THE CONTINUING BATTLE OF BOSWORTH FIELD

In 1973, the Leicestershire County Council purchased the piece of land known as Ambien Farm, located on and around Ambien Hill, near the village of Sutton Cheney. The Council began to develop a Bosworth Field Battlefield Centre. The Council hired a historian to work out the battle positions and tactics of the various participants. Heraldic standards were being made to mark the positions of the armies on the morning of that fateful day: August 22, 1485.

The field of Redmore looking across towards Stoke Golding

Ambien is on the right.

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Shortly after the project was underway, the original historian withdrew, for reasons never stated. He was replaced by Dr. Danny Williams, lecturer in history at Leicester University. Walkways were laid out around Ambien Hill; the old farmhouse was converted into an exhibition hall, book shop and snack bar; and a car park was provided. Dr. Williams published a 24-page booklet giving his analysis. The Council set out the flags and maps to match Dr. Williams’ theories, and opened the Battlefield Centre to the public

 

Since 1973, many have expressed doubts about the validity of the site. To mark the 500th anniversary of the battle, Dr. Colin Richmond published an article in the August 1985 edition of ‘History Today'. Richmond claimed that Dr. Williams was wrong, and that the battle was actually fought elsewhere. Dr. Richmond’s account was controversial enough to make the front pages of both The Times and the Guardian newspapers on July 27, 1985. What had previously been private academic discussions became heated public debate.

 

Richmond’s argument was that the battle was not fought to the west of Ambien Hill, and that William Stanley did not intervene decisively from a position to the north. Williams placed both Stanleys to the north, illogical from any aspect. Richmond held the exact opposite: that William Stanley came up from a southwesterly direction to swing the day in Henry’s favour; and that the main battle took place on the plain to the south of Ambien Hill, between the Hill and the village of Dadlington. He also advanced the theory that Northumberland, one of Richard III’s chief commanders, was a traitor. Richmond seemed to think this would come as no surprise to students of the battle. However, the revised positioning of the battle site may prove Richmond’s work to be a statement that tradition does Northumberland an injustice. Unfortunately, Richmond apparently tried to be controversial. He made comments such as: "The manner of [Richard’s] death may account for the sympathy he otherwise unaccountably evokes" [emphasis added]. This naturally angered pro-Ricardian scholars; many of them attacked the article as a whole, thereby discarding some interesting and salient points.

 

Naturally. Dr. Williams led the attack by defending his own position. He wrote to The London Times that "Dr. Richmond makes it clear that he does not like the Battlefield Centre, but his comment and observations seem to be carrying pique a little too far". In closing, he stated that "There is a good deal more to be said, but what is here supports my feeling that the Silly Season has started somewhat early."

 

What makes Dr. Williams think he is right? Some of his theories are dubious, to say the least. Quoting the Croyland Chronicle, which states that King Richard’s army ‘was encamped at the Abbey of Mirival at a distance of about 8 miles from that town (Leicester),’ Dr. Williams concludes that, "Allowing for approximations this would place Richard’s Camp at about 9 miles from Leicester and about 5 miles from Merevale Abbey, which is at almost exactly the position of Ambien Hill". These estimated figures are highly convenient if one’s goal is to place the site on Ambien Hill. However, at a lecture given on August 31, 1985, Williams stated that Ambien is 6 miles from Merevale and 10 miles from Leicester. Regarding the campsite of Henry Tudor, self styled Earl of Richmond, Williams said: "Henry and his Army arrived at the final resting place before the Battle, their camp at Whitemoores. The camp itself…must have been…to the west of the intersection of Watling Street and the road to Shenton". According to his notes, the source for this assumption is a "local but ancient tradition". Is this the same tradition which had the inhabitants of Stoke Golding watching the battle from their church tower, that Williams dismissed in The Times article? With Dr. Williams, it would seem that even before dawn on the day of the battle, August 22, 1485, we are back in the realm of "common faith hath it..."!

Dadlington Church from Redmore

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It is worthwhile reiterating why Dr. Williams wrote his account, and asking some questions. Williams was hired to write about a battle that took place on and around Ambien Hill: the land now owned by the Leicester County Council. Did the original historian withdraw because he could not make the evidence and facts fit this site? Does Dr. Williams defend his theories so often, and so vehemently, because of the vested interest now involved in the site? The August 11, 1985 Sunday Telegraph called it "The Big Business of Bosworth". Defending Richmond’s views, the Reverend Anthony Bardesley, Vicar of Stoke Golding and Dadlington, stated that the farmers of Dadlington were the first to be approached by the Council with a view to buying their land for a battlefield centre, but they had refused to sell. Odd behaviour for a council that "knew" the battle took place across the valley on Ambien Hill.

 

In his book about Richard III, Charles Ross said that "There are almost as many different accounts of the battle as there are historians". As if to prove the point, and to add to this wealth of opinion and confusion, Australian author Michael Bennett wrote "The Battle of Bosworth". Bennett’s book gives a clear and fair account of Richard’s life and reign up to the battle itself; then, the theories start once again. Bennett places both Sir William and Lord Thomas Stanley to the south of Ambien Hill on the morning of the battle: Thomas on the slopes just below the church at Dadlington, directly opposite King Richard’s position on the hill; and William to his brother's west, closer to Stoke Golding, just south of Henry Tudor’s camp on Whitemoors. Bennett directly contradicts Dr. Williams’ scenario, although he does agree about the dubious loyalty of Northumberland. This is one of the few points on which Williams and Richmond do agree, an additional indication that Richmond’s Northumberland theory is nothing new. Although Bennett’s book seems to challenge both Williams’ theory and the "tradition", it also suffers its own contradictions. Bennett published a photograph of the replica of Henry Tudor’s standard flying at Shenton, set up by the Council to the northwest of Ambien Hill. The caption reads "The Position Occupied by His Troops During Battle". Bennett states that, "There is no doubt that most of the fighting took place on the borders of the marsh, on the southwest slope of Ambien Hill." He offers a map that places Tudor at the rear of his right wing: that is, facing the Sutton Cheney (eastern) end of the hill, opposite Northumberland. He indicates that Richard charged down the hill, right through the marsh, to attack Henry. This agrees with his theory that Richard’s horse got stuck in the mire, but with little else.

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Interestingly enough, Bennett suggests a place for the King's death: a point on the Shenton road where, even today, it crosses the river Tweed. At the time of the battle, it also crossed a sandy ford on the route north. A wealth of confusion contradiction and arguments has arisen in all accounts of the battle written since August 24, 1485. Leicestershire historian Peter J. Foss rode bravely into the melee with a clear, concise and uncluttered pamphlet on the position of the battle, "The Battle of Bosworth – Where Was It Fought?" Mr. Foss concerns himself not with the tactics of a mediaeval battle, but simply with the location of the field. Using available evidence, and little else, he avoids pitfalls other writers have encountered in trying to make their theories fit the traditions held in the places associated with the battle. Foss asserts that "Many of the locations are the fanciful conjectures of dilettantes."

 

 

Many local villages and place names are associated with the Bosworth tradition. Richard is supposed to have heard his last mass in the church at Sutton Cheney. Foss states that "Sutton Cheney is not mentioned in any account before the late 16th Century, and none of the early documents mention King Richard hearing mass anywhere, because either his priests were left behind in Leicester, or because the celebration articles were not to be found (e.g., Croyland). It is only with William Hutton, in the late 18th Century that Sutton Cheney comes into the picture at all, yet most historians since have made a similar claim about Sutton Cheney being Richard’s camp." Foss goes on to give similar examples regarding Stapleton, Elmesthorpe, Shenton, Cadeby and Stoke Golding. In fact, the only church to have definite associations with the battle is Dadlington, and these are based on extant documentary evidence. Amazingly, no one had previously seen fit to mention this.

 

The first relevant document is a royal letter of licence dated 1511, when Henry VIII allowed the church wardens of Dadlington to raise funds for the "building of a chapel of Seinte James standing upon a p(ar)cell of the grounde where Bosworth Feld, otherwise called Dadyngton Feld". Dr. Williams, the Ambien expert, stated that "As far as [he] can ascertain, the earliest reference to a change of nomenclature from Redemore Plain to Bosworth Field, is to be found in the 1516 printing of Robert Fabyan’s Chronicle.".....A letter of confraternity was issued shortly after the licence, granting indulgences for those who contributed towards the saying of prayers "for ye soules of them that were slayne at Bosworth Feilde " to be said at St. James Dadlington "Chapell to ye wheche ye bodies or bones of the men slayne in ye sayed field beth brought and beryed." Thus is was, and is, Dadlington that actually stands as the official burial place for those who fell on Bosworth Field. Therefore, it must have been the sacred place nearest the battlefield. Mediaeval man was a very tidy chap who always cleared up the mess after his battles. Being religious as well, he saw the dead buried as befitted their rank: the common soldiers to a pit, or pits, in the nearest available ground, preferably consecrated; the rich, naturally, to be taken home and interred in the family vault.

 

 

The second document is William Burton’s "Description of Leicestershire", first published in 1622. Burton mentions the battle twice in what is otherwise a book about topography. The entry for Dadlington states that "Dadlington stands neere to the place where King Richard the Third his field was fought"; the churchyard of Saint James was where "many of the dead bodies (slaine at the said battaille) were buried." The second reference is found in Burton’s entry for Market Bosworth. He simply says that the battle was not fought at Bosworth but "in a large, flat plaine, and spacious ground three miles distant, between the towne of Shenton, Sutton, Dadlington and Stoke." Burton also adds that "This towne (Market Bosworth) was the most worthy towne of note near adjacent, and was therefore called Bosworth Field." At the time, Dadlington was a village, as it remains to this day. Market Bosworth was exactly that: the market town for the entire region.

Sandeford the real site of Richards death.

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If one draws lines connecting the four towns Burton mentioned, one finds that: the northernmost line cuts straight along the north side of Ambien Hill; the eastern line runs in a southwesterly route straight to Dadlington; the westernmost line runs in an almost-parallel direction southwest to Stoke Golding; and the connecting southern line runs straight between Stoke and Dadlington. The quadrangle created by these lines surrounds a large plain, the centre of which is 3 miles from Market Bosworth.

 

 

Dr. Williams quoted Burton and placed the battle on the lower ground, leading up the escarpment of the western slopes of the Ambien Hill, but not exactly "between" the towns mentioned above. Apart from the "newly discovered" documents, what do we actually know about the battle, and where it was fought? Unfortunately, not a great deal!

 

 

The battle was fought at Redemore, in the vicinity of Leicester. The name Redemore is mentioned twice in the York City records: "At Redemore near Leicester there was fought a battle."; and, "John Stoner send unto the Feld of Redemore". It was not until the early 16th century that the name "Bosworth" became associated with the battle. It is "Bosworth Field" in Henry VIII’s letter of licence of 1511, in The Great Chronicle of London and in Fabyn’s Chronicle of 1516 (virtually a copy of the Great Chronicle). The Great Chronicle says that Henry Tudor "came unto a village callyd Bosworth where in the ffyeldys ajoynant both hosts mett"; Fabyan elaborates slightly, with "King Richard mette with the sayd Prince Henry nere unto a village in Leycestershire named Bosworth, nere to Leycester". There were hills near the battle site, which were tactically used by the troops of the participating factions. A marsh stood at the place of the fight, probably separating the opposing forces at the start of the day. Finally, we know that King Richard was killed, according to Henry VII’s proclamation of August 1485, "at a place called Sandeford within the shire of Leicester". If these few facts are all we know, where do we get the traditional account of the battle which most historians have followed over the years?

 

The traditional account is the one that inspired Paul Murray Kendall’s magnificently romantic "Swansong of English Chivalry", and culminated in Dr. Williams’ imaginative mapping of the Ambien Hill location. It appears that this account originated with an amateur historian named John Robinson, who was the first to state, in 1785, that 'The Ambien' was 'the supposed place of the engagement’. William Hutton’s famous book "The Battle of Bosworth" was published three years later and was almost totally rejected at the time, as it has been since. But Hutton’s has become the account upon which most theories are based. For example, Hutton placed the position of the famous marsh. on the northwest slope of Ambien Hill, merely because he had trodden in it, near the spring known as "King Richard’s Well"! The following year, unable to find any trace of it, he continued to insist that what he had previously found was "that marsh". He appears not to have known that the marshland in the area had been reclaimed during the enclosure of Dadlington and Stoke Golding in the 1580s!

 

In his original article on the Dadlington controversy, Peter Foss opined that all we really know about the Battle of Bosworth is "That the battle was probably fought in an open space, on a marshy, waterlogged ground, with hills around it, and that King Richard was killed in the thick of the skirmish at a significant geographical location, a ford with a sandy, gravelly bed and, of course, a short distance from Dadlington Church where the slain from the battle were taken."

 

 

Kendall’s "Swansong of English Chivalry" charge-down-the-hill tradition is certainly very romantic and dramatic. When I make the definitive movie, this scenario will doubtless feature the battle as one of the high spots of Richard III’s story. But, is it valid? Did it really happen like this, on or around the hill at Ambien? Let's compare the traditional site of Bosworth Field with other 15th century battle sites.

 

What can be technically called the first battle of "the Wars between York and Lancaster" was fought on July 21,1403, near Shrewsbury. In "The Battlefields of England", Burne states that "The two hosts were drawn up opposite one another in the prescribed, deliberate method of mediaeval times". Those hosts were spread across the main local trade route, just to one side of the chief road to the town. The 'Yorkist' leader, the famous Harry Hotspur, had his position on a slight ridge that traversed the large flat plain which is known to this day as the battlefield. During the years that followed, the battles of Barnet, Blore Heath, Mortimers Cross, Towton, Tewkesbury, and Stoke were fought on large flat plains, with the opposing forces drawn up across a road.

 

Burne stated: "In those days contests took two forms, sieges, in which one side sat down to encompass the other, and battles, in which one side drew up in a long straight line, and the other obligingly conformed in a parallel line". During the entire period of the wars between York and Lancaster, the only exceptions to this rule were: St. Albans, fought like 'a Boy Scout Battle' in the streets of the town; and, if we believe the tradition, Bosworth Field, where the opposing forces began by slugging it out on the slopes of a boggy hill, until the disastrous intervention of the King with his Household, and Sir William Stanley’s force, finished things off in favor of Henry Tudor.

 

Interestingly unlike so many important mediaeval battles, the Shrewsbury scenario, well documented at the time, bears a remarkable resemblance both to Hastings and to Bosworth, which were the only two occasions in English history when the reigning king has been killed in action. Burne describes it thus: "The battle, after an initial attack on Hotspur by the King’s Archers up the slight ridge that was Hotspur’s position, became a general melee, when Hotspur’s men pursued the retreating royal troops down the hill onto the plain." At this point, Prince Henry’s (the future Henry V) troops intervened from the left flank, Hotspur found himself surrounded, and was killed. There is also an interesting local legend from the Battle of Blore Heath that bears a remarkable resemblance to one from Bosworth. At Bosworth, the inhabitants of Stoke Golding are reported to have watched the battle from their church tower, although the tower holds few people safely. According to Jean de Maurin’s [Waurin?] Chronicle, Queen Margaret observed the fighting at Blore Heath from Mucclestone Church Tower; when she realised the day was lost, she took flight. In "The Wars of the Roses", John Gillingham says, "As a story, this one is typical of local tradition, its fundamental uselessness half concealed by the veneer of topographical precision." Exit Queen Margaret, the shoes of her horse reversed to prevent pursuit, the inhabitants of Stoke Golding, and how many other local traditions that go to make up the Bosworth legend?

 

Why has no account of the battle come down to us from a local source, if so many people were just standing about watching? Someone obviously had a very good shredding machine, with a written order: "Destroy Anything Good About Richard III or Useful To Ricardian Historians"! Rous and Vergil may have had their bonfires when preparing Henry Tudor’s version of the truth, but how did so much material disappear? We know more about Senlac/Hastings than we know Bosworth!

 

If Dr. Williams and tradition are correct, why was Bosworth fought in a constricted space to the northwest of Ambien when to the south lay a vast, open plain? If one stands in the open fields a hundred yards to the north of Dadlington Church, and looks toward Ambien Hill, one is confronted with an obvious site for a mediaeval battle. The hill on which Dadlington stands slopes gently down to the valley of the Tweed, where it meets the old Roman road running across the plain of Redemore from the west in a straight line to Sutton Cheney, and beyond to Leicester. At the point where the Roman road meets the Dadlington-Shenton road, southwest of Ambien, it is still known as Fenn Lane; this is a possible clue to the position of the marsh. Along Fenn Lane from the west, the direction of Henry Tudor's approach, one progresses across a wide, flat plain stretching south-east to Stoke Golding, north to Ambien Hill, and east, seemingly forever. If one stands on Dadlington hill, and looks across the plain, one enjoys perhaps the best possible aspect of Ambien Hill. The Hill reaches its maximum height, approximately 400 feet, at the western end, where tradition places the fighting; it then slopes gradually down to the east. One-and-one-half miles further on, it reaches Sutton Cheney. The western end of the hill, facing Shenton, and "King Richard’s Field", with it's monument to Richard at "the place he was killed", is only 352 yards wide. The southern escarpment is a fairly gentle slope, although it would have been forbidding enough to discourage direct attack by an approaching army. If one were to stand at Dadlington, imagining the Royal armies drawn up along the length of the hill in the early morning of August 22, 1485, one would get a vivid impression of the awesome task facing Henry Tudor and his followers.

 

The field looking towards Ambien from the railway embankment.

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Vergil stated that, on the morning of the battle, "King Richard drew forth his whole host out of their tents, and arrayeth his vanward, stretching it forth of a wonderful length". Richard would not have been able to do this on the western end of the hill, 352 yards not being a particularly great length. It seems most unlikely that Richard would have arrayed his men first to the south, and then have ordered them to turn to the west in order to fight. In this manner, we have: the King on the summit of Ambien Hill, in the best position to see the surrounding countryside; the Duke of Norfolk and his son, the Earl of Surrey, commanding the vanguard, deployed along the edge of the hill, facing south; and the army of Northumberland to the left of Norfolk’s forces, on the gentler slopes by Sutton Cheney, where they probably faced Lord Thomas Stanley, who was drawn up on the slopes by Dadlington, sitting neatly between the opposing sides. Thomas' brother, Sir William, already declared a traitor by the King, sat to his brother's west, near Stoke Golding, at the rear of Henry Tudor's army, but not actually a part of it.

 

 

The positions and presumed motivations of the Stanleys are crucial to the understanding of the battle, as is their actual locations. Dr. Williams places both Stanleys the north of Ambien Hill, most convenient if they were to intervene on Henry's behalf at Shenton, but in total contradiction to existing evidence and any tactical sense. First, they would have had a clear view of the King's movements, but none of Henry's, until Henry had moved up from his encampment on Whitemoors and around the hill. The Stanley forces were divided into two armies: one nominally supporting the King, the other fighting against. Williams places Thomas in position to the north of his brother, close to Market Bosworth, behind the lines of a declared traitor. This positioning refutes the tradition that Richard summoned William Stanley to come to his aid. The King's herald would have had to reach William Stanley by riding straight through [Thomas?] [William?] Stanley’s [own?] lines. It would have been tantamount to declaring to Richard that he sympathized with Henry. This not something Thomas would have done before the fighting. In all accounts of the battle, it is clear that Thomas Stanley hovered between the armies, concealing his intent until he was absolutely forced to reveal it. In his biography of Richard, Charles Ross states . that Dr. Williams’ theory, which places Lord Thomas to the north of Ambien Hill, "scarcely amounts to a vantage point between the two armies". Ross also adds that "This is just one of the many inaccuracies in this account."

 

The "Song of the Lady Bessy", an account of the battle most likely written in the early 16th century, alleges that, upon hearing of Tudor's progress from Wales, the Stanleys moved south from Cheshire to intercept Henry and to block the London road. However, with their two separate armies, the Stanley brothers were able to play the usual family game of having somebody end up on the winning side. While Lord Thomas retreated before Tudor's forces, Sir William was able to aid Henry’s triumphal entry into Shrewsbury. At this point, William made his unmistakable declaration for Henry, and King Richard declared Wiliam a traitor. Yet, according to 'The Song of the Lady Bessy', when news reached William that Thomas was under attack at Lichfield, he dashed off to Thomas’ aid, thus placing in jeopardy Thomas’s supposed allegiance to Richard, if it were the King attacking [Thomas? William?]. There is some doubt about this. Another ballad account, "Bosworth Field", substitutes Tamworth for Lichfield. Both places are en route from Wales to London, through Leicester. In this account, William does not join with his brother, but holds his distance, camping in the fields by Stoke Golding. Thomas, making a show of siding with the King, puts up his tents near Stapleton, southeast of Ambien Hill. Further confusing the issue, the Croyland Chronicle states that both Stanleys spent the night before the battle at Atherstone, west of Ambien Hill, behind the Tudor camp. Whichever version is correct, all contemporaneous accounts place the Stanleys in two separate armies; Croyland apart, all accounts place them southwest of Ambien Hill and the King. For Vergil’s account, Crown Hill seems most logical location of Sir William Stanley's camp, and Dadlington for Lord Thomas’. The legend is that William Stanley placed the crown on Henry Tudor's head, which feasible if William had camped there the previous night; and, after bravely (?) saving Henry's life in the battle, had withdrawn there to celebrate the victory. Dadlington would have provided Lord Thomas with the best view of the area after Ambien, while he was deciding which side to support. Writing in the 19th century, Gairdner suggested that the earthworks south of Sutton Cheney, between Dadlington and Stapelton on Harpers Hill, were of Lord Stanley's making. There would have been very little time to accomplish such a feat before the battle. However, it would have put Thomas in an advantageous position, in clear view of both armies, but nearer to the King. Gairdner places Sir William on Hangman’s Hill, behind the royal lines, near Sutton Cheney and north of his brother. This would have been a position far too dangerous for a declared traitor. It would have been an impossible location from which to mount a rescue operation on Henry Tudor's left wing, as by all written accounts [William?] did. Except for Dr Williams, all other writers place the Stanleys to the north of Ambien Hill. This would have been totally illogical if, on the morning of the battle, they were to move to the northwest of the King.

 

Another mystery involves the Stanleys. Weeks after the battle, in a letter sent to the Vatican relating to the needed papal dispensation for the marriage of Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York, Lord Thomas stated that he had only known Henry personally from August 24, 1485, two days after the battle! Is this simply a clerical error? In view of the uproar caused by Henry VII's dating of his reign from August 21st, the day before Bosworth, the actual date of the battle must have been well known. Did Lord Stanley not meet his stepson until well after the battle? He had attended the council in Leicester the day before the battle: had he made some sort of non-intervention pact with the King? William alone received the spoils of the battlefield. Thomas had to be content with the title "Earl of Derby". Henry was unwilling to make his mother a duchess; to have done so would have made his stepfather a duke. Was the grant of an earldom to Thomas merely recognition of his marriage to the new king's mother? Why, then, did Sir William receive no title? Was Henry punishing him for having so long delayed his entry into the fight? Or did Henry realize how readily the Stanleys changed their allegiance? Any investigation of Bosworth raises many questions like these.

 

Perhaps the biggest question mark of all hangs over the head of Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland. Why did he sit out the battle? Was he the villain of the piece, as most Ricardians would have us believe? What were his motives for not participating? The Stanleys at least had a tenuous family connection with Henry Tudor. Had Northumberland made a deal with Henry just before the battle? This is unlikely.

 

It is certain that Northumberland was approached by Henry's agents earlier in the year, and that he rebuffed them [Source?]. None of the chronicles suggests that a meeting took place between Henry and Northumberland.

 

Percy had joined King Richard at Leicester on August 20, it would have been nearly impossible for him to slip away, even for a few hours, particularly if Richard held Percy’s loyalty in doubt. It is often suggested that Northumberland was simply jealous of Richard's popularity in the north and wanted to see him out of the way. This theory is most unlikely. By virtue of the fact he was king, Richard would have had to spend most of his time in the south; thus he was too far away to interfere with Northumberland’s influence. Several other reasons have been advanced for Northumberland’s apparent dislike of the king: Richard's refusal to grant him wardenship of the northern marches for life; or Richard’s having appointed his nephew John, Earl of Lincoln, at the head of the Council of the North, a position Northumberland may have felt "belonged to him". A major question is: what treatment could he have expected from the unknown Henry Tudor? The Percies had a very spotty record of loyalty to the English crown, but it seems unlikely that this particular Percy was considering treason. Perhaps the Earl did not take part in the battle simply because he was simply not timely summoned, or that the fighting was all but over, and Richard dead, before Percy realized what was happening. Perhaps he simply could not get into the battle because the marsh got in the way.

Dadlington Churchyard ,burial place of the fallen.

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Based on the aftermath of the battle, it probable that on the morning of August 22, Northumberland’s northern troops were drawn up on the king's left wing. Thus, they were stretched out along Ambien Hill, near Sutton Cheney, facing the forces of Lord Thomas Stanley in Dadlington fields; possibly they were at a slight angle to them, effectively neutralising the doubtful Earl. Between the two forces lay a marsh.

 

The actual position of the marsh poses the most difficult problem when discussing Bosworth field, or Redemore Plain, as it was known until the early 16th century. "Redemore" means "the place of the reedy marsh", but exactly where was it? Vergil says "there was a marsh betwixt both hosts which Henry of purpose left on the right that it might serve his men instead of a fortress by the doing thereof, also he left the sun at his back." This account might provide Northumberland the benefit of doubt, and prove Henry a better general than previously believed. It is more likely that Oxford was in charge, but this causes a problem respecting the position of the sun.

 

All available evidence suggests that the battle was over by 10 a.m. If Henry crossed Redemore plain in the early morning, the sun would have been directly in Henry's face, not at his back. It is possible that he moved along the old Roman road until he reached the marsh at the old Tweed crossing, then turned northwest to go around the marsh. This would make Vergil's account accurate. Quoting Holinshed, even Shakespeare has Richard rushing into action when told "The enemy is past the marsh". Did Henry move past the marsh to face Richard on the plain? It appears that Norfolk attacked early. Therefore, Henry's troops, under the Earl of Oxford, had to plant their standards firmly in the ground and attempt to give no quarter. In "The Making of the Tudor Dynasty", Professor Griffiths has Henry camped at Merevale the night before the battle. He postulates that the march to meet the king occupied so much of the next day that the sun was likely to have been at Henry’s back when the fighting began. However, this contradicts all the available sources, which suggest that the fighting began early in the morning. It may be best to avoid confusion by assuming, as Professor Ross does, and assume that Vergil "simply got his facts wrong". Peter Foss states that "All the flat area between Penny Drayton and Dadlington was a fen; it was known to be a fen, and the Fenn Lane takes its name from this area." One can imagine the fen at the point where the spur of the hills begins to rise from the flat plain, especially where there is a confluence of a number of tributaries. That is the only evidence, geographically speaking, of a large area which seems to have been systematically drained, as the are is known to have been in the 16th Century".

 

Writing in 1577, Holinshed mentioned that the drainage "is at the confluence of the tributaries of the Tweed river under Greenhill Farm, which lies to the northeast of Dadlington, and where, significantly, the route of the Roman road is lost between the Tweed crossing and Mallory Park. The evidence is that the Roman road was probably always diverted north westward up the flank of the hill." In other words, the flank of the hill that was Northumberland's position. Foss asks, "Could this have been the site of an undrainable marsh?" It could indeed!

Towards Ambien across Redmore from Dadlington

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The marsh, stretched along and around the area of the Tweed brook, and to the east of the Roman road, where its tributary joined it. Today, the Tweed is crossed at two points in this area today, as it was in 1484: by the old Roman road, at the point it veers off to the northeast, and by the Dadlington to Shenton road, just north of the Fenn lane. Either crossing could be claimed as Sandeford, the spot at which Richard is said to have fallen.

 

Inventive as ever, Dr Williams, has Sandeford to the northwest of Ambien Hill where, he tells us the inhabitants of Sutton Cheney crossed the Sence brook when returning from the sand pits of Shenton. In fact, there was no crossing point near Shenton of this brook, as the road from Shenton to Sutton Cheney along the north of Ambien Hill did not then exist. This suggests that the marsh stretched along the northern side of the old Roman road, from the Tweed crossing point, towards Sutton Cheney, and that its extent was deceptive in 1485 -- it was a particularly hot, dry summer. It is likely that, on the morning of August 22, 1485, Oxford lined up his troops to the north of the marsh, on the open plain, with Henry on his left flank, facing Richard, but slightly behind the main engagement in a reinforcement position. Neither Northumberland nor Richard understood the treacherous nature of the ground, and lined up on the king's left wing. In his Chronicles, Holinshed states that Richard's armies "marched out of the camp unto the plain" and that, at the crucial time in the conflict, "Richard rode out of the syde of the range of the battell" to confront Henry. This directly challenges the romantic tradition, to which even Rosemary Horrox alludes, the "swansong-of-English-chivalry" charge down Ambien Hill -- "and into legend", as they say of El Cid at the end of a famous film. However, if Richard charged so magnificently, and if it were such a thrilling sight that many stopped fighting to watch in awe, why do no contemporary or near-contemporary sources bother to mention it? Even Richard’s enemies recalled how bravely he met his end. But what actually happened?

 

Richard had never before merely sat and watched a battle in which he had a command. Significantly, neither had his brother King Edward. On this August morning, was Richard again trying to emulate his brother by fighting the right wing of his battle and leading by example? Is Shakespeare's Richard, this "warlike sovereign", an accurate description for once?

 

Vergil contends that "While the battle continued thus hot betwixt the vanguards, King Richard understood first by espials where Earl Henry was…wherefore all inflamed with ire, he strick his horse with the spurs, and runneth out the one side without the vanwards against him". In other words, Henry was at the rear of his army when Richard's spies located him, and the King in the midst of the fighting on his right wing, on the slopes below the west end of Ambien Hill. Richard did not see Henry riding off for help, because Henry did not do so.

Towards Ambien from Dadlington, possible position

of Thomas Stanley.

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Thus, when the King of England rode out of the battle to hunt for his rival, he did not cross in front of Sir William Stanley’s forces.. That would have been an ill-conceived, dangerous manoeuvre. Hearing of Norfolk's death, Richard’s frustration peaked. He rode out of the right wing with 20 or 30 knights his household around him, including Ratcliffe, Kendall, and Brackenbury. He clashed with Henry's forces at the crossing point of the Tweed, on the present Dadlington-to-Shenton road. "Henry perceavyed King Richard comme uppon him, and because all his hope was then in valyancy of armes, he receayved him with great courage." In all the dust and confusion of battle, Sir William Stanley, in his position slightly to the north of Stoke Golding, was the only commander able to see what was happening. Stanley charged up from the south to support Henry and to destroy the King. As Vergil put it, "as loe William Stanley with thre thowsand men came to the reskew." On the distant left wing, Northumberland could have seen none of this. As Croyland states, "while fierce fighting was going on before the king's position, where the Earl of Northumberland stood, with a large and well equipped contingent, no adversary could be seen; no blows were given and none received." If the marsh was extended along that part of the terrain, as I have suggested, perhaps the Earl would not have been able to enter the battle. Perhaps he was not summoned. The manner in which the royal army was spread out along the hill would have made communication difficult before the battle. Ross suggests that "communications in mediaeval armies were bad once battle had been joined, and Northumberland's men could only have been committed to the fighting by a sophisticated right hook flanking manoeuvre, which even disciplined modern armies find hard to achieve." Tony Pollard compared Richard to Henry V, rather difficult to understand in view of the results of Bosworth. Pollard does say that Richard "charged recklessly and impulsively before Northumberland's men had been brought into action. A tactical blunder rather than a betrayal may have cost Richard the battle, his crown, and his life". Northumberland did eventually submit to Henry, but not on the battlefield. The new king sent Northumberland straight off to prison, an unlikely way to treat a conspirator whose inactivity had helped Henry win the day and the crown.

 

Immediately upon receiving the news of Richard's death, Northumberland withdrew. His troops, less dignified, fled in disarray back towards Cadeby, Leicester, and the north. Weapons found in the region of Sutton Cheney in 1748 are said to have been discarded by Northumberland's troops as they fled. Dr. Williams refutes the tradition that, on hearing of Richard's demise, his troops broke and fled across Redemore plain towards Stoke Golding and the south. This conveniently explains why "heaps of bones" have been dug up in Dadlington churchyard, how the Stanleys found themselves on Crown Hill, chasing the fleeing troops, and why there are no burial pits on Ambien Hill. However, Williams does not explain why these men, most of whom came from the midlands and the north, should break and flee south, straight through the opposing army. Dr. Williams would have us believe, that to stand in the old Shenton station, beneath the Dragon of Cadwallader, the position of Henry Tudor's army, and look up at the White Boar standard on the hill above, begs many questions.

 

One of the chief questions is: Why, if his rival were so close, did the King feel the need to charge down the steepest part of the hill to reach him? A flight of arrows, or a simple cannonade, would have rid Richard of his problem with a minimal loss of life? Perhaps the King suffering from a deep depression, having so recently lost his wife and son; he may have been in a mood that made him act recklessly, throwing all to chance, or to the will of God. Michael Jones wrote a marvelous article about Richard III in "Richard The Third, a Mediaeval Kingship". Jones concludes that "Bosworth was the first battle [Richard] had commanded, and one he should not have lost,....being in a position to overwhelm Tudor's forces."

 

In 1642, not too many miles from Bosworth, another king of England found himself on a hill, watching a battle. This battle was also being fought on a large flat plain, at the very foot of a long, steep escarpment known as Edgehill. At the time, this particular battle was called the Battle of Edgehill, and has been known by that name ever since. It is not known by the name of the nearest market town, nor by that of the plain below. If, as tradition suggests, the battle we now call Bosworth Field was fought on and around Ambien Hill, why is it not known as the battle of Ambien Hill, the most prominent topographical feature of the area?

 

Until 1511 and Henry VIII's letter of licence to Dadlington church, our conflict was known as Redemore Plain; only by the second decade of the 16th century had it become known as "Bosworth Feld, also called Dadlington field." Colin Richmond has said that "So far, nothing said or published since the beginning of 1985 has impelled me to alter my view that it was around Dadlington, and not about Ambien Hill, the Battle of Bosworth was fought--all of the battle, I might add."

Sandeford closer on Richards final stand.

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Paul Trevor Bale : paultrevor@btopenworld.com

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