The Battle of Bosworth Field, 21st August 1485.
Reasons for Designation
Bosworth Battlefield, the site of the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, is Registered for the following principal reasons:
* Historical importance: an iconic event in English history, the Battle of Bosworth brought the Tudor dynasty to the throne and saw the last death of an English king in battle;
* Topographic integrity: while agricultural land management has changed since the battle, the battlefield remains largely undeveloped and permits the site of encampments and the course of the battle to be appreciated;
* Archaeological Potential: recent investigation has demonstrated that the area of the battlefield retains material which can greatly add to our understanding of the battle;
* Technological significance: Bosworth is one of the earliest battles in England for which we have clear evidence of significant use of artillery.
The Wars of the Roses were caused by the protracted struggle for power between the reigning dynasty of the House of Lancaster and the competing House of York. The deposition of Edward V by his uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in 1483 was widely resented. Richard III was never a popular King, especially in the South of England. For the first time since 1471, when the twin victories of the late Edward IV at Barnet and Tewkesbury extinguished the Lancastrian cause, circumstances favoured a renewal of the dynastic challenge to the Yorkist monarchy.
The most favoured of the alternative candidates for the throne was Henry Tudor, styled Earl of Richmond, who had lived in Brittany since 1471. A first attempt to oust Richard III and install the pretender in his place failed in 1483: the rebellion's prime mover, the Duke of Buckingham, was caught and executed. Nothing daunted, on 1 August 1485 Henry Tudor, accompanied by 2,000 French mercenaries, once again set sail across the Channel. Henry landed in Wales, where his family wielded its greatest influence. Thereafter the rebels' advance was rapid. Henry wanted to gain as much support as possible. He was particularly anxious to effect a junction with his stepfather, Thomas, Lord Stanley, whose backing was crucial but not altogether certain. As it transpired, Lord Stanley had good reason to be circumspect: King Richard took his son hostage as a pledge for Stanley's continued good behaviour.
Henry occupied Shrewsbury on 15 August. By 19 August he had reached Lichfield; on the same day Richard marched from his base at Nottingham towards Leicester. On 21 August the opposing armies advanced towards each other from Leicester and Tamworth respectively and camped that night only a few miles apart. While historic reports of the troop numbers vary, it is thought that Henry had 5,000 men with him; Richard between 10,000 and 15,000. Lord Stanley, acting in tandem with his brother Sir William Stanley, was also in the vicinity with 3,000 retainers from Lancashire and Cheshire. The Stanleys' uncommitted stance meant that neither side could be certain of their support.
The battle saw Henry Tudor's troops, eventually supported by the Stanley's, defeat the larger Royal force which did not fully engage in the battle. Crucially, the death of Richard III on the battlefield means that, among battles in English history, Bosworth stands alongside Hastings as witnessing the death of an English king, ushering in a new dynasty. Richard was the last Plantagenet king, and the last English king to be killed in battle. After Bosworth the Tudor dynasty reigned for more than a century. The significance of the battle is addressed more fully below.
Description of military action
While there are a substantial number of sources which recount the course of the battle, these are of varying reliability and can be contradictory. From the late C18 Ambion Hill was identified as the site of the battle. However, critical reconsideration of the sources in the later C20 and recent research and archaeological investigation has established that the core of the battle lies 2 miles to the south-west of Ambion Hill. While recent research has given greater certainty regarding the location of the battle, any description of the detailed movements of the day remains provisional. This description of the course of the battle is based on the most up-to-date research which has succeeded in identifying the location of the battle but leaves some of the details open to inference.
Ambion Hill has long been associated with the battle and is believed to have been the location of at least part of Richard's encampment on the night of the 21 August. Discrete artefact scatters to the south east of Shenton, on Ambion Hill and to the south east of Sutton Cheney have led to postulation that there was in fact a series of camps occupying the higher ground to the north and north east of the area, possibly as far as Stapleton, all of which would have afforded views of the lower marshlands and the proposed battlefield.
Henry's forces probably approached from the west along the Roman road, Fen Lane. Despite a request from Henry for the Stanley forces to join with his army, the Stanleys held back from the start of the battle, watching it unfold from higher ground, 'between the two armies and to one side' as Vergile puts it.
Richard arrayed his forces on the wide valley bottom below Ambion Hill, possibly on a slight ridge, with troops under the Duke of Norfolk to his right and troops under the Earl of Northumberland probably to his left. As Henry's forces advanced, under artillery fire from Royalist positions, they encountered an area of marshy ground thought to be to the east of the modern Fenn Lane Farm. To avoid advancing into the artillery and to exploit the marsh, Henry's forces under the Earl of Oxford moved north, skirting the marsh on their right and approaching Richard's right flank. It appears that Oxford's manoeuvre attracted the Royal vanguard under the Duke of Norfolk. Henry was by then at some distance from his vanguard, holding back. With the heart of the fighting now taking place to Henry's north, Richard launched an attack aimed at Henry directly. It is notable in this that Northumberland's troops did not engage at this point. It is not clear whether this is a deliberate decision by Northumberland to abandon Richard's cause or whether there was some other impediment to a charge such as marshland or the Stanleys threatening his flank. It appears that it was at this stage in the battle that the Stanleys decided to engage their substantial forces on Henry's side. During this clash Richard's horse became mired in a marsh and the king was killed fighting. Richard's death signalled the end of the Royal offensive with Norfolk's troops being driven back in a rout. Norfolk is said to have been killed in fighting at the foot of a windmill, thought to be near the modern Apple Orchard Farm (NHLE 1074242). The fighting is said to have lasted two hours with estimates of deaths being 1000 on the Royalist side against 100 among Henry Tudor's forces. It is not known how many died among the Stanley troops.
The final act of the day was the crowning of Henry by Lord Stanley almost certainly on Crown Hill to the north-west of Stoke Golding, the crown having been retrieved from Richard's corpse.
In 1511 a Royal Licence was issued to the churchwardens of the parish of Dadlington for the collection of alms 'for and towardis the bielding of a chapell ... standing upon a parcell of the grounde where Bosworth feld, otherwise called Dadlyngton feld in our countie of Leicestre was done'. A further document states that the bones and bodies of the battle dead were taken from battlefield grave pits and reburied at Dadlington Church at a similar period. This decision suggests that many of the deaths occurred within or very close to Dadlington Township. This chapel may well have been formed within the current church.
The modern landscape differs markedly in appearance from that of 1485. The former open fields have been enclosed by straight hedge lines, tree coverage appears to have increased and the marshes have been drained and improved. That said, the entire area remains rural in character and the overall relief remains unaltered apart from the canal and railway. Recent documentary research and direct investigation has made it possible to understand the extent of arable land, meadows and marsh in the medieval period. The Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal was opened in 1804 and the railway in 1873. Nevertheless, these are localised alterations peripheral to the course of the battle which do not prevent the appreciation of the course of the battle.
The most prominent feature associated with the battle is Fen Lane, the Roman road along which Henry's troops probably advanced and which may have formed a key axis in the battle. The only building mentioned in accounts of the battle is a windmill which, on the basis of documentary place name evidence and consistent with finds from the battle, is thought to have stood just north of the modern Apple Orchard Farm which is listed at Grade II (NHLE 1074242).
Three particular commemorative features have been erected: a memorial stone at King Richard's Field, near Shenton Station, and King Richard's Well which is listed at Grade II (NHLE1074242). The modern memorial stone was erected in 1973 to mark the supposed site of Richard's death but this location appears to have been disproved by subsequent research and the stone has been relocated to the Battlefield Heritage Centre on Ambion Hill. The early C19 pyramidal structure on Ambion Hill covers the spring from which Richard is said to have drunk on the day of the battle. The third commemorative feature is a memorial sundial again on Ambion Hill, overlooking the plain of Redemore on which the battle took place.
The only early place-name derived from the battle is Crown Hill to the north-west of Stoke Golding. Before the battle this was known as 'Garbrodys' open field or 'Garbrodfelde'. By 1605 it is known as Crown Hill and the open field Crown Hill Field, presumably in reference to the field coronation of Henry VII in that location. The monuments and place-name indicate the importance that the battle has had for subsequent generations.
Finds possibly from the battle have been reported from the early C17 when William Burton in his 'Description of Leicestershire' mentioned that the creation of enclosures in Stoke Golding parish turned up 'divers peeces of armor, weapons and other warlike accoutrements'. There are many reports of items being found over the centuries but the precise location of few if any of the finds has been recorded before the most recent programme of investigation and most have been shown to post-date the battle. The ploughing and drainage of parts of the battlefield area will have had an impact on the condition of battle-related material in an identifiable context but equally the process of ploughing will have bought finds to the surface and the distribution of finds can be highly informative in understanding the course of the battle.
The C18 identification of Ambion Hill as the location of the fighting has distracted attention away from the valley bottom which has probably protected it from unregulated metal-detecting (at least until the announcement of the relocating of the site in 2010). As a result the recent (2009-10) finds of 30 lead and lead composite projectiles of varying sizes is particularly significant in representing a survival of this archaeological resource unaffected by earlier campaigns of retrieval. However, artillery is likely to have only played a comparatively small part in a battle of this date. Other finds such as badges, rowels and buckles have also been associated with the battle and are more closely associated with hand-to-hand fighting – the discovery of the gilt boar badge beside Fen Hole is of especial note. Further research is desirable to identify the survival and distribution of arrow heads. The distribution of artefacts particularly around the west, north-west and south-west edges of the Registered Battlefield is a direct reflection of the limits of the survey area; round shot for example is recorded up to or close to the limit of the survey area. There is a high degree of probability that further finds would be recovered if the survey was extended. On this evidence the Registered Battlefield includes a buffer zone of at least one field around the west, north-west and south-west edges of the Registered Area.
Despite later agricultural drainage there is the possibility that items lost in C15 marshland may be preserved in anaerobic conditions below the current plough zone and may include organic and historic environmental data. It should be stressed that no finds of this type have been found but the potential remains.
Richard's camps on Ambion Hill and the surrounding area are likely to have been partly disturbed by a later farm, now occupied by the modern battlefield visitor centre. However, a large area on the hill may have been available and Burgundian coins have been found well away from the buildings. As the camp was only occupied for a single night, any remains are likely to be slight. However, a number of other finds have also been found near the line of the old Roman road between Sutton Cheney and Stapleton villages near where the original manor house would have stood (the probable building in which Richard may well have stayed on the eve of the battle).
Other features associated with the battle are likely to have left archaeological traces, in particular, the windmill at which the Duke of Norfolk was killed, and the burial pits, some of which are likely to be in the bounds of Dadlington township. The bodies were translated from the mass grave(s) to the present Dadlington churchyard in the 1510s.
Definition of area(s)
The battlefield area is focused in the valley bottom south of Shenton, west of Dadlington extending as far as Upton Park. Fen Lane appears to have been a key axis in the battle as the Lancastrian troops manoeuvred round the marsh. Ambion Hill and Crown Hill are included as part of the battlefield. Ambion Hill is historically the traditional location of Richard III's camp on the night before the battle and has long associations with the event such as King Richard's Well. Crown Hill saw the symbolic end of the battle in the crowning of Henry Tudor as Henry VII.
The area is set out on the attached plan and defined by modern field boundaries to provide an easily recognisable limit to the Registered Battlefield. The area skirts around the north and north-west of Stoke Golding, north and north-west of Dadlington, south, south-east and south-west of Sutton Cheney, north of Shenton Station, east, south and west of Shenton, and south of Upton Lodge Farm. The Registered Area continues around fields to the west of Upton Park Farm, Stoke Road and Meadowcroft, then takes in fields south of Higham Fields Lane until the junction with Upton Lane where it runs along the northern edge of Higham Fields Lane before skirting around field boundaries west of the dismantled railway and north-west of Stoke Golding.
The registered area incorporates the currently designated King Richards Well (NHLE 1074241), Apple Orchard Farm (NHLE 1074242) and White Moors Farmhouse (NHLE 1008549) all of which are listed at Grade II, and Ambion Deserted Medieval Village which is a Scheduled Monument (NHLE 1008549).
This list entry was subject to a Minor Amendment to the Selected Sources on 10/04/2019