Bosworth has always been one of my favourite battles. Back in 1999, early in my time with Osprey, it was great to be involved in the publication of Campaign 66 with its excellent combination of Christopher Gravett text and Graham Turner artwork. I have done two previous posts on the subject, the first, in 2008, was prompted by a short BBC programme which reported the result of a soil survey which was thought to pinpoint the location of the marshy ground in which Richard III died heroically (no bias here!). This strongly suggested that the main fighting took place somewhere to the west of the then most widely accepted location, itself a good mile to the south of a memorial stone based on an earlier interpretation of the battle. In the second, I wrote about news of highly significant finds of medieval artillery-shot in the survey and dig that followed up on the soil survey. Tantalisingly, because the site is in the middle of private farmland and because of the risk that treasure-hunting "detectorists" would mess it up before the project could be completed, its location could not then be revealed. This happened in February and an exhibit was opened at the Bosworth Batttlefield Heritage Centre a couple of months later. I finally got up there a few days ago, and I was not disappointed.
Signs directing you from the main roads surrounding this area of countryside are not very generously provided, but, when in doubt, follow the more frequent ones for Mallory Park Racetrack and a Garden Centre! The Heritage Centre is on Ambion Hill, one of the old names mentioned in the earliest sources. It now seems unlikely that it was the scene of any fighting, except perhaps in the rout, but Richard had his encampment there. The main exhibit, recently updated, multimedia and interactive, is entertaining and informative with appeal for all ages and levels of background knowledge. Weaponry, the forces involved, key characters, both historical and convincingly "confected", and the battle itself are central. But the wider context is well set and topics like daily life, logistics and field surgery are nicely covered.
There is replica armour to try on. I was struck by the weight of the brigandine coat (blue with crimson lining but sadly not in my size), smaller but feeling much heavier than the 22-pound mail coat. The sallet (which did fit) was also very heavy and vision through the visor slit was very restricted.
A longbow (Great Bow for the purist) is set up in a sort of test-your-strength rig. My pull, using the correct two fingers, was strong enough to reach over 200 yards, but I could not imagine being able to hold the bow steady enough to take evn the sketchiest aim, or to repeat the process several times in a minute....
Choose your weapn (no hands-on unfortunately)! The information panels give some quite realistic advice on individual survival prospects with your weapon of choice: only one chance, for example, with crossbow or pole-arm against a charging knight. But they underplay the effectiveness of massed footsoldiers, preferably armed with something long and pointed, against cavalry, so long as they maintain cohesion.
These were the men who had to do it, a common footsoldier and a higher-status man-at-arms, who might have been a Burgundian mercenary fighting for Henry. Note the blown-up Osprey artwork, well used as wallpaper at various points in the exhibit (here a Gerry Embleton classic from Men-At-Arms 145: The Wars of the Roses).
The new gallery housing finds and information from the dig comes at the end of the main exhibit. In addition to examples of the shot, showing the distortion that indicates they were actually fired, and some interesting material on experimental firing, there are many small metal objects such as coins of the period, buckles and badges. The finest of these is a silver-gilt boar, Richard's badge. It was found at the edge of the marshy area and very probably worn by one of his knights in that last charge of the Plantagenets.
Finally, to get a look at the (latest) true Bosworth Field, I drove west along Fenn lane, the old Roman Road leading to Leicester, to Fenn Lane Farm, just off the map on page 47 of Campaign 66. A revised edition would be nice, but Osprey would have to be confident of sufficient new sales to give a payback on the investment in a new map and bird's-eye views, and the necessary textual changes.
This is the view north and a little west from Fenn Lane, close to the farm.
A short distance east along Fenn Lane, a footpath leads south. The spire of Stoke Golding church is visible above the trees on the horizon at the left. If I followed the directions I was given correctly, the fatal marsh lay in the dip in the ground indicated by the line of trees in the middle distance. Henry's right flank would have rested on this with his battleline straddling the road and perhaps extending north and a little west with rising ground or trees protecting his left. A Battlefield Trail is in the works and will be opened sometime later this year. I'm looking forward to walking it.
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