Battle of Bosworth
Home Up Mysteries Abound



The Man Who Lived on the Fence

A remarkable drama took place in the days preceding the coming battle.  There was great concern over which side the Stanley brothers would fight on.  Considering Thomas Stanley was on Richard's English Council, it was assumed Lord Stanley would fight for Richard.  If this was the case, then Richard had nothing to worry about.  And yet Lord Stanley was married to Henry's mother.  Surely Henry had nothing to worry about.  But then again, Lord Stanley had fought on the side of Richard during Buckingham's Rebellion.  Surely Richard had nothing to worry about.  What was it going to be? 

The problem was that Lord Stanley and his brother William had well-deserved reputations for being sneaky.  There had been occasions when both men showed up at the battle with separate armies, but only one Stanley army fought while the other army just stood there and watched. 

Lord Stanley is a fascinating figure because he took many calculated risks throughout the entire 32-year War of the Roses, yet emerged completely unscathed.  If someone wished to bypass the romantic mush of the Red Queen and the White Queen sagas, they could just as easily tell the entire story of the War of the Roses through the eyes of Thomas Lord Stanley. 


The War of the Roses can be divided into three parts... Richard Duke of York, Warwick's Betrayal, and Richard III

To understand Thomas Stanley, one needs to understand the close relationship of the Neville family to the York family. 

Joan Beaufort was the daughter of John of Gaunt (who else?).  Joan's son Richard Neville, the Earl of Salisbury, could trace his lineage straight to King Edward III.  Richard Neville became the Earl of Salisbury. 

Joan Beaufort's daughter Cicely Neville married Richard, Duke of York.  She too could trace her lineage to Edward III. 

Richard of York and Richard of Salisbury were not only brother-in-laws, they were best friends. 

Once Thomas Stanley married Eleanor Neville, he became part of the Neville family.  This marriage made Stanley brother-in-law to Richard, Earl of Warwick... the Kingmaker.


15th Century Medieval England was a period similar to America's Wild West.  Just as the Wild West cattle barons squared off with complete disregard for the law, wealthy landowners in England also squared off with little regard for the law.  Richard Neville, the Earl of Salisbury, was a very powerful man who had a long-standing grudge with the neighboring Percy family.  1453 was the year Henry VI descended into madness.  Simultaneously Henry Percy tried to ambush the Salisbury family on their way to a wedding.  Although Salisbury's group emerged intact, the rivalry was reignited. 

At this same time, Richard of York was having his issues with Edmund Beaufort, the dandy of Margaret of Anjou and the father of two illegitimate sons related to our story. 

Two years passed and suddenly the King woke up from catatonia.  Now all hell broke loose.  Richard of Salisbury and Richard of York decided to team up and confront the Beaufort-Percy combination at the 1455 Battle of St. Albans, the English version of OK Corral.  The York-Neville team won handily and killed Edmund Beaufort in the process, thereby guaranteeing a Round II... and III... and IV... and....

The Cold War of the Roses had just gone Hot. 

Thomas Stanley had grown up in a family loyal to Henry VI and the house of Lancaster.  However, in 1457 Thomas formed an alliance with the powerful Neville family by marrying Eleanor Neville, daughter of Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury.  This marriage marked the start of Stanley's long acquaintance with Salisbury's son Richard Neville, better known as Warwick, the man who would come to be known as the Kingmaker.  As we remember, Warwick was not only the man who put Edward IV on the throne, he was also the man who took Edward off the throne.  Hence the nickname.  

So here we have Lord Stanley, a Lancaster, developing a potential alliance with the leading members of the House of York.  This 1457 marriage to Lady Eleanor meant Thomas had one foot in the door of the York-Neville alliance and one foot in service to the crown.  Interesting, yes??  What makes it even more interesting is that marrying Eleanor put Stanley in the thick of things, something he had to know. 

Lord Stanley minded his own business as long as could, but two years later the War of the Roses paid a visit to Stanley's back yard.  In 1459 Stanley got news that Queen Margaret of Anjou was recruiting heavily in Cheshire, his home base.  Stanley knew he could not ignore the civil war much longer.

Making matters worse, Stanley's father had just died, making Stanley the new head of the family.  As far as Margaret of Anjou was concerned, the Stanleys had always been loyal to the crown.  So naturally the Queen came calling to ask for Stanley's pledge of men.  Stanley said he would send men.   

Meanwhile, the Yorkists under Salisbury, father to Warwick, were mobilizing to neutralize the threat.  Entering Cheshire, naturally they sought assistance from Stanley, Salisbury's son-in-law, Warwick's brother-in-law.  Stanley said he would send men. 

What a way to begin one's new role as head of the family!  Caught between a rock and a hard spot, Stanley was faced with quite a dilemma.  Shortly Stanley got news of a major fight.

Salisbury was commanding the Yorks.  He had just managed to elude the warrior Queen when he was intercepted by Lord Audley's army at Blore Heath, a location about 30 miles down the country road from Lord Stanley's estate in Cheshire.  The battle started as a trap to catch York forces on the move.  Sure enough, the Yorks walked right into it and suddenly found themselves outnumbered 10,000 to 5,000 (the Yorks were seemingly outnumbered by the Lancasters in practically every battle). 

Although Salisbury was outnumbered, through a series of feints using a small stream that divided the armies, he provoked the Lancasters into attacking him.  Salisbury's counter-attack proved deadly.

And what about Lord Stanley?  The Royal army under Margaret of Anjou expected support from Stanley, but didn’t get it.  Although Lord Stanley claimed to be a loyal royal, he never actually joined Queen Margaret's army.  Furthermore Warwick and Salisbury expected Stanley would come to their rescue.  Indeed, Stanley showed up, but then he failed to participate.  Warwick was flabbergasted.

Through audacious brinkmanship, the young lord faked the entry of his army into the battle, then suddenly stopped just a mile away.  Lord Stanley sat on the sideline with 2,000 men and watched. 

Meanwhile Sir William Stanley, his younger brother, did actually fight for the Yorkists at Blore Heath.  William Stanley paid a stiff price as he would later be attainted for his participation by the Queen.

In the immediate aftermath of the battle, Lord Stanley had the nerve to ride up and congratulate Salisbury on his splendid escape from the trap.  However, just when Stanley came close to committing himself further, he decided to withdraw his forces back into Cheshire.  Salisbury stood there perplexed. 

This was the start of the Stanley legend.  No one could figure Lord Stanley out.  Why did he sit out that battle?  After all, at the time, his brother-in-law was Warwick the Kingmaker, leader of the Yorks.

After the battle Lord Stanley wrote to the Queen to offer his apologies and offer excuses for why he had not seen fit to commit his men to battle.  Margaret of Anjou could not have been too convinced by his explanations.  Nevertheless when Parliament petitioned for his attainder later that year they were not successful because Margaret intervened.  During the fluctuations of the Wars of the Roses she needed all the friends she could get, including unreliable, slippery Lord Stanley. 

This was a close call.  The wrong move here could have meant disaster for the House of Stanley. Lord Stanley's sympathies were 'York', but Stanley did not wish to show his true colors till he was more certain.  This set the pattern for Lord Stanley's career, a man always reticent to commit. 

One year later, the Yorkists had possession of the King and ruled in his name. Now Lord Stanley decided it was safe to begin cooperating with the Yorkist lords, but only when it suited him.  Stanley made sure to stay away from the particularly bloody battles of Wakefield (where both Salisbury and the Duke of York, father and son, were killed) and Towton (where York's eldest son Edward defeated the Lancastrians and had himself crowned as Edward IV).

Although Stanley got no credit for his lack of participation, he proved valuable to new king Edward by aiding his brother-in-law, the Earl of Warwick, in mopping up the remaining Lancastrians.  Stanley played a major part in the capture of Henry VI (1465) in the Stanley stronghold of Lancashire.  For his service, Stanley acquired several new estates in the process.  For the time being, Stanley was a York. 

In 1469, a crisis emerged.  Warwick changed sides!!   Dramatic shifts between 1469 and 1471 made the political landscape treacherous.  Warwick's decision to switch to the Lancasters affected Lord Stanley more than anyone.  In 1469, Warwick did his best to secure Stanley's support against Edward, but Stanley was non-committal.  Consequently Warwick's first try to eliminate Edward failed.  Although Edward was captured, it didn't do any good.  Then Edward kicked Warwick over to France.  Now Warwick made his alliance with Margaret of Anjou.  Upon Warwick's return to England, Stanley still refused to fight, but nevertheless lent him armed support in the restoration of Lancaster King Henry VI.  Edward was unseated and made a fugitive.  Edward ran to Burgundy for safety. 

Stanley was firmly on the Lancaster side now.  Or was he?  When Edward began his amazing 1471 comeback, Lord Stanley disappointed Warwick by refusing to help stop the returning Edward.   Nevertheless, Stanley promised not to help Edward either.  To all outward appearances it seemed as though Lord Stanley had thrown his lot in with the Lancastrian cause, but as usual looks were deceiving.  Thomas secretly sent his brother William to Edward IV’s side when he landed at Ravenspur to reclaim his throne.  As for himself, Thomas refused to fight.


Think about it.  If Warwick won at Barnet, Stanley could point to the men he had given Warwick in 1470 to unseat Edward.  If Edward won, Stanley could point to his 'regret' and 'change of heart' by deciding to sit out the Battle of Barnet and then Tewkesbury.  Very clever.

Stanley's strategy worked like a charm.  Following Edward's comeback victory at Barnet and the rout at Tewkesbury, Edward forgave Lord Stanley for his earlier disloyalty on the grounds that Stanley had stayed neutral the second time around. 

Lady Eleanor's death in 1471 was a sad event which nonetheless led to Margaret Beaufort's invitation to marry.  Stanley recalled how his marriage to Eleanor had opened the door to his relationship with the Yorks.  Perhaps a similar marriage could open other doors back to the Lancasters.  Lord Stanley, the undisputed master of moving forward by sitting still, could not resist.  His marriage to Margaret would allow him to stay firmly in the middle of any ensuing problems.  Lord Stanley was fairly brilliant in this way. 

And what about William Stanley?  Stanley's younger brother William had not only fought during the Battle of Blore Heath, he would do so again in several other 1460-1461 encounters.  William repeated this role during the 1469-1471 flare-up.  Seemingly by design, it fell to William to take the heat off his older brother, the family leader.  William accepted it was his job to fly the family colors, losing some, winning some, always staying alive to fight another battle.  William might get attainted, but since Thomas held most of the family's estates in his name, William's losses ensured that his big brother never lost anything. 

There was amazing teamwork between the two brothers.  William was willing to take risks knowing in the end that the House of Stanley always came out ahead.  This sublimation stood in stark contrast to the destructive squabbling between the three York brothers.  George and Richard constantly argued over who got which Neville girl and each attainted estate by playing Edward against the other.  Edward, always the appeaser, did himself no favors by indulging these two brats.  Meanwhile, William willingly accepted his role as the 'Designated Loser' for the good of the family.  Thomas always made sure his younger brother was 'compensated' in one way or another.  As much as any family in England, the Stanleys benefitted during these turbulent times by playing both sides of the fence.


Lord Hastings Revisited


Thomas Stanley had dodged a bullet in 1483.  His close call took place shortly after Richard had imprisoned the Princes in the Tower.  Their mother Elizabeth Woodville had fled into sanctuary at Westminster.  Now there were repeated rumors of plots and conspiracies being orchestrated by Edward's widow.

Richard was extremely paranoid that someone would take a stand against his strong-arm tactics with the two boys.  His fears caused him to erupt on Friday, June 13, 1483.  William Hastings walked into what he thought was a routine council meeting called by Richard, Duke of Gloucester. 

Hastings was suddenly seized by armed men.  Richard began screaming at him, accusing the older man of plotting with the Woodvilles behind Richard's back.  No trial by peers was offered.  No proof was offered.  No witnesses were called.  The existence of the plot was upon Richard's say-so alone.

Richard condemned Hastings to death.  When Hastings left the chamber a few hours later, it was as a prisoner being hustled out to execution.  His death on Tower Green was such a hasty affair that no scaffold had been erected.

Lost in the drama was a curious fact.  Lord Hastings was not the only council member arrested.  In fact, several of the noblemen in attendance were arrested.  One of them was Lord Stanley who was roughed up pretty badly in the ensuing scuffle.  Stanley was briefly imprisoned, but later released.

Based on what we know, who was more likely to be treacherous... Hastings or Stanley?  Lord Hastings was the man who warned Richard to seize the boys and take action against Elizabeth Woodville in the first place.  Lord Stanley was a known snake in the grass.  And yet Lord Hastings was beheaded on the spot while Stanley was set free.  So why did Hastings die and Stanley live?

The answer is very simple.  Lord Stanley made it a point to use his vast fortune to keep a large, well-armed army at his disposal back in Cheshire.  Call it an 'insurance policy'.  Richard knew Stanley's son George, Lord Strange, could quickly mobilize this army in northwest England.  In addition, brother William had his own army as well.  Supreme in the Midlands countryside around Shrewsbury south of Lancaster, the Stanleys had become the most powerful family in England.  And Richard knew it. 


There is little doubt Richard III feared Lord Stanley more than anyone.  Sensing Richard's fear, in the days to follow, Stanley played Richard like a fiddle.  Keeping his cards close to his vest, Stanley kept Richard guessing.

On the one hand, Lord Stanley's weird move to marry Margaret Beaufort, the Lancaster matron, just added to the confusion.  On the other hand, despite his odd choice of marital partner, Stanley had never done a single thing to make King Edward IV suspect Stanley's loyalty to the Yorks in any way during the twelve years of peace. 

After Edward's death in 1483, Lord Stanley had been the first man to congratulate Richard.  Then came the master stroke... after Richard had threatened Stanley's life with false (??) accusations, Stanley forgave Richard.  "No harm done, lad.

Two weeks later, guess who carried the great mace at Richard's coronation? 

Then, just to further prove his loyalty to Richard, Stanley actually fought at the side of King Richard during Buckingham's ill-fated Rebellion.  Joining Lord Stanley in the battle was his younger brother William Stanley. 

"See, Richard, you have nothing to worry about.  The House of Stanley is firmly in your corner!"

Richard's fears were allayed, at least somewhat.  Now Richard tried to buy the Stanleys off.  After the rebellion was over, Thomas and William Stanley were richly rewarded from the forfeited estates of the dead rebels.  Thomas Stanley had performed so well he was appointed to Buckingham’s position as Lord High Constable of England.  Sir William was made Chief Justice of North Wales and was given land as well.


As always, Lord Stanley had made the right move.  He had converted Richard's paranoia into vast new estates and position. 

There has long been speculation why Stanley sided with Richard in the Rebellion and not his own wife.  Here is one possible reason:

"Richard was with the Earl of Northumberland and Thomas, Lord Stanley, when he got word of the rebellion.  Richard did not really trust either man as in the past they seemed to support Lancastrian causes in the past.

Northumberland (Henry Percy) had proved to be difficult during the years when Richard was Lord of the North. The Late King Edward had to send Northumberland orders, as he would not obey Richard.

The same could have been said about Stanley.  He spent most of the time in whichever camp benefited him the most.  Richard kept him under close eye as trouble and Stanley was always close at hand.  Richard was reminded of Stanley’s wife, as he had heard that Henry Tudor was playing a major role in the Buckingham rebellion.   (Source)

In the weeks to follow something deeply unsettling came to light.  After the dust had cleared, Richard III made a remarkable discovery... Thomas Stanley's wife Margaret Beaufort had been largely responsible for organizing and funding the operation.  Now Richard was very confused.  Thomas Stanley had fought hard for him and yet Stanley's wife Margaret Beaufort was a key conspirator in the rebellion.  Whose side was Stanley on? 

Lord Stanley was asked to explain.  Stanley replied to Richard that his wife's affairs were unknown to him.  If Stanley had known, he would have told her to knock it off.  Besides, did Richard not see how hard Stanley had worked to put down the rebellion?  What further proof of his innocence... and ignorance of his wife's moves... did Richard need? 

Richard was really confused.  What should he do about Margaret?   Under normal circumstances, Margaret would have been executed or imprisoned.  But Richard did neither.  With visions of that standing army in Cheshire, Richard decided to take Stanley's word.  Such was the strength of Thomas Stanley that Richard let Margaret off with a wrist slap rather than antagonize her powerful husband.

Lest we forget, Richard did something unusual... Richard handed all of Margaret's estate to Thomas.  Lord Stanley now owned his wife's entire estate.  However, there was a catch.  Upon Stanley's death, Margaret's estate would revert to the crown.



Rick Archer's Note: 

Doesn't this story strike the Reader as a bit odd? 

Here is a woman, Margaret, who has just committed treason and Richard has undeniable proof of her complicity.  Previously, Richard put Lord Hastings to death for less evidence than he had here.  In addition, Richard has just finished beheading Buckingham.  But Richard treats Margaret differently for the same crime.  Richard never even speaks to Margaret, the real instigator.  Instead he speaks to Thomas Stanley and tells him all his wife has to do is promise not to do it again, then go home and sit in the corner.  While she's at it, maybe pray a little and repent.

The thing to understand in my long saga is that I originally set out to write a brief overview of English history.  Hence the title "Brevity and Brexity".  As it turned out, I spent a month and a half researching and writing this story.  So much for Brevity.

I invested my time because I began to see more clearly how History is written.  Things happen, but since very few accounts exist, everything becomes wide open to interpretation.  In particular, the 'Winner' gets their version accepted as the undisputed 'Truth' of what took place.  The Winner picks someone to write a favorable story or the Winner makes sure that unfavorable documents disappear... or both. 

The secret of interpreting History is to put oneself in the place of the actor and imagine what must have passed through their minds.  On a personal note, as one has surely guessed, Lord Stanley definitely caught my eye. 

The story of 'Margaret's punishment' seemed so absurd that I gave it a lot of thought.  My problem is that write each story based on web sites that usually just scratch the surface.  Based on what I read, I initially thought this estate-transfer/house arrest solution was Richard's idea.  But then I began to wonder.  That is when it crossed my mind that maybe this solution was Stanley's idea.  So here is my interpretation of how the scenario might read if Stanley took control of the situation.


Richard:  "Lord Stanley, you were invaluable to me in putting down the rebellion.  How do you suggest I handle this matter of your treasonous wife??"

"Sire, I ask you to spare her.  She is but a silly woman who let her fever for her son cloud her judgment.  I suggest you place her under my control.  Strip Margaret of her estate and give it to me.  Without money, she can do little damage. 

I will oversee the lands myself.  And when I die, let Margaret's estate revert to the crown.  I will order Margaret to stay close by, a form of house arrest.  She is not to leave my home without supervision.  You will have nothing more to worry about, this I pledge."

In other words, stripping Margaret of her estate may not have been Richard's idea, but rather her husband's idea.  By betraying Margaret... for whatever reason... during the Rebellion, suddenly Stanley had acquired Margaret's vast estate for himself.  And what if something were to happen to Richard??   Gee, too bad, then after Richard was gone, Stanley could petition the next king to either let him keep it all or give it back to Margaret.  Either way, Stanley had made a shrewd bargain.  Better to keep the lands and titles in the family than give it to Richard. 

But how would Margaret react?  After all, Lord Stanley, master manipulator, had gotten his wife declared a traitor and placed in his care under house arrest, with all of her lands and fortune forfeit unto him.  Margaret had to be incredulous. 

Wouldn't it be fascinating to be a fly on the wall when Margaret learned the news?  Let's fantasize how the dialogue might go.

“On the graves of my ancestors, I swear, Stanley, you have robbed me!  Did you betray me just to get my fortune?”

"Calm down, Margaret.  I have not betrayed you.  I was stuck at the side of the King when the fighting broke out.  He never let me out of his sight.  Thanks to all that flooding, I could already see that Buckingham's uprising did not have a ghost of a chance to succeed.  There were reports that his own men had deserted him.  I was not about to throw everything we have worked for away on this failed scheme.  There's an old saying, 'Better to live and fight another day'.  So, yes, I fought for Richard and so did my brother.  What choice did I have?  Buckingham was a lost cause.

Now, as for the deal I struck, when the discussion began, Richard was so angry he was about to sever your head from your shoulders.  Then he discussed a certain cold dungeon with unusually meager rations and thin blankets.  In addition, you were about to be attainted.  Richard was completely within his right to remove your entire estate.  Who would you rather have in control of your estate, Richard or me?

But I talked him out of it.  I not only saved your life, I saved your estate.  Your holdings are quite safe with me.  All we have to do is remove Richard and your son will be able to restore your lands to you."

Please keep in mind that I have just made up History.  I have no idea whether this conversation took place or what was said.  But if we look at history from Stanley's point of view, my scenario makes sense.

If this conversation did take place, was Stanley telling the truth?  Who can say with this guy?  But his argument was compelling enough for Margaret to buy his story.  Plus, what other choice did she have?  Stanley now owned all of Margaret's lands.

If there was to be a coming battle and Henry won, Margaret's lands would be safe AND Stanley would be rewarded.  So Margaret's fears were allayed when she realized it was completely in Stanley's interest to help Henry win.

However, if Richard won the coming battle, Stanley was in big trouble... unless Stanley could find a way not to oppose Richard.  Stanley had to find a way to help Henry and stay neutral at the same time.  Now how does someone do that?  I guess we will find out when the time comes.

It was now 1485.  Two years had passed since Buckingham's Rebellion.  Henry Tudor was coming for Richard.  The support of Thomas and William Stanley were critical to the king.  Would Richard be able to count on these men again like he had during the rebellion of 1483?  Richard was desperate to find out.  Richard was about to discover exactly what he feared the most... Lord Stanley was sitting on the fence. 




What a shame Richard's immense talent had to go to waste.  If one can disregard Richard's ruthlessness, then he should be admired for his courage and intelligence.  As a mere teenager, he helped his brother Edward regain his crown.  Richard's attack at the Battle of Barnet won the day against far older and more experienced opponents.  Weeks later, Richard's defense at Tewkesbury won the day by thwarting the Duke of Somerset's surprise attack.

Ever since Henry Tudor's escape during Buckingham's Rebellion, Richard had known this showdown would come.  Well aware that Henry Tudor would be sailing soon, Richard had been clever.  Since Richard was uncertain where Henry would land, he posted his men in the epicenter of England.  His men were 100 miles from all the likely landing spots, a three-day horse ride. 

Richard's strategy was to let the local commander keep Henry occupied long enough for Richard's reinforcements to race to the spot.  A landing party would not have enough time to unload their ships and gain a foothold on English soil.  Richard's counter-attack would destroy the vulnerable invasion force. 


Interestingly, German General Erwin Rommel expected to use this same strategy when preparing his D-Day defenses.  Unsure where the Allies would land, Rommel kept a crack Panzer tank unit on the Belgium-French border so it could race to whatever point the Allies landed and decimate the attack while the men were still pinned down on the beach.

Rommel's strategy may very well have worked except for one thing.... Rommel needed Hitler's permission to release the tanks. Unfortunately, Hitler had put a 'do not disturb' sign up for the night.  No one dared knock and the Panzer tanks never moved.

Let me say this again... for all his faults, Richard was not stupid.  Richard knew full well that Jasper would likely encourage Henry to land in Wales.  It made perfect sense.  However Richard was not going to bet the house and fully commit to one landing spot.  Jasper's spies would warn Henry if something was amiss and Henry would land elsewhere.  So Richard did the next best thing... he shored up his support by handing out lands, titles, and offices to men who had shown loyalty to him in the past.  Finally Richard felt secure because he had extensive control over south Wales. 


Richard's strategy should have worked, but it didn't.  Early in August, Richard was alarmed to find that Henry's forces were moving through Wales unopposed.  Richard turned white with fear and anger.  Just how exactly did this come to pass? 

Mill Bay had been chosen as a landing point because it was completely hidden from view.  No resistance was given by the cohort of Richard's men stationed at Dale where Henry and his men spent the first night.  They completely failed to keep the invader at bay by the bay. 

In the morning Henry marched to Haverfordwest, the county town of Pembrokeshire.  His men were received "with the utmost goodwill of all".  Welshman Arnold Butler met Henry in Brittany and announced that "the whole of Pembrokeshire is prepared to serve him!"

Richard's lieutenant in South Wales, Sir Walter Herbert, failed to move against Henry.  Two of Herbert's officers, Richard Griffith and Evan Morgan, deserted to Henry with their men.  The next man to face Henry was Rhys ap Thomas, the leading figure in West Wales. 

Richard had appointed Rhys Lieutenant in West Wales for his refusal to join Buckingham's rebellion.  Did Rhys ap Thomas stop Henry?  No, he defected to Henry's side and brought with him many men. 

So far, Henry had been greeted warmly at every stop he made.  Henry was seen as the great Welsh champion.  The importance of Henry's Welsh blood and ancestry should not be underestimated.  Welsh support would prove critical to Henry.

So far, every single man in Wales that Richard had rewarded  for their loyalty had welcomed the invasion force with hugs and kisses.  Richard had just been given his first hint things weren't exactly working out as planned. 



There is a very cynical saying that War is God's way of teaching people Geography.  So let's use the War of the Roses to learn a little bit about Great Britain's geography. 

Off the top of your head, what do you suppose Wales and Scotland have that England doesn't have?  C'mon, this shouldn't be too hard to guess.  (Hint: It's big.)

Next question.  What did the Romans leave behind that the English found particularly useful?

Next question.  Here in America, what place is called the Gateway to the West? 

Next question.  What place in England is known as the Gateway to the Midlands?  (Hint: unless you are from Great Britain, you are not expected to know this answer.)

Next question:  Given what you know about the Gateway to the West, what do you suppose the Gateway to the West and the Gateway to the Midlands have in common??

Last question: What geographical feature doomed Margaret of Anjou at the Battle of Tewkesbury?  (Hint: it's on this map.)

Quit your bellyaching.  Hey, I gave you a map!  Figure it out.


Over My Belly

So what Big Thing do Wales and Scotland have that England doesn't?   Both Wales and Scotland are extremely mountainous while England is relatively flat.  Over the centuries, the Welsh and the Scots have used those mountains as defensive barriers to keep the English out.  As we look at the map, we see the only routes into Wales are valleys formed by the rivers... unless of course someone cheats and attacks using the sea. 

By now, we also have a pretty good idea who won the looming battle.  This, of course, takes away much of the suspense.  But Henry and Richard had no idea of the outcome.  They were both on pins and needles.  Richard was upset that Wales had welcomed Richard with open arms, but he was not entirely surprised.  After all, Wales was Henry's turf. 

Okay, so Wales had not panned out, but Richard had another ace up his sleeve.  Pretty soon Henry would be on Richard's turf.  Let's see what happens then.

Henry had a lot on his mind.  Richard's army was bound to be much larger, better equipped, and better prepared.  Richard knew the territory well and would surely stake out the finest ground to mount his defense.  As Henry's army trudged north, they used an ancient Roman road that cut through the mountains using a valley formed by the Severn, England's longest river.


Once Henry's army left the mountains of Wales, they continued along the Roman road until they came to Shrewsbury, the traditional gateway to the English midlands.  In a manner similar to America's St. Louis, Shrewsbury was very important because it had the only bridge across the mighty Severn River for miles and miles.  Henry was about to learn the hard way that the English attitude towards his invasion was much cooler than the rabid Welsh. 

Shrewsbury was Richard's ace in the hole.  It had two bailiffs, Roger Knight and Thomas Mitton who had been in power for about two decades.  Both men had prospered under Richard III, most notably from the failure of Buckingham’s Rebellion.  Mitton had not only received Buckingham’s castle, Shrewsbury’s tax bill was significantly reduced, making Mitton very popular.  Mitton fully expected to be rewarded for standing up to Henry.  Another castle perhaps??

Richard had given Mitton the perfect excuse to deny entry.  Richard had scared the wits out of the countryside people by warning that Henry's foreigners would rape and pillage in revenge for what the Black Prince had done to the French a hundred years earlier.  The people of Shrewsbury had no desire to see Henry's French mercenaries come in and plunder their town.  Therefore, when Henry requested permission to march through the streets, Mitton made an odd reply – “over my belly!” – which we can assume is another way of saying 'over my dead body'.


Henry could not afford to go around the city thanks to the ever-swollen Severn River.  Nor did he wish to engage in a fight.  Henry was engaged in a public relations battle almost as fierce as the coming fight. 

Richard had painted a dark picture of Henry as a desperate outlaw who had no money to pay his troops.  Richard said Henry had promised his men that they could murder and take what they wanted in repayment.  Henry could not afford to attack these people of Shrewsbury lest rumors of his aggressiveness spread. 

So Henry retreated.  At a nearby village, he composed a letter to the bailiffs, promising that his men would simply march through Shrewsbury peacefully and cause no damage or harm.  He respected the oath of loyalty to Richard III and did not expect any of the townspeople to break it. The letter accomplished little.  Mitton still said no and repeated his phrase 'over my belly!'

Henry was in serious trouble.  If he couldn't get past Shrewsbury, his entire campaign would come to a total stand-still.  Then to his surprise, the gates came open.  Henry barely believed his eyes. 

The arrival of Rowland Warburton had made a huge difference.  Warburton persuaded the bailiffs to let Henry pass.  And who was Rowland Warburton?  He was a guy who lived at Blore Heath. 

Blore Heath... where have we heard that name before?  As it turned out, Shrewsbury was 20 miles south of Blore Heath, one of the famous battle sites during the War of Roses. 


And who exactly was Rowland Warburton?  He worked for Chief Justice of North Wales, a man who just happened to live near Blore Heath.  The Chief Justice of North Wales had ordered the gates to the town come open. 

And who exactly was the Chief Justice of North Wales?

None other than Sir William Stanley, Richard's carefully-chosen appointee as Chief Justice of North Wales.  Yes, indeed, William Stanley was Richard III’s chief lieutenant in this area.  Other than John Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, no single man in the kingdom had received more land and power than William Stanley.  Richard was counting on William Stanley to stop Henry at the Severn and contain him so the king's army could come and finish the invasion off.  Surely Richard's well-rewarded commander would hold the line. 

Nope.  Henry received an invitation to visit William at his manor.  Henry was served tea and crumpets with an offer of perhaps a friendly cricket match out on the lawn.  Rumors have it that William and Henry had a pow-wow in the process.

Yes, the English citizens were afraid of Henry and his terrible reputation, but in this part of the world, the Stanley name was all-powerful.  The Stanley name was impressive enough to sway even John Mitton who no doubt saw his hopes for a new castle go up in smoke. 

Interestingly, John Mitton was a man who had a well-known reputation for always keeping his word, a very good thing to have in politics.  As Henry crossed the bridge, John Mitton made a point to lay down on the ground.  To much fanfare and hilarity, Henry politely stepped over the man's belly, thereby allowing Mitton to keep his oath.  We now see why Mitton didn't say 'over my dead body'.  Smart man. 

Henry was relieved to pass through, but shaken to realize that his support among the non-Welsh populace was not widespread.  Indeed, the lesson of Shrewsbury was repeated in next town he marched through.  Since the average citizen did not recognize his claim to the throne, Henry had little to celebrate.  This campaign was shaping up as another 'Buckingham Rebellion'... a reckless, seat of the pants, make-it-up-as-you-go-along operation observed by a lukewarm, apathetic citizenry that preferred to sit this one out.

Henry was very worried. 


Loyalty and Betrayal

When the news that Henry had crossed the Severn River reached Richard, he knew that William Stanley had betrayed him.  Richard was consumed with bitterness at trusting the man.  Now Henry was only 50 miles away.  To hell with William Henry.  William Henry was a pipsqueak.  It was his brother Thomas Stanley that Richard was worried about.  Richard was surely doomed if Lord Stanley opposed him.  Lord Stanley had been invaluable in putting down the Buckingham Rebellion.  But could Richard count on Stanley again??

One month earlier, an unsettling event had taken place.  In July 1485, about three weeks before Henry Tudor landed, Thomas Stanley had sought permission to leave the court and return to his northern estate of Lathom in Lancashire.  Stanley said he was going to visit a relative.  The king was no fool; Richard allowed Stanley to leave London but asked that George, Stanley's son and heir, remain behind.

Richard made his request very politely... 'Lord Stanley, we need your son to stay behind to fill your place on the Council'.   But everyone understood that George Stanley, 25, was being kept as a hostage to ensure Thomas Stanley's continued loyalty. 

Now as Henry moved through the English countryside, Richard had not seen Thomas Stanley in over a month.  Considering William Stanley had just betrayed him, Richard must not have been feeling too sure about Thomas Stanley either.  Nevertheless, Richard reassured himself that George, also known as Lord Strange (no, I am not making this up), remained in his household to assure his father’s good behavior.  Surely no father on earth would risk his son's life to betray his king.

Let us ask what might be going through Lord Stanley's mind as the two armies grew closer.  Thomas Stanley had a decision to make.

Lord Stanley had gained a reputation of remaining neutral and not supporting any particular side in a battle until he was absolutely positive which side would win. Even then, the chances of him involving his army were, to an extent, unlikely. Though this strategy does not seem to an honorable one, it gained the Stanley family more friends than enemies.  Lord Stanley had shown he was master of taking advantage of any sort of situation. 

Is it possible to grow stronger by sitting idle??  Thanks in large part to Stanley's odd fence-straddle strategy, Stanley had the largest private army in England after the King himself.  And why was that?  There had been 30 years of fighting.  All the great Houses of the land had been decimated by the civil war... House of Neville, House of Beaufort, House of Percy, House of Stafford, House of Howard, and House of York. 

Did you notice the similarity to the Game of Thrones?  House Stark, House Arryn, House Harrenhal, House Lannister, House Durrandon, House Gardener, House Martell.  But Game of Thrones had seven houses and the War of the Roses only had six.  Or did I miss someone?  Hmm.  Maybe the Reader can help me.  Can you think of a Seventh House? 

As it turns out, yes, there were Seven Houses in the War of the Roses, but one of the Houses had never known serious losses... because it never fought. 

The House of Stanley was virtually intact since the start of the Wars.  Lord Stanley enjoyed huge popularity at home because he never risked his men's lives unnecessarily and he kept his homeland out of the fighting unless it was obvious he could win with little risk.  When it came to 'Loyalty', as leaders go, one could imagine Lord Stanley enjoyed the most popularity of any leader in the country.  Unlike Richard, Stanley's men stood firmly behind him because they knew he was the smartest Lord of all. 

With leadership comes responsibility.  Lord Stanley had a choice between King Richard and a young man who just happened to be the son of his wife.  One would imagine the temptation to support his wife and his stepson would be strong.  But Stanley had other factors to consider.  For example, which of the two men, Richard or Henry, would be the best leader for the country? 

What is interesting about Stanley is he might actually think in terms larger than simply his own personal gain.  If it came down to what would benefit him personally, no doubt the greatest gain would be to have a stepson as king.  On the other hand, Stanley had never met Henry.  His only knowledge of the boy had come from his association with the lad's mother.  In this case, one has to recall Stanley's curious decision to back Richard over his wife during Buckingham's Rebellion, a decision which baffled many. 

Right now the life of Stanley's son George was at stake.  Stanley was forced to deal with this implicit threat to his son's life.  There is a difference between serving a man out of loyalty and serving a man out of threat.  Loyalty is difficult to give when there is a sword pointed at one's child.  Compliance, perhaps, but not loyalty.  This was not the first time Richard had threatened Stanley.  No doubt Stanley still remembered the day two years earlier when Richard had his men seize Stanley and accuse him of plotting against him (the Hastings situation).  That was the kind of memory that does not tend to fade away.   

So, yes, Stanley obeyed Richard out of necessity, but it would be difficult to imagine Stanley felt any loyalty to Richard, especially not after seeing the head of his colleague Lord Hastings roll without need.  As much as anyone in the kingdom, Stanley had witnessed first-hand how Richard had usurped the crown with cold-blooded assassinations and lies about the legitimacy of Edward's children.  One can imagine Lord Stanley felt little respect for King Richard. 

If I may offer my own observation, I doubt seriously Lord Stanley was on the fence as the battle brewed.  I base my decision on several factors.  The main fact is that if Richard won, all of Margaret's lands would stay with Richard upon Lord Stanley's death.  Stanley would rather keep those lands in the family.  Therefore it was very much to Stanley's advantage to back Henry... but not show his hand in the process.

  There was a report that suggested Lord Stanley was the man who tipped off Henry there was a plot against him in Brittany.

  There was a report that hinted Lord Stanley had helped convince Sir James Blount, captain of the Hammes prison in Calais, to oppose Richard and set Lord Oxford free at Hammes prison.  After Blount changed sides, Lord Oxford escaped to join Henry Tudor in Paris.  Understandably, this upset Richard no end.  To begin with, the Oxford incident was indicative of the growing lack of loyalty to his regime.  But even more important was that Henry finally had an experienced general to lead his army.  

 When Richard received reports early in August that Henry Tudor had crossed the corner of North Wales unmolested, he knew for a fact that William Stanley had betrayed him.  Indeed, by opening the door at Shrewsbury, Sir William had effectively cleared the path for Henry Tudor to continue his invasion.  Knowing the Stanley brothers' penchant for teamwork, it is unlikely William would have done so without his older brother's approval. 

 In the week prior, Lord Stanley disobeyed a direct order from Richard to bring men to join him on the battlefield.  Instead Stanley claimed 'illness'.  Poor Stanley, he was too unwell to answer his King’s summons.  This meant Stanley would not bivouac with Richard's army.  However, Stanley did promise to meet Richard on the battlefield. 

 One week prior to the battle, Lord Strange tried to escape from Richard, but was caught.  No doubt Lord Strange knew his father’s intentions were to back Henry.  If that was the case, then Strange must have known his own life was likely forfeit.  His actions suggest Strange was scared for his life and wanted to save his own neck.  Under pressure, Lord Strange admitted that both he and Sir William had been plotting with Henry Tudor.  However, Lord Strange swore he had no idea what his father intended to do.

Lord Strange was probably telling the truth.  No one ever knew for sure what Lord Stanley was thinking.  My guess is that Lord Stanley had one more question to ask before he made up his mind... what kind of king would Henry Tudor make? 

Lord Stanley had asked his brother William to conduct an initial interview at Stafford.  Apparently Henry passed his first audition since he was granted a follow-up interview with both William and his brother, Lord Thomas Stanley.  This took place at Thomas Stanley's camp in Atherstone two days before the big battle. Richard's army camped atop a large hill near the town of Bosworth.  Atherstone lay six miles to the southwest.

Oddly enough, after the interview Henry still wasn't sure where he stood.  Legend has it that Lord Stanley assured his stepson of eventual support.  Of course, we all know promises can be easily broken, especially promises made by Lord Stanley.  All Henry knew was that neither man had committed to fight with him.  Henry's mother had warned him the Stanley brothers were rumored to deliberately take opposite sides during a conflict.  That way one Stanley would always win no matter what the outcome while the loser would immediately pledge undying allegiance to the winner... until the next battle of course.  People were still trying to figure out how it was possible that the Stanleys had backed Richard during the Buckingham Rebellion.  Thomas Stanley had to know his wife Margaret was involved with the rebels, so whose side was Lord Stanley really on?

Buckingham's Rebellion had been a perfect example of a situation where either way the Stanleys would win.  If the Rebellion failed, the Stanleys had backed King Richard.  If the Rebellion succeeded, Lord Stanley would tell Margaret Richard had been at his side and it was too risky to show his hand.  No doubt Margaret would then put in a kind word with her nephew Buckingham or her son Henry.

The English had seen this before.  They called Lord Stanley a 'trimmer', someone who adapts his positions to match prevailing political trends for personal advancement.  In other words, a trimmer 'trims' his sails to take advantage of both the wind and the 'win'.  A clever phrase indeed and quite apt in this case.

Henry may have been kept in the dark, but Richard was pretty sure that Lord Stanley's heart was with Henry. 



Rick Archer's Note: 
Here again we have an odd situation being reported from Richard's point of view.  All the websites said pretty much the same thing, 'Richard kept George as hostage.'

However, I felt suspicious.  I began to wonder if this was Stanley's idea, not Richard's.  If one looks at this from Stanley's point of view, this hostage situation gave Stanley a face-saving reason to stay neutral.

Curious, I nosed around to see if anyone else was suspicious about Stanley's detached attitude towards his hostage son George.  A man named Richard P. McArthur writing for the Richard III Foundation appeared to agree with me:

"Could the idea of using Lord Strange as hostage been Stanley’s?  Richard III seems to have asked no one else for hostages. The gambit would be excellent for inducing Richard to allow Stanley to be out of range of Richard’s immediate power.  Richard could probably be counted on to be very hesitant in punishing Strange.  The fact that his son was in Richard’s hands would also serve Thomas Stanley as an excuse to Tudor for a lot of procrastination."

Mr. McArthur suggested that Lord Stanley was secretly pleased by the hostage situation.  After all, it gave him the perfect excuse to tell Henry, Margaret, and Richard 'why' he would sit the battle out... which is probably what Stanley wanted to do all along.  Why risk making real enemies when one can merely irritate them instead?   

Was Stanley really willing to deliberately risk his son's own life?  It is chilling to believe he thought up the hostage situation on his own as a clever excuse, but I would not put it past him. 

"Gee, Henry, I want so badly to send my men out on the field to face that monster Richard, but he has my son!"

"Richard, you can count on me.  After all, I knelt before you and pledged my oath.  In addition, of my own choosing, I offered you my son as a firm sign of my good will!  You will see me bring my army to the field, I promise."

Earlier I made this point:

However, if Richard won the coming battle, Stanley was in big trouble... unless Stanley could find a way not to oppose Richard.  Stanley had to find a way to help Henry and stay neutral at the same time.  Now how does someone do that? I guess we will find out when the time comes.

We just got our answer... Stanley had used his own son as collateral.


Countdown to Battle

Like his brother, William Stanley also stayed non-committal.  Although his actions in Wales and Shrewsbury had already labeled him a traitor, William Stanley would not obligate himself to unite his force with Henry's.   On 22 August William pitched his camp near Atherstone next to his brother.  This spot was some distance from both the main bodies.  Their post at Atherstone formed a triangle of sorts with Richard's camp to their right on the other side of a marsh and Henry's camp to their left.  Henry and Richard knew this meant the Stanley brothers would not publicly declare their support for either man. 

On the eve of the battle, Richard was angry.  Lord Stanley had 3,000 followers and his brother William had another 2,000.  Lord Stanley had promised to fight with him.  Well, this was put up or shut up time.  King Richard sent Stanley a message that unless he moved his forces to align with his, he would put Lord Strange, the hostage, to death.

Lord Stanley sent a terse reply "that he might do so at his pleasure."

Stanley had defied his order.  Richard immediately lost his temper and ordered Lord Strange to be executed at the start of the battle tomorrow. Then he calmed down and decided it would be wiser to wait to see what Stanley did in the morning.  Richard sent Strange to a tent under heavy guard. 

(Rick Archer's Note:  Stanley appeared to be betting that Richard was a rational man.  He expected Richard would realize that to kill the hostage too early would cost him his leverage.  But what kind of man has the guts to make that kind of bet?)

Truth be told, Richard was less troubled by Stanley's waffling than Henry.  After all, Richard would have been content if the two Stanleys simply stayed out of the battle whereas Henry was desperate for their support.  Richard’s army had larger numbers and far more confidence. 

Furthermore, Richard did not even have to win.  All Richard had to do was avoid being killed.  In addition to his 12,000 men, Richard had reinforcements waiting for him in Nottingham and Leicester.  Richard could lose today and fight another battle tomorrow.  Not Henry.  This coming battle was his only shot.  With Richard sitting pretty up atop his hill, he smiled in the knowledge that Henry must be terrified.

Richard was correct.  Henry was indeed panic-stricken on the eve of the battle.

If either Lord Stanley or William Stanley backed Richard, it was all over. 

If Lord Stanley and William Stanley decided to sit it out, then Richard still had the superior forces and the experience. 

Henry believed his only chance of victory would come if the Stanleys would fight on his side.  But that seemed unlikely.  In his private interview shortly before the battle, Henry attempted to win them over, but he was apparently unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, he knew that Richard held Stanley's heir hostage.  How could Henry hope that Lord Stanley would defy Richard in this circumstance?  Henry was in a near-hopeless position.  Without Stanley, his badly-outnumbered, ragtag army stood little chance of victory.  His men seemed just as nervous as he was.  Their loyalty to him was tenuous at best.  If the battle started poorly, no doubt the weak of heart would flee on the spot and save their own skins.  The battle could be over the moment it started. 

At this point, Henry despaired that it was hopeless.  Even Margaret is suddenly struck by just how long the odds were.  No doubt she was terrified of losing her son on the battlefield.

Seeing her son so despondent, Margaret Beaufort decided to intercede.  Riding over to Lord Stanley's camp, she confronted her husband and begged him to fight.

"Husband, I implore you to fight at my son's side tomorrow."

"You overlook that this action will cost me the life of my son and heir.  I will not abandon my son for yours."

"“Your son will be honored as a man of courage, the first to fall in Henry’s service,”

Stanley's reply was quite fascinating.  "Margaret, I do not find this comforting.  Think about what you have asked.  You have asked me to sacrifice my son so that your son will live."

"But Henry has a divine right to rule!"

Stanley: "If that is truly the case, then you should have nothing to worry about."


The Ghosts of Richard Pay Him a Visit


Richard was feeling good about his chances when he went to bed.  However, William Shakespeare suggested Richard was having nightmares. 

If one believes Shakespeare, Richard had murdered enough victims to fill a cemetery.

Through the centuries, Shakespeare’s dark depiction of Richard has remained unshaken.  No one who has seen Richard III has any trouble visualizing Richard as a deformed Machiavellian who betrays his dead brother, murders his nephews to gain his crown and poisons his wife to pursue his voluptuous niece. 

As a malicious, deceptive and bitter usurper who seizes England’s throne by nefarious means, Shakespeare’s Richard revels in his own villainy.

In his famous “Now is the winter of our discontent” speech, Richard shamelessly proclaimed:

I am determined to prove myself a villain.


The problem for the audience is that Richard is so damn interesting.  Richard is an undeniably charming and complex figure who sucks in the audience with his immoral logic and dazzling wordplay. The audience shakes its collective head in astonishment that someone this shrewd had to resort to such foul means to get what he wanted. 

But then we stop liking Richard thanks to a brilliant Shakespeare scene... Richard's nightmare.  In this nightmare, Richard’s sins come back to haunt him – quite literally!!  

According to William Shakespeare, on the eve of battle, Richard was haunted by the memory of his crimes.  Shakespeare has found a clever way to help us recall each of Richard’s murder victims.  The specters of these victims appear one by one in a roll call of ghosts who visit Richard in his sleep.  They each point to Richard and claim to have been murdered by the king.


   Prince Edward of Westminster
King Henry VI
   George, Duke of Clarence
   Earl Rivers (Anthony Woodville)
 •  Richard Grey
   Thomas Vaughan
   Lord Hastings
   The Princes in the Tower
   Duke of Buckingham
   Queen Anne Neville


The king is visibly shaken by the ghosts of his murder victims.  One by one, each ghost recalls what Richard has done to them and condemns him to death on the battlefield.  The ghosts parade past Richard and chant "Despair and die!" 

Smug and confident earlier in the night, Richard is now struck by doubt.  Forgetting the glee he formerly took in his wrongdoing, he suddenly lacks conviction about the wisdom of his actions.

O no, alas, I rather hate myself for hateful deeds committed by myself.... I am a villain.

At one point, there were so many ghosts, the stage barely has room to accommodate them all.  There was also a strange twist in the dream scene.  Shakespeare forced Richard to stand by and watch as the ghosts leave to pay Henry Tudor a visit.  The ghosts offer encouragement in the upcoming battle.  Richard was understandably quite shaken when he awoke. 

Shakespeare believed what goes around comes around.  Shakespeare knew the audience would take satisfaction in the thought that Richard's evildoings would come back to haunt him, first in his dreams, then on the battlefield.  At heart, most people in Medieval England yearned for justice and fair play.  The rest took part in the War of the Roses.


The Battle of Bosworth



Battle Positions


On the morning of the battle, 22 August 1485, four armies converged on a field south of Bosworth Market, 13 miles west of Leicester: Richard, numbering 12,000; Henry, numbering 5,000; and two Stanley armies, some 5,000 when combined. 

Richard had expected to have an even larger army.  Richard had called the lords of the realm to assemble under his banner at Leicester on the 16th of August.  But many of his vassals either failed to answer the royal summons or conveniently got stuck in transit.  Nevertheless Richard was pleased to note his force still greatly outnumbered his opponent.  His nightmares aside, Richard was quite confident of victory as the battle began. 

The chief lords who did join their king were John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, and Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland. 

John Howard had been Richard's right hand man from the moment Richard made his rise in 1483.  Now here at Bosworth, Howard was Richard's most trusted general.  Norfolk commanded the Yorkist Vanguard to Richard's right.   The men under Richard's control had a deep, soupy marsh on the left to use as a defensive measure.  

Henry Percy was in the rear with 7,000 reserves.  Richard had a bad feeling about Percy.  Richard had paid a high price to win Percy's loyalty, but today this man was worried about something. 

Since Richard had so many men, the field was not wide enough for everyone to fight at once.  So he placed a considerable force in reserve under Lord Northumberland.  Just to be sure, Richard placed a close watch on Percy when the battle started.  Richard didn't want Percy to turn his own men on him.  Richard was sick and tired of people betraying him. 

As expected, the two Stanley armies moved into neutral positions on a hill.  They stood side by side about half a mile apart. 


Henry Tudor took the field with a motley crew.  Among his 5,000 men were roughly 1,000 French, 2,000 Welsh, 500 Scots, and 1,000 dispossessed Lancastrian exiles plus a few York loyalists who couldn't stand Richard.  In other words, Henry's army was comprised of everyone who hated the Yorks plus everyone who hated the English... French, Welsh, and Scots.

Henry was outnumbered 2 to 1.  However, with half of Richard's army held in reserve, the numbers were roughly equal on the front line. 

Henry was well aware of his military shortcomings, so he put his friend John de Vere, Lord Oxford, in charge of the planning.  This was Oxford's chance to redeem himself.  Fourteen years earlier, Oxford should have been the hero at the 1471 Battle of Barnet.  Instead, Oxford had lost control of his men who decided to begin partying before the battle was over.  Amazingly, the vastly superior Lancaster side lost the battle.  Warwick was killed and Edward IV regained the throne.  Given this shocking turn of events, Lord Oxford's guilt must have been immense.  Oxford had disliked Yorkist King Edward, but he absolutely despised King Richard.  Oxford was burning to put this man down once and for all.

Neither Richard nor Henry moved to the front.  Henry, unsure of his fighting ability, remained in back of Oxford's vanguard surrounded by elite Welsh bodyguards.  Richard on the other hand was a warrior.  He fully intended to fight.  However, right now there were too many uncertainties... the Stanleys, Lord Northumberland, as well as Oxford's initial strategy.  Therefore Richard chose to stay up on the hill where he could survey the situation.  Flanked by his own elite unit of mounted bodyguards, Richard was content to let Norfolk take the lead. 

The battle unfolded when Oxford began advancing the Lancastrian forces towards Ambion Hill in one body.  His right-wing was protected by the marsh.  An exchange of arrows and cannon fire followed.  Richard had more cannons, so Oxford decided to get closer to Norfolk's men as the best protection from further cannon shots.


When Richard saw Oxford advancing, he ordered Norfolk to attack the enemy just after they passed the marsh.  Norfolk’s vanguard came down Ambion Hill to engage Oxford's force at the base.  In the fierce melee that followed, men hacked at each other in brutal hand-to-hand combat using weapons such as the pole-axe, hammer, battle axe, spear, mace, and long sword.

Norfolk's men were surprised when Oxford suddenly moved his men into an unusual V-shaped wedge.  This wedge was a favorite French offensive maneuver.  During his outlaw years, Oxford had spent time fighting in France as a mercenary.  He knew this formation well.  In addition, his cadre of French mercenaries was also quite familiar with the technique.  Hoping his opponent had not studied recent French battle tactics, Oxford had told these men in advance that he was planning to use this maneuver.

Oxford placed two banners in the ground, and encouraged his men to form up between them in a V-shape.  This created a solid wedge of men similar to an arrow's point.  Norfolk had never seen this formation before.  When Norfolk charged, he found Oxford’s Wedge difficult to attack.  Norfolk's force was getting the worst of the melee, so Norfolk risked his life trying to counter-attack.  Bad move.  His risk failed and Norfolk was killed, some say felled by Lord Oxford himself.  Richard had lost his best friend and finest ally.


Historian Chris Skidmore discusses Oxford's French connection.


With too few English men to fight in his army, Tudor had been forced to recruit trained mercenaries from Normandy to fight for him. These French forces seem to have been experts in military warfare, and were quickly able to establish "by the king’s shot the lie of the land and the order of his battle". The Burgundian Chronicler Jean Molinet wrote how the French troops, led by Philibert de Chandee - whom Henry VII would later reward with the title Earl of Bath - ordered for Tudor’s force to be reassembled, and "in order to avoid the fire" and instead to attack the right hand flank of Richard’s vanguard, that seems to have caused confusion in the royal army. Richard’s vanguard was broken and soon dispersed and the French, according to Molinet, "obtained the mastery of his vanguard". A letter written by a French soldier shortly after the battle, described how Richard was heard crying “These French traitors are today the cause of our realm’s ruin".


Richard was aware that Norfolk had fallen.  However, the advantage of numbers was still with Richard and the Yorkists.  The problem for Richard was that Norfolk's battle lines began to disintegrate without Norfolk's leadership.  Richard ordered Northumberland to bring up his reserve and join Norfolk's hard-pressed men.

To Richard's stupefaction, Lord Percy either did not get the message or refused to participate.   Historians argue to this day whether this was treachery or simply an inability of Percy to find room to maneuver his force around Richard’s force or around the marsh to the left.  There are those who suggest the Lord of Northumberland may have had a pre-existing understanding with Lord Stanley (who else?).

Percy's men claimed unable to cross the marsh, but Richard didn't believe a word of it.  He felt betrayed. Given Richard's earlier suspicion, Richard concluded 'Treachery' was the more likely answer.  Whatever the reason, the reserve forces did not move and Norfolk's line was about to collapse. 


Historian Chris Skidmore discusses the reports of treason.


With the collapse of his vanguard, Richard would have expected that his rear-guard, led by Henry Percy, the earl of Northumberland, to provide reinforcements. Instead the earl did nothing. One chronicler was insistent that "in the place where the earl of Northumberland was posted, with a large company of reasonably good men, no engagement could be discerned, and no battle blows given or received". Northumberland, Jean Molinet observed, should have "charged the French" but instead "did nothing except to flee, both he and his company, and to abandon his King Richard" since he had already agreed a secret pact with Henry Tudor.

Northumberland was a northern lord whose own power had diminished over the past decade as a result of Richard’s rise to power. He had nothing to lose and everything to gain from abandoning his king. Other reports from the battlefield suggest that Northumberland may have not only left Richard to his fate, but actively turned against him and "left his position and passed in front of the king’s vanguard", at which point, "turning his back on Earl Henry, he began to fight fiercely against the king’s van, and so did all the others who had plighted their faith to Earl Henry". If this were the case, it would explain why Richard had been heard "shouting again and again that he was betrayed, and crying ‘Treason! Treason! Treason!’"


Things were getting desperate.  Oxford's men may have been out-numbered, but they had more hate in them than his own men.  Plus they had the momentum thanks to that strange wedge formation.  The Wedge was pushing Norfolk's men back towards Richard's men in the rear.  Something had to be done to bolster Norfolk’s flagging forces.  What was Richard to do?   Norfolk's line was floundering, Northumberland stayed mysteriously rooted to the spot, and Stanley continued to defy his order.  Realizing it was up to him to save this battle, Richard mobilized his own force down the hill to fill the breech.   

Richard watched in horror as the battle was in danger of getting away from him.  Richard's eyes automatically turned to the two Stanleys.  There they stood with their 5,000 men positioned on Dadlington Hill less than a mile away.  Richard was infuriated.  That damn Thomas Stanley!!  Why didn't he fight? 

Incensed that Lord Stanley still refused to participate, Richard sent three messengers to Stanley with a curt and quite frustrated demand... "Order your men to fight now or watch your son die!"

15 minutes later the messengers were back.  Richard anxiously asked them what Stanley had said. 

Lord Stanley's reply was so unbelievable, it became instant military legend.

"Tell Richard I have other sons."

Furious at Stanley's defiance, Richard ordered his hostage, Lord Strange, beheaded.  However, in the heat and confusion of battle, the order was not carried out... probably because no one wanted to carry out the order.  Whether Richard won or lost, after the battle, Lord Stanley would undoubtedly seek the identity of the executioner and have his vengeance.  Since Richard was too busy to see if his order had been carried out, Lord Strange was never touched.

Lord Stanley never budged an inch throughout the battle.


Richard's Charge

Henry was feeling abandoned.  Lord Stanley had promised to help days earlier, but had yet to move.  This was bad news.  Henry was still convinced his army had no chance of victory against these superior forces without Lord Stanley's help. 

On the other hand, he was encouraged by Oxford's considerable success.  Henry wasn't going to give up without a fight.  Seeing Richard's men come down the hill about to attack Oxford, Henry decided to advance his own men forward into the battle to support Oxford's vulnerable right.  Henry moved his men to the right where there was an opening between Oxford and the marsh.

Richard could see that Henry was headed into the gap before him.   There were men fighting there, but very few.  No doubt Henry was moving to check the advancement of the men Richard had recently sent into battle.  However, Henry had no idea Richard was sitting right behind those men with his own elite mounted guards.  


Henry was on foot with a relatively small force of men, several hundred at best.  Richard was incredulous... Henry had no idea he had just exposed himself to great danger.  Richard tensed like a panther ready to pounce upon an unsuspecting prey. 

Richard was certain he had just been given the chance to win outright by killing Henry.  This was the moment Richard had been waiting for.  He is said to have uttered:  "God forbid I yield one stepThis is the day I will die as a king or win."

With that, he ordered 200 men of his mounted bodyguard to charge.  The horses came down the hill towards Henry at breakneck speed.  They penetrated through Richard's own line, raced through the gap and took on Henry's force directly. 

As King Richard and his mounted knights crashed into Henry’s unit, their force was so great that Henry's men barely withstood the initial onslaught. 


This was an incredibly dramatic moment. In poker terms, Richard was all in.  He was risking everything in a foolhardy attempt to take out Henry all by himself.  As Shakespeare would put it, Richard had chosen to risk his life on this cast of the die.  Interesting choice of words, yes??

Charging recklessly at the head of his knights, Richard reached Henry’s contingent first.  Richard's lance struck Sir William Brandon, Henry's standard-bearer, in the chest so hard that the lance broke in half.  The powerful thrust knocked Brandon from his horse; the man was dead before he hit the ground.  

Riding on, now Richard faced Sir John Cheyne, Henry’s personal bodyguard.  Cheyne was a huge man who was a renowned jousting champion.  Fearless, Richard unhorsed the giant using just the broken stub of his lance. 

And then it happened... Richard's horse was wounded.  In pain, the horse reared up and threw Richard to the ground.  Richard was down. 



Richard was not hurt, but he was in great danger.  He was angry to see that Henry was still safe.  Somehow Henry Tudor's Welshman had held firm against the initial onslaught.  They were still in shock, but soon the Welsh bodyguards will begin to counter-attack.  Richard realized he had been far too impetuous in his headlong charge.  However, he still had time to get away.  Henry's men had not regrouped sufficiently from the wild charge.  If Richard could find another horse, he could flee and escape danger. 

This was the moment immortalized by William Shakespeare. 

King Richard:  
       A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!

William Catesby (Richard's councilor):  
      Withdraw, my lord!  I'll help you to a horse.

King Richard:  
      Slave!  I have set my life upon a cast. 
      Now I will stand the hazard of the die.

Richard III,  Act 5, scene 4, 7–10


Sucker Punch


After Richard lost his horse, he bravely decided to stick around.  This was a bold move because now it was Richard and his men who were out-numbered fighting here behind enemy lines.  Undeterred, Richard rose and engaged several attackers by himself. 

Observers of the action would later assert this was Richard's finest moment.  He fought off these men single-handedly with great courage and skill.  In so doing, this bought Richard enough time for help to arrive.  Seeing their leader fall to the ground, Richard's nearby men came to the rescue of their leader.  They regrouped around the king to fight off Henry's men.  This in turn gave reinforcements coming from the marsh enough time to arrive.

Richard's foot soldiers had seen the mounted riders race through the "Gap".  Naturally they had followed their leader who was fighting for his life 300 yards downfield.  Given time, the foot soldiers had caught up to join the fight.  This was a major turning point. 

Henry was nearby and unsure what to do.  While Richard was an undisputed warrior, Henry was just the opposite.  At Bosworth, Henry waited on the sidelines and let others do his dirty work for him.  That said, to his credit, Henry did not run.   However, he was thinking about it.  Henry kept a horse nearby in case the battle was lost.  And right now it did not look good for Henry. 

Richard's one-man stand had evoked images of Henry V, the great warrior king of Agincourt.  His maniacal fighting was infectious, evoking a passion in the men which they had previously lacked.  Richard's men rallied around their indomitable leader. 


As for Henry's forces, they sorely lacked leadership.  According to several sources, Henry did not even swing his sword, but rather just stood there cowering behind his Welsh guardsmen.  Suddenly out-numbered, Henry's meager force buckled.  Although Richard's wild charge had failed to reach Henry, it had done a fine job of disorganizing Henry's defense.  The York foot soldiers trailing the horsemen were on the verge of breaking through the enemy line.  Henry's men were fighting for their lives. 

Now that the foot soldiers had joined the fight, it was just a matter of time.  Richard should have won right here.  But he didn't.


Instead Richard was hit by a ferocious Sucker Punch.  

When Richard had made his mounted charge down the hill, Stanley could see the horsemen making a determined beeline for Henry's exposed right flank.  Realizing Henry was in serious trouble, Stanley decided to intervene.  He ordered his own men to ride forward and cut off Richard's attack with a surprise entry into the battle. 

With Stanley's men coming in from behind with full fury, Richard's men never knew what hit them.  It was a sneaky move, yet brilliant in its timing.

All's fair in love and war...

Richard's men died swiftly, many of them with swords in their backs.  Others laid down their weapons and surrendered.  It was over.

Or should we say it was over for everyone but Richard.  Unaware of Stanley's intervention, Richard was ‘fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies.’ 

Richard had been fighting so hard at the center, he had no idea what was going on around him.  However, once his protective layer of men had been stripped away, Richard suddenly became aware of the wolf pack of men surrounding him. 

With a shudder, Richard saw their banner... these were Stanley's men. 

Seeing that Richard was cornered, the wolves began to approach.  There would be no escape.  Richard had no choice but to fight to his death. 


Richard's Final Moments

(Rick Archer's Note:  A woman named Marilee Hanson wrote an eloquent passage about the end of Richard's life.  I was so impressed that I prefer to give Ms. Hanson the honor of finishing this part of the story.)


In the words of Marilee Hanson:

Richard was wounded several times but continually refused the advice of his few companions to flee.  He also refused the offer of a horse.  His heroism was evident to all.  In the end, Richard could not prevail.  Fighting alone, Richard was virtually the last man standing.  Around him lay the bodies of his few companions – Conyers, Brackenbury, Ratcliffe.

His crown was knocked from his head; his head was struck so many times that his metal helmet was beaten into the skull; even after his death, his body continued to be beaten.  

There is a legend that his crown landed in a hawthorne bush; true or not, it was soon enough in Henry Tudor’s hands – and not because of any personal bravery on the part of the first Tudor king.

It cannot be emphasized enough that Richard III died valiantly in battle. 

The battle lasted about two hours. Its outcome – Henry’s triumph – was only made possible by Stanley’s disgraceful betrayal of his king.  Had he waited a few moments longer, Henry may have been personally killed by Richard. That single action inaugurated the Tudor dynasty – and it was a shameful inauguration.

Richard III, who had fought so heroically and suffered an awful death, continued to be humiliated and abused.  His body was stripped of armor and underclothes.  Then his naked body was slung limply over a horse with arms and legs dangling at the sides.  A halter was tossed around his neck to symbolize his defeat.  In this shameful manner, Richard was taken to a friary in Leicester where his body lay on view for two days; it was naked from the waist down except for a scant and cheap black cloth. 


Richard was buried at the friary with no ceremony in a pauper's grave.  The church no longer exists – Henry’s son ordered the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s.  Richard’s grave was opened and the body thrown out. Later, the coffin was supposedly used as a horse trough and cellar steps in a nearby manor. Richard III remains the only English king since 1066 to have no burial place.  He was also the last English king to die in battle. 

Henry Tudor had declared himself King Henry VII after Lord Stanley placed Richard’s crown upon his stepson’s head. His officers were busy settling old scores, executing old foes and rounding up the prisoners. In the end, we can reasonably estimate that about 400 men – in total – died that day.  Few wanted to talk about the actual fighting after the battle.  Those two hours ended in betrayal and death for one king and started one of the most celebrated dynasties in English history.

On a personal note….  I do want to stress that Henry Tudor did not participate in the fighting – and, in fact, he kept a horse nearby so he could flee if the battle was lost.  In other words, Henry planned to ‘turn tail and run’, as the cliché goes.

It might seem odd that a king who supposedly won his crown in battle was actually quite cowardly on the battlefield, and didn’t participate – but it is the truth. Richard III only lost because Lord Stanley disgracefully betrayed his king. And he did so after Richard had already forgiven him numerous offenses (many bordering on treason), and had treated him kindly. Henry may have claimed a crown that day, but he claimed no glory.

If you wish, you may visit the Richard III Society site for the other side of the story.

This passage was written by Marilee Hanson.  You can read her entire story at:

English History: Henry VII Facts & Information Biography


Kill Shot

After Richard had been knocked off his horse, he wandered the battlefield looking for Henry.  He killed every man coming into his way with fatalistic rage.  Then Richard spotted Henry a hundred yards away.  Henry was clearly visible beneath his banner.  Richard sniffed with disgust at Henry hiding behind the Welsh bodyguards battling to keep him alive.  Full of scorn, Richard decided to finish the issue himself.  Full of battle fury, Richard drew his battle axe and moved stealthily towards Henry.  Although Richard was in the absolute thick of the battle, he still wore his crown.  Knowing full well this made him a marked man, to his credit, Richard refused to take it off.

Suddenly a large group of men appeared out of nowhere to block his path.  Richard was confused.  He had nearly reached Henry when this sudden press of new attackers forced him to abandon his path.  Richard realized that he and his knights were being driven back into the marshy ground by a much-superior force. 

With Richard did not know was that William Stanley had been watching the battle from his armchair seat on the side of the battlefield.  Seeing the great peril that Henry was in, William Stanley had launched his men into action on the Tudor side.  

Stanley's rescue almost didn't make it. In addition to Richard's approach, there were other fighters on the verge of breaking past Henry's tiring bodyguards.  Stanley's men arrived just in the nick of time.  Now Henry's imminent demise changed in the blink of an eyelash as Stanley's men descended with brutal effectiveness. 


Richard's men never knew what hit them.

Shortly after Stanley's men charged into the flank of Richard’s household knights, Richard realized he was surrounded.  Where did these new men come from?  They were not here a moment ago.  Then Richard saw their banner and froze.  These were Stanley's men.  Richard knew he was doomed. 

Screaming “Treason!”, Richard hacked left and right with his battle axe.  So did his remaining coterie.  Outnumbered, Richard's group fought valiantly but were cut down one by one.

Now it was just Richard.  As the wolf pack approached, Richard prepared to die a soldier's death.  The blows came from every direction.  An arrowhead was found embedded in his spine. It was this wound, inflicted by an enemy archer at close range, that most likely brought the battling King to his knees. 

Richard suffered 10 deep wounds.  The kill shot was a blow deep into the back of Richard's head by a halberd.  The blow was so strong it cleaved a giant hole into his skull and left chips of his metal helmet buried in his brain.  This deep gash would serve as a gruesome testament to the horror of Richard's last fight. 


Richard was the final Plantagenet King of England.  He was also the last English king to die in battle. 

Every observer, sympathetic or otherwise, agreed that Richard had fought bravely to the end.  John Rous, a man who compared Richard to the Antichrist, admitted,If I may say the truth to his credit, though small in body and feeble of limb, Richard bore himself like a gallant knight and acted with distinction as his own champion until his last breath.


Shortly after Richard's death, Lord Stanley appeared at the site.  As Stanley stood there viewing Richard's lifeless body, a courtier named Reginald Bray noticed Richard's crown had fallen into a nearby hawthorn bush. 

Stanley asked Bray to hand the crown to him.  Then Stanley turned towards Henry and placed the crown on his son-in-law's head.  Then Stanley stepped back and took a knee.  Everyone in attendance grasped the solemnity of the moment and did the same.  Lord Stanley saluted him as king, while the soldiers shouted for 'King Henry!'  There on the battlefield, Henry Tudor was crowned as Henry VII. 

To the winners and traitors go the spoils.  Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland, the man who withheld 7,000 men from Richard, was taken prisoner.  He did not suffer for long.  Henry Tudor, now King Henry VII, soon released the last Percy heir from the Tower of London.  Henry appointed him Lord Warden of the East and Middle Marches, thereby generously rewarding Percy's treachery and perhaps pointing to a possible secret deal made by Percy and Lord Stanley beforehand. 

Henry also rewarded Thomas Stanley, his “right dearly beloved father”.  Henry made Stanley the Earl of Derby on 27 October 1485.  The following year Henry confirmed Stanley as Lord High Constable of England and High Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster, besides granting him other estates and offices. In 1486 Stanley also stood as godfather to Henry’s eldest son, Arthur, Prince of Wales.

Lord Stanley had elevated fence-sitting to an art form.  One can only wonder how his son Lord Strange felt towards his father for offering him up as a lowly pawn. 

John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, was virtually the only person who did not desert Richard that day.  Howard was rewarded for his loyalty with a arrow through his face after his helmet was pulled off during the battle.  Curiously, Shakespeare wrote in his play that Norfolk had been warned the night to be very careful.  This warning was attached as a note to his tent. 

    'Jack of Norfolk be not too bold for Dickon, thy master, is bought and sold'

'Dickon', of course, is slang for Richard.  Legend has it that Northumberland had been bought off by Lord Stanley prior to battle.  If so, Treachery indeed. 


King Henry VII


Henry Tudor became king of England at the age of twenty-eight.  His mother Margaret burst into a flood of tears at his coronation.  Henry VII did indeed marry Elizabeth of York, a union which put a welcome end to the War of the Roses.   During Henry's reign, playing cards were invented.  The portrait of Elizabeth has appeared eight times on every pack of cards for the last 600 years.

Although Henry was not a particularly popular king, he did have his virtues.  For one thing, Henry proved to be an able administrator.  He was also extremely frugal, 'miserly', a trait which restored England to financial security. 

One of Henry's wisest moves was to forbid nobles to retain their own armies. After observing how his step-father Thomas Stanley had held both Richard and himself hostage to his power, Henry learned his lesson.  From now on, a small number of attendants was acceptable, but Henry did not want any lord to have more power than the king. 

Edward IV had attempted the same maneuver, but had not gotten very far.  Henry did much better.  He was aided by a simple fact... as king, he owned most of the gunpowder in the country.  Henry simply blew up the castle of any recalcitrant baron.  It was a very effective policy.  In general the English nobility was already in decline thanks to the decimation during the Wars of the Roses.  Under Henry, the power of the nobility fell even further while the King grew in power.

It is said that Henry lacked the majesty and charisma of his son Henry VIII and his famous granddaughter Elizabeth I.  But maybe charisma was not important during those years.  Henry was better known as a plodder.  His attention to detail, hard work, dedication, and discipline was exactly what England needed.

Henry VII was succeeded by his son, the tyrannical and bloodstained Henry VIII.  Henry VIII is probably the best-known king in English history, but for all the wrong reasons.  Henry VIII was famous for marrying six wives and executing two of them.  His problems with the Catholic Church would lead to much bloodshed and heartache in years to come.  Henry VIII gave us Bloody Mary, the fanatic Queen who burned Protestants at the stake in her Catholic zeal.

On the other hand, Henry VIII also gave us Elizabeth I by Anne Boleyn.  Elizabeth was said to be wily and highly astute.  She had to be!  Elizabeth survived an appalling childhood and adolescence to emerge as the ablest of the Tudors. 

Elizabeth nimbly survived the many assassination attempts made on her life. Coming to power as a Protestant at a time when the Catholic Church was fighting to retain religious supremacy in England, Pope Pius V issued a proclamation giving any Catholic the green light to rise up and assassinate her.

Elizabeth’s life was in constant danger after that.  There was the Barge Incident, the Ridolfi Plot, the Throgmorton Plot, and of course the infamous Babington Plot, the one that would cost Mary, Queen of Scots, her life. 

In December 1583, Elizabeth wrote to the French Ambassador:

There are more than two hundred men of all ages who, at the instigation of the Jesuits, conspire to kill me.

Queen Elizabeth was not exaggerating.  However, she escaped every single attempt on her life unscathed.  It seems evident that Elizabeth I shared many qualities with her grandfather, Henry VII, the first Tudor king.  Both were shaped by perilous upbringings to become cautious, careful rulers who trusted their own instincts over their advisors.  This distrust served them in good stead. 

Elizabeth went on to lead England for 45 years.  Elizabeth was a remarkable woman who was noted for her learning and wisdom.  She was popular with the people of England and had a knack for selecting capable advisors.  Unlike many rulers, the welfare of her people was her main objective.

Elizabeth oversaw the expansion of England's sea power.  The Spanish Armada was decisively defeated in 1588 and Raleigh's first colony in Virginia was founded.  With Shakespeare at the height of his popularity, prosperity at home, and dominance in foreign relations, the Elizabethan Era became a celebrated time in English history.  When my friends and I visit the Texas Renaissance Festival every fall, we are reenacting the classic 16th century of England. 

Alas, Elizabeth chose never to marry, so she was the last of the Tudor monarchs. With no offspring to take her place, Elizabeth gave tacit approval to the appointment of James, son of Mary, Queen of Scots, to take her place.   With Elizabeth's death, the House of Tudor (1485-1603) came to an end. 

The new King James took the throne largely because James was about the only man left with a drop of royal blood.  Oddly enough, Elizabeth had executed the young man's mother, Mary, Queen of Scots.  Then she turned around and made Mary's son the next English king.  Weird?  No kidding.  That is why I love English history so much.   English history is so deliciously perverse and unpredictable


Elizabeth Woodville Revisited

There is an excellent chance that the real Elizabeth Woodville wasn't nearly as nice and decent as the woman portrayed in the White Queen.  There are hints she was a schemer in her own right.  However, that side of her got short-shrift in the TV series.  We are all so much at the mercy of how the script writers wish to portray each character. 

Ostensibly the White Queen was a tale about an unusually pretty girl who waylaid a King by the roadside.  After Elizabeth used her magic ways to capture Edward's fickle heart, she was in for a wild ride.  Such a scandal!  For a king to marry a widow (i.e. not a virgin), a commoner once married to the enemy, a woman 5 years older than the King, this was unheard of.  For this coup alone, Elizabeth Woodville would go down in history as a woman best known for marrying well above her station and brilliantly capitalizing on it.

The legacy of Elizabeth Woodville is quite impressive.  Considered an 'unsuitable woman' for the throne, she gave birth to twelve children!!  Together Edward and Elizabeth had 3 boys and 7 girls (5 of whom lived to adulthood).  Unfortunately, Elizabeth Woodville would suffer much heartache in the process.  Sad to say, three of her five sons were likely murdered by Richard III.  One died young and one by her first husband survived.

The match brought his Queen and her family right into the thick of the Wars of the Roses.  Over the next twenty-four years, Elizabeth would experience five changes in leadership, ten children, five uprisings, god knows how many battles, two missing Princes and a slew of dead relatives.  Despite intense heartache, in the end, Elizabeth had the satisfaction of knowing her namesake daughter would become the next Queen of England. Every monarch that has sat on the throne from Henry VIII onwards has been her descendant.


Lord Stanley Revisited


On a personal note, the main reason I wrote this long story about the War of the Roses was to learn more about Lord Stanley. 

Quite frankly, I doubt there would have been a Tudor Dynasty without Lord Stanley.  I also doubt very many people know who he was.

And yet look how remarkable Stanley was!!  In a story dominated by fearsome warlords such as the Duke of York, the Earl of Warwick, George Plantagenet, the Duke of Birmingham, Margaret of Anjou, Edmund Beaufort, Henry Percy, Richard III, there was one man - Lord Stanley - who stayed completely unscathed for the entire 32 years.

I certainly had no idea how important Stanley was until I saw the White Queen series on television. 

But the funny thing is, although the show was supposedly about Elizabeth, somewhere along the line Margaret Beaufort stole the show.  And in many ways Lord Stanley stole the show from her. 

To me, Lord Stanley was by far the most interesting character in the entire series.  Lord Stanley was responsible for the most remarkable quote I think I have ever heard. 

In the tenth and final episode, when Stanley replied to Richard, "I have other sons", I practically fell out of my chair. 

Who on earth takes chances like this with his son's head on the line?  At the time, I told myself if I ever got the chance to learn more about this strange man named Lord Stanley, I would do so.  Even though I spent over seven long weeks researching the story, I am so glad I followed through with my initial curiosity. 

I have long been intrigued with the Game of Thrones.  However, as twisted as this series has been, I always told myself that this was fiction and nothing this crazy could ever happen in real life.  And then I discovered the War of the Roses!

The War of the Roses has seen a plethora of family feuding, incest, crimes of passion, tragedy and acts of cruelty that would stretch the imaginations of even today’s most far-fetched soap opera writers.  Although Shakespeare's interest settled upon Richard III, my interest fixated upon Lord Stanley, the shrewdest of them all. 

I am more used to men like Warwick, or Richard of York, or Margaret of Anjou, or Edward of York... men who use war and power to further their interests.  Unless Lord Stanley did murder the Princes in the Tower (unlikely according to the experts), I don't remember Lord Stanley dropping a single drop of blood outside of battle.  Stanley gained his power strictly through one daring chess move after another. 

Unlike the ruthless Richard III or serial traitor Lord Warwick, Lord Stanley grew rich by clever marriage and clever politics.  Unlike the others who died horrible deaths in pursuit of the throne, Stanley advanced because he was perfectly happy being the power behind the throne.  He raked in titles, lands, riches, and accolades without aspiring to have his face on the money.  Or should we say both faces on either side of the coin?

It was so perfectly fitting that Lord Stanley, despite his earlier absence at Bosworth, was conveniently on hand to pick up Richard’s fallen crown and place it on the head of the new king, Henry VII. 

Lord Stanley died at his estate of Lathom House in Lancashire on 20 July 1504.  Considering all the dramatic chances he took throughout the Wars of the Roses, Stanley was fortunate to have died naturally at home, instead of on a battlefield or on the scaffold.

It had taken great skill not just to stay alive, but to have enriched himself and his family in the processExpediency was his watchword No monarch however powerful could ever completely rely on his loyalty or support.  Lord Stanley’s allegiances were ever ready to shift in the winds of change, his sails always ready to altered and adjusted if the situation demanded it.

At its heart, the War of the Roses is a story about treachery and double cross.  Time after time, people are always worse than one can ever imagine them being.  Or so History would apparently teach us. The War of the Roses showed us what happens to people whose morals fall to pieces when their ambition places them too close the throne.  As they say, power corrupts.  And so does ambition. 

We watched carefully as one shark after bit the dust.  Warwick, Margaret of Anjou, George, Edmund Beaufort, Richard, Anne Neville, Isabel Neville, Edward of Westminster, and all those French kings. 

Elizabeth trusted no one, but she was helpless to protect her children.  Richard bestowed lands, titles, honors right and left and look how much loyalty that bought him.  Margaret Beaufort played the angles and prayed till she was blue in the face, but in the end found herself was helpless to win the battle for her boy.  Ultimately it wasn't Margaret, but rather Stanley who put Henry VII on the throne.  Stanley played the game the best. 

There is a board game known as Diplomacy that I have played over the years.  By coincidence, it has spots for seven players.  I have observed that the winner is typically the one who irritates the fewest people in the early stages of the game and who backstabs an ally at a critical juncture late in the game.  I personally am not fond of backstabbing, so I don't win very often.  But I know how it's done.

More than any character I have ever studied, Thomas Stanley has produced a master class in how to navigate one's way through tricky, dangerous situations with head intact.  His knack for treachery is a lesson for the ages. 



Ordinarily our story should end here.  Henry has defeated Richard III and would go on to marry Elizabeth of York the following year.

However, the tale of Richard III had the strangest second Act of any story in history.  You see, not only did the ghost of Richard come back to haunt England, so did the entire Battle of Bosworth. 


Chapter Six: 
Mysteries Abound

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