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Reign of of Richard III page 4

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On the 21st of August Richard rode forward from Leicester, and encamped about two miles from Bosworth, on a heath appropriately called "Redmore." Richard was mounted in the march on a magnificent white courser, and clad in the same rich suit of burnished steel which he wore at his victorious field of Tewkesbury. On his helmet blazed a regal crown, which he had displayed there since he took up his head-quarters at Nottingham. His countenance is represented as stern and frowning; his manner haughty, and as if putting on an air of bravado, rather than of calm confidence; for, though his troops amounted to 30,000, and his cavalry was the finest in Europe, he well knew that there was secret and widespread disaffection under all that martial show. Were his followers true to him, the little army of Richmond would be shivered in the first shock, and trodden under foot. But, perhaps, not a man except the Duke of Norfolk was really stanch in his devotion; and that night Norfolk's followers found pinned upon his tent this ominous couplet: -

"Jocky of Norfolk, be not too bold,

For Dickon thy master is bought and sold."

That night Henry, who had reached Tarn worth, marched to Atherston. His army did not amount yet to half that of Richard: all were earnest in the cause, and the number of men of rank and character in it gave it a very imposing air in the eyes of the soldiers. On the contrary, Richard's soldiers, if we are to believe "Twelve Strange Prophecies" - still in the British Museum - had been discouraged, not only by the warning to John, or - as he was familiarly called - Jocky of Norfolk, but by the following singular incident. As the king rode out of Leicester by the south gate, at the head of his cavalry, a blind old man, well known as a superannuated wheelwright, sat begging at the foot of the bridge. In reply to the remarks of the soldiers as to the weather, the old man cried out just as the king was at hand - "If the moon change again to-day, which has changed once in the course of nature, King Richard will lose life and crown." This was supposed to allude to Lord Percy, whose crest was a crescent, and of whose faith Richard was sorely in doubt. When Richard passed, his foot struck against a low post placed to defend the corner of the bridge, and the beggar said, "His head will strike there as he returns at night." The night before the battle, Henry of Richmond had a secret meeting with Lord Stanley near Atherston, who assured him of his adherence, but showed him how impossible it was that he could join him till Richard was engaged in arraying the battle, or his son's life would immediately be sacrificed. Stanley had 5,000 men, and engaged to appear for Richard till the moment for battle, when his defection would do Henry the most signal service.

On the evening of the 21st of August, the two armies lay encamped near Merivale Abbey, on Redmore, opposite to each other. Richard is represented by the chroniclers as passing that night in the most agonising state of restlessness and uncertainty. The deeply-rooted disaffection of his troops destroyed his confidence, though his 30,000 were only opposed by Richmond's 6,000. He went through the camp examining secretly the state of his outposts, and finding at one of them a sentinel asleep, he stabbed him to the heart, saying, "I find him asleep, and I leave him so." His own slumbers are said to have been broken, and the chroniclers express his state by saying he "was most terribly pulled and haled by devils."

But other agents than those thus troubling the tyrant's mind were active throughout the camp. Many of his soldiers stole away to Richmond, and probably some of these left the warning to Jocky of Norfolk. These desertions produced dismay in Richard's ranks, and confidence in those of his rival.

When morning broke, Richmond's little army was discovered already drawn up. The van, consisting of archers, was led by the Earl of Oxford; the right wing by Sir Gilbert Talbot; the left by Sir John Savage. In the main body Henry posted himself, accompanied by the Earl of Pembroke. Richard confronted the foe with his numerous lines, taking his place also in the main body, opposite to Richmond, but giving the command of the van to the Duke of Norfolk. Lord Stanley took his station on one wing, and Sir William on the other, so that, thus disposed, they could flank either their own side or the opposed one. The battle was begun by the archers of both armies, and soon became furious. No sooner was this the case, than the Stanleys, seizing the critical moment, wheeling round, joined the enemy, and fell on Richard's flanks. This masterly manoeuvre struck dismay through the lines of Richard; the men who stood their ground appeared to fight without heart, and to be ready to fly. Richard, who saw this, and beheld the Duke of Northumberland sitting at the head of his division, and never striking a single stroke, became transported with fury. His only hope appeared to be to make a desperate assault on Henry's van, and, if possible, to reach and kill him on the spot. With this object he made three furious charges of cavalry; and, at the third, but not before he had seen his chief companion, the Duke of Norfolk, slain, he broke into the midst of Henry's main body, and, catching sight of him, dashed forward, crying frantically, "Treason! treason! treason!" He killed Sir William Brandon, Henry's standard-bearer, with his own hand; struck Sir John Cheyney from his horse; and, springing forward on Henry, aimed a desperate blow at him; but Sir William Stanley, breaking in at that moment, surrounded Richard with his brave followers, who bore him to the ground by their numbers, and slew him, as he continued to fight with a bravery as heroic as his political career had been - in the words of Hume - "dishonourable for his multiplied and detestable enormities." The blood of Richard tinged a small brook which ran where he fell, and the people are said to this day never to drink of its water.

The body of the fallen tyrant was speedily stripped of his valuable armour and ornaments, and the soldier who laid hands upon the crown hid it in a hawthorn bush. But strict quest being made after it, it was soon discovered and carried to Lord Stanley, who placed it upon the head of Henry, and the victor was immediately saluted by the general acclamations of the army with "Long live King Henry!" and they sung Te Deum, in grand chorus, on the bloody heath of Redmore. From the poetical circumstance of the hawthorn bush, the Tudors assumed as their device a crown in a bush of fruited hawthorn. Lord Strange, the son of Lord Stanley, being deserted by his guards, as soon as the defeat was known, made his way to the field, and joined his father and the king at the close of the battle.

King Henry VII. advanced from the decisive field of Bosworth, at the head of his victorious troops, to Leicester, which he entered with the same royal state that Richard had quitted it. The statements of the numbers who fell on this field vary from 1,000 to 4,000, but of the leaders, the Duke of Norfolk, and Lore Ferrars of Chartley, Sir Richard Ratcliffe, Sir Robert Percy, and Sir Robert Brackenbury, fell with the king On the side of Henry fell no leaders of note.

Henry used his victory mildly; he shed no blood o: the vanquished, except that of the notorious Catesby, and two persons of the name of Brecher, who were probably men of like character and crimes. Thus, in one day, the world was relieved of the presence of Richard, and of his two base commissioners of murder, Catesby and Ratcliffe Richard's naked body, covered with mud and gore was, according to the local traditions of Leicester, flung carelessly across a horse, and thus carried into the town; his head, say these historic memories, striking against the very post which the blind beggar had said it should, and the rude populace following it with shouts of mockery. The corpse was begged by the nuns of the Grey Friars, to whom Richard had been a benefactor, and was decently interred in their church. His camp bedstead, on which he had slept the night before leaving the town, and which contained his military chest, remained at the "Blue Boar," his lodging, and, a hundred years afterwards, being discovered to contain a considerable treasure, led to a fearful murder. This bedstead was entirely of wood, much carved and gilded, The woman to whom it belonged, a century after the battle of Bosworth-field, one day perceived a piece of coin drop out of a chink. This led her to make a close inspection, and she discovered that the bottom of the bedstead was hollow, and contained old coins to the amount of about 300. But the discovery excited the cupidity of her servant, who murdered her mistress to obtain it, and was hanged for the deed, so that the gold of Richard seemed to carry a curse with it. The coffin of Richard was torn from its resting-place in the Grey Friars Church, at the Reformation, his bones were scattered, and the coffin long after served for a horse-trough.

The reign of Richard III. was only two years and two months, but perhaps in no such space of time has any one man contrived to perpetrate such an amount of crime. As his reign was a most violent and startling one, the execrations which the writers of the succeeding age poured upon Richard have been attributed by writers of our day to motives of party spite, and there has been a great attempt to correct the verdict of Richard's own times by the eulogia of this. But, as we have shown, they have not succeeded in clearing Richard of the awful deeds attributed to him, and if those early writers have somewhat exaggerated the personal deformities of the man, it does not appear possible, with historic impartiality, to render his portraiture attractive.

But however repulsive might be Richard's person, his soul was certainly far more hideous. He was, how ever, full of talent, eloquent and persuasive in his language; but these qualities were accompanied by an ambition and a murderous temper, which defeated his otherwise fair chance of becoming a great man, and converted him into one of the most odious characters in history.

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