Saturday, August 22, 2020

A Horse, a Horse, My Kingdom for a Horse

A Horse, a Horse, My Kingdom for a Horse

      Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth (1485), the final major battle of that English civil war titled The War of the Roses (this conflict was at the time sometimes referred to as the Cousin’s War).  It was at this battle that King Richard III, variously identified as the last King from the House of Plantagenet or the House of York, was killed. He was the last English King to die in battle.  Henry Tudor, the victor at Bosworth, then became King Henry VII.

      Henry’s victory in battle was if anything surprising.  Richard’s forces outnumbered those of Henry.  Meanwhile, William Stanley held back his own force; if combined with that of Henry, that of Richard would have been out-numbered.  Conversely, if Stanley joined with Richard, the weight of the forces arrayed against Henry would have been overwhelming.  Richard held William Stanley’s nephew George (Lord Strange) as a hostage. That nephew’s father, Lord Thomas Stanley, was married to Henry Tudor’s mother Margaret Beaufort.   As battle was about to commence, Richard sent word to Thomas Stanley that if the Stanley forces did not join with his, he would execute Lord Strange (Henry Tudor’s step-brother).  Stanley replied, “I have other sons.” 

       To provide but a taste as to why this conflict was referred to as the Cousins War, consider that Thomas Stanley was the brother of William Stanley, husband of Margaret Beaufort, she being the mother of Henry Tudor.  Ergo, William Stanley was the brother-in-law to Henry’s mother.  Thomas Stanley had previously been married to Eleanor Neville, sister to Warwick the Kingmaker and aunt to Richard III’s recently deceased wife Anne Neville. Anne Neville was a daughter of Warwick.

      Richard’s attack upon Henry’s position nearly succeeded; Henry’s standard-bearer William Brandon was killed at Henry’s side.  Polydore Virgil, a contemporary historian/chronicler, recorded that Richard fought well.  However, Richard’s fate was sealed when the William Stanley and his troops, having until then not committed to either side, rode against Richard’s infantry as his cavalry was separately moving against Henry. Thomas Stanley would place the coronet (crown) of Richard III on Henry Tudor’s head.

      William Brandon’s son Charles, ultimately Duke of Suffolk, would become the best friend of Henry VIII.

       In 2012, Richard’s remains were located in the course of excavations under a parking lot that now covers part of what was the Blackfriars (Dominican) Church in Leicester, England; early 2013 saw the announcement that testing had confirmed the remains were those of Richard.  In sad testimony to the modern age, litigation ensued as to whether Richard should be re-buried in Leicester Cathedral, apparently consistent with the terms of the agreement by which the archaeological work was performed and other British law, or in York where certain claimed descendants of Richard assert he would want to have been buried.  That question was resolved in favor of Leicester, and in 2016 Richard III was laid to rest in Leicester Cathedral.

       Notwithstanding Polydore Virgil’s positive comments as to Richard III (many of which are now disputed by historians), in proof of the adage that the winners write the history, his reputation was besmirched by various Tudor affiliates such as St. Thomas More and William Shakespeare.   The quote above, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse,” is from Shakespeare’s play Richard III,  Act V, Scene IV.  He is currently being reassessed by historians who are not so indebted to supporting the legitimacy of the House of Tudor. The “standard” biographies of Richard III are those of Paul Murray Kendall and Charles Ross, each titled Richard III.

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