Henry Tudor’s Victory at Bosworth, 1485

Alyssa Morrissey, Lake Ginninderra College, 2007


The Battle of Bosworth was a victory for Henry Tudor and signified the end of the civil wars known as the "Wars of the Roses". The Battle of Bosworth was a decisive victory for Henry VII attributable to the ties he had with many powerful allies in England and France and the support they provided him. The allies who aligned themselves with Henry Tudor’s cause regarded Henry’s opponent, King Richard III, as a usurper of the throne and a dictator who had killed his nephews in the Tower of London to have sole claim to the throne. It was such popular discontent that fuelled the desire to dethrone Richard and put Henry Tudor in his place.

The period of the Wars of the Roses began in 1455 and lasted over 30 years. These civil wars were fought among the rival branches of the English royal family, known as the Yorkists and the Lancastrians. The civil wars started with King Henry VI, who was descended from John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. Henry VI was regarded as a weak ruler and is said to have suffered bouts of madness which left him unable to speak or stand (Chrisp 2004, 27). The real power lay with whoever could control the king. In the 1450’s there was a quarrel between the supporters of the queen, Margaret of Anjou, and another group led by Richard, Duke of York. While the king suffered from madness, York was able to rule the kingdom as Protector. When the king recovered, the power that York had when acting as Protector went back to the Queen’s party.

Eventually the quarrel led to open warfare, where York claimed to be fighting on the king’s behalf, as Henry VI was seen as unfit to rule. Then in 1460, he laid claim to the throne for himself. When Richard of York was killed in battle around 1461, it was his son, Edward, who became the leader of the Yorkists. In 1470, Edward of York killed Henry VI and was later crowned Edward IV. After Edward’s death and that of his two sons, the throne was assumed by Edward's younger brother, Richard III.

Related Article: The Policies of Catherine of Aragon and Mary Tudor
Richard III was unpopular in his short two year reign. In 1485, opposition to Richard erupted in the southern part of England, where many who used to be loyal to King Edward IV, rose in revolt against Richard. In order to prevent these uprisings from occurring, Richard moved his supporters from the north to the south of England (Hallam 1998, 297).

Richard III’s relationships with the nobles of that time was tenuous, especially where their loyalties lay with the Stanley family, who were landowners in Wales and were seen to be neither discouraging nor encouraging the rebellions (ibid, 301). Henry, however, had many allies in the south of England, many of the rebels seeing him as salvation from Richard III’s rule (ibid). As well as having support from rebels, Henry had French soldiers join his army and money from the French king to aid his cause. Lord Stanley was his step-father, having married Henry’s mother in 1472 (ibid, 297) giving Henry a great tie to one of the most influential men in England at the time. When Henry landed in Wales he recruited Welsh long-bowmen who would prove effective in the battle to come.

It was on August 22, near Bosworth Field in Leicestershire, that the battle for the English throne was fought. Richard had a greater number of soldiers at his command, around twelve thousand men, though two thousand of these belonged to Lord Stanley. Henry Tudor’s army numbered less than half Richard’s, at around six thousand men. Richard also had the upper hand as his army was situated on Ambion Hill, giving him another advantage on the battle field (ibid, 305).

As the two armies fought each other, Richard’s ally, Stanley, held his army further back from the battlefield, waiting to see who would prove to be at an advantage in the battle. Richard III was said to have mistrusted Lord Stanley so much that he had Stanley’s eldest son, George, kept prisoner within the royal army as a safeguard for Stanley’s loyalty (ibid). The battle is said to have lasted for three hours, with heavy losses on both sides. Henry’s men charged uphill against Richard’s position on Ambion hill and were cut to ribbons, while the Welsh long-bowmen rained arrow after arrow on Richard’s army (ibid). This stalemate continued for another few hours until Richard saw Henry’s banner retreating away from the main part of the fighting, and, seeing this as an opportunity to end the battle with one swift move, Richard led a mounted charge directly at Henry Tudor. This mounted charge would have been successful if not for Lord Stanley. Stanley’s forces finally joined the battle on the side of Henry, effectively turning a successful charge into a bloodbath. Richard’s army was caught between the two forces and massacred(ibid).

Henry Tudor was victorious at the Battle of Bosworth, having found a great ally in Lord Stanley. Stanley’s decision to fight for Henry Tudor proved to be decisive.


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Bibliography

Print:

Hallam, E, 1998, The Chronicles of the Wars of the Roses, Guild Publishing, London.

Chrisp, P, 2004, Warfare, Hodder Wayland, London.

Digital:

Thornton, M. (no date), 'The Battle of Bosworth'. Accessed at http://www.battlefield-site.co.uk/bosworth.htm 4/7/2011.

History Learning Site (no date), 'The Battle of Bosworth'. Accessed at http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/battle_of_bosworth.htm .