“A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”
Richard III by William Shakespeare.
On this day, 22 August 1485, the army of King Richard III met the army of Henry Tudor at Bosworth Fields and what happened next change the course of English history forever.
King Richard III
King Henry VII
Every year, Bosworth Battlefield and Heritage Centre, brings the past back to life, and you can witness the defeat of the last Plantagenet King first hand. And that is where you would have found me yesterday!
I go to a lot of re-enactments, one because I happen to love them and they are a fantastic source of research for my books. But another reason I go is so I can take my children. I am a big believer in getting children excited about history, and nothing gets our young folk more excited than seeing real knights battling it out with each other.
As a Heritage Centre, Bosworth is up there with the best, regardless if there is an event going on or not. The visitor center is amazing and caters for everybody, and there is a real hands-on atmosphere, which is so very important for children, but there is also plenty for adults to get their teeth into as well.
There is also a beautiful, monument at Bosworth. It is a small circular garden with a huge sundial standing tall and proud in the middle. In this garden, there are two thrones facing each other. One is Richard's, and the other is Henry’s. Richard's throne is surrounded by the White Roses of York, whereas Henry's has the Red Roses of Lancaster. To the side and in the middle of these two thrones is another chair and on this, the name Stanley is written. Nevermind Warwick being the Kingmaker, it was Stanley that decided who the ultimate winner of The War of the Roses would be.
But back to yesterday. Now, a tradition has come about in our house...every year my children declare what side they are going to be on at Bosworth. My daughter was the first to show her hand, by blue tacking the flag of King Richard to her bedroom door. I knew my eldest would soon follow her lead; he has always been a Yorkist. But my younger boys, well, there’s a bit of Stanley about them ~ we are after all decedents of the Stanleys ~ so I wasn't surprised when they declared for Lancaster and went about the house shouting “A Tudor! A Tudor!” To which the reply would come from upstairs “A York! A York!” Goodness knows what the neighbours think!!
Anyway, we got to the battlefield just in time to watch the re-enactment of the Battle of Tewksbury. My six-year-old was waving his Lancaster flag madly in the air, and he was a little disappointed when Lancaster lost. But I reassured him that they would win later on in the day!!
As I have said before, I have been to many of these types of events before, but never have I been to one that was so child-friendly. There was so much for them to do. They had a dedicated Medieval Games area just for children. My children would have happily stayed there all day if it wasn’t for the fact that there was so much going on in the main arena as well.
Make no mistake; this was an action packed day, there was never a dull moment, from falconry displays to Medieval fashion shows. There was even a joust, where we all got behind our favourite knight and cheered them on. "Hazier!"
There was the King’s camp, which you could walk around and talk to those who give up their free time to participate in these wonderful re-enactments. And then, of course, there was the Battle of Bosworth itself.
Before the battle began, there was a poignant 2-minute silence, marked by cannon fire, to remember that a real battle occurred here, and that thousand of men lost their lives.
And then the battle began.
“Traitor, Traitor, Traitor.”
The reputed final words of King Richard III
There was a surprising lack of Lancaster flags being waved around the edge of the arena, although my youngest more than made up for that fact. I thought he was going to break the flag he was waving it so hard, and he almost had my eye out! He also made sure we were sat watching the event from the Tudor point of view! But this lack of Lancaster's support, made me pause. I could feel the collective wish of the audience hoping for a different outcome than the one that history told. Everyone was behind Richard. They wanted a York Victory. And I found this, not disturbing, that would be the wrong word, but fascinating. Bosworth does feel biased towards Richard. I felt that the first time I went there. I don’t think it is intentional, or maybe it is, I don’t know. That was just the impression I came away with.
As soon as you entered the courtyard to go to the show, we were met by two stalls of the Richard III Society ~ a not so subtle reminder that we are here to commemorate Richard. And I thought how times change. Twenty years ago, we would have been cheering for Henry and not Richard. Richard was the evil king, the man who had killed his own nephews in the Tower and had stolen the throne of England for himself. He was a coward. He was nothing. Tudor propaganda did its job well. With the help of Shakespeare, Richard was immortalised as this horribly twisted king, and we have believed the story ever since. But when Richard’s body was found in that car park, public perception of him changed, helped considerably by the Richard III Society, who I have to commend, for they are dedicated to their work and their beliefs. But suddenly, almost over night, Richard is the hero and Henry is the demon and we, who were not alive during their time, sit in judgement of them both.
So yes, I was expecting it to be “A York! A York!” audience, but I wasn’t expected it to be almost absolute. But nevermind, my youngest was for Henry and he waved that flag until his arm hurt!
The re-enactment itself was very good. My only complaint was that being on Lancaster's side, we didn’t see much of the action for it was on the other side of the arena, and the arena was pretty big. Also, it would have been great if some of the actors wore microphones because we couldn’t hear anything that they said which was a shame. However, the commentator, Lord Stanley, did a reasonable job of explaining what was going on.
It wasn’t until the end of the battle that the action was brought into the middle of the arena, and we had a good view of Richard’s final moments. The unexpected loose horse added a touch of panic, but he was soon brought back under control!
I can understand with the cannons going off the need to keep the actors safe, but maybe they could have choreographed it a little bit better so everyone could see and not just those fortunate enough to find a place near the event tent.
But that is my only complaint. The living history camps were fantastic. It was very realistic, and everyone was so friendly and willing to talk to you and explain things. My children also said that the ice-cream was very good as well!!
All in all a wonderful day out and it is certainly worth putting in your diary for next year!