The Battle of Bosworth Field was the climax of the incredibly complex struggle for power amongst the English nobility. Its outcome ended the Plantagenet claim to the throne and saw its replacement by the Tudor line.
The Battle of Bosworth was the decisive confrontation in the War of the Roses. It saw the absolute victory of the forces led by the Earl of Richmond, Henry Tudor, over King Richard III. Indeed, Richard died on the battlefield, and Henry left Bosworth Field with his crown.
Historians often use this battle to mark the end of the medieval era in England.
Background to the War of the Roses
Henry VI was a weak and inefficient king. His wife Margaret of Anjou proved far more influential and cannier than her husband.
The heavy taxation that Henry placed on the people to fund his failed campaigns in France led to a great deal of turbulence and insurrection. The rebellion was a popular one led by Jack Cade, a commoner from Sussex.
The King believed that Richard of York was behind the insurrection. While Richard was indeed Henry’s primary rival, it is not clear that he was involved. However, Cade demanded that the Duke of York be placed as an advisor close to the Crown.
The rebellion was defeated, but the prestige of the Crown was seriously diminished as a result.
The War of the Roses
If the House of York were not involved in acts of rebellion, they soon would be. Richard of York returned to England from Ireland and led an army in London.
Richard proclaimed that his only goal was to remove corrupt advisors such as Edmund Beaufort, the Duke of Somerset. However, there is no doubt that this was a challenge to the King’s authority.
Thus, began what was known as the War of the Roses. The white rose was the badge of the York family. Meanwhile, the red rose represented the Lancastrians.
Henry soon began to deal with serious mental illness and was unable to hold on to his crown. Using his political sway, Richard was declared the Lord Protector of England.
Henry’s Temporary Comeback
However, Henry recovered from his mental illness and reclaimed power in 1455. His struggle with Richard continued. In the Rout of Ludford Bridge, the Yorkists were forced to withdraw to Ireland.
However, Richard’s good fortune did not last. A turncoat in his allowed York’s close ally, the Earl of Warwick, into the King’s camp, and the monarch was captured.
However, Queen Margaret fought on. In the Battle of Wakefield, Richard’s luck ran out, and he lost the battle and his head.
Richard’s son Edward now lifted the banner of York and continued the war. King Henry was rescued and resumed his battle against his new enemy. The two lost and won power in succession in a war of increasing ferocity and complexity.
Edward defeated the royal couple and imprisoned Henry VI and Margaret in the Tower of London. In 1471 the long-suffering Henry VI finally died, possibly having been poisoned.
Edward VI was now in a solid position as King of England. When he died, his son Edward V took the reins. However, the ambitious uncle of the new King plotted to have him removed and imprisoned.
The new King Richard III imprisoned King Edward and his brother in the Tower of London and eventually killed the Princes in the Tower.
The Tudors Swoop In
The murder of the Princes in the Tower proved highly unpopular and undermined Richard III’s position in England. These circumstances provided an opportunity for Henry Tudor, half brother of Henry VI, to lead an army against the unpopular Plantagenet King.
Backed by the French Crown and several prominent English nobles, Henry marched against Richard and met him at Bosworth Field. At the end of the battle, Richard III was beheaded.
William Shakespeare captured the last desperate moments of Richard III in his famous play. In Shakespeare’s dramatization, Richard attempts to escape and is in desperate need of a horse. He cries, “A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!”
According to legend, the crown was found in a bush and given to Henry, who was crowned with it. However, there is no contemporary evidence that this occurred. It appears to be a legend created later.
Although the reality was not as immediately dramatic as the legends and plays would have us believe, the implications were significant.
The battle marked the end of the Plantagenet line and its replacement by the Tudors. The latter would remain in power for well over a century, producing some of England’s best-known monarchs. Both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were the products of this royal bloodline.