The Battle of Bosworth Field was one of the pivotal engagements in the history of Britain. It determined which family would rule England for more than a century but what caused the battle?
The Battle of Bosworth Field was the culmination of the Wars of the Roses. The house of Lancaster, led by Henry Tudor, defeated the house of York, led by King Richard III, resulting in Tudor being crowned Henry VII of England.
For more on the Wars of the Roses and their culmination at Bosworth Field, read on.
The seeds of the Wars of the Roses were planted several decades before they began. In 1399, Henry IV usurped his cousin, King Richard II of England, and declared himself king.
Henry IV was a member of the Lancaster family, and many barons felt that Richard II’s family, York, were the rightful rulers. Even so, Henry IV was succeeded by his two namesakes, Henry V and Henry VI.
Henry VI became King of England in 1422 at just nine months old, also inheriting the disputed Kingdom of France. Unlike Henry V, a strong and daring leader, Henry VI did little to unify a country that was recovering from decades of turmoil.
Henry’s inability to lead, and his disinterest in doing so, resulted in his territory in France rapidly shrinking. There was widespread corruption in his court, and heavy taxation caused resentment from both nobles and commoners in England.
In 1450, a peasant revolt from Kent marched to London and presented the “Complaint of the Poor Commons of Kent”, a list of demands.
These demands included the return to England of Duke Richard of York, the great-grandson of King Edward III. Henry’s men ultimately defeated the peasant rebellion.
Henry blamed Richard of York for the uprising, despite the lack of any evidence to support his theory.
The Wars of the Roses
Richard of York returned to England by 1452 and resolved to remove the corruption surrounding the throne. He took particular issue with Edmund Beaufort, the Duke of Somerset.
Richard took an army to London and expressed his loyalty to Henry while encouraging him to strip Edmund of his position. Henry fell ill soon after and Richard became the Lord Protector of England in his stead.
Richard used his powers to imprison Beaufort but Henry’s Queen, Margaret of Anjou, gave birth to a son, Edward. Richard was no longer be considered a meaningful heir to the throne.
When Henry recovered, Richard was sent away and Beaufort was restored to his former position. If Richard desired change, his only remaining option was war.
The first battle in the Wars of the Roses took place in St. Albans on May 22, 1455. The forces of Richard of York and Henry VI clashed in the town and Edmund Beaufort was killed, with Henry taken prisoner.
Margaret, more shrewd and resourceful than her husband, fled with her son and began work to see Henry back on the throne.
Shifts in Power
Over the next several years, a series of battles between York and Lancaster were fought, with power constantly shifting back and forth between the factions. After capturing Henry for the second time, Richard declared himself Henry’s successor, which Henry accepted so long as he remained king.
Queen Margaret was able to muster armies to defeat both Richard, who died at the Battle of Wakefield, and his son, Edward. Edward was later able to win the throne, becoming Edward IV, and possibly had Henry VI killed.
In 1483, Edward IV died and his son, Edward V, took the throne. Edward V’s uncle, Richard III was able to have both Edward IV and V declared illegitimate and became king himself. Richard imprisoned his nephews and they soon disappeared, leading to suspicion that he had them killed to protect his claim.
Whatever the reality of the situation, public opinion quickly turned against Richard. Many nobles looked elsewhere for a king and selected Henry Tudor, a Lancastrian, to swear fealty to.
On August 22, 1485, the Lancastrian forces of Henry Tudor and the army of Richard III met in battle at Bosworth Field. Richard III was killed in the battle and Henry Tudor was crowned as Henry VII of England.
In an attempt to end three decades of conflict, Henry VII soon married Elizabeth of York, effectively ending the Wars of the Roses. Now combined into one family, York and Lancaster gave way to the rise of the Tudors.