So the Battle of Bosworth, the first day of the 118 year reign of the Tudors. Quite a significant day really. It’s the day where Richard III got his arsed well and truly kicked by Henry Tudor. In fact it wasn’t even kicked – his head was smashed in, a sword ran through his brain and his body paraded around Leicester like a teddy on The Generation Game. Richard lost, big time.
First, some back story: The shit all started because of a Royal family feud. There was the Lancaster side and the York side, both related to long-dead Edward III, and both thought this gave them a claim to the throne. The Lancastrian Henry VI, AKA ‘The Mad King, had a nervous breakdown and so his cousin Richard of York became the protector of the realm. This did not go down well with Henry’s mental bitch Queen Margaret of Anjou, and she promptly rallied around to try and take the throne back. Rainbow fans may remember that Richard of York Gave Battle In Vain – this is where that came from.
Well anyway, Richard’s son Edward took the crown and was declared King of England. The English subjects didn’t mind because Henry VI was crazy as balls and they hated his French wife. By way of contrast, Edward IV was a young bit of totty who actually went on to do a fairly good job. There were a few incidents where Henry won the throne back and the crown swapped hands a few times but then Henry died.
How does this all relate to the Battle of Bosworth I hear you ask? Well listen up and you will see. Henry VI’s only son lost his head at the Battle of Tewksbury so Henry Tudor became his heir. This made Edward IV a little nervous and Henry was exiled to France for his own protection. Henry Tudor however kept in regular contact with his Mum, Margaret Beaufort, one of the most formidable women in Tudor history.
Margaret was a fiercely loyal Lancastrian, and she hated the Yorkist King Edward with a passion. Margaret had very cleverly married Lord Stanley 1st Earl of Derby. She had sniffed him out because, although he was a bit of a scrote-face, he was notorious at having a finger in every pie. Margaret had quite rightly figured that because Stanley was central to the Yorkist camp, he was well placed to help her put her son Henry on the throne. Stanley had sworn loyalty to Yorkist’s but this meant precisely fuck all when shit got real.The hottie King Edward IV died, and was succeeded by his son, the imaginatively named Edward V. As the new Edward was only 12, the old Edward had entrusted his brother Richard to be The Lord Protector until he came of age.
Richard subsequently had his nephew, the new boy-king, put into the Tower of London with his younger brother (you heard of The Princes in the Tower? this is them), to prepare for the coronation. This wasn’t too weird at the time because the tower was a royal palace, but a short time later the boys vanished. They were presumed murdered, though no bodies were ever found*. I don’t want to go on a tangent about who killed the boys in the tower because it’s something I could write about all day, but Richard was conveniently next in line, and became King Richard IIIWhilst all this was happening Henry was still in exile in France gathering an army with his Uncle Jasper, (a Welsh badass training Henry to be equally as bad ass). Henry got funding from King Charles VIII of France, who wanted the English distracted while he seized Brittany Sneaky bastard. He gave Henry a shit load of cash and a small army to go fuck up the usurper King Richard.
Richard only ruled England for two years and it’s fair to say that he had pissed a lot of people off – especially his former sister-in-law, Elizabeth Woodville, mother to the missing Princes in the Tower. Elizabeth actually started to conspire with Margaret Beaufort, despite the fact that they previously loathed one another’s guts. Seriously, these women pure hated each other, they were sworn enemies but when you both want to see Richard dead what can you do? They plotted together to marry off Elizabeth Woodville’s daughter (the beautiful Elizabeth of York), to Henry VII once he had destroyed Richard. This would unite the Yorkist and Lancastrian houses and remove all doubt that Henry was true king; Elizabeth of York was after all Edward IV oldest child.
Henry was happy with this. Providing he wasn’t brutally murdered in the field he would not only inherit the throne of England, Wales and Ireland but also get to wed and bed the fittest girl in the lands, like a boss. However, like all good stories, there is a twist. Richard III was also widely rumoured to be smitten like a pubescent 14 year old boy over her, even though she was his niece. Grim. Gossip was flying that the two were already secretly shagging and he wanted to marry her, much to the dismay of his wife Anne Neville (the Queen, as she was then).These rumours were only made worse when Elizabeth rocked up to court in clothes so smart she made Anne look like a right tramp. Richard danced with Elizabeth, wined her and dined her all, under the nose of his wife. Anne was pretty good looking herself, but Elizabeth was just so hot that all the men at court loved her.
Shit got real when, in March 1485, Anne died. Rumours flew everywhere that Richard had bumped her off with poison to clear the way for Elizabeth. Hearing the news in France Henry went fucking wild. If he still wanted to bag the English throne AND his smoking young bride then he had no choice – he had to invade straight away, bringing us to the Battle of Bosworth.
By this point Margaret Beaufort had been placed under house arrest for suspected treason. Her husband was placed in charge of making sure she didn’t cause any shit. If this already sounds like a dumb idea, then remember that her husband Lord Stanley was planning to see which side would benefit him best, despite telling Richard he would fight for him.
Lord Stanley’s brother, William, had already told Richard he couldn’t make the battle due to ‘ill health’. Richard was so pissed off about this he declared him a traitor. Thomas Stanley’s son was also taken to the tower as hostage, saying he would execute him on the battlefield if the Stanley’s didn’t turn up. What a prick, using the ‘ha, I’ve got your kids’ approach. Apparently Thomas’ response was ‘I have other sons…’ Stone cold. The Stanley brothers though to be fair were on a win-win; they had 6000 men and were set to be key in deciding who would be King
Henry finally landed on the Welsh coast on August 7th, 1485 with 2000 men, most on loan from the French King, and picking up another 500 badass Welsh men up for a scrap on the way. They then started the 200 mile march to kick some Yorkist arse all over the shop.
Richard was at Nottingham castle at the time and really didn’t give a shit. Like a cocky mother trucker he stayed an extra night and ordered an enormous banquet to celebrate his victory (albeit prematurely, like a chump). What did he care; he had 10,000-12,000 men (though 6000 were the Stanley families army), was competent in battle, already had the throne and this was by no means his first rodeo, unlike the scruffy nomad Henry Tudor who was new to all this. Things did look a little bleak for Henry, and although he had bollocks of steel he must’ve been pure shitting himself.
In the early hours of 22nd August 1485 the two armies met on the battlefield: Richard at the top of the hill and Henry stuck in a shitty marsh down at the bottom. Henry had brought with him some long bow men from France, who ripped into Richards men no problem, and Richard opened cannon fire. Both sides took a pasting. The Stanley brothers, Thomas and William, sat on the hill with their army watching the fight, waiting to join in when the opportunity was in their favour: sly but totally clever.
A massive amount of Richards’s men simply placed their swords into the ground and refused to fight. By this point there had been more than 30 years of conflicts over the throne and the knights and squires were pissed off with fighting for spoilt rich bastards who couldn’t stop scrapping like dogs over a bone The men who surrendered made a difference but it was a stones drop in the ocean and Richard advanced on Henry, who refused to back down.
Richards’s men came dangerously close to royally fucking Henry up (in every sense) but his bodyguards managed to protect him. Then, suddenly, Stanley’s army swooped down to join the battle – on Henry’s side. Richard found himself right in the centre of the deepest shit storm in The Plantagenet history (and there were loads, this family couldn’t have a shit without an execution, some treason or a slice of betrayal).
Why did the Stanley’s side with Henry? Well, what did they have to lose? William was already accused of treason and Richard would’ve killed The young Stanley Lord regardless, Thomas stood to be ‘father’ of the King should Henry win, and in all honesty they were both sick to shit of Richard. The prospect of uniting Yorkist’s and Lancastrian’s seemed appealing as it would finally see peace in the country. Richard gave the orders to execute Thomas Stanley’s son – whose name, incidentally, was Lord Strange which is awesome – but his men resisted, saying they were too far into war and they would do it after. They were clearly thinking about handing him over to the new King as a bargaining chip in case Henry won, crafty like ninja foxes.
As the Stanley’s troops advanced on Richard, he was offered a horse to flee battle, to which he replied ‘I will die here a king or live’ and charged into battle. Richard was not a popular King but nobody could call him a coward. He was soon dragged to the ground and brutally killed.
It’s not obvious that the men of that era were able to recognise when a man was dead because they drove an axe (or a halberd if you want to be technical), into his skull, stabbed the shit of his face and then for good measure and to make absolutely certain Richard was dead, they shoved a sword through the base of his neck up into his brain. I’m not an expert myself, but I will go out on a limb and say Richard of York, Duke of Gloucester was definitely dead after this. After death the brutality just kept coming. He was stabbed through the buttock, damaging his pelvis and stabbed in the side fucking up his rib cage. I think its fair to say the Lancastrians meant business.
Lord Stanley then, like a massive creep, picked up Richards crown from under a bush and placed it upon Henry’s head, proclaiming him as the new King of England. Richard III was the last king of England to die in battle, and the first to be found buried under a car park. The battle was over by lunchtime, which I’m sure some of the men would’ve found convenient as they probably had eating and raping to do in the local taverns.
Henry went on to marry Elizabeth of York and the two ruled in relative peace, before eventually having a child who grew to be a more familiar character to us: Henry VIII.
*just as a little foot-note, two children’s skeletons were uncovered in the Tower of London during a renovation. They can never be identified as the princes though because Queens’s approval is needed for a DNA test to be conducted and she won’t allow it
Do I think Richard killed the princes? No. Do I shit. Evidence holds that he was a boss Uncle and loyal to his brother. Do I think Shakespeare was responsible for him being portrayed as a tyrant? Hell yes. Do I think he killed his wife? Nah,she could’ve died of 101 things, it was the 15th century and the country was like an opened clinical waste Petri dish. Do I think he would’ve married his niece had he won? Fuck yes, she was hot as shit.