Richard III - Jacob Abbott

The Field Of Bosworth

In the mean time, while Richard had been occupied with the schemes and manúuvres described in the last chapter, Richmond was going on steadily in Paris with the preparations that he was making for a new invasion of England. The King of France assisted him both by providing him with money and aiding him in the enlistment of men. When Richmond received the message from Elizabeth's mother declaring that the proposed match between him and the princess must be broken off, and heard that Richard had formed a plan for marrying the young lady himself, he paid no regard to the tidings, but declared that he should proceed with his plans as vigorously as ever, and that, whatever counter-schemes they might form, they might rely upon it that he should fully carry into effect his purpose, not only of deposing Richard and reigning in his stead, but also of making the Princess Elizabeth his wife, according to his original intention.

At length the expedition was ready, and the fleet conveying it set sail from the port of Harfleur.

Richard attempted to arouse the people of England against the invaders by a grand proclamation which he issued. In this proclamation he designated the Earl of Richmond as "one Henry Tudor," who had no claim whatever, of any kind, to the English throne, but who was coming to attempt to seize it without any color of right. In order to obtain assistance from the King of France, he had promised, the proclamation said, "to surrender to him, in case he was successful, all the rich possessions in France which at that time belonged, to England, even Calais itself; and he had promised, moreover, and given away, to the traitors and foreigners who were coming with him, all the most important and valuable places in the kingdom—archbishoprics, bishoprics, duchies, earldoms, baronies, and many other inheritances belonging of right to the English knights, esquires, and gentlemen who were now in the possession of them. The proclamation farther declared that the people who made up his army were robbers and murderers, and rebels attainted by Parliament, many of whom had made themselves infamous as cutthroats, adulterers, and extortioners." Richard closed his proclamation by calling upon all his subjects to arm themselves, like true and good Englishmen, for the defense of their wives, children, goods, and hereditaments, and he promised that he himself, like a true and courageous prince, would put himself in the forefront of the battle, and expose his royal person to the worst of the dangers that were to be incurred in the defense of the country.

At the same time that he issued this proclamation, Richard sent forth orders to all parts of the kingdom, commanding the nobles and barons to marshal their forces, and make ready to march at a moment's warning. He dispatched detachments of his forces to the southward to defend the southern coast, where he expected Richmond would land, while he himself proceeded northward, toward the centre of the kingdom, to assemble and organize his grand army. He made Nottingham his headquarters, and he gradually gathered around him, in that city, a very large force.

In the mean time, while these movements and preparations had been going on on both sides, the spring and the early part of the summer passed away, and at length Richard, at Nottingham, in the month of August, received the tidings that Richmond had landed at Milford Haven, on the southwestern coast of Wales, with a force of two or three thousand men. Richard said that he was glad to hear it. "I am glad," said he, "that at last he has come. I have now only to meet him, and gain one decisive victory, and then the security of my kingdom will be disturbed no more."

Richmond did not rely wholly on the troops which he had brought with him for the success of his cause. He believed that there was a great and prevailing feeling of disaffection against Richard throughout England, and that, as soon as it should appear that he, Richmond, was really in earnest in his determination to claim and take the crown, and that there was a reasonable prospect of the success of his enterprise, great numbers of men, who were now ostensibly on Richard's side, would forsake him and join the invader. So he sent secret messengers throughout the kingdom to communicate with his friends, and to open negotiations with those of Richard's adherents who might possibly be inclined to change sides. In order to give time for these negotiations to produce their effect, he resolved not to march at once into the interior of the country, but to proceed slowly toward the eastward, along the southern coast of Wales, awaiting intelligence. This plan he pursued. His strength increased rapidly as he advanced. At length, when he reached the eastern borders of Wales, he began to feel strong enough to push forward into England to meet Richard, who was all this time gathering his forces together at Nottingham, and preparing for a very formidable resistance of the invader. He accordingly advanced to Leicester, and thence to the town of Tamworth, where there was a strong castle on a rock. He took possession of this castle, and made it, for a time, his head-quarters.

In the mean time, Richard, having received intelligence of Richmond's movements, and having now made every thing ready for his own advance, determined to delay no longer, but to go forth and meet his enemy. Accordingly, one morning, he marshaled his troops in the market-place of Nottingham, "separating his foot-soldiers in two divisions, five abreast, and dividing his cavalry so as to form two wide-spreading wings." He placed his artillery, with the ammunition, in the centre, reserving for himself a position in a space immediately behind it.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


When all was ready, he came out from the castle mounted upon a milk-white charger. He wore, according to the custom of the times, a very magnificent armor, resplendent with gold and embroidery, and with polished steel that glittered in the sun. Over his helmet he wore his royal crown. He was preceded and followed, as he came out through the castle gates and descended the winding way which led down from the hill on which the castle stands, by guards splendidly dressed and mounted—archers, and spearmen, and other men at arms—with ensigns bearing innumerable pennants and banners. As soon as he joined the army in the town the order was given to march, and so great was the number of men that he had under his command that they were more than an hour in marching out of Nottingham, and when all had finally issued from the gate, the column covered the road for three miles.

At length, after some days of manúuvring and marching, the two armies came into the immediate vicinity of each other near the town of Bosworth, at a place where there was a wide field, which has since been greatly renowned in history as the Field of Bosworth. The two armies advanced into the neighborhood of this field on the 19th and 20th days of August, and both sides began to prepare for battle.

The army which Richard commanded was far more numerous and imposing than that of Richmond, and every thing, so far as outward appearances were concerned, promised him an easy victory. And yet Richmond was exultant in his confidence of success, while Richard was harassed with gloomy forebodings. His mind was filled with perplexity and distress. He believed that the leading nobles and generals on his side had secretly resolved to betray him, and that they were prepared to abandon him and go over to the enemy on the very field of battle, unless he could gain advantages so decisive at the very commencement of the conflict as to show that the cause of Richmond was hopeless. Although Richard was morally convinced that this was the state of things, he had no sufficient evidence of it to justify his taking any action against the men that he suspected. He did not even dare to express his suspicions, for he knew that if he were to do so, or even to intimate that he felt suspicion, the only effect would be to precipitate the consummation of the treachery that he feared, and perhaps drive some to abandon him who had not yet fully resolved on doing so. He was obliged, therefore, though suffering the greatest anxiety and alarm, to suppress all indications of his uneasiness, except to his most confidential friends. To them he appeared, as one of them stated, "sore moved and broiled with melancholy and dolor, and from time to time he cried out, asking vengeance of them that, contrary to their oath and promise, were so deceiving him."

The recollection of the many crimes that he had committed in the attainment of the power which he now feared he was about to lose forever, harassed his mind and tormented his conscience, especially at night. "He took ill rest at nights," says one of his biographers, "using to lie long, waking and musing, sore wearied with care and watch, and rather slumbered than slept, troubled with fearful dreams."

On the day of the battle Richard found the worst of his forebodings fulfilled. In the early part of the day he took a position upon an elevated portion of the ground, where he could survey the whole field, and direct the movements of his troops. From this point he could see, as the battle went on, one body of men after another go over to the enemy. He was overwhelmed with vexation and rage. He cried out, Treason! Treason! and, calling upon his guards and attendants to follow him, he rushed down the hill, determined to force his way to the part of the field where Richmond himself was stationed, with a view of engaging him and killing him with his own hand. This, he thought, was the last hope that was now left him.

There was a spring of water, and a little brook flowing from it in a part of the field where he had to pass. He stopped at this spring, opened his helmet, and took a drink of the water. He then closed his helmet and rode on.

This spring afterward received, from this circumstance, the name of "Richard's Well," and it is known by that name to this day.

From the spring Richard rushed forward, attended by a few followers as fearless as himself, in search of Richmond. He penetrated the enemies' lines in the direction where he supposed Richmond was to be found, and was soon surrounded by foes, whom he engaged desperately in a hand-to-hand encounter of the most furious and reckless character. He slew one or two of the foremost of those who surrounded him, calling out all the time to Richmond to come out and meet him in single combat. This Richmond would not do. In the mean time, many of Richard's friends came up to his assistance. Some of these urged him to retire, saying that it was useless for him to attempt to maintain so unequal a contest, but he refused to go.

"Not one foot will I fly," said he, "so long as breath bides within my breast; for, by Him that shaped both sea and land, this day shall end my battles or my life. I will die King of England."

So he fought on. Several faithful friends still adhered to him and fought by his side. His standard-bearer stood his ground, with the king's banner in his hand, until at last both his legs were cut off under him, and he fell to the earth; still he would not let the banner go, but clung to it with a convulsive grasp till he died.

At last Richard too was overpowered by the numbers that beset him. Exhausted by his exertions, and weakened by loss of blood, he was beaten down from his horse to the ground and killed. The royal crown which he had worn so proudly into the battle was knocked from his head in the dreadful affray, and trampled in the dust.

Lord Stanley, one of the chieftains who had abandoned Richard's cause and gone over to the enemy, picked up the crown, all battered and bloodstained as it was, and put it upon Richmond's head. From that hour Richmond was recognized as King of England. He reigned under the title of Henry the Seventh.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


The few followers that had remained faithful to Richard's cause up to this time now gave up the contest and fled. The victors lifted up the dead body of the king, took off the armor, and then placed the body across the back of a horse, behind a pursuivant-at-arms, who, thus mounted, rode a little behind the new king as he retired from the field of battle. Followed by this dreadful trophy of his victory, King Henry entered the town of Leicester in triumph. The body of Richard was exposed for three days, in a public place, to the view of all beholders, in order that every body might be satisfied that he was really dead, and then the new king proceeded by easy journeys to London. The people came out to meet him all along the way, receiving him every where with shouts and acclamations, and crying, "King Henry! King Henry! Long live our sovereign lord, King Henry!"

For several weeks after his accession Henry's mind was occupied with public affairs, but, as soon as the most urgent of the calls upon his attention were disposed of, he renewed his proposals to the Princess Elizabeth, and in January of the next year they, were married. It seems to have been a matter of no consequence to her whether one man or another was her husband, provided he was only King of England, so that she could be queen. Henry's motive, too, in marrying her, was equally mercenary, his only object being to secure to himself, through her, the right of inheritance to her father's claims to the throne. He accordingly never pretended to feel any love for her, and, after his marriage, he treated her with great coldness and neglect.

His conduct toward her poor mother, the dowager queen, Elizabeth Woodville, was still more unfriendly. He sent her to a gloomy monastery, called the Monastery of Bermondsey, and caused her to be kept there in the custody of the monks, virtually a prisoner. The reason which he assigned for this was his displeasure with her for abandoning his cause, and breaking the engagement which she had made with him for the marriage of her daughter to him, and also for giving herself and her daughter up into Richard's hands, and joining with him in the intrigues which Richard formed for connecting the princess with his family. In this lonely retreat the widowed queen passed the remainder of her days. She was not precisely a prisoner—at least, she was not kept in close and continual confinement, for two or three times, in the course of the few remaining years that she lived, she was brought, on special occasions, to court, and treated there with a certain degree of attention and respect. One of these occasions was that of the baptism of her daughter's child.

[Illustration] from Richard III by Jacob Abbott


In this lonely and cheerless retreat the queen lingered a few years, and then died. Her body was conveyed to Windsor for interment, and her daughters and the friends of her family were notified of the event. A very few came to attend the funeral. Her daughter Elizabeth was indisposed, and did not come. The interment took place at night. A few poor old men, in tattered garments, were employed to officiate at the ceremony by holding "old torches and torches' ends" to light the gloomy precincts of the chapel during the time while the monks were chanting the funeral dirge.