The Battle of Bosworth is one of the pivotal events of British history. There, with the defeat and death of Richard III, the crown passed into Tudor hands: hands that would eventually be responsible for the minting of the first pound coin, the dissolution of the monasteries, and the setting up of the Church of England.
Bosworth also marks the official end of the Wars of the Roses and, some would say, the start of the Renaissance in England.
In 1485, the troubled and much-interrupted reign of Edward the IV came to an end, and his son, also Edward, was declared king.
Edward V, however, was only twelve years old at the time of his ascension , so his uncle Richard (of York) was declared regent, or Protector. Unfortunately the lure of the throne proved too much for Richard to resist, and the young Edward was deposed. He and his even younger brother were sent to the Tower of London, never to be seen again.
Richard, now crowned Richard III, was not, however, a popular king, and had many enemies. On 7th August 1485, one of them, Henry Tudor, landed near Milford Haven with about 2,000 French mercenaries and a handful of English (Lancastrian) knights, determined to take the crown for himself.
Both sides marched towards each other, gathering reinforcements on the way and, by 21st August, faced each other across a patch of open ground near the small market town of Bosworth.
Although Richard’s army was considerably larger than that of Henry, some of the lords under his banner were at best reluctant allies. In particular the two Stanley’s, Lord Stanley and Sir William Stanley, were more pro-Tudor than pro-York; and the Earl of Northumberland vacillating between the two.
Both sides were deployed in “battles”: brigade-like structures designed to manoeuvre individually.
Like everything else about the battle, the exact number of participants is difficult to determine.
Richard III’s army is variously reckoned to be about 12,000-16,000 strong, but that number includes around 4,000-6,000 troops commanded by the Stanley’s.
Henry’s army was apparently outnumbered about 2:1, so should be assumed to be 6,000-8,000 strong.
Below you will find one possible order of battle.
Richard III’s Royalist Army
Forward Battle (commanded by Norfolk)
3500 Billmen; 2000 Archers; 1700 Handgunners
Centre Battle (commanded by Richard III)
Left Battle (commanded by the reluctant Northumberland)
1300 Border Foot; 700 Border Horse; 850 Currours
The Stanleys (watching from the wings)
500 Knights; 900 Billmen; 1200 Archers
Henry Tudor’s Rebel Army
Main Battle (commanded by Oxford)
1,300 Archers; 1,000 Crossbowmen; 1,800 Scottish Pikemen; 1,800 French Pikemen; 1,800 Billmen
Reserve (commanded by Henry)
There are three major theories as to how the forces at Bosworth deployed for battle.
The “classic” version is that, imagining the points of a compass, Henry arrived from the West, Richard from the East, and the Stanley’s were split: one (probably Sir William) being to the north, and one (probably Lord Stanley) to the south.
The first of the revisionist theories states that although Henry and Richard arrived as above, the Stanley’s were together and to the north. The second agrees that the Stanley’s were together, but places them to the South.
Players are at liberty to use whichever they prefer.
Just as there is some doubt as to the initial deployments, so there is some doubt as to the actual site of the battle and therefore the terrain fought over.
Most commentators agree, however, that Norfolk charged downhill at Oxford, and that Richard’s battle was forced back by the intervention of the Stanley’s into marshy ground caused by a stream.
Players should therefore set up the terrain as largely good, but with Richard’s army uphill of Henry Tudor. Assuming Richard and Henry are placed east and west respectively, a stream should border the battlefield either to the north or the south, with the end nearest Richard descending into marsh (difficult terrain). If the Stanley’s are deployed together, the stream should be on the opposite side of the battlefield. Players have the option to border both the north and south sides of the battlefield with a stream flowing through marshy ground.
The Battle Itself
It seems that the fighting began with Richard’s main battle, commanded by Norfolk, charging downhill into the single Tudor battle commanded by Oxford. After fierce fighting, Norfolk was killed, and the advantage began to swing towards the Tudor force.
At about this point, Henry’s small contingent was spotted by the Yorkists, and Richard, seeking a quick end to the battle, led his heavily-armoured knights straight at the rebel, would-be king.
Another fierce melee broke out and, according to legend, Richard penetrated deep into the enemy ranks, killing the Tudor standard bearer and almost reaching Henry himself.
At that moment, the Stanley’s finally intervened: charging into the combat not in support of Richard, their king, but treacherously in support of Henry.
Flank-charged and now outnumbered (the also-perfidious Northumberland took no part in the battle) Richard’s men were pushed back and, with the eventual death of the king, cornered by enemy footmen in marshy ground, broke and ran.
Henry was crowned Henry VII on the battlefield.
The compact nature of Bosworth makes it a very manageable battle to re-fight.
Here are the army sheets and a map of the suggested table layout:
Players will, however, need a number of special rules to take into account the behaviour of Richard’s erstwhile allies, the Stanley’s and Northumberland.
Northumberland is not fully committed to Richard’s cause: although he will not fight against Richard, he may be unwilling to fight for him. He starts the game on the left of Richard’s line with Hold orders. His orders can only change as a result of changing circumstances on the battlefield not as a result of Richard spending command points to do so. Roll a dice each time one of the following circumstances occurs:
If Richard moves forward off of the hill, roll 1d6.
- On a score of 6, Northumberland takes on Attack orders and joins Richard in the battle.
If Richard becomes involved in a melee, roll 1d6.
- On a score of 4-6, Northumberland takes Attack orders and goes to Richard’s aid.
If Stanley advances roll 1d6.
- On a score of 1-2, Northumberland takes Retreat orders. On a 5-6 he takes Attack orders.
If Richard is wounded, roll 1d6
- On a 1-3 Northumberland takes Retreat orders. On a 4-6 he takes Attack orders and tries to rescue him.
Once Northumberland’s orders have changed from Hold to either Attack or Retreat, they may not be changed again.
The Stanley’s are not at all committed to Richard’s cause, and may change sides and fight for Henry. They begin the game in neutral, with Hold orders. Until activated, their orders (whether fielded together or apart) can only change as a result of changing circumstances on the battlefield not as a result of Richard spending command points to do so. Roll a dice each time one of the following circumstances occurs:
If Henry moves into charge range of the enemy, roll 1d6.
- On a score of 6, the Stanley’s take on Attack orders and join Henry in the battle.
If Henry becomes involved in a melee roll 1d6.
- On a score of 1-2, the Stanley’s take on Retreat orders and leave the battlefield.
- On a score of 5-6, the Stanley’s take Attack orders and go to Henry’s aid.
If Northumberland advances roll 1d6.
- On a score of 1-3, the Stanley’s take on Retreat orders.
- On 4-6, they Attack, fighting for Richard.
Once the Stanley’s have committed to fighting either for Richard or for Henry, they may not change sides again, and come under the normal command hierarchy of the side for which they are fighting. Their orders may therefore be changed by the appropriate commander. If they adopt Retreat orders, whilst still on the battlefield they still roll a dice if circumstances dictate, as above, representing their indecision as to which side to join.
Both sides have the defeat condition “Big Man Down” on their armies.
This article reproduced from Wargames Illustrated (issue dated October 2003)
Joint written by John Hills and Robert Avery