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The Battle of Bosworth Field was the last significant battle of the Wars of the Roses and historians consider that the death of Richard III marked the end of the War of the Roses, the civil war between the Houses of Lancaster and York that raged across England in the latter half of the 15th century.

The battle was won by the Lancastrians under the leadership of Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, who became the first Tudor monarch of England replacing the Yorkist King Richard III, the last Plantagenet monarch.

Richard’s reign began in 1483 when he was given the throne after his twelve-year-old nephew Edward V, for whom he was acting as Lord Protector, was declared illegitimate. Edward and his younger brother Richard, Earl of Shrewsbury & Duke of York, disappeared in mysterious circumstances.

The fate of “The Princes in the Tower” as they became known was and still is a matter of great speculation and together with the disappearance of Richard’s wife led to an erosion of support for King Richard.

Across the English Channel in Brittany, Henry Tudor, a descendant of the greatly diminished House of Lancaster, seized on Richard’s difficulties so that he could challenge Richard’s claim to the throne. Henry’s first attempt to invade England was frustrated by a storm in 1483, but at his second attempt he arrived unopposed on 7 August 1485 on the southwest coast of Wales. Marching inland, Henry gathered support as he made for London.

Richard mustered his troops and intercepted Henry’s army south of Market Bosworth in Leicestershire. Thomas, Lord Stanley, and Sir William Stanley brought a force to the battlefield, but, in what was a common strategy of the time, held back while they decided which side it would be more advantageous to support.

Richard divided his much larger army into three groups (or “battles”). One was assigned to the Duke of Norfolk and another to the Earl of Northumberland. Henry kept most of his force together and placed it under the command of the experienced Earl of Oxford. Richard’s “battle” commanded by Norfolk, attacked but struggled against Oxford’s men, and some of Norfolk’s troops fled the field. Seeing the way things were going Northumberland ignored Richard’s order to attack so Richard gambled everything on a charge across the battlefield to kill Henry and end the fight.

At this point seeing the way things were going the Stanleys’ intervened to aid Henry, surrounding and killing Richard. Normally a King killed in battle would be given a ceremonial funeral in recognition of his former status but as this was never done rumours abounded that that Richard had not been killed but was only in hiding.

Update – 22 August 2013

On 24 August 2012, a consortium from the University of Leicester, Leicester City Council and the Richard III Society, announced that they had joined forces to begin a search for the remains of King Richard.

By comparing fixed points between maps in a historical sequence, their search located the Church of the Grey Friars, where it was believed that Richard’s body had been hastily buried without pomp in 1485. The foundations of the Church were identified beneath a city centre car park in modern day Leicester.

On 12 September 2012 it was announced that the skeleton discovered during the search was probably that of Richard III. Amongst the reasons given were that the body was that of an adult male with severe deformity of the spine. Richard was often disparagingly referred to as “crook back Dick” – he was a “hunchback”. Additionally, there was an object that appeared to be an arrowhead embedded in the spine and perimortem injuries to the skull which the consultant osteo-archaeologist described as “a mortal battlefield wound in the back of the skull”.

On 4 February 2013, the University of Leicester confirmed that the skeleton was beyond reasonable doubt that of King Richard III. This conclusion was based on mitochondrial DNA taken from the skeleton and compared with that of descendents of Anne, Princess of York, one Richard’s sisters.

The Mayor of Leicester announced that the king’s skeleton is to be re-interred at Leicester Cathedral in early 2014, by which time a museum to Richard III will be opened in the Victorian school buildings next to the grave site (car park).

This announcement has caused more than a little controversy. The plan has been challenged by five members of King Richard’s family and the Plantagenet Alliance. In August 2013 they filed a court case in order to contest Leicester’s claim to re-inter the body within its cathedral, and propose the body be buried in York instead.

On 20 August, a judge ruled that the opponents had the legal standing to contest his burial in Leicester Cathedral but he urged the parties to settle out of court in order to “avoid embarking on the Wars of the Roses, Part Two.”

Category: Historic Events

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