All of history hinges on the decisions and actions of a few people – people who influence other people.
Had Richard, Duke of Gloucester left well enough alone when Edward IV died, and been content as Lord Protector for Edward V, his 12-year-old nephew, the Plantagenet Dynasty might have continued for much longer. Instead, he seized control from his nephew by having him declared illegitimate, incarcerated him in the Tower of London with his younger brother, and reportedly, killed them both. Thusly, Richard, Duke of Gloucester became King Richard III, immortalised as a physical and moral monster by William Shakespeare in a play written some 107 years later for a queen of the Tudor Dynasty.
In Autumn of 2012, a skeleton was found under a car park on the grounds of a grammar school in Leicester, in the Cathedral area where Greyfriars Priory was. To this day, the street running along side the walls of the grammar school is Friars Lane although the priory itself was razed during dissolution of the Roman Catholic Church in 1538. It was found to be the body of Richard III, King of England for two years. The skeleton confirmed one legend about this king – he had severe scoliosis, which would have resembled a hunched back. Shakespeare’s depiction wasn’t completely based in ego-pandering for a Tudor ruler.
Richard III was the local favourite. He had support from Northumberland to the South, Norfolk to the east, and Lincoln and York to the north, as well as controlling much of Leicestershire and into the Peaks of Derbyshire through his execution of Lord Hastings – done to pave the way to having his nephews declared illegitimate.
Opposing him was Henry Tudor, a Lancastrian with ties to Wales through his mother, Margaret Beaufort’s, marriage to Owain Tudor. Her later marriage to Thomas Sydney, 2nd Baron Stanley, of Cheshire, tied him through marriage to Henry, bringing upon him the wrath of Richard III. His brother William supported the Yorkists under Richard. The family were at a deadlock and Thomas Sydney decided to hedge his bets by not deciding which faction to support until he had to. Also with Henry was the Earl of Oxford, a Lancastrian and Bedford as well as deserters from Richard’s army.
Upon landing in Wales on August 7, 1485, Henry marched into Pembrokeshire, where he won over several of the Welsh nobles, including Rys Ap Thomas, Richard’s Lieutenant of West Wales. By August 15 or so, Henry had rallied much of Wales to support him and it was with a much larger force that he headed for Shrewsbury in Shropshire. Where he and his force moved through Staffordshire, into Warwickshire and camped at White Moors (today comprising about five houses and a lot of fields) with a force of 5,000. The Stanleys with their 6,000 men made camp near Dadlington. Meanwhile, Richard and Norfolk had arrived, with Richard setting up camp on Ambion Hill, slightly to the north of Sutton Cheney where Northumberland joined him. They numbered between them some 8,000 men.
On the morning of August 22, 1485, the two opposing forces met in battle. Henry and his men were at first faced with a marsh, through and around which they had to find a path. Stanley stayed where he was. Richard’s men eventually met Henry’s in hand-to-hand combat, but interestingly Northumberland decided not to join, or was kept from joining. The truth of the matter is the cause of debate.
For some reason, at one point, Henry decided to ride over to Stanley, a small group of bodyguards accompanying him. Seeing this, Richard cut across the battlefield with a small force of retainers to take advantage of Henry’s isolation from his army. He quickly killed Henry’s standard bearer, but was himself surrounded by Henry’s men and cut down when Stanley finally decided to enjoin battle with Henry. That decision turned the course of history, for had he sided with Richard, the Tudor Dynasty would never have existed.
It has long been thought that this battle took place at the foot of Ambion Hill and this hill is the traditional site of the battle and where the recreation event takes place. However, more current research has found that Richard was probably killed closer to Dadlington where a silver boar pin, Richard’s device, was found during excavations nearer Fenn Lanes, right along the path Henry would have ridden to meet Stanley at Dadlington.
Henry Tudor was crowned Henry VII, King of England on the battlefield, surrounded by his men. Richard III was stripped naked and his body was tied over his horse and taken back to Leicester where it was left in view at the Cathedral for two days before it was put in an unmarked grave at Greyfriars.
To appease the Yorkists, Henry VII married Elizabeth of York. It was a political alliance that became a very happy marriage. And so, with the merging of the white rose of York with the red rose of Lancaster the red and white, Tudor rose and the Tudor Dynasty were born.
This year, the recreation took place on the 530th anniversary of the battle itself. Local dignitaries and clergy held a service on the battlefield and two minutes were observed in silence to honour the memory of those who fell near Ambion Hill.
On March 26, 2015, the body of King Richard III was carried in a coffin made by a distant Canadian cousin, whose DNA was one of those used to verify the skeleton’s identity, from the church in Stoke Golding where Richard observed his last mass, past where he died, up to the Bosworth Battlefield Centre, through the Village of Market Bosworth, passed Newbold Verdun, through Desford and down to the A47 to Leicester. There the entourage wound through the old city until it came back to Leicester Cathedral, where just short of 530 after his death, Richard the III was accorded the dignity of a king’s funeral. 35,000 people lined the road the day his body was taken to Leicester Cathedral.
Richard III’s body lay in state for five days so the public could view it. Every morning at 8:15, I walked through the Cathedral grounds on my way to work, watching crowds that were already in at least a two hour queue, sometimes those there at that hour would still be there five hours later. The Cathedral had to extend the viewing hours so that everyone who wanted to was able to pay respects.
Royalty came to town for the interment of Richard III and the city buzzed with excitement. They had won the right to keep the body of Richard III in Leicester against a court challenge by the Plantagenet Yorkists that had gone on for some months. Finally, the judge told both sides to start a petition. The one with the most signatures would win. The City of Leicester undertook a rejuvenation of the Cathedral area, culminating in the opening of the Richard III museum, the entry of which is almost above where his body lay until it was found in 2012.
Richard died here. He was buried, if forgotten, here. He now rests here, honoured and respected.