Continuing the A-Z Challenge, the letter B is probably the most well-known battle of the Wars of the Roses
Tudor’s claim to the throne was tenuous, to say the least. It came through his mother, Margaret Beaufort, who was descended from John of Gaunt and his mistress, Katherine Swynford. Their children, all born illegitimately, were ‘legitimised’ later, but were barred from the succession. Nevertheless, the Lancastrians looked to Henry Tudor as the ‘rightful heir’, as did some disaffected Yorkists such as the Duke of Buckingham.
Tudor, after many years of exile in France, landed in Wales on August 7th with about 2,000 men. With no battle experience, he relied on his commanders, but his hopes of the Welsh flocking to his cause were disappointed. His force numbered about 5,000 as he marched across Wales and England to meet Richard’s army.
Richard had been aware since June of Henry’s impending invasion, and his forces (about 10,000 men) convened at Leicester, and then proceeded westward to Sutton Cheney, and a low ridge called Ambion Hill, about 12 miles west of Leicester.
The result of the battle, on August 22, should have been a foregone conclusion, considering the strength of Richard’s forces. However, one man held the key to Richard’s victory or defeat – Thomas Stanley. Well-known for changing allegiance during the wars, depending on which side was likely to win at any given time, Stanley played the same game at Bosworth, and held back his force of about 5-7,000 men.
There are differences in the accounts of what happened after the battle (mainly hand-to-hand combat) had been in progress for some time. One view is that Tudor, facing defeat, headed in the direction of Stanley’s forces to persuade them to enter the battle on his side. Another view is that the Stanley forces began to advance to side with Tudor.
Richard then led what was to be the last great cavalry charge of the medieval era, and thundered down directly towards Tudor himself, intending to kill him before the Stanley forces could enter the battle and change its course. In the ensuing melee, Richard was unhorsed, but continued fighting on foot until he was surrounded by Stanley’s men and killed.
The death of the king signalled the end of the battle, and Richard’s forces disintegrated.
Tradition says that Richard’s crown was retrieved from a hawthorn bush by Thomas Stanley (boo! hiss! I make no apologies for my allegiance to Richard III), who then placed it on Tudor’s head.
The actual site of the battle has been disputed by historians, but Leicester County Council has built an excellent battlefield centre near Ambion Hill, and laid out a sign-marked route around the battlefield. I will never forget my first sight of Richard’s standard flying on Ambion Hill!