Julian Humphrys: Richard III’s last battle

Roundup: Talking About History

[Julian Humphrys is Development Officer for the Battlefields Trust. He is the author of Clash of Arms: Twelve English Battles (English Heritage, 2007) and a regular contributor to BBC History Magazine.]

I think it’s fair to say that, with the probable exceptions of Hastings and Culloden, Bosworth is the best-known battle to have taken place on British soil. While it wasn’t actually the last battle of the Wars of the Roses – that took place two years later near Newark - its effects were significant and long lasting. For Bosworth saw the defeat by a rebel army of a royal force nearly twice its size, leaving Richard III dead on the field and establishing Henry Tudor as king and founder of a new dynasty.

It’s also a particularly controversial affair. Was Richard, the loser, a murderous tyrant and certainly not the sort of man you’d want for an uncle, or has his reputation been unfairly besmirched by the likes of Shakespeare? Was the battle won by treachery or was there a bit more to it than that? And, perhaps most controversial of all, where did the battle actually take place?

Over the years a number of historians have weighed in with their theories about the site of the battle with the result that anyone hoping to stand on the spot where the dramatic events of 22 August 1485 actually unfolded has been faced with a bewildering number of choices of where to go.

However, once a bit of work was done on reconstructing what the landscape was like at the time of the battle it soon became clear that the ‘traditional’ location of the battle, ie on and around Ambion Hill, was almost certainly incorrect. Not good news for Leicestershire County Council who had developed an award-winning visitor centre near to that site. To the Council’s credit they have made no attempt to sweep this rather inconvenient historic fact under the carpet. Instead they have sought to establish once and for all where the battle was fought by commissioning the Battlefields Trust to carry out a thorough historical, topographical and archaeological investigation of the area.

The results of this research are due to be made public early next year but, having just spent a thoroughly enjoyable weekend there, I’m confident that wherever it turns out that the battle took place, the Bosworth Battlefield Visitor Centre will continue to thrive, not only because its displays are engaging and thought provoking but also because it puts on some really good special events...

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