On August 21st 1485, King Richard 111 led his army out of Leicester and began crossing the bridge over the River Soar. Richard was thirty-two years old and, with a force of some 12,000 men, was preparing to fight off a challenge to his throne from a force of 5,000 led by Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond. Half way over the bridge, Richard’s foot suddenly struck a protruding piece of wood and a blind beggar is said to have cried out “his head shall strike that pile as he returns”.
Despite commanding a numerically superior force, Richard was relying upon the dubious support of several nobles whose loyalty was questionable. Chief amongst these were the Stanley brothers, William and Thomas, both of whom were viewed as staunch supporters of the King, despite the latter being married to Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry Tudor. Furthermore, Thomas’s son, Lord Strange - whom Richard was holding hostage to ensure his father’s co-operation - had attempted to escape and, under questioning, had confessed that his uncle, William, had been in communication with Henry and was planning to betray the King. To add to Richard’s worries, the Earl of Northumberland, began dragging his feet, and insisted that his men were exhausted after their long march south and would do better service in the rear, rather than in the thick of the fighting. It was against this background of intrigue and betrayal that Richard spent the eve of the battle encamped opposite his opponent above the plain of Redemore, near Bosworth.
At dawn on Monday 22nd August 1485 Richard Plantagenant, King of England, donned his armour of burnished steel, mounted his majestic white horse and prepared to do battle. His sleep had been marred by dark dreams, and those around him noted that he looked paler than usual. The absence of a chaplain to say mass, he told his troops, was deliberate. If God was on their side then prayers were unnecessary, if not, then they were idle blasphemy. He then sent a messenger to Lord Thomas Stanley, whose troops were on a ridge to his left, commanding him to join the Royal army if he valued his son’s life. Stanley replied that he felt disinclined to do so and, anyway, he had other sons. Richard was apoplectic and ordered Lord Stranges’ immediate execution. However, he thought better of it and placed him, instead, under close guard. As Richard prepared to go into battle, his advisers pleaded with him not to wear his crown, since it would make him a visible target for the enemy. Replying that he would live or die as King of England, Richard spurred his horse forward, and rode to meet his Welsh challenger.
The battle that followed is one of the worst documented in English History and no eyewitness accounts of it have survived. Even the exact site of the encounter is the subject of intense debate. What we do know is that the conflict lasted a mere two hours, and was fought on Redemore Plain, an open space of marshy ground, surrounded by hills, from the slopes of which the Stanley brothers and the Earl of Northumberland watched the melee, and failed to intervene on the King’s behalf. Richard’s loyal supporters the Duke of Norfolk and Lord Ferrers were slain in the fierce hand- to- hand combat and the Kings advisers pleaded with him to flee. But Richard refused. Then a messenger pointed out a group of horsemen, waving the banner of the red dragon, Standard of Henry Tudor, cantering across the plain towards Sir William Stanley. Realising that his opponent was attempting to win the support of the Stanley’s, Richard mounted his horse and, with his household cavalry in tow, charged towards the ranks of the Tudor guards in a bold attempt to kill his opponent and win the battle. He plunged into their ranks with such menacing ferocity that, despite his slight stature, he succeeded in cutting down the immensely strong Sir John Cheney and killing Henry’s standard-bearer, William Brandon. But, just as he and his men, came within reach of their goal, Sir William Stanley threw his support behind Henry and brought his troops into the fray. Severely outnumbered, and with his men falling around him, Richard fought bravely on. Unhorsed, he took up his sword and, swinging it around him, made a last desperate bid to reach Henry. But the combined Tudor and Stanley forces fell upon him and beat him to the ground. “Treason! Treason!” he is said to have screamed, as the weapons of his enemies smashed through his armour and hacked him to death. Sir William Stanley, so legend claims, then retrieved Richard’s crown from beneath a nearby thorn bush and, placing it on Henry Tudors head, proclaimed him King of England.
Richard’s blood encrusted body, was stripped naked by the victors and, with a felon’s halter around his neck, the last King of England to die on the field of battle, was tied over the back of a horse and conveyed ignominiously to Leicester. As his body crossed back over the bridge, his head swung against a protruding wooden block, and the blind beggars prophecy was fulfilled.