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Britain’s Lost Battlefields (with Rob Bell)

Channel Five’s reputation for history programmes has risen greatly over the past few years. At the heart of this, first in a Great Fire of London series with Suzannah Lipscomb and the ubiquitous Dan Jones, has been the “engineering historian” Rob Bell, who has toured bridges, ships, buildings and lost railways in his own amiable, enthusiastic but authoritative style.

Now, only four days after completing series two of Britain’s Lost Railways, Bell is back, touring some of our great battlefields. The series, initially shown on 5Select, starts at Bannockburn, progresses to Hastings, Watling Street, Bosworth and Naseby, as well as Kett’s Rebellion. Perhaps the six episodes could have been shown chronologically by the battle years?

The third, fourth and fifth shows, however, do form a neat triangle in the East Midlands, if you accept the suggested location of the Battle of (the very long) Watling Street. Featuring historians such as Matthew Lewis, Julian Humphreys and Mike Ingram, the hangun (or arquebus) is described with respect to Bosworth, as is the evolution of the musket to the forms used at Naseby, together with commanders such as Fairfax and the Bohemian brothers: Rupert and Maurice.

Where was Henry (Percy)?

After reading Michael Jones‘ book “Bosworth 1485 The Psychology of a Battle”, I have leaned towards his site of the Battle of Bosworth. Since the book was published more evidence has come to light that shows that the battle probably did not take place around Ambion Hill. I have also read John D Austin’s book “MEREVALE and Atherstone”. John lives in the Atherstone area and his book provides lots of local evidence to suggest that the battle may well have been fought in the area.

Michael Jones cites The Crowland Chronicle, one of the earliest sources of the battle, which refers to Richard having camped near to Merevale Abbey ready to meet Tudor’s challenge and names their clash the next day as the Battle of Merevale.

In the Spring 2004 Ricardian Bulletin I came across an article by Lynda M Telford entitled “War Horses at Bosworth”. Lynda Telford states that thirty years of experience with horses leads her to believe whether Dadlington or Atherstone is the battle site, it cannot have been Ambion Hill. This is due to the cramped area thought to be the battlefield which is quite unsuitable for large numbers of horses.

We have recently fought the second Battle of Bosworth with Ricardians pitted against Hinckley Borough Council which ended with them giving planning consent to Horiba Mira so that they could build an electric car testing site on the battlefield site. Unfortunately, the second battle was lost as was the first, however, it appears to confirm that the battle was fought in the area suggested by Michael Jones.

So, if this is the case it begs the question: where was the Earl of Northumberland during the battle? When it was thought that the battle was fought at Ambion Hill, it was said that Northumberland was posted to rear of Richard as the reserve and that he didn’t become involved in the battle. This was taken to mean that Northumberland deserted Richard too, as did the Stanleys.

I am going to suggest that, given the new site of the battle with Richard to north of Atherstone and Tudor to the south of it, Northumberland was to the south of “Tudor”. What if he was guarding the road to London to ensure that “Tudor” didn’t take off down Watling Street? On page 22 of his book ”Merevale and Atherstone”, John D Austin comments “ Tudor marched Northwards through Wales from Milford Haven hopefully to gather Welsh supporters and then he intended to march south from Shrewsbury, more or less down Watling Street to London. Henry had never fought in a battle before and particularly with his puny forces and lack of experience the last thing he wanted to do was to search out and attack Richard” It makes sense, why would Tudor turn east off Watling St to confront Richard when he could have hopefully carried on marching south to London?

Richard would have realised that the battle would have to be in a place of his choosing and he would have remembered that when he and Edward returned from Burgundy in 1471 and they challenged Warwick at Coventry, they moved off and found that the road to London was unguarded and so they set off immediately and entered London unchallenged. He may well have instructed Northumberland to guard the road and ensure that no one got through. What if his instructions to Northumberland were not to leave the road unguarded in any circumstances?

I have read that it was considered strange that “Tudor” went to Leicester after the battle and not straight to London. I wonder if that was because having turned east to do battle he knew that Northumberland was still guarding the road and Tudor, not being battle hardened at all, couldn’t face an encounter with troops who would have been relatively fresh in comparison with his troops.

A guide to Britain’s battlefields: history and the best sites to visit….

Crops growing in a field – site of the battle of Bosworth Field, Leicestershire. (Getty)

“….Many of Britain’s most important conflicts were fought on what are now quiet stretches of countryside. Here is our guide on the best historic battle sites to visit in the UK, with a brief look at the history of each bloody battle….”

To read more and see the list, go to this website

Now Tewkesbury battlefield may become a car park….!

Tewkesbury battle Field

Oh, dear, now another car park may interfere with the history of King Richard III and his times. The baddie this time is Aldi. Boo! Hiss!

The following is taken from here:

“A supermarket’s plans to expand a car park could ruin the last chance to investigate part of the Battle of Tewkesbury’s site, it has been claimed.

“The Tewkesbury Battlefield Society believe a small plot of grass near to the town’s Aldi is the scene of the battle’s “fiercest fighting”.

“One objector said finds from the site could bring “kudos” similar to the discovery of Richard III in a car park.

“The battle of Tewkesbury was fought during the Wars of the Roses in 1471.

“The proposal was unanimously voted through at a council meeting on Thursday.

“But members of the society believe an archaeological dig should take place before the car park is expanded.

“Several objections were sent to Tewkesbury Town Council, with one calling the archaeologist’s report ‘fundamentally flawed’.”

“‘Worth the delay’

“The objection said: ‘there are very few undisturbed areas of the battlefield remaining, so this represents a rare opportunity to investigate a part that has lain untouched… possibly since the battle itself.'”

“‘The application must include an archaeological investigation before the site is either buried under tarmac, or, worse, destroyed.'”

“Another said: ‘not that we think any kings are under there, but one only has to look at recent developments in Leicester to show what kudos could be brought to the town if any finds were made. Surely the time and effort is worth the short delay?'”

“The official archaeologist’s report said the site was the subject of an archaeological dig in 2011 and ‘no significant remains were observed”, recommending that no investigation needs to take place.'”

So, here’s hoping the whole idea is dropped. If not, it darned well ought to be!

 

 

Battle of Bosworth (2)

You may have heard about the plans of Horiba Mira to build a driverless car testing track encroaching onto Bosworth Battlefield. Here are the details: Click here

There is also a petition – please sign: Here

INVESTIGATIONS AT MORTIMER’S CROSS

The Battle of Mortimer’s Cross took place on February 2, 1461. Here, in a Herefordshire field, 18 year old  Edward earl of March, gazed up and saw the phenomena known as the Parhelion, the three suns, rising in the sky. His men were frightened but Edward turned the situation to his advantage, telling his army of approx 5000 that the three suns represented the Trinity and were an indication that God was on his side.

Edward’s remit was to defeat the Lancastrian forces of Jasper and Owen Tudor, and thus keep them from joining with the main Lancastrian army of Queen Margaret. Owen Tudor tried to encircle the Yorkist forces with his battalion but he was driven back and routed; when this occurred, Jasper Tudor’s centre also collapsed. The Lancastrians were chased as far as Hereford, where Owen Tudor was captured and beheaded in the town square.

One month later, Edward entered London and was declared Edward IV of England.

Despite the importance of this battle of the Wars of the Roses, it seems there has been little archaeology done on the battlefield. As with so many of these medieval battles, even the exact location of the fighting is debatable. (Some say it took place in the valley with the river Lugg at Edward’s rear, but Gregory’s Chronicle describes a ‘fair plain.)

However, some of these mysteries may well be resolved in the near future. The Heritage Lottery Fund has granted £84,000 to investigate the battlefield, which may contain the mass graves of fallen soldiers.

 

 

threesuns

The would-be thieving hounds of Bosworth Field….!

Bosworth Reenactment

So renegade detectorists were prowling around Bosworth Field at night, trying to find treasures that had somehow been overlooked. Imagine if they’d happened upon something vital and made off with it – to sell to the highest bidder! We might never get to see it, let alone have it properly examined and identified by historians and experts!
I do hope that if these mongrels had located something, a furious Richard would have promptly ridden back from the Hereafter to strike dread into them!

Views over the site of Stoke Field….

tom-fort-and-punt

Oh, the penalty of working my way through the documentaries available on BBC iPlayer! I keep finding little nuggets of Ricardian interest. Tonight I chose “Crossing England in a Punt: River of Dreams”, the title of which is rather self-explanatory. Explorer Tom Fort punts his way from the birth of the River Trent in Staffordshire to its mouth in the Humber Estuary. Imagine how I sat up when right at the beginning, in the trailer, I spotted a portrait of Henry Tudor . What had he to do with the Trent, I wondered?

Then – ha! Of course. The Trent passes the site of Stoke Field, 1487, when the Earl of Lincoln’s Yorkists were defeated by Henry’s forces. Well, by the Earl of Oxford, actually, Henry didn’t arrive until it was virtually over.

The programme commenced, and was very enjoyable and interesting, but you can imagine how I was filled with eager anticipation when mention was made of Staythorpe Power Station. The Yorkist rebels under John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, and the banners of the so-called Lambert Simnel, were believed to have camped at Staythorpe before the battle, crossing the Trent in the early morning. Surely Tom Fort would mention the battle? After all, he’d mentioned Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Vikings. But no, not a word.

Hope faded as the punt moved on downstream, and I decided that Stoke Field was going to be overlooked. Then, suddenly, there it was. A large chunk of the programme was devoted to the story of the battle, with views over the field. We were shown where the Yorkists took up their positions along a low hill that stretched above the riverbank. When defeat was inevitable, the fleeing Yorkists were so crammed into a gully, pursued by the merciless enemy, that the place ran with blood and is still known as the Red Gutter. Mr Fort didn’t mention Francis Lovell, who is is said to have escaped by swimming his horse across the Trent. Nor the Earl of Lincoln, who was slain in the battle. It is said that Henry had him buried ignominiously and anonymously under a willow tree, with a willow stave through his heart.

So, my friends, if you want to sit in your armchairs and see where the last battle of the Wars of the Roses took place, go to iPlayer and take a look at this documentary. Tom Fort’s words were that it was where the White Rose of York had one final throw of the dice.

Several years ago, when I was researching for chapters of a book that concerned the battle of Stoke Field, I learned that the spring and area of the willow trees where Lincoln, his Landsknecht commander and others were buried so unceremoniously, has now been destroyed to make way for the new A46. There are still pictures of the spring, just before it vanished forever.

For further information about the battle and the area where it took place, the following links are useful:-

https://content.historicengland.org.uk/content/docs/battlefields/stoke.pdf

http://legacy.newarkadvertiser.co.uk/articles/news/Spring-that-ran-red-runs-dry

http://meanderingthroughtime.weebly.com/wars-of-the-roses-blog/battle-of-stoke-16th-june-1487

http://nottsvillages.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/east-stoke.html

The real site of the Battle of Barnet…?

site-of-battle-of-barnet

The excellent BBC series Digging for Britain, Series 5, the episode concerning the east of Britain, presented by the equally excellent Dr Alice Roberts, contained a section on the Battle of Barnet, 1471.

Why is it that an accepted site for a battle so often proves to be the wrong one? Bosworth is a prime example, of course, but it seems the Battle of Barnet was another. Apparently it has always been thought that the battle took place where the town of Barnet is now, yet there was never any proof. So the discovery of some 15th-century cannon balls in fields outside the town had the local detectors out in force.

Accounts of the battle describe it as having taken place in a hollow in the landscape, and the area of the fields fitted the bill. Standing in the middle and panning his camera around in a circle, one of the searchers showed how the land rose gradually all around. He and his fellows searched and searched, only finding things that might have had nothing to do with the battle, but then (in a style that brought Time Team to life again!) right at the eleventh hour a final detector happened upon something more substantial. They did not know if it was from horse harness or perhaps male clothing, although it was a little heavy for that.

battle-of-barnet

Various other finds convinced them they had found the true site of the battle. But it seemed curious that Edward IV, arriving on the scene with his battle at the end of the day, should choose to place himself in a dip. Surely that would be inviting trouble? Especially as he did not know exactly where the Lancastrian army was situated. But, the Lancastrians didn’t know the exact whereabouts of the Yorkists.

Battle commenced in at dawn, in fog, with the Earl of Warwick, in command of the Lancastrians, firing his cannon where he thought the Yorkists were. But he couldn’t see them because they were low down, and his cannon balls went harmlessly over their heads. Edward, on the other hand, kept his cannon silent, in order not to give his position away.

It became a bloody affair, with the Lancastrians mistaking one of their own, the Earl of Oxford, whose badge was a star, for Edward IV, whose badge was the sun in splendour.  Warwick was killed in the rout that followed.

So, was Edward IV a brilliant tactician in choosing the site he did? Or was it pure chance? We will never know.

See this previous post or this one.

Go here to see some of the programme itself.

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