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Posted on Apr 25, 2011 in War College

Battle of Bosworth Field Was Fought Here – Or Over There

By Steve Wright

Richard III and Henry Tudor battle in "Bosworth Field" by Abraham Cooper. Original hangs in Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Wikimedia Commons.

"Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain" is an old mnemonic used to help British schoolchildren remember the colours of the spectrum but it is also a reminder of the demise of Richard Duke of York who, after usurping the English throne, became King Richard III. Shakespeare’s Richard III was my set Shakespeare play in high school, and, coincidentally, my history course began with the Battle Of Bosworth Field, where Richard met his demise. My studies sparked an interest in Richard, his times and his final battle.

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The battle took place in the English county of Leicestershire on August 22, 1485; the antagonists were Richard and Henry Tudor, the latter supported by the House of Lancaster. It was the last battle in which a king of England was killed and the penultimate clash of arms in the Wars of The Roses, but over the centuries scholars have argued about the size of the opposing armies, the number of casualties and the even actual site of the battle.

In 2006, to try and put an end to the latter argument, Leicestershire County Council commissioned a new survey to be led by battlefield archaeologist Dr. Glenn Foard. The survey cost just over $2 million (£1.3million) and concluded at the end of 2009—with a remarkable discovery.

Doctor Foard and his team used the very scant, original documentary evidence for the battle to reconstruct the landscape of the area and to track the development of local place names, Arts Correspondent Ben Hoyle wrote in the The London Sunday Times of October 29, 2009. They searched for evidence of the marsh, which had played such a crucial tactical role during the battle, by analysing soils and peat deposits and used the latest techniques in geophysical surveying and metal detection in an area covering 2 square miles (5 sq km). Field after field was walked, plotted and mapped until, to quote a phrase, the team "struck pay dirt."

In a field, two miles from the one believed to be the true site, the team uncovered evidence of the marsh; next to it they also found a tiny badge in the shape of a boar, the symbol of Richard III. He gave these badges in large numbers to his supporters. This one, though, was special, because it was silver-gilt and therefore almost certainly worn by a knight who rode at the king’s side in his last desperate cavalry charge. Excavating continued and more evidence was found, this time in the form of lead round-shot. In all, the find amounted to more lead round-shot than from all the other 15th and 16th century battlefields of Europe put together. The shot ranged in size from musket balls to a 15.5-pound (7.2-kg) cannonball. All these provided new insights and understanding of firepower in the 15th century that did not support current military history teaching.

As Steve Walton, a specialist in medieval artillery at Pennsylvania State University, commented at the time, “(current thinking) says that artillery becomes mobile when the French invade Italy in 1494–95.” The discovery prompted renewed research into European battlefields of the period.

Throughout the remaining months of 2010, Glenn Foard and team continued to work with all interested parties, including the owner of the field where the discovery was made, and to make the case for more funding to allow further exploration of the site. University history and archaeology departments were understandably excited about the finds and Dr. Foard has been busy on the lecture circuit.

So, what’s the future for this historic discovery? Well, at this writing, a new outdoor interpretation display is scheduled to open at Easter 2011, with additional work continuing into May.

Click here to watch a video with images of some of the roundshot and the boar pin recovered during the archaeological dig.

2 Comments

  1. Hello I am a subcriber of your wonderful magazine (#0940100004791621#1102 Jul11). I have just renewed my subscription for another 3 years there appears to be no confirmation of my renewal. I only note that the expiration date is now ISS#03 2013. Does that mean that my renewal is now confirmed? Thanks and regards Harold Seet 28 April, 2011.

  2. FYI, we have slated an article in Armchair General magazine about the battlefield archaeology described in this web article. Noted forensic archaeologist and ACG Advisory Board member, Dr. Doug Scott, will cover this in a Battlefield Detective article in one of our upcoming 2012 issues.

    Jerry Morelock
    Editor in Chief, Armchair General Magazine

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