
have us believe that Richard drew upon reserves of almost superhuman
strength in his furious charge, and hacking and slashing and stabbing,
he carved a swathe directly towards Henry Tudor. He and his forces
cut down Henry's standard bearer and Richard himself is said to
have come within a greatsword-length of his quarry before the
press of men and horses carried him off course.
At that point,
seeing the moment, the Stanleys acted decisively.
With a battle
cry of, "A Stanley, a Stanley!" their troops crashed
into Richard's formation. Richard's army disintegrated, and he
himself was forced into the swampy ground, thrashing out furiously,
determined to sell his life dearly.
In a last
desperate attempt to salvage the battle and his throne, Richard
managed to send orders to Northumberland to attack Stanley, but
Northumberland either couldn't obey due to the terrain or simply
chose not to.
Richard was eventually cornered by a large group of polearm fighters
who unhorsed him before they hacked and smashed him into. This
is the moment of Shakespeare's famous line: "A horse, my
kingdom for a horse!"
battle lasted two hours. History is unsure what happened to Richard's
body, it was either cast in to the bog or tethered to a horse
and displayed to the victors. What is certain is that Henry Tudor
was crowned Henry VII on the field by his new ally, Lord Stanley.
Whatever else may be said about the man, from whom he had usurped
the crown, Richard had certainly died "a bold and valiant
the last king of England to die on the battlefield. His death
effectively ended the Wars of the Roses, and Henry VII started
a dynasty that would last for over 100 years, the Tudors.
County council maintains the site of the battlefield and the tranquil
site belies the violence of its history. The flags or standards
are raised by the Official Visitors Centre and mark the positions
of the armies as understood by historians.