Battle of Bosworth Field (1485)Battle of Bosworth Field (1485) - The War of the Roses appeared to have come to an end in 1471 with a victory for the House of York at the Battle of Tewkesbury.  The Lancastrian king, Henry VI, and his only son, the Prince of Wales, either died at Tewkesbury or in its aftermath, leaving Edward IV firmly in control of England.  When he died in 1483, there should have been a smooth transition of power.  But it was not to be.  His heir, Edward V was only twelve years old; so a royal council was convened to run the country until Edward came of age.  One of York's allies, Lord Hastings, was concerned that the family of Elizabeth, the young king's mother, would try to dominate the council.  So he used his influence to have the king's uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Edward IV's brother) appointed Protector of England in order to prevent this.  Richard accepted the position with gusto.  He confined Edward to his quarters and arrested those members of his mother's family who tried to get on the royal council.  They were executed for treason without a trial.  But he didn't stop there.  He then had Lord Hastings, the man who helped him become Protector, beheaded for conspiracy.  About a week later, he convinced Parliament to declare Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth illegal, rendering their children illegitimate and thus disqualifying them from the monarchy.  With that accomplished and as the next in line of succession, he declared himself king (and became Richard III) on June 26, 1483.  Next he locked Edward V and his younger brother, Richard, in the Tower of London, and they were never heard from again (probably murdered on Richard's orders).  Though he was able to do these things, news of what he had done quickly spread throughout England, making him extremely unpopular.  The House of Lancaster, which formerly held the throne saw an opportunity.

 

After the deaths Henry VI and his son, Edward, in the wake of Tewkesbury, the Lancastrian who made the strongest claim to the throne was Henry Tudor.  His mother was Lady Margaret Beaufort, the great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt who was the father of King Henry IV.  He had been in exile in France, but with the upheaval Richard III created, decided to take advantage of the situation.  Sailing from Harfleur on August 1, 1485, he landed in Milford Haven in Wales on August 7th with about 2,000 men.  Wales was the logical invasion point because Henry's greatest support came from there.  When he arrived, he was able to augment his force with Welsh soldiers.  Richard received word of Henry's approach and marched out to intercept him.  The Battle of Bosworth Field was fought on August 22, 1485.  Richard's army was 10,000 strong, Henry's about half that.  Richard commanded his men himself, but Henry was not an experienced field commander.  He put John de Verre, Earl of Oxford in charge.  There was a third party present that day.  Sir William Stanley, brother of Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby.  He brought 6,000 men to the battle and loosely claimed allegiance to Richard, but was, in fact, non-committal at the start.  That's because his family had historically sided with Lancaster, though he himself had been a Yorkist.  However, Richard's actions in obtaining the throne weakened his allegiance.  Further, Thomas Stanley was Henry Tudor's stepfather, having married Lady Margaret Beaufort.  All these factors made William Stanley take a "wait and see" position when the fighting began.

 

Battle of Bosworth Field (1485)At the start of the battle, Richard appeared to have the advantage.  He occupied the higher ground on Ambion Hill and situated his men so that a marsh stood between him and the opposing army.  While Oxford marched around the marsh, his men were kept in tight formation counting on the phalanx to compensate for its inferior numbers.  As they marched, Richard had a cannon that he used to try to break up the phalanx.  In the meantime, he attempted to coax Stanley into joining the fight on his side.  A messenger was sent to Stanley's camp threatening to execute his son (whom Richard had conscripted) unless he attacked Henry's army immediately.  Stanley responded by saying that he had plenty of sons.  Richard was incensed and gave the order to execute Stanley's son immediately; but the order was ignored while the battle was playing out.  Had Stanley joined at that moment on Richard's side, his advantage would have been overwhelming.  As it happened, the threat certainly could not have endeared Stanley to Richard's cause.  When Oxford's men cleared the marsh, the two sides engaged in hand-to-hand combat.  The tight formation of Henry's army proved superior and Richard's men soon began to scatter.  Fearing victory was slipping away, Richard attempted a swift resolution by charging directly toward Henry with the intent of striking him down.  Having very nearly reached his opponent, he killed Henry's standard-bearer and unhorsed his personal guard.  However, the rest of Henry's escort managed to close ranks before he was harmed.  At this point Richard's fate was sealed.  William Stanley decided to make his move, and it was to Henry's side.  The battle was already shifting in his favor, and the addition of Stanley's troops turned it into a rout for Lancaster.  Because of Bosworth Field, the War of the Roses is now known as the Wars of the Roses (plural), and it established Henry Tudor as the King of England.  His monarchy established the Tudor Dynasty and ended the Plantagenet.  He became King Henry VII, and the battle is generally considered the line of demarcation between the end of the Middle Ages and the start of the early Modern Period in England.