Bosworth 1485 – Mark II
By Alex Marchant
Alternative history? It’s not for everyone.
I’ve toyed with the idea once or twice. I imagine many historical novelists do from time to time – especially when they’re approaching a climactic event in which a leading and/or much-loved character faces a tragic end.
In my case, in The King’s Man, sequel to my children’s novel The Order of the White Boar, that event is the Battle of Bosworth, 1485, in which King Richard III and many loyal companions face death as a result of the basest treachery.
|King Richard’s standard flying at Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre|
Some readers who are fellow Ricardians (those who believe King Richard has been maligned in the centuries since his death), despite being avid devourers of fiction about the King, find themselves unable to read accounts of the battle and its grisly aftermath – even when relatively sympathetically written. One of my beta readers told me she had never read a fictional retelling of Bosworth – though she kindly forced herself to read mine in The King’s Man, thanking me afterwards for the way in which it’s handled. (At the risk of spoilers, the book is from the point of view of a young lad who doesn’t directly witness King Richard’s brutal death.)
I would love to have written it differently – to have had King Richard triumphant, and he and his comrades live to fight another day – or better still, to live a long life in the peace that followed the victory over the last treacherous pretender, Henry Tudor. But as the battle approached, I reminded myself that my aim in writing the two books was to present, for children, as accurate a story of the last three years of King Richard’s short life as I could, by drawing on the original sources before the Tudor propaganda machine swung into action.
|‘King Richard’ presenting copies of his life story, The Order of the White Boar, to local primary school leavers at Middleham Castle, July 2018|
So I knuckled down, gritted my teeth, and embarked on the long, sad road to Bosworth Field, and beyond, though sparing my readers some of the more horrific aspects of the events. The books are for children after all. (Yes, I know kids love gory stories, but there’s only so far one can go – or indeed wants to go when one has any affection for the characters who suffer such unpleasant fates.)
But to my delight – and that of many other Ricardians – this summer’s Bosworth Medieval Festival included for the first (but hopefully not the last) time, not just a re-enactment of the actual battle as it played out on that sweltering August day 533 years ago, but also what one might term an ‘enactment’, featuring an alternative outcome. As well as arranging two debates asking ‘What if Richard had won the battle?’, the organizers also persuaded the re-enactors to stage an alternative version of the battle itself where Richard and his allies won the day.
I say ‘persuaded’. Such an event is not for the purists. Perhaps it also represents an attack on the pride of the companies of medieval re-enactors who are renowned for their attention to detail and authenticity. I was told of a previous attempt to offer an alternative Battle of Tewkesbury – Richard’s second battle fought when he was just 18 in 1471, which was a glorious victory for the House of York under his brother, King Edward IV. On that occasion, apparently the Yorkist troops refused to enter the battlefield – better for them a no-show rather than a wrongful defeat.
|King Richard in the front line with his men as Tudor’s troops attack.|
But there were no such problems at Bosworth 2018. Perhaps because the combatants had a deep-down appreciation that really King Richard should have won the day – that he came very close to it despite the actual no-show of his supposed ally the Earl of Northumberland – and that he was only defeated owing to the despicable treachery of the Stanley brothers, Thomas and William. (If those words sound strong, can I just say that I don’t usually bear grudges – but I make an exception in this case: 533 years just isn’t long enough to expunge the guilt of those two men!) Or maybe the re-enactors just wanted to be invited back next year.
I had a stall some way from the main arena where I was signing books and giving talks/readings, but I made sure to sneak away to see the battle. It was possibly a once-in-a-lifetime – or at least a once-in-500+-years’ – experience and not one to miss. (Although the organizers have since hinted they may stage it again as it went down so well...)
|Giving my first talk at Bosworth (but perhaps with half an eye on when the alternative version battle will commence....).|
It was a marvellous, celebratory half an hour or so. No one outside the re-enactor companies themselves had known quite what to expect. How would King Richard’s victory be brought about? Would the Earl of Northumberland send his rearguard troops into action as ordered this time? Would Lord Stanley renege on his treacherous deal with Tudor and back King Richard? (Richard had his son, Lord Strange, as a ‘guest’ in his camp after all.) Would Sir William Stanley’s cavalry charge be aimed at supporting King Richard and helping him fight his way through to capture or kill Tudor, rather than ploughing into the King’s rear to wreak destruction and death before Richard can quite reach the pretender?
|The Earl of Northumberland enters the field of battle ... with his comfy stool.|
It wasn’t any of the above in the end. The Stanley brothers, as usual fence-sitting on the sidelines as the battle began, this time made a fatal error. They decided to engage Northumberland’s troops. The Earl himself, who had brought along a stool and jug of wine to while away the time as he watched the battle – again as usual – had to meet their advance. Fierce fighting ensued, and Sir William was killed early on. Soon the way was clear for King Richard to spy Henry Tudor, lurking (also as usual) well to the rear of the battle, guarded only by a few ropey French mercenaries. The outcome then was not in doubt. The King advanced with his loyal household and made mincemeat of the pretender’s bodyguard, along with those few other troops who could be bothered to fall back to try to protect the pathetic traitor.
|King Richard advances on the traitor, Henry Tudor.|
Many were the cheers that rose from the spectators (though perhaps not as many or as loud as would have occurred had the beer tent been open longer by then...) as Henry Tudor was marched off to the Tower (‘for the rest of his short and miserable life’, as the commentary said) and both he and the surviving Stanley received a good kicking from the victorious troops (and I believe a swift one from the King in passing).
|King Richard, triumphant, addresses his troops, over the grovelling Thomas, Lord Stanley.|
Of course, we were all brought back down to earth in the afternoon when the ‘traditional’ version of the battle was staged – as usual – with King Richard’s glorious, but ultimately ill-fated cavalry charge leading to his brutal demise. But it certainly offered a talking point for the rest of the weekend as Ricardians and soon-to-be-Ricardians (as I like to think of everyone else) got together and discussed the event. I often heard people saying that what they’d seen or heard during the festival had made them question the Shakespearian version of events – which, after all, was written more than a hundred years after Richard’s death, during the reign of Henry Tudor’s grand-daughter, Elizabeth I; I doubt it would have been polite – or indeed, politic – for the Bard to point out that it was Tudor, not Richard, who was in fact the usurper.
|King Richard prepares to charge... ‘traditional version’.|
So, alternative history – not perhaps for everyone. But if it helps people engage with the actual history, and perhaps question why and how and by whom it was written – who was their audience, what was their agenda? – I’m all for it. So long as everyone knows it’s ‘alternative’, not real. There’s been enough rewriting of actual history through the ages by the victors to suit their own ends, without adding to the problem in this century. Particularly in this age of ‘fake news’. But perhaps that’s a subject for another blog...
The Order of the White Boar
Twelve-year-old Matthew Wansford has always longed to be a knight. And his chance comes in the golden summer of 1482 when he arrives at Middleham Castle, to serve the King’s brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester.
Soon he encounters a dangerous enemy. Hugh, a fellow page, is a better swordsman, horseman, more skilled in all the knightly arts – and the son of an executed traitor. Now he aims to make Matt's life hell.
Yet Matt also finds the most steadfast of friends – Alys, Roger and Edward, the Duke’s only son. Together they forge a secret knightly fellowship, the Order of the White Boar, and swear an oath of lifelong loyalty – to each other and to their good lord, Duke Richard.
But these are not times to play at war. Soon Matt and his friends will be plunged into the deadly games of the Wars of the Roses. Will their loyalty be tested as the storm looms on the horizon?
The King’s Man
“These are dangerous days, Master Wansford, dangerous days.”
The death of his brother King Edward IV has turned the life of Richard, Duke of Gloucester upside down, and with it that of his 13-year-old page Matthew Wansford.
Banished from Middleham Castle and his friends, Matt must make a new life for himself alone in London. But danger and intrigue lie in wait on the road as he rides south with Duke Richard to meet the new boy king, Edward V – and new challenges and old enemies confront them in the city.
As the Year of the Three Kings unfolds – and plots, rebellions, rumours, death and battles come fast one upon the other – Matt must decide where his loyalties lie.
What will the future bring for him, his friends and his much-loved master? And can Matt and the Order of the White Boar heed their King’s call on the day of his greatest need?
Born and raised in the rolling Surrey downs, and following stints as an archaeologist and in publishing in London and Gloucester, Alex now lives surrounded by moors in King Richard III’s northern heartland, working as a freelance copyeditor, proofreader and, more recently, independent author of books for children aged 10+.
Alex loves to hear from readers, you can find her: Blog • Facebook • Twitter
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