Wading across the beautiful yellow flowers that sprouted as far as the eye can see, I simply could not believe this delightful field has seen one of the bloodiest fighting on English soil – an event that shaped British history still reverberating to this day. This field is simply known as the Bosworth Battlefield.
Rather like the poppies that stands as symbols of the first and second world wars that cover Flanders in Belgium, I keenly compared this to the yellow flowers that stood as a testament to the rise of the Tudor Dynasty and the fall of the Plantagenets. Covering my eyes, I looked up to see the huge Yorkist flag flying high with the white rose and the boar that is synonymous with King Richard III, a monarch famed of ill repute and a mysterious character that has come into the mainstream media today.
Nearby, the city of Leicester in 2012 has unearthed the King’s remains under a council car park within the foundations of the Church of the Grey Friars, only a stone’s throw away from the grandiose Leicester Cathedral. Over the last year, a possibility of another War of the Roses could have started again due to the city of York insisting that the remains of King Richard III should be interred in their grounds as he was a Yorkist King. They did not want their King interred in Leicester where his dead body was dragged, naked on horseback, and humiliated for three long days on display. Leicester refuses to hand him over and in a cunning tourism marketing campaign, they are already building an exhibition centre next to Leicester Cathedral to capitalise on the defining point in history when King Richard III fell and the new dynastic Tudor King, Henry VII came to power.
Perhaps I should educate you on the War of the Roses. There’s a lot of Kings involved here…bear with.
In 1399, King Richard II was deposed by his cousin Henry of Bolingbroke after a dispute between them about inheritance. The House of Lancaster won the first battle with King Henry IV being crowned and seeing his deposed cousin murdered suspiciously a year later. Henry’s son, Henry V – famous for the Battle of Agincourt, and his grandson King Henry VI thus came to power after him still ruling in their Lancastrian right. However, King Henry VI became mad and diseased, unable to serve his kingdom. His wife Queen Margaret, a force in her own right tried to rule as regent but often clashed with nobility and parliament. Therefore, it came to an agreement that King Henry’s cousin, the Duke of York should rule as regent instead. However, Queen Margaret wasn’t having this and sparked a civil war thus come to known as the War of the Roses or ‘Cousin’s War’ between the House of Lancaster and the House of York.
Many battles later, the Duke of York was killed but succeeded by his son, Edward who then became King after King Henry VI was captured. King Edward IV married Elizabeth of Woodville who presented him with many daughters and two sons who would become known as the Princes in the Tower. However, Queen Margaret came back with a foreign army and rescued King Henry VI thus sparking another round of battles that ultimately saw King Henry’s VI’s son, Edward of Westminster killed in battle leaving the old Lancaster King with no direct heir. In the end, King Henry VI and Queen Margaret was captured and put into the Tower of London.
There’s still a mystery to this day how King Henry VI died in captivity but popular legend says he died from internal bleeding after suffering red-hot pokers up his bottom. This left the House of Lancaster depleted and the House of York reigned on thanks to King Edward IV and his brother, Richard (here he is!). The last Lancastrian claimant was exiled in France and he was known as Henry Tudor. Some years later, King Edward IV died suddenly and his son became King Edward V. However, as he was too young to rule, he was placed in the tower with his brother under the behest of their uncle and regent, Richard of York for their safekeeping due to a threat of Henry Tudor invading.
That invasion never came to pass then but the princes remained in the tower before they disappeared and henceforth declared dead. Their uncle, next in line to the throne, became King Richard III and declared the sons and daughters of his brother illegitimate ensuring his path to become King. This action led to a lot of disagreement with the nobility and some began to support Henry Tudor to take the throne. A few years later, Henry Tudor landed in Wales and marched to meet King Richard’s army at Bosworth. Many Lords commanded huge armies but no one knew who they would support as they feared being on the losing side. Henry’s army was smaller but started well. As King Richard’s army became stuck in the woodlands and marshes, he was betrayed by Lord Stanley who declared for Henry and attacked Richard’s army in the rear. Realising he needed to cut down Henry as quick as he could, King Richard charged into battle within the thick of the fighting to reach Henry. However, he was struck down from his horse and killed in battle. With the Battle of Bosworth over, King Richard’s crown was found hanging off a hawthorn bush and brought to Lord Stanley who placed the crown on Henry Tudor. The last of the Plantagenet Kings was dead and the Tudor dynasty rose with King Henry VII at its helm.
So the next question is, so why didn’t other Yorkist claimants battle King Henry VII for the throne thus carrying on the War of the Roses? King Henry VII did a masterstroke. He married the strongest Yorkist claimant, Elizabeth of York who was King Edward IV’s eldest daughter. In marriage, the white rose of York combined with the red rose of Lancaster becoming the symbol of England that we know of today. This is the symbol that is touted on the English Tourism boards and can be found on all palaces and symbols of power whether they are castles or cathedrals. King Henry’s VII success was complete when he had a son who would become King becoming the embodiment of both the Houses of Lancaster and York. His name is King Henry VIII, who in his own right would also shape British History but that’s another destination and story.
So what about King Richard III himself? After the Battle of Bosworth, his corpse was slung over horseback and carried into Leicester to be presented to the people that King Richard III was truly dead. After three days of public viewings, his body was entrusted into the care of the Grey Friars who buried him in their choir, a place where no member of the public except for the Friars themselves could set foot. Decades later, the Church of the Friars was burnt down thanks to King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the Monasteries, and over time, the knowledge that King Richard III was buried here became lost. Decades later, the land was split off between landowners and the site of his burial was bought by Leicester City council in the 20th Century. They paved a car park above his undiscovered resting place until today. Thanks to the efforts of the Fellowship of the Wild Boar (King Richard III’s Society), they excavated the site and found the King, all features true with a blow evident on his skull and an S-shaped spine that confirms Shakespeare’s portrayal of the King as having a hunchback.
As I thought about this tumultuous period, I walked the 2.9Km walk around the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field. It’s a pleasant walk not to be missed discovering wells, sundials and inscripted markers teaching visitors the history of the Battle. If you want to take a break, there’s a steam train station at Shenton where you could ride on the train or grab a coffee at the quaint Station cafe. There’s even an exhibition of the battle at the visitors’ centre that costs £7 (I didn’t go in as I thought it was too expensive) and you can take a guided walk at weekends. However, I simply opted for the free walk myself and refreshed my already knowledgeable interest in British History, a session which I thoroughly enjoyed.
This spark of interest in British History has made waves across mainstream media and an exhibition centre will be completed in late Spring of this year, ready for visitors to find out ultimately what happened to King Richard III himself. If they are lucky, perhaps we will see another Cousins’ War…this time between York and Leicester about who should have the tragic and unlucky figure that is the last Plantagenet King.
If you want to see the King Richard III exhibition, it is only a short walk from Leicester Train Station and can be found next to Leicester Cathedral.
If you want to see Bosworth Battlefield (Check out their website), you can reach this by bus or by car:
Surrounded by a network of motorways, the M1, M6, M42 and only 9.5km from Jct 1 on the M69. Located close to Market Bosworth, 5.5km North from Hinckley and only 19km from Leicester.
Catch the 153 bus service (does not run on Sundays) from Leicester to Market Bosworth. The Heritage Centre and Country Park is located three miles south of Market Bosworth. Taxis are available, or you could take a pleasurable walk. Check bus times on the Arriva website here.