Ballad of Bosworth Field, The

DESCRIPTION: After a prayer for England ("GOD:that shope both sea and Land"), the poem describes the armies of Richard III and Henry Tudor that fought at Bosworth Field. The Stanley Brothers are highly praised for their role in the battle that made Henry the new King
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: before 1750 (Percy folio); probably composed before 1495
KEYWORDS: royalty battle death
Aug 22, 1485 -- Battle of Bosworth. Somewhere near Market Bosworth, the forces of King Richard III are defeated by those of Henry Tudor, and Richard is killed. Henry becomes King Henry VII
FOUND IN: Britain
REFERENCES (1 citation):
ADDITIONAL: Richard III Society Web Site, Ballad of Bosworth Field page,
NOTES [5301 words]: For the background to the reign of Richard III, see the notes to "The Children in the Wood (The Babes in the Woods)" [Laws Q34]. This particular entry is entirely specific to one of our few historical sources for that period, the so-called "Ballad of Bosworth Field," and the battle of Bosworth itself.
We have no absolute proof that the "Ballad" was ever sung, but it seems clear that it was intended to be. Of the sources I checked, it is cited by Ross and Bennett, but rarely used by other authors. Child mentions it in his notes to "The Rose of England" [Child 166] but does not deign to print it. Its value is debated; Wagner, p. 16, says of the three Bosworth ballads ("Bosworth Field," "The Rose of England" [Child 166], and "The Song of Lady Bessy") that some have gone so far as to treat them collectively as fiction, while others treat them as biased but genuine historical sources.
One reason to treat them together is the fact that all three are from the Percy Folio. Given the Folio's tendency to include pieces of material from a common origin (e.g. many romances printed by William Copeland), it is obviously likely that all three items derive from a common collection, very likely a pro-Stanley Family anthology. That "Bosworth" and "Bessy" (and, for that matter, "The Rose of England") share a common bias is fairly clear, but that doesn't mean they are by the same author or have the same view of history.
So an honest assessment would treat the poems separately. "Lady Bessy," which shares some lyrics with this ballad, was valued in the nineteenth century by Agnes Strickland (Laynesmith, p. 21) and more recently by Alison Weir, but it is patent fiction and (it seems to me) a late rewrite which uses elements of "Bosworth Field" (my own guess is that it was designed to flatter Elizabeth I, the granddaughter of Elizabeth of York who is the Lady Bessy of the ballad -- or, just possibly, it is disguising the actions of Henry VII's mother Margaret Beaufort, who in fact did conspire against Richard III, behind her future daughter-in-law). "The Rose of England" is obvious Tudor propaganda with some Stanley flattery thrown in; while not pure fiction, it is extremely unreliable.
To be sure, Child thought "Bessy" derived from "Bosworth," and most scholars think that "Bessy" is more interesting. That does not make it better history. (And I'm not convinced; "Bessy," being obvious fiction, would be more likely to borrow odds and ends, apart from its political appeal at a later date.)
"Bosworth Field" is another, and much trickier, matter -- frankly, I think that this, rather than "The Rose of England," is the Bosworth ballad Child should have printed. It is probably near-contemporary; although our only copy is from the Percy Folio, there is a sixteenth century epitome which differs in some regards, making it likely that the original is earlier still.
Ross argues, since it praises Sir William Stanley, that the original is from before 1495, the year Stanley was executed (although Griffiths/Thomas, p. 134, counter-argue that it was composed after 1495 as a justification of William Stanley). Sadly, it has clearly been damaged in transmission; the names in the surviving copy are often much muddled. It seems intended to glorify the Stanleys -- who certainly didn't deserve the praise -- but its primary importance is that it is probably based on evidence gathered by a Stanley herald or spy (Bennett, p. 13) -- in other words, an eyewitness.
That the witness is biased is undeniable, and the author had very little real information about what happened in Richard III's army. If we take that into account, I agree with Ross that the "Ballad" should get more respect than it does; Ross notes that, insofar as it can be tested, it is accurate. The one major error in is it the claim that Richard had 40,000 men at Bosworth, which is impossible -- but such exaggerations are commonplace in records of the era.
It is unfortunate that the "Ballad" is not more often reprinted; while awfully long to be sung (164 four-line stanzas), it has some genuinely fascinating touches, such as a speech by Henry Tudor:
Into England I am entred heare,
my heritage is this Land within;
they shall me boldlye bring & beare,
& loose my liffe, but I[']le be King.
Iesus that dyed on good ffryday,
& Marry mild thats ffull of might
send me the loue of Lord Stanley!
he marryed my mother, a Lady bright.
Henry Tudor's mother was Margaret Beaufort, the last of the Beauforts, through whom Henry made his claim to the throne; the Beauforts were descended from John of Gaunt, the third son of Edward III [died 1377]). Both Lord Stanley and Margaret Beaufort, of course, had been married to others before they married each other. Margaret Beaufort, in 1457 (at age 13!), had borne Henry Tudor to her first husband, Edmund Tudor; by 1464 she was married to Henry Stafford, the brother of the Duke of Buckingham, who died in 1471; she married Lord Stanley no later than 1473 (Chrimes, pp. 15-16).
The situation in August 1485 was this (again, this is a very brief summary of the notes in "The Children in the Wood (The Babes in the Woods)" [Laws Q34]): The widely respected King Edward IV, first of the Yorkist line, had died in 1483, leaving as his hear a 12-year-old boy, Edward V. Edward IV's brother Richard, until then known for his conspicuous loyalty, had produced a series of arguments to prove that the boy was in fact illegitimate, and had taken the throne as Richard III. The uncrowned Edward V and his brother Richard Duke of York then vanished.
Richard's brief reign had already produced significant positive legislation, but many were dissatisfied -- some were unhappy about the disappearance of the "Princes in the Tower" (Edward V and Richard of York); others were die-hard supporters of the Lancastrian dynasty which Edward IV had overthrown, and some, such as the Duke of Buckingham, seem simply to have wished to feather their own nests. The Stanleys, the heroes of this ballad, certainly fell into the latter camp -- and were ruthless about it: "The Stanley family stopped at nothing to further their hegemony in northern Lancashire, using their influence at court to gain possession of the heiresses to the Harrington estate, subsequently imprisoning them and marrying them against their will" (Langley/Jones, p. 84; see also p. 224).
Many of these disaffected nobles settled on Henry Tudor as their hope. He had no real claim to the throne -- his mother was Margaret Beaufort, who was descended in illegitimate line from King Edward III, who had died more than a century earlier -- but he was a technical Lancastrian, and Lancastrians would support anyone over a Yorkist.
Henry had tried to invade England in 1483, but the rebellions on his behalf collapsed. In 1485, he tried again, and this time, he landed in England. (I can't help but note the irony that he set out from Harfleur, the place where Henry V had invaded France seventy years earlier; Ross, p. 202). He and Richard gathered their forces, and finally met at Bosworth.
Whether he deserved it or not, Richard's position in 1485 was precarious, due primarily to the decimation of the nobility. There were only a few really strong nobles left, and not all of them were loyal. It left Richard largely dependent on lesser men -- and caused him to bring a relatively small army to the greatest battle of his life; estimates run from about 3,000 to 10,000 men, the majority of them the Duke of Norfolk's if you exclude the "neutrals."
Meanwhile, Henry Tudor had been very, very lucky in his friends. The Bretons had planned to turn him over to Richard (in which case this discussion probably wouldn't be necessary), but Henry was warned just in time, and escaped to France. The French were temporarily in a very anti-English phase. And, just at the time when Richard was most distracted, they gave Henry Tudor a fleet (Arthurson, p. 5) and let him invade (Pollard, pp. 160-162). It is also possible that the Scots sent a contingent, although the evidence for this is quite indirect (Chrimes, p. 70 and n. 1).
The Wars of the Roses witnessed, in all, six changes of King, but only once, at Bosworth, did the two rival claimants face each other in battle (Bennett, p. 99). And Bosworth proved decisive mostly because Richard III died in the battle. Henry's invasion force initially consisted mostly of mercenaries from countries hostile to Richard (Ross, pp. 202-203), though of course he picked up some supporters in Wales.
Ross-Wars, p. 101, notes how close the Tudor invasion came to failure: "In Brittany [Henry] narrowly managed to escape being captured and turned over to the English, and made good his escape to France. There the government, which was anxious to absorb Brittany into France, and feared that Richard would support the Bredon independence movement, decided to aid Henry's invasion. Supplied by France with money, ships, and some 3,000 French troops, he set sale for Wales in August 1485 -- but just in the nick of time, for French policy changed abruptly after his departure."
Henry landed at Milford Haven in Wales on August 7. Richard, who was based in Nottingham, apparently learned of his landing on August 11, and summoned such supporters as could reach him quickly. The two armies met on August 22.
The notes to "The Children in the Wood (The Babes in the Woods)" [Laws Q34]) describe the incredibly poor sources we have for this period. We have no complete account of the battle except the Tudor historian Polydore Vergil's, written decades later by someone who was not a witness and had never seen the battlefield (and who was so confused that he dated it to 1486, not 1485; Bennett, pp. 13-14), plus this song, which claims Richard had 40,000 troops, which is obviously impossible. The lack of data is so extreme that one author is convinced that we do not even know where the battle took place, moving it several miles away to Dadlington (Ross-Wars, p. 182; Pollard, p. 169 also mentions this as a strong possibility)
Although it is generally called "Bosworth," the first proclamation about it by Henry Tudor said the battle took place at Sandeford (Chrimes, p. 51). Langley/Jones, p. 220, lists several early names and says that the name "Bosworth" was not used (at least in any surviving record) until 1500.
Unfortunately, Vergil's account is not very clear, at one point it appears to confuse east and west, and does not fit the ground as it now exists -- e.g. there is a mention of a vanished marsh.
The reconstruction of the battle depends very much on where the marsh is located. The map in Burne, p. 290, places it south of Richard's position on Ambien Hill, making action on that flank difficult. Ross's map on p. 219 places it more to the west, putting a gap in the area where Henry Tudor might attack. Kendall's maps, pp. 438-439, approximate Burne's. Chrimes, p. 47, thinks Kendall's map is as accurate as can be reconstructed today but does not believe any complete reconstruction possible. St. Aubyn's map, p. 210, shows an extremely large marsh covering half the slope of Ambien Hill -- and shows details of the armies that are simply not known. Bennett, p. 108, firmly believes the marsh was on the south side of the hill although he is uncertain of the size -- but his map on p. 98 shows the marsh far from the hill and stretching all around it and implies that the armies met in a small gap. Cheetham's map is similar to Ross's. Gillingham, p. 242, delares that "all [maps] are quite worthless" but on pp. 243-244 gives a detailed restatement of Vergil that looks like a written description of St. Aubyn's map minus the mention of Ambien Hill.
Not all are convinced the battle even took place on Ambien Hill. Saul3, p. 79, mentions three possible places: Ambien Hill (which he spells "Ambion"); Dadlington; and near Atherstone; Saul thinks the last the most likely.
Ashdown-Hill, p. 80, gives a map that doesn't even show Ambien Hill, and which gives a completely different battle layout; it puts Richard's army along a line from northwest to southeast, with Howard's vanguard to the northwest, Richard's main body in the center, and Northumberland to the southeast near Dadlington. The Tudor army was across the marsh from Richard's center; the Stanley army (he believes there was only one) was to the south of the marsh, closer to the Tudor army, meaning that they could only reach Northumberland's force directly. But Ashdown-Hill, p. 81, seems to think that Richard's charge effectively opened the battle -- which leaves no time for the Duke of Norfolk to be killed. So, with Richard dead, the Tudors then attacked the royal army and killed Norfolk; with him dead, the Yorkist army had no leader and evaporated (Ashdown-Hill, p. 82). But this is pointless; with Richard dead, the war was effectively over. The only reason that I can see for this reconstruction is to give time for the battle to sweep away from Richard's corpse, so that the folklore of the crown being found under a bush could be true; Ashdown-Hill, p. 88, suggests that someone looted the body and tried to hide the loot. But even if the soldiers would have left Richard's body behind, would Henry Tudor? Hardly; he needed proof that Richard was dead!
The armies may have been almost as blind as we are; Bennett, p. 92, thinks that Lord Stanley, while claiming to bring his forces into Richard's army, was in fact between the King's and Henry Tudor's army, and was preventing the king from getting any useful intelligence. But his reconstruction, p. 109, also causes the Tudor forces to approach Richard's from the east -- meaning that Henry's army marched past Richard's and turned back. This is almost as hard to believe as Ashdown-Hill's reconstruction; I mention it simply to show how little we understand of what happened in 1485.
Bosworth was a most unusual battle, for there were not two but (probably) *five* armies. Though they were small ones -- Gillingham, p. 33, notes that at this time soldiers were paid wages, but their "profit," if any, came from plunder. Since it was hard to plunder one's countrymen, most battles of the Wars of the Roses involved relatively small forces led by a few great magnates rather than the large contract forces of the Hundred Years' War. And, as the war lasted longer, wages had to go up, and the armies got even smaller (Gillingham, p. 35).
Richard's personal army seems to have been particularly small for an army led by a crowned king, perhaps because he by this time was having financial difficulties. He had not gotten much money from his 1484 parliament; (Ross, p. 178), and was having to borrow from his magnates; (Ross, p. 179). On p. 215, Ross says that "it can be suggested that the size of Henry's army has been underestimated and that of Richard's exaggerated. Allowing for the men he recruited en route from Milford Haven, Henry may have had 5,000 men, perhaps more. Potentially, Richard could have gathered far more, but, given the hasty circumstances of his array, he may have had no more than 8,000 men in his command, although 10,000 is by no means unlikely." Bennett, p. 103, suggests 10,000 to 15,000 for Richard -- but doesn't really have a place for them in his battle map.
Either total, however, includes the Earl of Northumberland, who certainly did not fight for Richard and probably was unwilling to fight. (Bennett, p. 74, even suggests that he had been in communication with Henry Tudor, although if so, nothing came of it.) In practical terms, this suggest that Richard had no more than seven thousand, and probably less; the two armies thus were close to equal in size, though Richard's was probably better equipped and led; it would certainly have had the edge in artillery.
The senior officers in the loyal army were Richard and the Duke of Norfolk, the former Lord Howard. Henry Tudor was theoretical commander of the second force, though probably the de Vere (shadow) Earl of Oxford commanded in the field (Bennett, pp. 64-65, suggests that Henry Tudor might not have dared to invade without him, and notes that Richard had made an unsuccessful attempt to keep Oxford from getting away from his complacent guards at Calais; Langley/Jones, p. 192, points out that Henry Tudor had seen only one battle, and that was when he was twelve; it was a defeat in which he probably was not a combatant); the other senior officer in the Tudor camp was Henry's uncle Jasper Tudor, another shadow earl, although Langley/Jones, p. 195, says he had left the Tudor army before Bosworth.
Then there were the independent armies, those of Lord Stanley, his brother Sir William Stanley, and the Earl of Northumberland. Northumberland kept his troops in Richard's camp but commanded them independently. Lord Stanley, whose current wife was Henry Tudor's mother, and William Stanley kept their forces entirely separate, meeting Henry Tudor but not joining him and keeping Richard on a string. And they had a well-deserved reputation for playing both sides (see, e.g., the notes to "The Vicar of Bray"; Langley/Jones, p. 225, calls them "the arch dissemblers in the Wars of the Roses") -- one reason, perhaps, why they had to produce this piece of propaganda to defend their actions.
Thus when the Battle of Bosworth started, there were four forces, arranged probably in a rough square, or perhaps we should say in a rough cross, with Richard's forces facing Henry's and the Stanley armies (which were probably as large or larger than the other two forces) occupying the other two sides of the square. Northumberland, theoretically part of Richard's force, was sitting still to Richard's rear. The best guess is that Richard was with his army's main body but that Henry Tudor was in the rear of his army -- he wanted to win, not fight, and if he failed, he perhaps wanted to escape (Langley/Jones, p. 198).
It amazes me how many divergent details the various authors can discover in the very limited material available in Vergil. Ross rightly slams Kendall for turning a brief summary into a detailed, lyrical account -- but ignores the fact that St. Aubyn, p. 213, regales us with the tale of Richard's "terrible dream," or Seward-Roses, p. 305, wants us to know about Richard's "haggard appearance" and "ferocious speech." How many people, even in Richard's forces, would know of the dream, and why would they tell a biased chronicler? Cheetham, p. 187, comments "Predictably enough, our two contemporary voices -- Croyland and Vergil -- attribute to Richard a sleepless night, interrupted by 'dreadful visions' and premonitions of disaster." (Note, though, that Vergil is not contemporary, and that Croyland's description is only a few lines long.) Our third contemporary, this song, has a lot of surely-fictitious speeches, but no sign of the dreadful dreams in the transcription I've seen. And Langley/Jones, pp. 198-199, describes Richard's acts on that day (e.g. of displaying the crown) as the confident behavior of one who expected to win. Ashdown-Hill, p. 71, repeats another tale, in which an old woman cried for alms on the way to the battlefield, then said that "where [Richard's] spur struck, [there] his year should be broken." What, Richard's history borrowed a plot element from "Robin Hood's Death"?
In any case, as Bennett comments on p. 97, "it seems unlikely that the young Henry Tudor... slept any better."
Burne, p. 291, believes that the scene of the battle was set when Richard's force occupied Ambien Hill very early on the fatal day (Monday, August 22, 1485). This seems likely enough -- Richard was clearly the more enterprising commander, and Ambien Hill was the dominant position in the area; St. Aubyn, p. 209, Kendall, p. 433, Cheetham, p. 187, and Ross, p. 217, all agree with Burne at least this far.
Unfortunately for Richard, Ambien Hill, while tall, is very narrow. All the authors seem to agree that, instead of forming his three divisions in a line, Richard ended up with Norfolk in front, on the slopes of the hill, Richard's own division behind him, and Northumberland somewhere to the rear (though it is hard to see how they could have gotten into that formation if the map in Kendall, p. 438, is accurate; in this, Kendall clearly seems wrong).
Bennett, p. 104, suggests that Henry placed almost all his forces in a vanguard under the Earl of Oxford, keeping only a small company of his own -- understandable, given Henry's lack of experience. His inference from this is that Henry was expecting the Stanleys to guard his flanks -- as, in effect, they did. Langley/Jones, p. 197, agrees that most of Tudor's forces were in the vanguard, but offers a different explanation: the Tudor captains wanted to score an early success, even if they couldn't back it up, so the Stanleys would commit to their side.
Based on the little we know, it appears that Richard's and Henry's armies started the battle, with the Stanleys standing aside (all authorities, including even the very anti-Richard Gillingham, p. 243, agree on the duplicitous behavior of the Stanleys). By the nature of the ground, that meant Tudor's forces under Oxford attacking Norfolk. Despite Gillingham, this seems to me to almost assure the general accuracy of the Burne/Ross/Kendall reconstruction of the battle with Richard on Ambien Hill. If Richard hadn't been on the hill, he would surely have created a broader battle line, and the final charge would have been impossible.
Exactly what happened next is uncertain, because we know that Norfolk died in the battle, but we don't know when. If Vergil is right in saying that the whole battle lasted only two hours (Gillingham, p. 244), it must have happened fairly quickly, but that's not much to go on.
We also know that Northumberland did not participate in the battle. (Pollard, p. 171, mentions that we have this from Croyland, not just Vergil. One source, the "Spanish Letter," appears to say that Northumberland actually attacked Richard, but Ross, p. 216, rejects this as impossible. Ross, pp. 218, 221,thinks that the nature of the ground meant that Northumberland could not engage at all, but most of the other scholars think he refused to fight, and the behavior of his vassals in 1489 seems to support this. It seems to me that a refusal to fight would also explain the "Spanish Letter.")
Four years after Bosworth, Northumberland was murdered by a mob of rioters protesting over Henry Tudor's taxes -- Cunningham, pp. 79, 108 -- and while we don't have any certain knowledge of why he died, the strong indication is that his henchmen refused to rescue him because of his betrayal of Richard III (Pollard, p. 171). (Percy printed Skelton's "Elegy on Henry Fourth Earl of Northumberland" -- p. 117 of volume I of Percy/Wheatley -- but this elegy appears to have no useful information even though it is near-contemporary.)
Pollard is convinced, p. 171, that Richard would have won the battle had Northumberland fought. Presumably the Henry Percy's own subjects felt the same -- and liked Richard better than they liked their earl.
Eventually, Richard tried a maneuver -- a charge on the Tudor ranks, aiming for the pretender personally.
The timing and the reason is unknown. Kendall, p. 439, thinks it came when Norfolk was killed -- bad news indeed for Richard -- and that Northumberland's neutrality had already been revealed by then. If Kendall is right, then the death of Norfolk left Richard in a very precarious position, with his main force disorganized and little chance that any of the three neutrals would come to his aid. Hence he decided to try a death-or-glory charge: If he could kill Henry Tudor, the battle would be won.
Ross does not mention Norfolk's death at this stage (on p. 218 he mentions it as merely "probable" that Norfolk was already dead when Richard died), but thinks Richard may have seen that his force was being defeated (also, he speculates on p. 223 about low morale in Richard's forces). Ross, p. 222, agrees with Kendall that the desire to end the battle by killing Henry was a possible motive, though he isn't entirely sure that Richard was actually trying a charge just with his guard. He may have been trying to bring his entire division into action.
Langley/Jones, p. 191, offers a different suggestion: That Richard, who had an interest in chivalry and owned a book telling of a single combat between Alexander the Great and an enemy leader, wanted to settle things in a direct duel. On p. 201, they suggest that Richard went for it as soon as he had figured out the Tudor army's dispositions. This would certainly explain why the battle didn't last long.
There is an alternate account given by Young/Adair -- who are not specialists in the period. They credit -- without giving an authority -- Richard with having precisely 9640 men; p. 101. Henry's army they credit on p. 103 with 8000 troops. They suggest there was only one Stanley army, of about 2000 men; p. 102. And they place the battle entirely to the south of Ambien Hill, suggesting that the Stanleys positioned themselves at the top of the hill. They suggest that Norfolk and Oxford actually fought in single combat; p. 104. They credit Northumberland with sitting on his hands, but their map does not show how he could have done so. Allowing that Vergil's account is probably thoroughly untrustworthy, I have to say that this version strikes me as even less likely to be right -- it sounds as if it's straight out of a romance.
A more reasonable alternate suggestion comes from Ross-Wars, pp. 132-135, who suggests that Henry Tudor was concerned about the course of the battle, and rode off to appeal to the Stanleys (whom he too suggests may have had only one force, not two). Richard, observing the maneuver, chose to attack Henry as the rebel force moved. While a better fit for the known facts than the Young/Adair account -- indeed, it is a good explanation for why Richard would make what otherwise seems a foolhardy move -- this remains speculation.
Another possibility is suggested by Bennett's belief that Henry expected the Stanleys to cover his flanks: When Richard saw that the Stanleys were sitting still, he decided to do just what Henry feared and go around Oxford's flank to get at Henry and the Tudor rear.
Chrimes, p. 48, offers what seems to me the best suggestion of all: Richard saw that he had three neutrals on his hands (Thomas Stanley, William Stanley, and Northumberland) -- and he wanted to end the battle before any of them could decide to go over to Henry Tudor.
Whatever Richard's intention in his final maneuver, what it seem to come down to was a charge by Richard and his household knights toward the Tudor flag -- a charge which came very close to succeeding. (At least, that's what Vergil thought Richard was doing; Burne, p. 295, suggests that he was actually trying to kill the traitor Lord Stanley. This seems absurd -- Richard could have gotten real revenge on Stanley by killing Stanley's son Lord Strange, who was his hostage, and in any case, if he killed Henry Tudor, he could deal with Stanley at his leisure.) But Sir William Stanley charged and managed to destroy the back of Richard's attack force (Gillingham, p. 244, thinks that Richard's companions mostly deserted him in the attack, but also notes that Richard almost managed to reach Henry Tudor -- impossible if he had truly been abandoned). Attacked front and rear, the charge failed. Richard died in the fighting.
This would also explain a report that Richard lost his horse in a marsh near the battlefield, near a place where archaeologists found a copy of Richard's token of a boar (map on p. 204 of Langley/Jones). Probably Richard went around the Tudor flank, and when William Stanley intervened, the charging horsemen were pushed more and more away from Tudor and toward the marsh (Langley/Jones, p. 206).
Why did Richard do it? To get things over with, perhaps; this seems to be Kendall's view. But we can't know. The "Ballad of Bosworth Field" declares,
He said, "giue me my battell axe to my hand,
sett the crowne of England on my head soe hye!
ffor by him that shope both sea and Land,
King of England this day I will dye!
This seems to contradict Henry's actual behavior; according to Langley/Jones, p. 202, Henry actually got off his horse and hid among his bodyguard. Of course, he might have been trying to fight with them. Given his record, though, this seems quite unlikely.
The one thing that everyone seems to agree is that the grand charge was very courageously done: Burne, p. 295, says "Richard died like a king." Croyland said he died "like a brave and most valiant prince" (Burne, p. 296). Vergil reports, "King Richard alone was killed fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies... his courage was high and fierce and failed him not even at the death which, when his men forsook him, he preferred to take by the sword rather than, by foul flight, to prolong his life" (Gillingham, pp. 244-245). "Whatever he merited as man or king, as a soldier King Richard deserved a better end" (Young/Adair, p. 106).
The tendency on the part of Richard's partisans has been to blame his supporters for the defeat. Northumberland is the one usually blamed. Kendall thinks Northumberland's inertia was due to dislike for Richard. Ross, p. 167, observes that the two had had been at loggerheads from the early 1470s. He also notes that the Percies were among the oldest of the noble families, and that Richard was closely linked with the Neville family, rivals of the Percies. (He doesn't say much about the fact that the Percies had a history of rebellion against kings in power.) Cunningham, p. 75, suspects that Richard was dead by the time Henry Percy was in position to intervene -- though this doesn't explain why Northumberland's forces were so far from the field. Cunningham also suspects that it was new continental tactics which defeated Richard: Henry Tudor's mercenaries formed square to take Richard's cavalry charge, and it worked.
Gillingham goes on to call Richard a "disaster" as king. I truly don't see why -- unless one says that his death was disastrous because it put England under the Tudors. Legislatively, as we have seen, Richard's reign was unquestionably good. This is true even if one accepts the Seward/Weir view that he was a monster.
The aftermath of course was a dramatic change in English politics and the situation of the nobility. Thomas Stanley, who inspired this song, was made Earl of Derby, constable of England, steward of the Duchy of Lancaster, and more (Chrimes, p. 55). William Stanley, the man who actually did in Richard, also received offices (Chrimes, p. 55) -- but he was not made a baron, and Henry Tudor would eventually execute him! Jasper Tudor, Henry's uncle who had kept his cause alive for many years, was made Duke of Bedford despite having no English royal blood; he also married a sister of the old Queen Elizabeth Woodville (Chrimes, p. 54). And the Earl of Oxford, who probably deserves most of the credit for Bosworth, was restored to his earldom plus was made Admiral of England (Chrimes, pp. 54-55).
Perhaps we should give the last word to Ross-Wars, p. 100, who writes, "Richard was by no means the personification of evil which he was to become in the hands of hostile Tudor propagandists. He had charm, energy, and ability, and he worked hard to win popularity. But it took time to live down the legacy of suspicion and mistrust generated by the violence of his usurpation. Even in that ruthless age, many men were appalled by what they clearly believed to have been his crime against the princes.... Had Henry Tudor's invasion been long delayed, its outcome might have been very different, but in 1485, Richard was still far from having won the confidence of his people in general." - RBW
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