Bosworth Contemporary & Tudor Accounts

Primary & Contemporary Sources

From Bennett, Michael, The Battle of Bosworth, reprinted by kind permission of the author.

I. Government Sources and Common Intelligence

(a) Proclamation of Henry Tudor

DATE: 22-3 August, 1485. AUTHOR: King and council. TEXT: Tudor Royal Proclamations, Vol. I. The Early Tudors (1485-1553), ed. P.L. Hughes and J.P. Larkin (New Haven, 1964), p. 3. (English; spelling modernized.)

‘And moreover, the king ascertaineth you that Richard duke of Gloucester, late called King Richard, was slain at a place called Sandeford, within the shire of Leicester, and brought dead off the field unto the town of Leicester, and there was laid openly, that every man might see and look upon him. And also there was slain upon the same field, John late duke of Norfolk, John late earl of Lincoln, Thomas, late earl of Surrey, Francis Viscount Lovell, Sir Walter Devereux, Lord Ferrers, Richard Radcliffe, knight, Robert Brackenbury, knight, with many other knights, squires and gentlemen, of whose souls God have mercy.’ [Back toContemporary and Tudor Accounts]

(b) York Memoranda

DATE: 23 August. AUTHOR: Mayor and aldermen of York. TEXT: York City Archives, House Book, B2-4, f.169v. (Also printed in Extracts from the Municipal Records of the City of York during the Reigns of Edward IV, Edward V, and Richard III, ed. R. Davies (London, 1843), pp. 218, 217. (English; spelling modernized.)

Memorandum of meeting in council chamber on the Vigil of St Bartholomew, ‘where it was shown by divers persons, and especially by John Sponer, sent unto the field of Redemore to bring tidings of the same to the city, that King Richard, late mercifully reigning upon us, was through great treason of the duke of Norfolk and many others that turned against him, with many other lords and nobles of this north parts, was piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of this city.’

There is also a summary record of the battle at ‘Redemore near Leicester’. It is followed by information obviously derived from the king’s proclamation, though a clerk has later crossed through the names of three lords (Lincoln, Surrey and Lovell) who had been wrongly reported dead. [Back to Contemporary and Tudor Accounts]

(c) Parliamentary Record

DATE: November, 1485. AUTHOR: King and council. TEXT: “Rotuli Parliamentarium,” ed. J. Strachey, 6 vols.(London, 1767-83), VI, p. 176. (English; spelling modernized.)

The act of attainder records that ‘Richard, late duke of Gloucester, calling and naming himself, by ursurpation, King Richard the Third.’ John late duke of Norfolk, Thomas earl of Surrey, Francis Viscount Lovell, Walter Devereux late Lord Ferrers, John Lord Zouche, Robert Harrington, Richard Charlton, Richard Radcliffe, William Berkeley of Weobley, Robert Brackenbury, Thomas Pilkington, Robert Middleton, James Harrington, knights, Walter Hopton, William Catesby, Roger Wake, William Sapcote, Humphrey Stafford, William Clerk of Wenlock, Geoffrey St German, Richard Watkins, Herald of Arms, Richard Revel of Derbyshire, Thomas Poulter junior of Kent, John Walsh alias Hastings, John Kendal, secretary, John Buck, Andrew Ratt, and William Bramton of Burford, on 21, in ‘the first year of the reign of our sovereign lord, assembled to them at Leicester … a great host, traitorously intending, imagining and conspiring the destruction of the king’s royal person, our sovereign leige lord. And they, with the same host, with banners spread, mightily armed and defenced with all manner [of] arms, as guns, bows, arrows, spears, ‘glaives’, axes, and all other manner [of] articles apt or needful to give and cause mighty battle against our sovereign lord’. Keeping the host together, they led them on 22 August to a field in Leicestershire, and ‘there by great and continued deliberation, traitorously levied war against our said sovereign lord and his true subjects there being in his service and assistance under a banner of our said sovereign lord, to the subversion of this realm, and common weal of the same.’ [Back to Contemporary and Tudor Accounts]

(d) Historical Notes of Londoner

DATE: Probably 1485-6, though later copy. AUTHOR: Londoner, using civic records. TEXT: R.F. Green, “Historical notes of a London citizen, 1483-1488”E.M.R. 96 (1981), 589 (English; spelling modernized.)

‘This year the earl of Richmond and Jasper, earl of Pembroke … came forth into England and met King Richard III at Redesmore, and there was King Richard slain and the duke of Norfolk and Lord Ferrers and Brackenbury, with many other. This battle was the 22 August, 1485. Likewise, in this year the earl of Northumberland and the earl of Surrey were taken and brought into the Fleet of London, and there they were nine days, and then they were led into the Tower of London, and there they were two days, and after had to the castle of Queenborough in Kent.’ 

(e) Miscellaneous Town Chronicles

DATE: Probably compiled annually, but recopied and updated in early 16th century. AUTHORS: Citizens of London and Calais. TEXTS: London “Vitellius A XVI”: C.L. Kingsford (ed.), Chronicles of London (Oxford, 1905), p. 193; Calais Chronicle: The Chronicle of Calais in the Reigns of Henry VII and Henry VII to the Year 1540, ed. J.G. Nichols (Camden Society 35, 1846), p. 1. (English; spelling modernized.)

The London Chronicle ‘Vitellius A XVI’ records that on 22 August ‘this year … was the field of Bosworth’ at which King Richard, the duke of Norfolk, Brackenbury and many others were slain, and the earl of Surrey taken prisoner, ‘by the power of King Henry the Seventh’. The Calais Chronicle dates the battle to St. Bartholomew’s eve and locates it a ‘Bosworth heath’, but otherwise follows the same pattern. In addition, it records the death of Sir William Brandon as well as the slaying of Radcliffe, Catesby and the “gentle”Brackenbury; it includes the earl of Northumberland, the earl of Shrewsbury, and Lord Zouche among the prisoners; and it documents the escape of Lord Lovell.

II. Independent English Reporters

(a) Continuation of the Crowland Chronicle

DATE: 1486. AUTHOR: Possibly John Russell, or other ex-civil servant in his entourage. TEXT: ‘Historiae Croylandensis,’ in W. Fulman (ed.) Rerum Anglicarum Scriptorum Veterum, Vol. I (Oxford, 1684), pp. 573-5. Emendation from A. Hanham, Richard III and the Early Historians 1483-1535 (Oxford, 1975), p.100. (Latin; own translation; see translation in Ingulph’s Chronicles, ed. H.T. Riley (London, 1893), pp. 501-5.)

With Henry Tudor and his men advancing towards him, King Richard felt it necessary “to move the army, though its numbers were not yet fully made up, from Nottingham, and to come to Leicester. Here was found ready to fight for the king a greater number of soldiers than had ever been seen before in England assembled on one side. On the Sunday before the feast of Bartholomew the Apostle, the king proceeded on his way, amid the greatest pomp, and wearing the crown on his head; being attended by John Howard, duke of Norfolk, and Henry Percy, earl of Northumberland, and other mighty lords, knights and esquires, together with a countless multitude of the common people. On leaving Leicester, he was informed by scouts where the enemy most probably intended to spend the next night; upon which, he encamped near the abbey of Merevale, at a distance of about eight miles from town.

‘The chief men of the opposing army were: in the first place, Henry, earl of Richmond, whom they called their King Henry VII; John Vere, earl of Oxford; John, Lord Welles, of Welles, uncle to Henry VII; Thomas, Lord Stanley and William his brother; Edward Woodville, brother of Queen Elizabeth, a most valiant knight; John Cheney, John Savage, Robert Willoughby, William Berkeley, James Blount, Thomas Arundel, Richard Edgecombe, Edward Poynings, Richard Guilford, and many others who had been raised to knighthood, both before the present troubles and at the beginning of this campaign. Of churchmen present as counsellors, who likewise had suffered exile, there were the venerable father, Peter, bishop of Exeter, the flower of the knighthood of his country, Master Robert Morton, clerk of the roll of the chancery, Christopher Urswick, and Richard Fox, who were subsequently appointed almoner and secretary, respectively, together with many others.

‘At day-break on Monday morning there were no chaplains on King Richard’s side ready to celebrate mass, nor any breakfast prepared to restore his flagging spirits. For he had seen dreadful visions in the night, in which he was surrounded by a multitude of demons, as he himself testified in the morning. He consequently presented a countenance which, always drawn, was on this occasion more livid and ghastly than ususal, and asserted that the issue of this day’s battle, to whichever side the victory was granted, would be the utter destruction of the kingdom of England. He declared that it was his intention, if he proved the victor, to crush all the traitors on the opposing side; and at the same time he predicted that his adversary would do the same to the supporters of his party, if victory should fall to him. At length with the enemy commander and his soldiers approaching at a fair pace, the king ordered that Lord Strange should be instantly beheaded. The persons to whom this duty was entrusted, however, seeing that the issue was doubtful in the extreme, and that a matter of more weight than the destruction of one man was in hand, deferred performance of the king’s cruel order, left the man to his own disposal and returned to the thickest of the fight.

‘A most fierce battle thus began between the two sides. The earl of Richmond with his men proceeded directly against King Richard. For his part, the earl of Oxford, the next in rank in the army and a most valiant soldier, drew up his forces, consisting of a large body of French and English troops, opposite the wing in which the duke of Norfolk had taken up his position. In the place where the earl of Northumberland was posted, with a large company of reasonably good men, no engagement could be discerned, and no battle blows given or received. In the end a glorious victory was given by heaven to the earl of Richmond, now sole king, along with a most precious crown, which King Richard had previously worn on his head. For in the thick of the fight, and not in the act of flight, King Richard fell in the field, struck by many mortal wounds, as a bold and most valiant p rince. Then the duke of Norfolk, Sir Richard Radcliffe, Sir Robert Brackenbury, keeper of the Tower of London, John Kendal, secretary, Sir Robert Percy, controller of the king’s household, Walter Devereux, Lord Ferrers, and many others were slain in this fierce battle, and many, especially northerners, in whom the king so greatly trusted, took flight without engaging; and there was left no part of the opposing army of sufficient significance or substance for the glorious victor Henry VII to engage, and so add to his experience in battle.

‘Thus through this battle peace was obtained for the whole of the realm. King Richard’s body was found among the other slain. * * * Many other insults were heaped on it, and not very humanely, a halter was thrown around the neck, and it was carried to Leicester. The new king, graced with the crown he won with such distinction, proceeded to the same place. Meanwhile, many nobles and others were taken into captivity, most notably, Henry, earl of Northumberland, and Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey, first-born of the deceased duke of Norfolk. There was also taken prisoner William Catesby, who was pre-eminent among all the counsellors of the late king, and whose head was cut off at Leicester, as a last reward for his excellent service. Also, two yeomen from the West Country, named Bracher, who fell into the hands of the victors, were hanged. Moreover, there has been no word, nor has it been written or remembered, that any other persons, after the end of the fighting, were dealt with in this fashion, but that, on the contrary, the new prince showed mercy to all. He began to receive the praises of all, as if he were an angel sent from heaven, through whom God had deigned to visit His people, and to deliver them from the evils with which it had been previously and immoderately afflicted.

‘And thus concluding this history … (we) have brought the narrative down to this battle, which was fought near Merevale, and which took place on 22 August, 1485.’

(b) John Rous of Warwick

DATE: c. 1490. AUTHOR: John Rous (d. 1492), a Warwickshire priest. TEXT: Historia Johannis Rossi Warwicensis de Regibus Anglie, ed. T. Hearne (London, 1716), p. 218. (Latin; own translation; see also version in Hanham, Early Historians, pp. 123-4.)

‘At length, as the life of King Richard neared its evening, many secretly left him and joining the exiled southerners became adherents of Henry, earl of Richmond, nephew of Henry VI, by his uterine brother. Landing at Milford Haven in Wales on the Feast of the Transfiguration with a relatively small band, Henry gained many followers on the road. When finally he met King Richard and his great army on the eighth day of the feast of the Assumption A.D. 1485, on the border of Warwickshire and Leicestershire, he slew him in the field of battle.

‘This King Richard, who in his time was cruel beyond measure, reigned for three years and a little more, in the way that Antichrist is to reign, and like him, he was confounded at the peak of his fortunes. For having with him the crown itself, together with a great mass of treasure, he was suddenly cut down like a wretch in the thick of his army by a comparatively small force of armed men. But yet, if I may say the truth to his credit, though small in body and feeble of limb, he bore himself like a gallant knight and acted with distinction as his own champion until his last breath, shouting oftentimes that he was betrayed and crying “Treason! Treason! Treason!” So, tasting what he had often served to others, he ended his life most miserably, and finally was buried in the choir of the Friars Minor at Leicester.’

III. Foreign Reporters and Chroniclers

(a) A Castilian Report

DATE: Early 1486. AUTHOR: Diego de Valera, Castilian courtier. TEXT: E.M. Nokes and G. Wheeler, ‘A Spanish account of the battle of Bosworth’, The Ricardian, 2, no. 36 (1972), 2. (Spanish; in translation.)

Entering England by way of Wales, and conquering all before him, Henry Tudor ‘crossed as far as a town called Coventry, near which King Richard stood in the field with as many as 70,000 combatants. But … previous to his entry into England, he had the assurance that my Lord “Tamerlant”, one of the principal nobles of England, and sundry other leading men, who had given him their oath and seals, would give him assistance when they came to battle and would fight against King Richard, and so they did. Though his people came with faint heart, as not knowing the secret but fully aware of the multitude of King Richard’s army, he greatly heartened them to come to the battlefield.

‘When King Richard was certified of the near approach of Earl Henry in battle array, he ordered his lines and entrusted the van to his grand chamberlain with 7,000 fighting men. My Lord “Tamerlant” with King Richard’s left wing left his position and passed in front of the king’s vanguard with 10,000 men, then, turning his back on Earl Henry, he began to fight fiercely against the king’s van, and so did all the others who had plighted their faith to Earl Henry. Now when Salazar, your little vassal, who was there in King Richard’s service, saw the treason of the king’s people, he went up to him and said: “Sire, take steps to put your pers on in safety, without expecting to have the victory in today’s battle, owing to the manifest treason in your following”. But the king replied: “Salazar, God forbid I yield one step. This day I will die as king or win”. Then he placed over his head-armour the crown royal, which they declare be worth 120,000 crowns, and having donned his coat-of-arms began to fight with much vigour, putting heart into those that remained loyal, so that by his sole effort he upheld the battle for a long time. But in the end the king’s army was beaten and he himself was killed, and in this battle above 10,000 are said to have perished, on both sides. Salazar fought bravely, but for all this was able to escape. There died most of those who loyally served the king, and there was lost all the king’s treasure, which he brought with him into the field. After winning this victory Earl Henry was at once acclaimed king by all parties. He ordered the dead king to be placed in a little hermitage near the place of battle, and had him covered from the waist downward with a black rag of poor quality, ordering him to be exposed there for three days to the universal gaze.’

(b) Memoirs of Philippe de Commines

DATE: c. 1490. AUTHOR: Philippe de Commines, French-Burgundian chronicler. TEXT: Memoirs de Philippe de Commynes, ed. L.M.F. Dupont, 3 vols. (Paris, 1840, 1843, 1847), II, pp. 159-60. (French; own translation; see translation in P. de Commynes, Memoirs. The Reign of Louis XI, 1461-1483, ed. M. Jones (Harmondsworth, 1972), p. 355).

Assisted by the king of France, Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond launches an expedition from Normandy and lands in Wales. ‘King Richard marched against him, but Lord Stanley, an English knight and husband of the earl’s mother, brought him 26,000 men. They fought a battle. King Richard was slain in the fighting and the earl of Richmond was crowned king of England. Was this mere chance? It was truly the judgement of Almighty God!’

(c) Chronicles of Jean Molinet

DATE: c. 1490. AUTHOR: Jean Molinet, historiographer to Burgundian court. TEXT: Chroniques de Jean Molinet (1474-1506), ed. G. Doutrepont and O. Jodogne, 3 vols. (Academie Royale de Belgique, Classe des Lettres et des Sciences Morales et Politiques. Collection des Anciens Auteurs Belges, Brussels, 1935-7), I, pp. 434-6. (French; own translation, with assistance from Professor I.H. Smith, Department of Modern Languages, University of Tasmania).

When the armies came together, ‘King Richard prepared his “battles”, where there was a vanguard and a rearguard; he had around 60,000 combatants and a great number of cannons. The leader of the vanguard was Lord John Howard, whom King Richard had made duke of Norfolk, granting him lands and lordships confiscated from the earl of Oxford. Another lord, Brackenbury, captain of the Tower of London, was also in command of the van, which had 11,000 or 12,000 men altogether. The place was chosen and the day assigned for the eighth day of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to battle power against power. The French also made their preparations marching against the English, being in the field a quarter league away.

‘The king had the artillery of his army fire on the earl of Richmond, and so the French, knowing by the king’s shot the lie of the land and the order of his battle, resolved, in order to avoid the fire, to mass their troops against the flank rather than the front of the king’s battle. Thus they obtained the mastery of his vanguard, which after several feats of arms on both sides was dispersed. In this conflict was taken the duke of Norfolk with his son. The former was taken to the earl of Richmond, who sent him on to the earl of Oxford, who had him dispatched.

‘The vanguard of King Richard, which was put to flight, was picked off by Lord Stanley who with all of 20,000 combatants came at a good place to the aid of the earl. The earl of Northumberland, who was on the king’s side with 10,000 men, ought to have charged the French, but did nothing except to flee, both he and his company, to abandon his King RIchard, for he had an undertaking with the earl of Richmond, as had some others who deserted him in his need. The king bore himself valiantly according to his destiny, and wore the crown on his head; but when he saw this discomforture and found himself alone on the field he thought to run after the others. His horse leapt into a march from which it could not retrieve itself. One of the Welshmen then came after him, and struck him dead with a halberd, and another took his body and put it before him on his horse and carried it, hair hanging as one would bear a sheep.

‘And so he who miserably killed numerous people, ended his days iniquitously and filthily in the dirt and mire, and he who had despoiled churches was displayed to the people naked and without any clothing, and without any royal solemnity was buried at the entrance to a village church.

‘The vanguard [or in one text ‘rearguard’] which the grand chamberlain of England led, seeing Richard dead, turned in flight; and there were in this battle only 300 slain on either side.’

(d) John Major’s Latin History

DATE: Before 1521. AUTHOR: John Major, (d. 1550), Scots theologian and historian. TEXT: J. Major. A History of Greater Britain, ed. A. Constable (Scottish Historical Society, 1892), p. 393. (Latin; in translation.)

This chronicle related that the king of France supplied Henry Tudor with 5,000 men, including 1,000 Scots, for the invasion of England, and that ‘John son of Robert Haddington was chief and leader of the Scots.’ 

(e) Pittscottie’s Chronicles

DATE: 1570s, but drawing on oral tradition. AUTHOR: Robert Lindsay of Pittscottie. TEXT: The Historie of Scotland from the Slauchter of King James the First to the Ane Thousande Fyve Hundreith Thrie Scoir Fyftein Yeir, written and collected by Robert Lindesay of Pittscottie, ed. A.J.G. Makay, 3 vols. (Scottish Text Society, 1899-1911), I, pp. 190-9. (Middle Scots; slightly modernized.)

Henry Tudor arrives in England with 10,000 men, including 3,000 Englishmen, 6,000 Frenchmen and 1,000 Scots, namely the Scots company under Sir Alexander Bruce of Earlshall. Richard raises a vast army to resist him, numbering 100,000. Henry secretly tries to win over key nobles, most especially Lord Stanley, who was ‘captain of 1,000 bows of ordinance which was a great part of King Richard’s vanguard’, promising to make him the greatest lord in the land, and Sir ‘Edward” Brackenbury, lieutenant of the Tower of London, captain of the ordnance in the royal vanguard. The two lords first demand of King Richard that he restore the lands of certain friends, formerly in the service of Edward IV. When he refuses, telling them to ask for rewards when they have performed service, they offer their support to Henry Tudor and promise to ‘set the crown upon his head’. Henry is pleased and arrays his men, now 30,000 strong, with the vanguard of 10,000 men under the command of Alexander Bruce. Richard has to give battle, and determines to wear his crown. While in a tent, it is stolen for a short while by a Highlander called MacGregor.

The next day the two armies meet. Richard positions his vanguard with his great artillery. Henry marches forward first, but the royal vanguard ‘that should have opposed them gave them place and let them go by, themselves turned around and faced King Richard as if they had been his enemies’. The two battle lines fight ‘stoutly for a long while with uncertain victory, but at last many of King Richard’s battle fled from him and passed to Prince Henry dreading that vicotry should fall to him at length. Some others of King Richard’s army stood and looked on while they saw who had the victory. But this King Richard fought so cruelly that he was slain, for he would not be taken, and there was slain on his party with him the duke of Norfolk with many other lords and gentlemen and in like manner was taken alive his son the earl of Surrey and had to the Tower of London and put in prison where he remained a long time ever he was relieved. By this King Henry passed over this battle and won the victory thereof, and that by the Scots’ and Frenchmen’s support.’

IV. The Mainstream of Tudor Historiography

From Bennett, Michael. The Battle of Bosworth, reprinted by kind permission of the author. HTML markup by Judie C. Gall.

(a) Bernard André Court Historian

DATE: c. 1500. AUTHOR: Bernard André, French humanist in service of Henry VII. TEXT: B. André, ‘Vita Henrici Septimi’ in Memorials of King Henry VII, ed. J. Gairdner (London, Roll Series, 1858), p. 32. (Latin; own translation.)

After gaining military assistance from the king of France, Henry Tudor lands in Wales, with the earl of Oxford and Lord Chandée as his commanders. King Richard reacts furiously, ordering his retainers to destroy the rebels with fire and sword. He summons the armed might of the kingdom, but Lord Stanley and his kinsmen go over to the pretender. On the battle itself, André simply notes:

‘I have learned somewhat of this battle from oral sources, but in this matter the eye is a more reliable witness than the ear. Rather than affirm anything rashly, therefore, I pass over the date, place and order of battle, for as I have said I lack the illumination of eye-witnesses. Until I am more fully instructed, for this field of battle, I shall leave blank a space as broad * * * * *’

He then records the celebrations and speech of thanksgiving, noting the presence among the victorious troops of his clerical colleagues the bishop of Winchester, the bishop of St. Asaph and the dean of Windsor, namely Richard Fox, Michael Deacon and Christopher Urswick. More gaps are left for details of the burial of Richard III and the names of the captives. Saturday is given as the day of the battle.

(b) Robert Fabian and the Great Chronicle

DATE: 1500-13. AUTHOR: Robert Fabian (d. 1513), citizen of London. TEXTS: The Chronicle of Fabian, which he nameth the Concordance of Histories newly perused and continued from the beginnyng of Kyng Henry the Seventh to th’ End of Queene Mary (London, 1559), pp. 519-20; The Great Chronicle of London, ed. A.H. Thomas and I.D. Thornley (London, 1938), pp. 237-8. (English: spelling modernised.)

Fabian’s Chronicle reports in a few sentences the landing of Henry Tudor, his growing number of supporters, including ‘such as were in sundry sanctuaries’, and the king’s rapid mobilisation. The armies meet at ‘a village in Leicestershire named Bosworth’. A ‘sharp battle’ is fought, ‘and sharper it should have been, if the king’s party had been fast to him. But many toward the field refused him, and went unto that other party. And some stood hoving afar off till they saw to which party the victory fell’. The Great Chronicle is more wordy:

‘Then King Richard in all haste arrayed his people and made quick provision for to meet his enemies which at the beginning were but of small strength. But as soon as his landing was known to many of the knights and squires of this land, they gathered much people in the king’s name and straight sped them unto that other party, by means whereof his power hugely increased. Then King Richard being well accompanied sped him towards his said enemies till he came to Leicester, and that other party which in this while had proclaimed himself King Henry VII drew fast thitherward. But that night King Richard lost much of his people, for many gentlemen that held good countenance with master Brackenbury then lieutenant of the Tower, and had for many of them done right kindly, took their leave of him, in giving to him thanks for his kindness before showed, and exhorted him to go with them, for they feared not to show unto him that they would go unto that other party, and so departed, leaving him almost alone. In this while the earl of Derby and the earl of Northumberland which had each of them great company made slow progress toward King Richard, so that he departed from Leicester with great triumph and pomp upon the morn being the 22 August, and after continued his journey till he came unto a village called Bosworth where in the fields adjoining both hosts met, and fought a sharp and long fight whereof in the end, the victory fell unto King Henry. In this battle was slain King Richard, the duke of Norfolk, the Lord Lovell with Brackenbury and many others. And incontinently, as it was said, Sir William Stanley which won the possession of King Richard’s helmet with the crown being upon it came straight to King Henry and set it upon his head saying, “Sir, here I make you King of England”. In this field was taken the earl of Surrey with others.

‘And thus by great fortune and grace upon 22 August won this noble prince possession of this land, and then he was conveyed to Leicester the same night, and there received with all honour and gladness. And Richard late King as gloriously as he by the morning departed from that town, so as irreverently was he that afternoon brought into that town, for his body despoiled to the skin, and nought being left about him, so much as would cover his privy member, he was trussed behind the pursuivant called Norroy as an hog or another vile beast, and so all besprung with mire and filth was brought to a church in Leicester for all men to wonder upon, and there lastly irreverently buried.’ [Back to Contemporary and Tudor Accounts]

(c) Polydore Vergil

DATE: Composed c. 1503-13, though not published until 1534. AUTHOR: Polydore Vergil of Urbino, in England from 1502, wrote at request of Henry VII. TEXT: Polydori Vergilii Urbinatis Anglicæ Historiæ Libri Vigintiseptem (Basel, 1555), pp. 562-4 (Latin; own translation, with assistance of Dr. R. Develin, Classics Department, University of Tasmania; also see the sixteenth-century English translation published as Three Books of Polydore Vergil’s ‘English History’, comprising the Reigns of Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III, from an Early Translation, preserved among the Manuscripts of the Old Royal Library in the British Museum, ed. H. Ellis (Camden Society, old series 29, 1844), pp. 221-6.)

Polydore Vergil recounts in some detail the progress of Henry Tudor from Milford Haven and the prepartions by King Richard to resist him. He describes a meeting between the pretender and the Stanleys at Atherstone, at which a common strategy is agreed upon. In the mean time the royal army moves out from Leicester, and camps near Bosworth. During the night the king has terrible visions, which in the chronicler’s opinion were not dreams but the workings of a guilty conscience.

‘The day after King Richard, well furnished in all things, drew his whole army out of their encampments, and arrayed his battle-line, extended at such a wonderful length, and composed of footmen and horsemen packed together in such a way that the mass of armed men struck terror in the hearts of the distant onlookers. In the front he placed the archers, like a most strong bulwark, appointing as their leader John, duke of Norfolk. To the rear of this long battle-line followed the king himself, with a select force of soldiers.

‘Meanwhile … early in the morning [Henry Tudor] commanded his soldiery to set to arms, and at the same time sent to Thomas Stanley, who now approached the place of the fight, midway between the two armies, to come in with his forces, so that the men could be put in formation. He answered that Henry should set his own men in line, while he would be at hand with his army in proper array. Since this reply was given contrary to what was expected, and to what the opportunity of the time and greatness of the cause demanded, Henry became rather anxious and began to lose heart. Nevertheless without delay he arranged his men, from necessity, in this fashion. He drew up a simple battle-line on account of the fewness of his men. In front of the line he placed archers, putting the earl of Oxford in command; to defend it on the right wing he positioned Gilbert Talbot, and on the left wing in truth he placed John Savage. He himself, relying on the aid of Thomas Stanley, followed with one company of horsemen and a few foot-soldiers. For all in all the number of soldiers was scarcely 5,000, not counting the Stanleyites of whom about 3,000 were in the battle under the leadership of William Stanley. The king’s forces were at least twice as many.

‘Thus the battle-line on each side was arrayed. As soon as the two armies came within sight of each other, the soldiers donned their helms and prepared for the battle, waiting for the signal to attack with attentive ears. There was a marsh between them, which Henry deliberately left on his right, to serve his men as a defensive wall. In doing this he simultaneously put the sun behind him. The king, as soon as he saw the enemy advance past the marsh, ordered his men to charge. Suddenly raising a great shout they attacked first with arrows, and their opponents, in no wise holding back from the fight, returned the fire fiercely. When it came to close quarters, however, the dealing was done with swords.

‘In the mean time the earl of Oxford, afraid that in the fighting his men would be surrounded by the multitude, gave out the order through the ranks that no soldier should go more than ten feet from the standards. When in response to the command all the men massed together and drew back a little from the fray, their opponents, suspecting a trick, took fright and broke off from the fighting for a while. In truth many, who wished the king damned rather than saved, were not reluctant to do so, and for that reason fought less stoutly. Then the earl of Oxford on the one part, with tightly grouped units, attacked the enemy afresh, and the others in the other part pressing together in wedge formation renewed the battle.

While the battle thus raged between the front lines in both sectors, Richard learnt, first from spies, that Henry was some way off with a few armed men as his retinue, and then, as the latter drew nearer, recognised him more certainly from his standards. Inflamed with anger, he spurred his horse, and road against him from the other side, beyond the battle line. Henry saw Richard come upon him, and since all hope of safety lay in arms, he eagerly offered himself for this contest. In the first charge Richard killed several men; toppled Henry’s standard, along with the standard-bearer William Brandon; contended with John Cheney, a man of surpassing bravery, who stood in his way, and thrust him to the ground with great force; and made a path for himself through the press of steel.

‘Nevertheless Henry held out against the attack longer than his troops, who now almost despaired of victory, had thought likely. Then, behold, William Stanley came in support with 3,000 men. Indeed it was at this point that, with the rest of his men taking to their heels, Richard was slain fighting in the thickest of the press. Meanwhile the earl of Oxford, after a brief struggle, likewise quickly put to flight the remainder of the troops who fought in the front line, a great number of whom were killed in the rout. Yet many more, who supported Richard out of fear and not out of their own will, purposely held off from the battle, and departed unharmed, as men who desired not the safety but the destruction of the prince whom they detested. About 1,000 men were slain, including from the nobility John duke of Norfolk, Walter Lord Ferrers, Robert Brackenbury, Richard Radcliffe and several others. Two days after at Leicester, William Catesby, lawyer, with a few associates, was executed. Among those that took to their heels, Francis Lord Lovell, Humphrey Stafford, with Thomas his brother, and many companions, fled into the sanctuary of St. John which is near Colchester, a town on the Essex coast. There was a huge number of captives, for when Richard was killed, all men threw down their weapons, and freely submitted themselves to Henry’s obedience, which the majority would have done at the outset, if with Richard’s scouts rushing back and forth it had been possible. Amongst them the chief was Henry earl of Northumberland and Thomas earl of Surrey. The latter was put in prison, whree he remained for a long time, the former was received in favour as a friend at heart. Henry lost in the battle scarcely a hundred soldiers, amongst whom one notable was William Brandon, who bore Henry’s battle standard. The battle was fought on the 11th day before the kalends of September, in the year of man’s salvation 1486 [sic], and the atruggle lasted more than two hours.

‘The report is that Richard could have saved himself by flight. His companions, seeing from the very outset of the battle that the soldiers were wielding their arms feebly and sluggishly, and that some were secretly deserting, suspected treason, and urged him to flee. When his cause obviously began to falter, they brought him a swift horse. Yet he, who was not unaware that the people hated him, setting aside hope of all future success, allegedly replied, such was the great fierceness and force of his mind, that that very day he would make an end either of war or life. Knowing for certain that that day would either deliver him a pacified realm thenceforward or else take it away forever, he went into the fray wearing the royal crown, so that he might thereby make either a beginning or an end of his reign. Thus the miserable man suddenly had such an end as customarily befalls them that for justice, divine law and virtue substitue wilfulness, impiety and depravity. To be sure, these are far more forcible object-lessons than the voices of men to deter those persons who allow no time to pass free from some wickedness, cruelty, or mischief.

‘Immediately after gaining victory, Henry gave thanks to Almighty God with many prayers. Then filled with unbelievable happiness, he took himself to the nearest hill, where after he had congratulated his soldiers and ordered them to care for the wounded and bury the slain, he gave eternal thanks to his captains, promising that he would remember their good services. In the mean time the soldiers saluted him as king with a great shout, applauding him with most willing hearts. Seeing this, Thomas Stanley immediately placed Richard’s crown, found among the spoil, on his head, as though he had become king by command of the people, acclaimed in the ancestral manner; and that was the first omen of his felicity.’

(d) Hall’s Chronicle

DATE: c. 1540. AUTHOR: Edward Hall (d. 1547), lawyer of London. TEXT: Edward Halle, The Union of the Two Noble Families of Lancaster and York(London, 1550) (Facsimile, 1970), ‘The Tragical Doings of King Richard the Third’, fos. 29d-35. (English; spelling modernised.)

In his account of the campaigning and deployment of troops, Hall mainly follows Vergil’s Anglica Historia, but at the appropriate point he inserts set-speeches by the two captains:

‘When both these armies were thus ordered and all men ready to set forward, King Richard called his chieftains together and to them said:

“Most faithful and assured fellows, most trusty and well beloved friends and elected captains by whose wisdom and policy I have obtained the crown … by whose prudent and politic counsel I have so governed my realm … that I have omitted nothing appertaining to the office of a just prince … And although in the … obtaining of the garland I being seduced and provoked by sinister counsel and diabolical temptation did commit a facinorous and detestable act … I have with strait penance and salt tears (as I trust) expiated and clearly purged the same offence, which abominable crime I require you of friendship as clearly to forget, as I daily remember to deplore and lament … I doubt not but you know how the devil, continual enemy to human nature … hath entered into the hear of an unknown Welshman (whose father I never knew, nor him personally saw) exciting him to aspire and covet our realm, crown and dignity, and thereof clearly to deprive and spoil us and our posterity: ye see further how a company of traitors, thieves, outlaws and renegades of our own nation be aid ers and partakers of his feat and enterprise, ready at hand to overcome and oppress us: you see also what a number of beggarly Bretons and fainthearted Frenchmen be with him arrived to destroy us, our wives and children … [You will] perceive that we have manifest causes, and apparent tokens of triumph and victory. And to begin with the earl of Richmond, captain of this rebellion, he is a Welsh milksop, a man of small courage and of less experience in martial acts and feats of war, brought up by my brother’s means and mine like a captive in a close cage in the court of Francis duke of Brittany, and never saw army, nor was exercised in martial affairs, by reason whereof he neither can nor is able of his own wit or experience to guide or rule an host … Secondarily, fear not … for when the traitors … shall see us with banner displayed come against them, remembering their oath … will either shamefully fly or humbly submit themselves to our grace and mercy. And as for the Frenchmen and Bretons, their valiantness is such that our noble progenitors and your valiant parents have them oftener vanquished and overcome in one month than they … imagined possible .. in a whole year … . Wherefore, considering all these advantages, expel out of your thoughts all doubts and avoid out of your minds all fear, and like valiant champions advance forth your standards and essay whether your enemies can decide and try the title of battle by dint of sword … . And as for me, I assure you, this day I will triumph by glorious victory, or suffer death for immortal fame … “

‘This exhortation encouraged all such as favoured him, but such as were present more for dread than loved kissed them openly whom they inwardly hated … So was his people to him unsure and unfaithful at his end, as he was to his nephews untrue and unnatural in his beginning.

‘When the earl of Richmond knew by his foreriders that the king was so near embattled, he rode about his army, from rank to rank from wing to wing, giving comfortable words to all men, and that finished (being armed in all pieces saving his helmet) mounted on a little hill, so that all his people might see and behold him perfectly to their great rejoicing; for he was a man of no great stature, but so formed and decorated with all gifts and lineaments of nature that he seemed more an angelical creature than a terrestial personage, his countenance and aspect was cheerful and courageous, his hair yellow like burnished gold, his eyes grey shining and quick, prompt and ready in answering, but of such sobriety that it could never be judged whether he were more dull than quick in speaking (that was his temperance). And when he had overlooked his army over every side, he paused a while, and after with a loud voice and bold spirit spake to his companions these or like words following:

“If ever God gave victory to men fighting in a just quarrel … I doubt not but God will rather aid us (yea and fight for us) than see us vanquished … Our cause is so just that no enterprise can be of more virtue, both by the laws divine and civil, for what can be more honest, goodly or Godly quarrel than to fight against a captain, being an homicide and murderer of his own blood or progeny, an extreme destroyer of his nobility, and to his and our country and the poor subjects of the same a deadly mallet, a fiery brand and a burden intolerable. Beside him consider who be of his band and company, such as by murder and untruth … have disinherited me and you … For he that calleth himself king, keepeth me from the crown and regiment of this noble realm and country contrary to all justice and equity. Likewise his mates and friends occupy your lands, cut down your woods and destroy your manors, letting your wives and children range abroad for their living; which persons for their penance and punishment I doubt but not God of His goodness will either deliver into our ha nds … or cause them …to fly and not abide the battle: beside this I assure you that there be yonder in the great battle men brought thither for fear and not for love, soldiers by force compelled and not with good will assembled, persons which desire rather the destruction than salvation of their master and captain … Behold your Richard is both Tarquin and Nero; yea, a tyrant more than Nero, for he hath not only murdered his nephew being his king and sovereign lord, bastarded his noble brethren and defamed the womb of his virtuous and womanly mother, but also compassed all the means and ways that he could invent how to stup’rate and carnally know his own niece under the pretence of cloaked matrimony, which lady I have sworn and promised to take to my mate and wife … If this cause be not just, and this quarrel Godly, let God the giver of victory judge and determine … And this remember … that before us be our enemies, and on either side of us such as I neither surely trust nor greatly believe. Backward we cannot fly: so that here we stand like sheep in a fold circumcepted and compassed between our enemies and our doubtful friends. Therefore let all fear be set aside, and like sworn brethren let us join in one, for this day shall be the end of our travail and the gain of our labour, either by honourable death or famous victory: and as I trust the battle shall not be so sore as the profit shall be sweet. Remember the victory is not gotten with the multitude of men, but with the courage of hearts and valiantness of minds. The smaller that our number is the more glory is to us if we vanquish, if we be overcome, yet no laud is to be attributed to victors, considering that ten men fought against one … And now advance forward … true inheritors against usurpers, the scourges of God against tyrants, display my banner with a good courage, march forth like strong and robustious champoins, and begin the battle like hardy conquerors, the battle is at hand, and the victory approacheth, and if we shamefully recoil or cowardly fly, we and all our sequel be destroyed and dishonoured forever… .”

‘These cheerful words he set forth with such gesture of his body and smiling countenance, as though already he had vanquished his enemies and gotten the spoil.

‘Had he scantly finished his saying, but the one army espied the other. Lord, how hastily the soldiers buckled their helms, how quickly the archers bent their bows and frushed their feathers, how readily the billmen shook their bills and proved their staves, ready to approach and join, when the terrible trumpet should sound the bloody blast to victory or death. Between both armies there was a great marsh which the earl of Richmond left on his right hand, for this intent that it should be on that side of a defence for his part, and in so doing he had the sun at his back in the faces of his enemies. When King Richard saw the earl’s company was past the marsh he commanded with all haste to set upon them; then the trumpets blew, and the soldiers shouted, and the king’s archers courageously let fly their arrows, the earl’s bowmen stood not still but paid them home again. The terrible shot once passed, the armies joined and came to hand strokes, where neither sword nor bill was spared, at which encounter Lord Stanley joined the earl.’

After this last insertion, Hall continues largely paraphrasing Vergil’s account of the Oxford’s defensive manouevre, the break-up of the royal vanguard, the king’s final charge and death, and the battlefield coronation. In several places additional details are offered. Thus to the record of the death of the duke of Norfolk, he adds that he was warned ‘to refrain from the field in so much that the night before he should set forward toward the king, one wrote on his gate:

“Jack of Norfolk be not too bold

For Dicken thy master is bought and sold”

‘Yet all this notwithstanding he regarded his oath, his honour and promise made to King Richard; like a gentleman and faithful subject to his prince he absented himself not from his master, but as he faithfully lived under him, so he manfully died with him to his great fame and laud.’

In a similar fashion after rehearsing the predicament of Lord Strange before and during the battle, Hall notes that after the king’s death the keepers of his tents submitted themselves as prisoners of their young hostage.

Hall ends his account of Richard III by leaving ‘to God which knew his interior cogitations at the hour of his death, I remit the punishment of his offences committed in his life.’

[See also Holinshed’s Chronicle, which draws largely on Hall’s and is believed to have served as the basis for Shakespeare’s play]

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