I must admit I approach books on Richard III with a certain amount of trepidation these days, as there is always the chance that the author will have ‘taken sides’ with Richard, and will spend the entire book attempting to portray Richard III, King of England, Duke of Gloucester, as the underdog, and dismissing any source that wasn’t entirely favourable to him as ‘Tudor propaganda’. Thankfully this book doesn’t fall into that rather un-historical camp, but instead presents a
Thankfully little time is spent looking at the legitimacy of the two men’s claim to the throne – Henry’s claim to the throne was fairly thin, but then Richard was the usurping brother of a usurper, who had himself taken the throne from the grandson of a usurper (Henry IV). This was not a period in which adult son had followed father onto the throne very often – since Edward II had come to the throne in 1307 there had been seven more monarchs (Edward III, Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Edward IV, Edward V) of whom only Henry V had come to the throne as an adult, while Edward II, Richard II, Henry VI and Edward V had all had the throne taken from them!).
Instead what we get is a well balanced account of the campaign, including brief biographies of the two rivals and their supporters, a good understanding of the problems each man faced (in the case of Richard an increasing level of uncertainty about who he could trust, while Henry was aware that he would probably be outnumbered when any battle started).
The book has been updated to reflect the recent discoveries made on the battlefield, including of course the actual site of the battle itself! The section on weapons and equipment benefits greatly from this, as it includes a detailed examination of the various cannon balls that have been discovered on the site, matching them to the types of guns known to have been in use at the time. The author also makes an interesting suggestion that Richard chose his battlefield with his guns in mind, leaving Ambion Hill to find some lower ground that better suited the trajectory of round shot.
When we reach the battle itself the author has to deal with a great deal of uncertainty, as our sources disagree on the formations taken by the two sides, who was present on each side (especially on the Royal side), and perhaps most famously we can’t be entirely sure what the Stanleys did for much of the day. Once again the modern battlefield archaeology is a great help, providing physical evidence for when across the field different parts of the battle took place. This also gives a different view of Percy’s failure to take an active part in the battle on Richard’s side, suggesting that this may have been more to do with where he was deployed on the battlefield, behind swampy ground that prevented his troops from easily joining the battle on Richard’s right.
The book also benefits from the discovery of Richard III’s body, and the analysis that was done at the time. This gives us a clearer idea of Richard’s brutal fate, including the most likely fatal wounds.
This is an excellent account of this crucial battle, taking into account the impressive advances in our knowledge of the campaign in the last few years, and in particular the unusually detailed picture of the battlefield and of Richard III’s fate that we have been provided by recent archaeology.
Origins of the Campaign
The Battle of Bosworth
The Battlefield Today
Author: Christopher Gravett