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An Analysis of the causes of the Wars and the course which they took.

Michael D. Miller

Chapter 77 Supplement: Alternative site to the Battle of Bosworth: 1485

 

Ambion Hill is accepted by most historians as the true site of the battle, and mostly this is due to the description given by Polydore Vergil in his book Anglica Historia, even if this work is not as precise as it might be. Vergil, who wrote in the vivid and descriptive style of the Renaisance rather than in the flat and prosaic manner favoured by North European chroniclers, undoubtedly had the advantage of trawling the memories of those who had fought in the battle and were still alive when he was writing his book. [He began his writing in 1505] At least one of these would have been Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, the victor of the battle of Flodden 1513, who had held a command in King Richard III's army, but there must have been others from both sides. They seem to have guided Vergil to Ambion Hill, and this is the site which is shown to visitors to the battlefield. It can be reached from the modern Sutton Cheyney to Shenton road, and a visit, combined with another to the excellant Battle-field Centre, is a most rewarding experience.

It is maddening that the contempory chroniclers (who were rarely present) seem not to have concerned themselves with the real strengths of the opposing armies, the true sites of the battles, or with the tactics employed, but busied themselves solely with the glorification of the victorious commanders. To this end the numbers engaged were almost always hopelessly exaggerated, and the personal valour of the victors lost nothing in the telling. In such circumstances it is not surprising that hearsay evidence was freely accepted whilst that of actual eye-witnesses was not objectively tested. The standards of 'reporting' which are attained by the modern newspaper and television news broadcast, or by the careful and precise recording of the Duke of Wellington's campaigns during the Peninsular War (1808-1814) and the Waterloo campaign (1815) were not attempted, and possibly not even understood.

Some writers would have us believe that the main clash of the battle took place on the plain which lies at the foot of Ambion Hill and about 1/2 mile to the West of that feature. [Map, page ] The site so favoured is about 1/4 mile due south of Shenton Church. The countryside was then an almost featureless plain of heath, marsh and scrub except in the few places that it was cultivated. From the top of Ambion Hill, there was then excellant visibility for many miles around in marked contrast to today, when many hedges, trees and copses obscure the view. Likewise, any body of men on top of the Hill could be seen from afar.

What incentive did King Richard III, an experienced commander thought to be one of the best generals of his time, have to leave the heights and to fight in the plain?

Such a manoeuver might have made good sense if, but only if, he had felt able to rely on the loyalty of Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland. With his division added to the Howard's division and his own, he would have had a marked preponderence of numbers so that it would have been worth making such an advance with the intention of attacking his enemy and forcing him to fight. In this event, the dithering Stanleys, who only wanted to be on the winning side, would almost certainly have found it worth their while to join in on the Royal side. It may have been a gamble where the Stanleys were concerned (Sir William Stanley was still a proclaimed traitor), but not one that was unacceptably risky. Such a force could have terrified the Tudor army into precipitate flight or early surrender; any battle would have been over in a very short time.

But Richard did not have the advantage of a complete belief in Northumberland's loyalty. Once on the plain, he might have been tempted to desert to the Tudor side, taking with him such of his division as would follow him. [Possibly not all his men would have done so. Many in his division were fanatical supporters of King Richard - see page ] Such a desertion could have governed the attitude of the Stanleys and persuaded them to throw in their lot with the Tudor. This could have ended in a very different out-come - very possibly a disasterous defeat of the Royal army. If however Richard and the Royal army remained on top of the Hill, he could have presented his adversary with the sight of an imposing force, visible for many miles, apparently very strong and totally confident, in a defensive position of great strength. The Tudor army would have had no other realistic option but to attack, something that Richard most earnestly desired. To march towards London would expose the Tudor rear-guard to possible attack by a strong and undefeated Royal force, when the Stanleys could be expected to join in on Richard's side. To retreat would have invited persuit and possibly the break-up of the Tudor army.

For Richard, there were other advantages as well. The Hill could be held by his own and the Howard divisions alone without the help of the unreliable Northumberland, who would have found it very much more difficult to desert if that was what he had in mind. It must be remembered that Henry Tudor was not a party to Richard's doubts about Northumberland, and even if he had been in correspondence with him, he could never have felt entirely sure that shifty nobleman would honour his promises, if indeed he had made any. Oxford had little knowledge of Henry Percy, but Henry Tudor's other officers would have told him that the Percies had, from time immemorial, stood for Percy interests alone; there was little room for other loyalties.

From these obvious military considerations, tempered by doubts about Northumberland's loyalties and the very much more acute ones of those of the Stanleys, it would have been strange indeed if Richard ever left the advantages of Ambion Hill for the uncertainties of the plain. These alone make it easier to accept that Ambion Hill is the true site of the battle.

Those who would place the battle on the plain do present a powerful and compelling argument for doing so, and the reader who is interested will find all the reasons set out in "The Field of Redemore - the Battle of Bosworth 1485" by Peter Foss (2nd Edition 1998). This interesting book deals with many points, among them the ballards composed shortly after the battle and the writings of antiquaries in the 17th-and 18th-centuries. These are not such great value as evidence, the ballards owing much to poetic licence and the antiquaries not having ready access to records more weighty than local legend; there are still nuggets of truth in them, and the difficulty lies in extracting them. This Foss makes a sustained and systematic effort to do.

Of greater interest is the detritus of battle. William Burton, a late 16th-century historian of Leicestershire, born into the families of the Lords of the Manors of Dadlington and Higham, recorded that during enclosures and draining operations around Stoke Golding in the late 1590s, 'divers' (in fact many) pieces of armour, weapons and arrow heads were found. This is compelling evidence that some fighting took place on the plain, but it is not totally determinative that the battle was fought there; some gunstones have been found on the top of Ambion Hill and in the neighbourhood of Glebe Farm, and if the battle took place on the plain, the question must be asked how they came to be there.

We do know that, after King Richard was slain, some parts of his own division and the Howard's division attempted to flee, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that some of them did so in a southerly direction towards Stoke Golding. They would have become entangled in the marsh, and there they were cut down by persuing Tudor troops (although there was no general persuit of the beaten army by the Tudors) in the place where Burton found his artifacts.

The dead of the battle were said to have been buried in Dadlington churchyard, this being the nearest convenient piece of consecrated ground. In 1511, Dadlington church was given a licence to raise money:-

"...for the bielding" [this expression can include the enlarging of an existing structure] "of a chapell of Sainte James standing upon a parcell of the grounde where Bosworth feld, otherwise called Dadlyngton feld, in our countie of Leicestr' was done..."

This is impressive, but it could have related only to the would-be fugitives from the battle who met their deaths nearby. It can be supposed that the Vicar of Dadlington, in aggessive competion with other local churchmen for the dignity of the memorial chapel, may not have been above some exaggeration when applying for his licence; it seems that in no other place is 'Dadlyngton feld' so mentioned. Perhaps also, by 1511, memory had already become corrupted by myth.

From the drainsge and enclosure operations of which Burton speaks in the late 16th-century, there was obviously a stretch of marshland in the low-lying areas to the West of Ambion Hill,  [see plan page ] and it was this marsh which the Tudor army had to skirt before it could come to grips with the Royal army. Even today the land once occupied by the marsh floods in a wet winter, although it is now many times better drained by the River Sence than it was in the 15th-century. There cannot be any difference with Peter Foss on this point, except that he appears to exclude any possiblity that the marsh extended to where Ambion Wood stands today. To this marshland the homely name of Redemore was given, and no doubt the rushes which grow in abundance in any marsh were useful for thatching and a number of other domestic and agricultural purposes. [There is some supposition that the proper name was 'Redmore', as a reference to the colour of the soil]

The Records of the City of York {R. Davies - Extracts from the Records of the City of York, Edward IV-Richard III] show that on 23rd August 1483, in fact the day after the battle, "divesse personnes" and in particular John Sponer reported to the City Fathers that King Richard III had been defeated and killed at "Redemore". The "divesse personnes" must have been some of the 80 horsemen sent by the City,   [page ] and they and Sponer must have ridden through the night to bring the news so quickly.

This could lead to the belief that the battle did in fact take place on the plain, but just how reliable was this report? On the death of the King, it was of course totally accurate, but was it also completely correct about the name of the place where he met his death?

There is some doubt that the the soldiers arrived in time for the battle. They were only dispatched from York during the evening of 19th August, and it was a two-day journey to Leicester. Anybody who has ever been a soldier will know of the difficulties of finding ones unit in a fast-moving campaign. It can be a frustrating business and a time-consuming one as well; the soldiers had very little time, and they may not have reached the battle in time to fight in it at all. If so, what they had to say must have been heard from other people and was hearsay; hearsay can be reliable, but it should always be regarded with suspicion. If in spite of everything they did take part in the battle,  they had many other things to worry about than the exact location of places and their names. If John Sponer had stayed in Leicester, the same would apply to him but, faithful fellow that he was, he would have stayed with King Richard rather than be left behind. Did he have a chance to get the local geography straight in his mind by questioning the local people? He only arrived in Sutton Cheyney late on the 21st, and well before mid-morning of the 22nd he was riding hard for York, fearful of persuit. This did not give him much opportunity to question the local people so that he could be precise about the names of places in an unfamiliar locality. Anyway, to the City Fathers, it was the death of their friendly King that mattered, not the precise name of the place where this sad event had occured.

A few days after the battle, King Henry VII (as Henry Tudor must now be known), signed a proclamation announcing:-

"Richard, Duke of Gloucester, lately called King Richard was lately slain at a place called Sandeford within the Shire of Leicester and brought dead off the field."

The proclamation went on to pardon the common soldiers and to say that nobody should hinder their return to their homes or molest them during their journeys. It also called for an end to feuding, something for which King Henry, by pen and by sword, would have to strive for years to achieve.

It goes without saying that Henry was a reliable witness to a most recent event. He had very nearly been killed at Sandeford (not Redmore or Redemore), and people tend to carry vivid memories of such events. Sandeford was a common place-name however, and was often used to denote a ford whose bottom consisted of sand, thought to be a dependable substance for the passage of man and beast. Our trouble is that there are two places which qualify for this name - one in the marsh, and the other in the spot which is shown to visitors as the place where King Richard III died.

There is therefore some question about the exact site of the battle of Bosworth, and those that favour Ambion Hill (as does the author) must recognise that there are powerful arguments presented by those who favour the plain. Bosworth is by no means unique in this respect, as there are similar doubts about the precise sites of most of the battles of the Wars of the Roses.

Of the 14 battles, great and small, we can claim that we are certain of the site of only one, 1st St Albans 1455. We are reasonably certain of the sites of others because the accounts which exist and the local topography co-incide to a very marked extent - Northampton 1460, Wakefield 1460, 2nd St Albans 1461, Towton 1461, Hexham 1464, Barnet 1471, Tewkesbury 1471 and Stoke 1487. As for the remainder, Blore Heath 1459, Mortimers Cross 1461, Hedgely Moor 1464 and Edgecote 1469, we can only be certain to within a mile or so. It seems that Bosworth, the most decisve battle of them all, must be included within this last category.

Copyright Michael D. Miller 2003