Monday, 26 November 2018

Bosworth Battlefield Tour 2018

At the suggestion of fellow club member Chris, we decided to sign up to the Battlefields Trust Tour of Bosworth last Sunday. This was partly influenced by the revelation that local councillors had recently (and controversially) agreed planning permission for a multi million pound vehicle test track on part of the Battlefield. As Richard Mackinder (our guide for the day) pointed out, this may be our final chance to see that part of the field in its current condition. Also, this would be the first time either myself or Chris had walked the area since either the discovery of Richard III's remains, and the proposal of the 'new and actual' battlefield site.

We started the day near Sutton Cheney where Richard led us to the area of the old Roman Road which came from Leicester, and is most likely to be the route that the Yorkist army took that day. It was pointed out that an army of such significant size would have needed to travel on the most reliable road, and seeing as all the others in the area would have been small dirt tracks (and that many of the fields nearby would have been covered in wheat, which made slow passage) this was now accepted.

(The small clump of bushes at the centre of this photo marks the edge of the Roman Road as it cuts from left to right across the fields).

More significantly, this theory puts paid to the idea that Ambion Hill was the Yorkist camp site. Both Sutton Cheney and another nearby village lay claim to being the place that Richard III heard mass the night before. As our guide suggested, a closer interpretation of medieval documents has revealed that it's more likely that the army itself camped spread out across these points, with many of the men choosing to visit the churches nearby. It's known that Richard III travelled with his own clergy, so was likely to hear mass in his own private quarters. The fact that the area of Sutton Cheney had a supply of fresh water and is on a raised area of ground, as the guide said "makes you wonder why the army would bother going all the way to Ambion Hill, only for them to travel back again the next day".

(Photo taken from near Sutton Chaney, looking out towards Shenton)

As it's likely Richard III had a plan (and was already aware of the Lancastrian movements and his own forces outnumbering Henry's), it's thought he decided to form up and then throw out Norfolk's force onto his right flank. He could use the folds in the land to hide Norfolk until he could advance onto Henry's left. Tactically this seems pretty sound, as Henry would then need to draw forces from his centre to deal with Norfolk and present Richard with an opportunity to launch an attack into his main body.

(Richard Mackinder, our guide)

We next did a brief visit to Norfolk's position near Shenton, which is now marked by the line of the canal. Unfortunately part of the road was closed due to works, but it was still worthwhile as Richard showed us the area where Norfolk was brought back to and eventually died from his wounds, after the initial clash.

Travelling onward, we now came round behind the Lancastrian lines passing the area which the new test track will be built upon. Richard Mackinder pointed out that it's likely that this is in the area where the Lancastrian camp was. Himself and other researchers had recently been given access to "200 yards inside the fence" of the proposed site and expressed his frustration at having discovered medieval round shot and other items fairly quickly. The only positive aspect is that the company landowners have given permission for a deep dig investigation on the site before any building takes place - although this will be restricted to a two week window.

As an example of the round shot being found (and marking the site of the 'new' battlefield), Richard handed out a replica 33mm shot which I managed to photograph below. He said that they had found some examples of 94mm shot suggesting the use of Saker sized artillery in the battle.

(A replica round shot)

We finally arrived at what is considered to be the centre of Henry's line. This is an impressive area situated on the edge of a farmyard, which gives a perfect view of all the positions for both armies. I did mention that it was incredible to see how small the battlefield was, but as Richard pointed out, both archery and medieval gunnery required that you could visually identify your targets. Bringing everything much closer together compared to later conflicts. This was the area of the most significant archeological finds, such as the silver boar badge.

He pointed straight across to Shenton and noted again where Norfolk had attempted to attack Henry's left flank, and also the rising ground on the right where the Stanley's had placed their force "betwixt the two armies" and was later proclaimed as Crown Hill.

We then walked to the very edge of the field as Richard explained how the Yorkist mounted charge had come directly toward us (taking nine and a half minutes from trot to canter then charge), smashing into Henry and killing Brandon the standard bearer as well as many others I expect. The archeology had given the impression that the force of the charge had probably pushed Henry backwards initially but Stanley looking on from the rising ground to the right had then decided to throw in his cavalry, which according to one theory had come round behind Henry's beleaguered force and then gave impetus to a counter charge. This in turn pushed back the Yorkists and where Richard III finally fell. The silver boar badge was incidentally found at the very end of the tractor tyre marks in the field photographed below, and right next to what was identified as the only medieval marsh in the area dating from that period. As a footnote, Richard told the amusing story of searching for the oft mentioned marsh. Apparently he had received disappointing news one day that an earlier marsh they had looked at had in fact dried up 200 years prior to the battle, and decided to retire to the pub. A farmer friend asked him what was up and Richard aired his woes only for the farmer to say "well, you're looking in the wrong bloody place aren't you" and asked to look at the map. The farmer friend circled the area which later turned out to be bang on the money!!

(The tyre tracks ending where the silver boar badge was found)

Lastly we ventured up onto Crown Hill, which had been Stanley's position and where Henry had been crowned King of England. It was another impressive view, and you could just imagine Stanley himself sat up here with his men balancing his options in joining the fray. Richard the guide interestingly mentioned Dadlington church nearby, where locals had insisted on a rumour that people from the village had climbed onto the church roof to watch the battle. This had often been dismissed as nonsense when touring the original battlesite at Ambion Hill, simply because it would have been impossible to see. As it turned out, the 'new' battlefield was easily viewable from the church roof. Hence the likelihood that rumour could be true.
(Our transport for the day!)

In conclusion it was an absolutely fantastic day. A couple of things are worth mentioning however. The actual visitors centre and exhibition are now some distance from the Battlefield, so it's well worth hiring a proper guide with transport! The visitors centre is still very nice and the restaurant there is the perfect place to recover and relax after the tour. If you were visiting from afar and wanted to do a complete Bosworth weekend you should definitely combine it with a visit to the Richard III museum and tomb in Leicester. Finally I'll add what's obvious to most, and that is walking a Battlefield is a whole different experience to just perusing maps or photographs. It's essential to accurately visualizing a battle, and understanding the experiences of those involved.

(On the gentle rising ground looking from Stanley's position to Henry's position on the left. The Yorkist charge would have come in from right to left as you look at the photo)

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