Sunday, August 17, 2014

Decisive Battles: Bosworth Field 1485

Bosworth/Sutton Cheney/Stoke Golding Date: 22 AUG 1485


Forces Engaged: Royal Army - As with most medieval engagements we do not really know how many troops the English king commanded on the morning of 22 AUG. The Wiki entry says that "Norfolk's group (or "battle" in the parlance of the time) of spearmen stood on the right flank, protecting the cannon and about 1,200 archers. Richard's group, comprising 3,000 infantry, formed the centre. Northumberland's men guarded the left flank; he had approximately 4,000 men, many of them mounted." If we're to believe this the Royal Army consisted of:

3,500 to 4,000 heavy infantry - primarily equipped with half-armor, polearms or sword-and-shield,
3,000 to 3,500 heavy cavalry - fully armored lance cavalry
1,200 light missile infantry - presumably a mixture of longbowmen and crossbowmen
2,000 to 3,000 medium(?) to heavy infantry - polearms ranging from long spears to pikes

In addition the Royal Army was supported by some very small number of light to medium projectile infantry armed with early firearms ("harquebuses" or "hand cannons") as well as true cannon.
We honestly have no idea how many of these guns were in the Royal artillery train or the size and caliber. The late 16th Century "Balled of Bosworth Fielde" claims that the royal army had 280 guns of various types:
"...they had seven scores Sarpendines without dout,
that locked & Chained vppon a row,
as many bombards that were stout;
like blasts of thunder they did blow."
(A "sarpendine" or serpentine was a mobile fieldpiece, typically with about a 2-inch bore that could fire either solid shot or small projectiles similar to what would later be formaized as "canister", a sort of shotgun or flechette round for use against close-range infantry or cavalry. A bombard was a large-bore siege weapon unlikely to be dragged out to a field engagement.)

Based on archaeological evidence it appears that the Royal force had some of these light "serpentine" fieldpieces; how many we cannot know. Based on the caliber of the rounds recovered from the battlefield archaeologist speculation runs to at least ten different fieldpieces and two hand cannon.

My initial thought that the Royal force would certainly have had less than the "seven score" of both serpentines and bombards cited in the ballad. But ...Charles of Burgundy is reported to have lost some 400 artillery pieces of all types in the Swiss victory at Grandson in 1475 supporting an army of about 20,000. which might make some 150-200 a reasonable guess for an army half that size if the same ratio held true.

Burgundy, however, was a large and wealthy Continental power. England in 1485 was smaller, and poorer, and had just suffered through twenty years of civil war we call the "Wars of the Roses" that had cost the kingdom blood and treasure. Add to that the English predilection for archery that tended to make gunpowder weapons less of a must-have, especially for open-field engagements.

My best guess is that for an army of 10,000 or so an experienced 15th Century English commander like Richard might have brought several tens of cannon with him; 40 or 50 or so, maybe even as many as 80 or 90 but probably less than 100; my thought is that the logistical tail just didn't exist in the England of the day.

So. About 1,000 light projectile infantry, 5,500 to 7,000 medium to heavy infantry, 3,000 to 3,500 heavy armored cavalry and 50 to 100 light cannon under Richard Plantagenet, Third of that name to rule as King of England.


Rebel Army - The invaders were a motley force of mercenary troops, rebellious noblemen and gentry with their household troops, and Welshmen. Again, the Wiki entry provides this description:
"Henry had very few Englishmen—fewer than a thousand—in his army. Between three and five hundred of them were exiles who had fled from Richard's rule, and the remainder were Talbot's men and recent deserters from Richard's army. Historian John Mackie believes that 1,800 French mercenaries, led by Philibert de Chandée, formed the core of Henry's army. John Mair, writing thirty-five years after the battle, claimed that this force contained a significant Scottish component, and this claim is accepted by some modern writers, but Mackie reasons that the French would not have released their elite Scottish knights and archers, and concludes that there were probably few Scottish troops in the army, although he accepts the presence of captains like Bernard Stewart, Lord of Aubigny. In total, Henry's army was around 5,000 strong, a substantial portion of which was made up by the recruits picked up in Wales. Rhys ap Thomas's Welsh force was described as being large enough to have "annihilated" the rest of Henry's force."
Based on this description we can make some guesses at what the rebel army might have looked like.

1,500 to 2,500 Welsh troops - probably a mix of light projectile infantry (longbowmen), and medium to heavy infantry with a small contingent of heavy armored cavalry. Wales has never been a wealthy land and poor cavalry country in the bargain. So my guess would be about 800 to 1,200 light infantry and archers, another 1,000 or so medium to heavy infantry - men-at-arms in half-armor plate with spear or polearm - and some 300 to 500 armored heavy cavalry lancers.

1,800 French mercenaries - again, probably a mixture of light crossbowmen, medium to heavy infantry, and armored heavy cavalry.

500 to 800 feudal retainers, probably largely heavy cavalry with a scattering of heavy infantry.

Archaeological evidence suggests the presence of artillery and hand cannon, though in this case we have even less to go on than with the royal troops. Presumably the mercenary unit had some sort of artillery train, though the logistics of transporting all that ash and trash from France and then finding the wherewithal to lug it around Wales, the west of England, and the Midlands, would suggest that the numbers weren't great. Say maybe 30 to 40 "serpentines"? Frankly, it's anyone's guess.

So let's say probably 500 to 1,000 light projectile infantry, 1,500 to 2,000 medium to heavy melee infantry, another 1,500 or so heavy armored cavalry, and maybe 50 cannon.

The notional commander of this melange was the pretender Henry Tudor. But Henry was both inexperienced and intelligent enough to recognize that going against a tough guy like Richard Plantagenet, who had been fighting since he was in his teens, was not a good time for on-the-job training. Henry handed battlefield command to his most experienced vassal John de Vere, Earl of Oxford.
The Stanleys - The third party to all of this, and the critical factor in the course of the engagement, was the roughly 6,000-man private army of the Stanley family. These jokers were typical examples of a medieval "great house", wealthy in land and the means of acquiring more wealth in their native county of Cheshire, near Liverpool in the northwest of England. They had also, in the fashion of the times, become a substantial military power, maintaining vassals contracted to provide troops, equipment, and supplies for war whenever summoned.

Typically this sort of private militia is blamed for the many rebellions, insurrections, and civil wars that characterized the medieval period, but in my opinion it's difficult to distinguish cause and effect here. Were the private armies the cause of the troubles, or the troubles the reason for the rise of private armies?

Whatever the reason, the Stanleys were poster-children for the Big Problem of the 15th Century; private individuals that were, in effect, small nearly-independent polities within what was supposed to be a "nation" unified under a single king.

Again, we have no idea of the true number or composition of the Stanley troops, but if they were typical of their type and time they would have included missile troops, medium and heavy infantry, armored cavalry and probably some light artillery. Let's guess about 1,000 long- and crossbowmen, 4,000 melee infantry, and 1,000 heavy lancer cavalry under the brothers Thomas and William Stanley.

The Sources: Here's where we come to a dead stop. Bosworth is perhaps the very worst chronicled of all the engagements of the Wars of the Roses, the English Civil War of the 15th Century. There are four contemporary and near-contemporary sources:

The Croyland Chonicle, a monkish manuscript maintained at the Benedictine house in the fenlands of East Anglia. Part IX covers the engagement at Bosworth but the account of the actual action lacks nearly all detail. Here is the entirety of the Croyland narrative:
"At length, the prince and knights on the opposite now advancing at a moderate pace against the royal army, the king gave orders that the lord Strange before-mentioned should be instantly beheaded. The persons, however, to whom this duty was entrusted, seeing that the issue was doubtful in the extreme, and that matters of more importance than the destruction of one individual were about to be decided, delayed the performance of this cruel order of the king, and, leaving the man to his own disposal, returned to the thickest of the fight."

"A battle of the greatest severity now ensuing between the two sides, the earl of Richmond, together with his knights, made straight for king Richard; while the earl of Oxford, who was next in rank to him in the whole army and a most valiant soldier, drew up his forces, consisting of a large body of French and English troops, opposite the wing in which the duke of Norfolk had taken his position. In the part where the earl of Northumberland was posted, with a large and well-provided body of troops, there was no opposition made, as not a blow was given or received during the battle. At length a glorious victory was granted by heaven to the said earl of Richmond, now sole king, together with the crown, of exceeding value, which king Richard had previously worn on his head. For while fighting, and not in the act of flight, the said king Richard was pierced with numerous deadly wounds, and fell in the field like a brave and most valiant prince."
Yeah, I know - not exactly CNN, is it?

The other three main sources are considered much less reliable.

Polydore Vergil, whose extensive account - certainly the most detailed of the sources - is thought to date from the early 16th Century, was in Italy at the time of the fight and was writing as a court historian of Henry Tudor. He undoubtedly had access to oral accounts of veterans of the fight, but not until twenty years had intervened and Tudor censorship been firmly imposed over the events of 1485.

Jean Molinet, another near-contemporary source, was also physically distant, writing as the court historian of the Duke of Burgundy.

Diego de Valera was writing in 1486 but from Castile, and basing his report on letters and accounts of Spanish travelers. His account is described as "unreliable" in the Wiki entry but is said to have information not present in other sources.

The link above provides a good selection of other sources. Many are cursory, many differ from one another, and all were written during Tudor times, when producing a pro-Plantagent account would have been hazardous to the author. Perhaps the single most inaccurate account of all is the one most people know best, William Shakespeare's Richard III, an out-and-out piece of Tudor propaganda but a wonderful piece of theater.

Probably the first widely-circulated history of the period, the Wars, and the battle itself was Holinshed's Chronicles, a sort of 16th Century Wikipedia of British history. Perhaps the single longest and most detailed desciption of the engagement is contained in this work and most subsequent accounts of the action owe most of their details to Holinshed.

Holinshed should also be viewed with great caution; it was written during Tudor times when anything but fulsome praise of Tudors was a good way to end up getting a hot poker shoved up inconvenient places. Any sort of editorial judgement would have been weighted towards one side and against the other.

In short, we have the usual problem with Bosworth we have with other medieval battles - the people who were there didn't (or couldn't) write, and the people who wrote were usually not soldiers or particularly familiar with soldiering.

This has led to considerable dissension among modern historians. Among the publications that discuss the battle, including controversies over such fundamental issues as where the actual battle was fought include Peter Foss's 1998 The field of Redemore: The Battle of Bosworth, 1485 and Glenn Foard's 2004 Bosworth Battlefield, A Reassessment

Online, the Wiki entry is clear and well-written and appears to be very thoroughly researched. Another worthwhile Internet source is the British "Battlefield Trust" site for the battle. The "Richard III Society" has an informative site with a wealth of source materials but, as the name implies, should be treated with caution as the advocacy site it is. There's an interesting article on the archaeology of the firearm projectiles found at the battle site in "The Armchair General here.

For those who enjoy a good grisly tale of forensic pathology there's the Guardian article detailing the discovery of the remains of the last Plantagenet king and what they reveal about his life and death.

As always, the good people at Osprey Publishing have the period well covered, both the larger civil war (The Wars of the Roses, Essential Histories #54, and The Osprey Guide to The Wars of the Roses 1455-1485 #54), arms and armaments (Wars of the Roses, Men-at-arms #145) as well as the Bosworth campaign and engagement (Bosworth 1485, Campaign #66)
The Setting - the Wars of The Roses: The road to the marshy lowland west of Sutton Cheney really begins thirty years earlier, in the 1450s.

The so-called "Wars of the Roses" were a series of military campaigns that studded the political and social intrigue that surrounded the throne of England through much of the last part of the 15th Century. The details of factions and personalities are ridiculously complicated and frankly not that critical to understanding this engagement.

Even this history contains a lot more detail that you want to know. There's some juicy scandal and some gossip and a lot of confused infighting; if you're not interested you should skip ahead to the "Campaign" section.

Suffice to say that by the middle of the 15th Century the English crown was surrounded, though notionally "upheld", by a constellation of wealthy, powerful families. Many of these families were related in some way to the current family that held the crown, the Plantagenets, who were originally planted on the thrown by another civil war, the troubled 12th Century that saw the defenestration of the old Conqueror's line by upstarts from the continental dominion of Anjou.

The Anjevin pretender became Henry II who, though a competent - indeed, gifted - ruler bequeathed to England an ugly tradition of filial rebellion and civil wars.

The real basis of the problem lay in the feudal system, the upside of which provided the king with an army without the nuisance of direct taxation and having to develop an actual professional national military. The downside of this was that a feudal realm was thick with ambitious, powerful men - and they were men, largely, although a truly strong-willed woman like Eleanor of Aquitaine could shoulder in amongst the hairy-chested nobles if she really fought - who were, in effect, sovereign in their own territories and "maintained" private armies answerable to their feudal lord first and to the king only though that lord.

This system is known generically as "bastard feudalism" and involved
"...the concept of service in exchange for good favour. In a society governed on a personal basis, service to a lord was the best way to obtain favour in the form of offices, grants, etc. Lords would retain administrators and lawyers, as well as recruiting local gentry into their affinities. By offering money instead of land, lords could afford to retain more followers. In return for becoming retainers, the gentry would expect to rely on their lord's influence in local and national politics. This practice was known as "maintenance". The retainer might wear his lord's livery badge or the grander form, a livery collar, which could be very useful in a courtroom. Under a weak king, such as Henry VI, the rivalries of magnates might spill over from the courtroom to armed confrontations, thereby perverting justice."
And therein lies the genesis of the Wars of the Roses; Henry VI.


Well, sort of.

The really deep-background sort of origin of the Wars go all the way back to Henry II's time, as I said.

Remember King Richard, King John, Robin Hood, crusading and rebellion and Runnymede and Magna Carta? Feudal problems all relating to Henry's kids, a bigger bunch of bastards as never lived. A series of strong kings and the Black Death papered things over in the late 13th and early 14th Centuries - though you still had oubreaks of feudal feudin' such as the "Second Barons Revolt" late in Henry III's reign, in the 1260s.

For about a century - from Henry's death in 1272 to the death of Edward III in 1377 - the three Edwards held their nobles in a pretty hard fist. But Eddie the Third's grandkid Richard - Second of the name to rule England and son of the "Black Prince", Eddie's first son and heir - was a problem child.

Pretty much even the historians who agree that Dick 2 was a competent adminstrator and commander also agree that he was a real...well, dick. Petty, spiteful, ungrateful...just not a nice guy. He was one of those sorts of people that in the service we call "shit-magnets"; people that bad things seem to happen to. He feuded with a lot of people and pissed a lot of others off.

Eventually his feud with Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, son of Edward III's third son John of Gaunt, ended when Henry returned from exile in 1399 and not in a good way for Richard.

Henry gathered up his noble homies, deposed Richard (who is said to have been done to death, possibly starved, at Pontefract Castle in Wales the following year), and was crowned King Henry IV. His kid succeeded him as Henry V.


We all know Henry V because of his whole "we happy few" thing and the wars in France, but whilst he was gallumphing around fighting Frogs for most of the nine years he sat on it a bunch of the great men around his throne, led by one Richard, Earl of Cambridge (who was, not coincidentally, a grandson of Edward III) ginned up something called the "Southampton Plot" and got whacked for it in 1415.

Are you with me so far?

Anyway, hopefully you get the idea; these great lords were men of great ambition, too, and with the military power, wealth, and influence to do something about it. In one sense the English kings were like mob bosses; they had to have a bunch of tough made guys around them to help do their dirty work.

But a goomba who was dangerous to the boss of the French or Burgindian Mobs could be dangerous to his own boss if he started to get ideas above his place and had the money and muscle to back his play.

Anyway, Cambridge is only really important because his kid, Richard, inherited:

- the Earldom of March (with all its goodies) from his mom, Anne Mortimer, who was also a descendant of King Edward III, and
- the Dukedom of York (and all its goodies) from his uncle Eddie who had died alongside Henry V at Agincourt before he managed to pop out a sprog.

Note the latter title: York.

It was probably more complex than that...but the House of Plantagenet could be divided into two main branches in the 15th Century; York, being the descendants of Edward III's fourth kid, Richard. And we already know Lancaster, the kids of Eddie's third son, John including the Fourth and Fifth Henrys, so far.

At the time Richard got his bennies from Henry V - around 1422 - ol' Hank Five was livin' large; he had a babe-o-licious 19-year-old French wife, Catherine, and a new baby, three younger brothers and probably figured that his reign - and his side of the Plantagenet blanket (called the "Lancastrian" after old Henry Bolingbroke the Duke of Lancaster, remember him?) - was safe as houses.

Then Hank caught the hershey squirts and died.

(Most historians like to use the formal name "dysentery" but let's call a spade a fucking shovel; Henry V shit himself to death like some orphan in a Bangladeshi slum or your character in that gawdawful "Oregon Trail" computer game you had to play in school).
Hank's bros couldn't manage to put a bun in the royal princessy ovens (though all three, Tom, John, and Humphrey, sired a handful of bastards on less-regal broodmares. Honestly, these Plantagenets...) so nobody better than a bunch of distant cousins in the Beaufort family remained as possible king-material from the Lancaster side.

So Richard of York is suddenly a dangerous guy. He's rich - York and March were among the wealthiest estates in England - and he's got at least a half-decent claim to be as much Edward III's great-grandkid as his former king's baby son, now Henry VI. Here's a little picture that gives you and idea:
Hank and Cathy's poor kid Henry was a punching bag practically from the day he was born. Here's how the Wiki entry for the Wars of the Roses describes his childhood:
"...he was surrounded by quarrelsome councillors and advisors. Henry's younger surviving paternal uncle, Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, sought to be named Protector and deliberately courted the popularity of the common people for his own ends, but was opposed by Cardinal Beaufort. On several occasions, Beaufort called on John, Duke of Bedford, Humphrey's older brother, to return from his post as Regent in France, either to mediate or to defend him against Humphrey's accusations of treason. Some time after Bedford died in 1435, Cardinal Beaufort withdrew from public affairs, partly due to old age and partly because William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk rose to become the dominant personality at court. Suffolk was widely held to be enriching himself through his influence on Henry, and was blamed for mismanaging the government and poorly executing the continuing Hundred Years' War with France.

Suffolk eventually succeeded in having Humphrey of Gloucester arrested for treason. Humphrey died while awaiting trial in prison at Bury St Edmunds in 1447. Some authorities date the start of the War of the Roses from the death of Humphrey. However, with severe reverses in France, Suffolk was stripped of office and was murdered on his way to exile. Edmund Beaufort, 2nd Duke of Somerset succeeded him as leader of the party seeking peace with France. The Duke of York, who had succeeded Bedford as Lieutenant in France, meanwhile represented those who wished to prosecute the war more vigorously, and criticised the court, and Somerset in particular, for starving him of funds and men during his campaigns in France. In all these quarrels, Henry VI had taken little part. He was seen as a weak, ineffectual king. In addition, he displayed several symptoms of mental illness that he may have inherited from his maternal grandfather, Charles VI of France. By 1450 many considered Henry incapable of carrying out the duties and responsibilities of a king.

Under Henry VI, all the land in France won by Henry V and even the provinces of Guienne and Gascony, which had been held since the reign of Henry II three centuries previously, were lost."
Well, that sucked.

Dick York led his private army on London in 1452 but lost and went into the jug for a year for being rude to the king and his pals, while all over England the big nobles were using their private armies on each other.

The Percies fought the Nevilles in Northumberland, the Courtenays fought the Bonvilles in Cornwall and Devon, and overall the York faction - Richard and his pals - lost ground to the Lancasters, who were a power at Court.

Henry VI was talked into handing royal land to made Lancastrian guys, which weakened the crown as it strengthened the faction. York got out of the pokey and back on the king's council but clearly he and Somerset were never going to be real pals.
In 1453 Henry VI went completely nuts. Whackadoodle. So mad he couldn't even recognize his own kid.

He clearly couldn't rule, so a council of regents was appointed and the head - the "Lord Protector" - was Richard of York. He returned the favor that Somerset and his cronies had done him in 1452 - the threw Somerset in the pokey - and threw his weight against the Percies in Northumberland.

When King Henry got some of his wits back in 1455 the tables turned - again - and Somerset and especially Queen Margaret of Anjou (let's call her "Queen Peggy" just because it would have pissed her off and she was a real tartar, no mistake) started throwing the full weight of the Lancastrians against Dick York. She is said to have pushed King Henry into calling a council of nobles in April of 1455 that would "attainder" York and Dick Neville, Earl of Warwick; that is, accuse them of treason and break them.

Now afraid that he would be judicially murdered York broke out the swords and the Game of Thrones was on.


For the next 16-odd years - from 1455 to 1471 - the factions fought all across England, York versus Lancaster and every noble joker with a private grudge against every other noble joker. You could fill a book - and many people have - talking the "Wars of the Roses", but the basic outline went something like this:

1455-1459 - Yorkists win the Battle of St. Albans, capture King Henry, and are on top until they lose the Battle of Blore Heath. Richard and his pal Warwick ("the Kingmaker") have to grab a hat and run to Ireland.
1459-1460 - Queen Peggy and Somerset are back in the saddle until the Battle of Northampton; the Lancastrians lose, beat cheeks but somehow forget to grab the King (who has gone all na-noo-na-noo again) and the Yorkists are back.
1460-1461 - York prances around as king-in-all-but-name until he makes the incredibly stupid mistake of sauntering out of his keep at Sandal where his outnumbered troops are surrounded and butchered. Dick York, his kid Edmund, and his pal Salsbury all either die fighting or are shortened by a head afterwards. Queen Peggy makes sure the heads of all three are stuck up over the city gates of York. The Lancastrian army then goes on to whip Warwick at the Second Battle of St. Albans. They move south, looting and burning.
1461-1470 - The Lancastrians and Yorkists meet at Towton in March 1461. It's a huge fight and the Lancasters lose. Edward, the son of Richard of York, leads his outnumbered troops and becomes the King of England. Henry and Peg beat cheeks to Scotland and eventually France. Edward - now Edward IV - whips his daddy's and brother's heads off the York gates and puts some Lancaster heads in their place. He proceeds to rule fairly peaceably for nine years.
1470-1471 - Ed the 4th and his pal Warwick have a falling-out. This is mostly because Warwick wanted a French alliance through marriage but Eddie, who seems to have been something of a hound, liked the look of one Elizabeth Woodville, of whom was said that, along with a heavy dose of physical beauty had "...heavy-lidded eyes like those of a dragon."

Wowsa.

Warwick - who seems to have been one of those self-important sonsofbitches who can't take a joke if the joke's on them - was neither amused nor enthralled by the new queen-consort's dragon eyes.

He, and many other of the nobles of the Edwardian court, were even less enamored of Liz's host of relations who were soon swarming all over the throne like roof rats, marrying into wealthy families and getting sugar from the king. "The Woodvilles" seems to have been Yorkist shorthand for "pushy white trash", and the collision of pushy white trash Woodvilles and an angry Warwick exploded in 1469.

Warwick rebelled, won, captured King Edward (but had to let him go when the other nobles made an issue of it), rebelled again, lost, fled to France and cut a deal with Queen Peggy and the Lancastrians, invaded and won in 1470.

Warwick put Henry VI back on the throne, which lasted less than a year. Edward IV came back, captured London and Henry VI, beat and killed Warwick at the Battle of Barnet and then beat the rest of the Lancaster mob at the Battle of Tewksbury.

Henry VI's only son, Edward, was killed at Tewksbury, and the old king himself mysteriously contracted a bad case of death a couple of days later. Queen Peggy ran back to France where she died in 1482.

Whew.

I warned you that this was confusing.
And, hey. Before we say goodbye let's take a moment to throw a rock in the direction of Old Queen Peg. It's very likely that her virulent dislike of Dick York kicked off this whole massive goatscrew and got all those people killed.

She is supposed to have been the driving force behind the original Great Council in Leicester in April of 1455 that got York and his pal Warwick in such a swivet. They were probably justified - Peg was a hell of a hard ass and hated them with the sort of hate that only a good hater can summon. She pushed her husband, and then her son, and all their followers into war that lasted fifteen-odd years and, as war always does, killed a lot of innocent people along the way.

So she was a piece of work, that one, and bad cess to her.

1471-1483 - Ed IV rules fairly peaceably for 12 years until finally dropping dead of pneumonia, typhoid, or a combination of the two.

OK. Now things get reeeeeeally complex but begin with what might possibly, maybe, be a kind of sweet little love story.

Remember Catherine of Valois, King Henry V's hot little teenage French wife?

Well, after hubby contracted the royal squirts and kicked off Catherine was left a young widow and dowager Queen of England. As relict of the dead king she was not just part of the court. She was a strategic piece in the game of thrones and the man who married her would have a connection, slim but a connection all the same, with the throne of England.

We have no idea who Catherine was or what she looked like at the age of 21. The wooden effigy made for her tomb more than fifteen years later is the only contemporary image we have of her, and that is as a woman of thirty-six.

We know that she was reputed to be pretty, but was she fair or dark? Slender, or heavy? Fundamentally solemn, or silly? Clever, or dull? Witty, or stolid?

Catherine the person is forever lost to us. We will never know.

What we do know is that in the late 1420s the regents had some problems finding someone to match her up with. This person needed to be a somebody, but not so much of a somebody that his marrying the Queen Dowager made him a danger to her son, the king. The accounts I've read suggest that someone - possibly Catherine herself - proposed a marriage with one of the Beaufort family, Edmund. The regents - her brothers-in-law Humphrey and John - nixed the match; the Beauforts were already powerful enough. Catherine is said to have said "I shall marry a man so basely, yet gently born, that my lord regents may not object."

At some point in the late 1420s she found...something...with a man named Owen Tudor, son of a minor Welsh notable who had lost everything in a rebellion against the English crown. Again, we have no idea what these two people felt for each other. Was it mad passion and romantic love as we think of it? Or was it a more sensible arrangement, a lonely widow who needed a husband and a smart guy on the make who wanted a classy wife?

People fell in love and lust back in the day just as they do now, but marriage in the 15th Century was more of a business arrangement, especially among the upper classes, particularly in the great houses that competed for thrones.

Still...it would be nice to think that the young widow and the impoverished Welshman found something in each other that brought them happiness. God knows they had little enough of it otherwise.

Whatever their arrangement - and if it was romantic the bloom seems to have fled far enough off the rose at some point as Owen seems to have fathered at least one bastard - the couple seems to have rubbed along decently for the nine or ten years they were together.

Catherine died in 1437, probably of "puerperal fever", the common-at-the-time result of grubby hands mucking with her female parts during and after childbirth. Her husband, by the way, outlived her by twenty-four years to lead Lancastrian troops to defeat at Mortimer's Cross; his forces routed all the way from the field to the town of Hereford, seventeen miles away. Tudor must have run with them but to no use; he was captured and given the usual "trial" of a rebel in arms - that is, he was stretched across the nearest solid object and relieved of his head.

This little domestic story of Owen and Catherine has a gruesome aftermath, though, beyond the headless Welshman.

Catherine was buried at Westminster in the usual formal 15th Century style. During the reign of her great-grandson Henry VII her tomb was destroyed, possibly accidentally, possibly deliberately by the first Tudor king tying to make people forget his backstory.

In the process her body - which appears to have been decently embalmed or at least dessicated enough so as not to be manky enough to force immediate reburial - was exposed to the public. The royal mummy remained on display for over 100 years; Samuel Pepys recorded his encounter with the remnants of Catherine:
"On Shrove Tuesday 1669, I to the Abbey went, and by favour did see the body of Queen Catherine of Valois, and had the upper part of the body in my hands, and I did kiss her mouth, reflecting upon it I did kiss a Queen: and this my birthday and I thirty-six years old and I did kiss a Queen."
Catherine's probably sadly worn remains were finally reburied in Victorian times.

Catherine and Owen's importance to this story is that their oldest son, Edmund, married a Beaufort and had a son named Henry Tudor.

That's where we return to our story. Edward is dead and his young son Edward is king. Their brother (and uncle) Richard, Duke of Gloucester, is named Lord Protector. He is acting as such when some sort of scandal erupted regarding his older brother's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville; supposedly Brother Eddie had married someone named Eleanor Butler who was still alive when he married La Woodville, making his supposed heir a bastard.

Most historians, and a significant number of people at the time, don't buy this story. Edward, remember, was something of a dog (in his account Thomas More says that Eddie liked to talk about three of his fuckbuddies as the "merriest whore", the "wiliest whore" and the "holiest whore" - Eleanor was supposedly the holy one, in that according to Eddie when she wasn't in the royal bed she was in church) who was happy to trade favors and riches in return for some sexytime but wasn't stupid enough to let one of his doxies compromise his patrimony.

This appears to have been a fairly open put-up job to get Richard the top spot. It worked; Parliament passed an act removing Eddie's kids from succession and Richard is crowned King of England, France, and Ireland in June 1483.


A big part of Richard's success seems to be that he was seen as the enemy of the pushy white trash Woodvilles.

Richard's reign was troubled, and short. He had to defeat one rebellion in his first year. Even though most of the Lancastrian pretenders had been killed in the wars there was one guy with a tiny connection to the English throne; Henry Tudor, grandson of Owen and Catherine.

This guy kept coming; he tried his hand in 1483 but had to beat cheeks when Buckingham's rebellion was destroyed. When he came back in 1485 he was the last chance the Lancaster faction had, and they and the Woodvilles threw in with him in the knowledge that if this attempt didn't work they were doomed.


The Campaign: Henry Tudor crossed the Channel in late summer 1485, landing in Wales on 7 AUG. Supposedly the local Welsh were unimpressed but the English of the western borderlands were more excited - several royal officers defected. However at least one of the Welsh notables, a guy named Rhys ap Thomas, joined the Tudor rebels in return for the local rule in Wales. The importance of this was that he brought in Welsh troops to join the French mercenaries that had landed with Tudor, making the rebellion at least partly a domestic uprising instead of a foreign invasion.

King Richard's intel apparatus was on top of things; he'd been expecting the Tudor move since early summer and had the word out to his military lord to keep their troops at hand. When the word of the Tudor landing got to London on 11 AUG the royal forces began to mobilize on Leicester.
The Tudor forces moved slowly eastward. Henry, or more likely Henry's operational commander Oxford, knew that the royal army was going to be substantially larger than whatever number of troops they could assemble quickly. Time was their ally - the longer the rebels could remain in the field defying the king the stronger they would appear, the more likely hey seemed to survive and win, and the more attractive to potential supporters.

The single biggest potential ally was the Stanley family. These jokers had issues with King Richard for taking sides with a rival family of theirs, the Harringtons. They played a cautions role, neither declaring for the rebels nor seeking out the royal army. The Stanley brothers met secretly with Henry Tudor at least twice in August as the two forces slowly closed, the rebels moving east, the royal army west-southwest. They carefull kept their troops physically separate from both sides.

On the night of 21/22 AUG the Stanleys were supposed to be bivouacking on the slopes of a hill north of Dadlington, while Henry was said to be hootching up at a place called White Moors to the northwest. The Royal Army was laagered on a hill to the northeast, traditionally held to be Ambion Hill west of Sutton Cheney.

Here again, however, we're smacked with how little we really know about this engagement.

The contemporary accounts all (or mostly all) mention two physical features:

A hill (or some sort of higher, drier ground) where the royal army begins the engagement, and

A swamp, or marsh, or fen, large enough to be an obstacle to tactical movement, located at the base of this hill. This swamp is important because what little we know of the troop movements on 22 AUG are supposedly significantly affected by this mire.

Bosworth was then so little regarded - the English of the day had good reason to assume that it was just one more battle in the civil wars that had been going on and off for the past thirty-some years - that enough time passed before anyone realized that it WAS the final battle of the wars that the memory of the exact location had gotten fuzzy. Everyone knew it was somewhere around Stoke Golding or Sutton Cheney...but where?

Enh. Who knew.

Add to that the local farmers, tired of being up to their asses in the swamp, had been ditching and draining the lowlands, so the old fen and marshlands were now pasture and meadow by 1500.

By this point it's anyone's guess where the battle really was, and everyone who cared picked the area west of Sutton Cheney. Here's the "traditional" battle site with the locations of the forces were supposed to have been in the morning of 22 AUG:


There's two problems with this theory;

First, soil analysis of the "marsh" area shown on the map above (and of all the low ground south and west of Ambion Hill) produced no wetland soils from the 15th Century levels. There just was no big marsh at the southern and western foot of Ambion Hill, and

Second, nobody has found any significant physical evidence of a medieval fight there.

No bones, no weapons, no armor, no nothing.

In the middle Oughts the British Battlefields Trust commissioned a bunch of physical surveys of the traditional Bosworth site but also the area around it. And one of these surveys did turn up a fair scattering of 15th Century artifacts, including projectiles, weapon- and armor-fragments, and an ornament associated with the fight; a small silver-gilt badge of a wild pig, a boar, the emblem of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of Gloucester and King of England.


The location of this site is west-northwest of the little village of Stoke Golding, about a mile southwest of the "traditional" location.
This suspicion is confirmed by a look at the traditional names of the fields, which places a "Fen Hole" (i.e. "nasty little swamp") where Holinshed's says it was.


So we seem to be able to say with some certainty where the battle happened. But what we still can't be too certain of is exactly what happened. What we can do is come up with some general outline and venture some intelligent guesses to fill in the blanks.


The Engagement: Most of the contemporary accounts agree on the basic series of actions that occurred at Bosworth on 22 AUG 1485. I'll list them in order and then add my observations and discussion of them.

1. The three factions assemble for battle.
The royal army is formed up on the high ground to the east (or northeast). Norfolk's "battle" of infantrymen is on the royal right - the northwest or west end of the line - with the King in the center with his mix of horse, foot, and artillery and Northumberland's largely mounted force on the royal left. The Tudor rebels are on lower ground to the west or southwest in a single group (probably with infantry in the center and their cavalry on the flanks and rear, and the Stanley mob is south of the royal army and the Tudors.

Comments: Nothing to add, really, except that the placement of the royal force on the high ground didn't really add much tactically. Richard III is the guy who has to get a result here. Henry Tudor "wins" just by staying alive and in the field; every day he isn't crushed is another day for him to intrigue against the king. He doesn't really need to attack and with his smaller force his most sensible course of action was just what he did; maneuver to gain advantage - use the marsh to isolate one part of the royal army and fight it - while dickering with the Stanleys (and, just possibly, Northumberland) to betray the king.

2. The Tudors begin to advance east or northeast. About the same time the King sends a rider to Stanley ordering him to get stuck in or lose his son who Richard has as a hostage. Supposedly Stanley says he has other sons, but will think about it once the royal army shakes out into battle order.

Comments: William Stanley was one cold fucking sonofabitch.

3. As the Tudor force moves to their left, trying to find a way around or through the marsh, the royal artillery engages them. When the Tudors clear the west side of the marsh Norfolk's wing, the royal right, moves forward to engage them. A brief archery duel is followed by an largely inconclusive melee, but the numerical disadvantage slowly begins to work to the Tudors' advantage, beat down some of Norfolk's troops and disrupt the royal right wing.

Comments: Not an auspicious beginning, but worth noting as perhaps the beginning of the end of the English longbow. Gunpowder weapons were just simpler to use than bows of any sort. Point, shoot. A good longbowman took a lifetime to train, a good crossbowman weeks to months, you had a peasant a hand gonne and, boom, instant shooter. You can see the upside.

Speaking of the firearms, I've read several accounts that claim that this gunfire caused the Tudor maneuver left. I find that hard to credit; the Tudors had to move either left or right to clear the wetland, and given that Northumberland's battle appears to have been largely heavy cavalry moving left towards Norfolk's wing - which was closer, as well - would seem like the logical way to go.

4. Seeing his left in trouble Richard orders Northumberland to attack without effect; Northumberland holds his troops where they are.
Comments: This is one of the most controversial moments of the fight. Richard orders Northumberland into the battle, Northumberland disobeys. The immediate suspicion, especially given what we know the Stanleys are going to do, is that Northumberland is already a traitor or is actively thinking about betrayal. This suspicion looks even more logical in light of what happened after the battle; Henry Percy and the other Percies in general suffer little more than a brief period out of favor before becoming great powers in the Tudor court.

However, this may have been a tactical problem rather than a political one. To support the royal right Northumberland's battle would have had to pull back behind the center and march around the rear of the royal position, or move forward and cross the front. The former is a long way around, the latter a dangerously exposed move with his flank to the enemy. Either way, we don't know whether Northumberland argued the the more sensible maneuver was that the whole army sidestep right and Richard's center move to support Norfolk. The king and his lieutenant may well have still been arguing this when Richard sees the Tudor bodyguards start to move.

We'll probably never know; my guess is that it was a little of both. Henry Percy was beginning to have his doubts about which side was a safe bet, and the tactical move Richard was proposing was not a simple one in the face of the enemy. Northumberland hedged his bet.

5. About this time Henry Tudor - who, remember, is really no more than an observer to this battle being commanded by his guy Oxford - rides off with his small household guard towards the Stanley position. Richard sees this as an opportunity to end the battle and the war with a coup d'tete; he pulls together the mounted troops nearest to him and rides down on the Tudor group.

Comments: This is an admittedly risky move, but not as much as it might seem in 20-20 hindsight. Richard was a good medieval tactician and his objective was to kill his challenger. Tudor dead, rebellion over; it was that simple. And he seems to have seen a way to make this work - the usual battle maps have his cavalry group riding a hell of a long way to catch Henry - this example is from the Wiki entry:
My suspicion is that Richard caught Henry much closer to his front line - perhaps the Tudors were trying to ride parallel to the rear of their troops to avoid the appearance that the wanna-be king was running away - when Richard launched his attack to catch them emerging from the rebel right, like this:
However he does it, it works at first, and if its stupid and it works its not stupid.

6. The two smallish groups of cavalry clatter together and Richard gets damn close to accomplishing his aim. He is supposed to have personally killed Henry's personal standard-carrier, a guy named Brandon, and knocked one John Cheyne, a famous tough-guy and Edward IV's former standard-bearer, off his pony with a slap of his broken lance-butt.


Comments: What's kind of amazing is that Richard's remains indicate that he was both a small guy and suffered from severe scoliosis - curvature of the spine. The fact that he seems to have been a really dangerous man in a fight testifies to the strength of the man's will. Wicked uncle and evil bastard he may have been - and, remember, his death meant that nobody but his enemies told his story for over a century - but still a hell of a fighting man.

7. At this point Stanley makes his play; he sends some, or all, of his force down to join the Richard-Henry melee. Brought to a halt, outnumbered, and cut off by the marsh on one side and enemies on the others, the royal cavalry is butchered and the king himself attacked, probably by several enemies at once.

Comment: I've always loathed William Stanley for his treachery. But I have that luxury, he didn't; he was a player in the English game of thrones and he knew better than anyone that to lose was to die. While he may have been a treacherous bastard he made what he saw as the logical choice, played the Game of Thrones well, and it in turn served him well. In that he was the man that his times had made him.

Treacherous bastard.

8. Richard is killed; the forensic evidence suggests that the fatal wound is probably a chop to teh back of the head, so the Molinet story that a Welsh soldier wielding some sort of pole-arm - poll-axe, glaive, halberd - hacked him to death is probably correct. As the Wiki entry notes "King Richard's body shows that the skeleton had 10 wounds, eight of them to the head, clearly inflicted in battle and suggesting he had lost his helmet. The skull showed that a blade had hacked away part of the rear of the skull."


Comment: Nothing to add. Richard had given it his best shot and lost. At least he, unlike more modern thrones and dominations, had the balls to gamble his own life and lose it when he failed.

9. With the death of their king and lord the royal army - now no more than the fighting tail of a dead feudal nobleman - falls apart. Norfolk is killed in the fight and Northumberland's forces rout away towards Sutton Cheney. Henry Tudor is crowned on the battlefield, and the victorious rebel army marches to Leicester with Richard's naked corpse flung over a horse (with, as he and Muhammar Gaddafi might shake their heads ruefully in Hell, somebody's dagger stuck up his ass) to be displayed for several days there to convince skeptics that the king was dead, long live the king, before being thrown into a pit dug in the local priory. Henry VII, as he is now, proceeds to London to take his place as the ruler of England.

Comment: Game, set, match Tudor, as well as the end of the Wars of the Roses.

The Outcome: Decisive Lancastrian/rebel victory

The Impact: Bosworth really was not just the end of the Plantagenet dynasty and the Wars of the Roses but the end of the high medieval period in England. Henry Tudor's marriage to Elizabeth of York ended the Lancaster-York bunfight. All the other pretenders were dead, the realm was sick and tired of the fighting, and the blasts of the sarpentines weren't the only thing signalling the changes in England and western Europe. The Rennaissance was beginning, and in Tudor times the country and the entire continent would see huge changes in the society, economy, and politics that had produced the men who fought somewhere near Stoke Golding.

Touchline Tattles: I should note in passing that Henry, himself, was a pretty nasty piece of work in a lot of ways.

One of those was his incredible greed; his insane desire for cash and the means he used to extort it damn near brought his kingdom to revolt again and might yet have had the guy not kicked the bucket in 1509. Perhaps his nastiest quality was his petty sort of conniving personality. For example, he dated his reign from 21 AUG 1485. Got that? That meant that anyone who had fought for Richard at Bosworth was a rebel traitor, and Henry wasn't just kidding - he used that little business to shike some Yorkists out of their stuff.

But he was one thing that a king of England needed to be in 1485; he was strong.

He moved against the great lords' private armies, pushing acts through Parliament in 1487 and 1504 that officially made it a crime for a private individual to retain soldiers. In practice the retainers didn't go away entirely, but their numbers dropped off steadily during his reign.

Henry reestablished the rule of law to a greater degree than anyone had seen for a century. It was a hard law, and for many people a bad one - it worked openly in favor of the king and the nobility. But it was not chaos and civil war, and that was a hell of a big improvement on what had gone before.

And one aspect of his nasty personality actually worked in his country's favor; he was so fucking greedy that he coveted his money more than other people's land.

He saw no point in throwing hard, cold cash after some damn French farm fields, or anywhere else, for that matter, so his reign was distinguished by a notable lack of foreign warring, another pleasant change from England's rampage through the the bloody 14th and 15th Centuries.

Fallen kings have always had there adherents, and Richard III is no different. The Plantagenets have always held what to me is a perverse fascination for many people. Yes, many of them were romantic and dramatic. Lots of good stories came out of the Plantagent times. Old Henry II was a hell of a smart guy and did a good piece of work for his people. Some of his descendants had their moments, too.

But his kids and grandkids and greats- and great-greats- were trouble, a whole lot of them. Their ambitions and lusts and angers and all the other Deadly Sins which the Plantagenets seemed to have in larger-than-life quantities made them difficult people to be around and, worse, people who given power tended to get their subjects into difficulties.

For all his flaws Henry Tudor kept his people at home; relatively sound, relatively happy, and at peace.

And if you're going to have to fight a battle, that's not a bad thing to have come out of it.

7 comments:

mike said...

Nice job Chief.

The Welsh (God bless 'em) claim Rhys ap Thomas himself struck that fatal blow to Richard with a pole-axe. The pole-axe (or pollaxe) was a much better weapon for penetrating armor and is often to this day confused as an halberd.

http://heritageofwalesnews.blogspot.co.uk/2013/02/rhys-ap-thomas-and-fatal-blow-that.html

Big Daddy said...

Another good writeup. In the absence of the usual Touchline Tattle feature, I'll mention the other Bosworth, Husbands Bosworth, which is close to the battlefield, but better known for its canal tunnel.

FDChief said...

mike: I should amend the text to reflect our uncertainty regarding the actual type of weapon involved; glaive, pollaxe (or pole-axe, as you mention), guisarme, or even a horseman's battleaxe. We really can't be sure which of these cut the king down, just the some sort of chopping blade was involved.

BD: Y'know, I forgot that section, but given the amount of drama contained in the Wars-of-the-Roses I'd say it's pretty covered...

Ael said...

Great work again Chief.

Gerald said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Wendy Hull said...

Actually, there were Yorkist claimants still alive after Richards death, who later challenged Henry. John De La Pole is an example. You also forgot to mention that he killed some of them. He was not a very great king who was beloved by the people.

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