The battle of Bosworth: consequences for winners and losers

The battle of Bosworth took place on this day in 1485. Dr Charles Moreton, senior research fellow of the Commons 1422-1504 project, discusses the contrasting consequences for parliamentarians on both sides of the battle…

At the battle of Bosworth the last Plantagenet King, Richard III, met his death. For some leading parliamentarians who had taken up arms on his behalf it also marked the end, either immediately through death on the field, or in the days and months that followed Henry Tudor’s victory. For others, it proved a very serious setback from which recovery was nevertheless possible. For others who took the field for Tudor and survived, Bosworth saved or made their careers.

Apart from Richard himself, the foremost victim of Bosworth was his leading supporter among the nobility, John Howard, duke of Norfolk. Created duke by Richard in 1483, Howard had previously sat as an MP and attended the Lords after his elevation to the peerage in 1470. A lesser lord who fell fighting for Richard was Walter Devereux, Lords Ferrers of Chartley, a long-term supporter of the House of York. One of the knights of the shire for Herefordshire in the Parliament of 1460, he had the rare distinction of having also fought at Towton, the bloody battle by which the first Yorkist King, Edward IV, secured his newly-won throne. Like Howard, he suffered a posthumous loss of lands and title in the first Parliament of Henry VII’s reign. Fortunately for his family, his son John Devereux had known Henry since boyhood and was willing to accept the new King. Summoned to the Lords in 1487, John secured the reversal of his father’s attainder in the following Parliament of 1489.

Among those taken prisoner at Bosworth were the duke of Norfolk’s son, Thomas Howard, earl of Surrey, and William Catesby. Before becoming earl, Thomas had twice sat in the Commons. Wounded at the battle, he spent three years in the Tower of London and forfeited his lands and title in Henry VII’s first Parliament. The recovery of the Howards was a good deal more tortuous than that of Devereux but Thomas was the ultimate survivor and, upon his release, dedicated himself to regaining lands and status through loyal service to the Tudors. Henry VIII made him duke of Norfolk – a new creation – following his famous defeat of the Scots at the battle of Flodden in 1513. His fellow prisoner, Catesby, the Speaker in Richard III’s only Parliament (1484), was not so fortunate. The only important figure to suffer death among those captured at Bosworth, he was beheaded three days later at Leicester and was attainted in the following Parliament. His son and heir George had managed to recover most of the Catesby estates by his own death in 1505, although the far greater prospects that his family might have hoped for had Richard III kept this throne were gone for ever.

Among Richard’s supporters who escaped the field was the diehard Humphrey Stafford, an MP for Worcestershire on several occasions in the mid-fifteenth century.. Stafford fled Bosworth with the chamberlain of Richard’s household, Francis, Viscount Lovell, with whom he found sanctuary in Colchester abbey. Eight months later, they broke out of sanctuary to raise rebellion against the Tudor monarch. Following the failure of this uprising, Stafford again managed to find sanctuary, this time in the abbot of Abingdon’s liberty at Culham, Oxfordshire. Here his luck ran out. Just two days later, on the night of 13 May 1486, a pursuing force dragged from his refuge and, in due course, he suffered death on the scaffold at Tyburn. Like the Howards, Devereux and Catesby, Stafford was attainted in Henry VII’s first Parliament, and his manors of Grafton and Upton Warren in Worcestershire were granted away to Sir Gilbert Talbot, one of their adversaries at Bosworth.

A younger son of the 2nd earl of Shrewsbury, Talbot had commanded Tudor’s right wing at Bosworth. He sat in three of Henry’s Parliaments before becoming the King’s lieutenant of Calais. He died possessed of a substantial landed estate in 1517. Among Talbot’s comrades in arms at Bosworth were Sir James Blount, Walter Hungerford and Humphrey Stanley. A former member of the Yorkist Household, Blount had already sat in the Commons for Derbyshire over a decade before the battle. Attainted in the Parliament of 1484 after deserting Richard III, he fled to France to join Tudor, who knighted him at Milford Haven when they returned in the following year. Like Talbot, he later sat in Henry’s Parliament of 1491.

The story of Hungerford, the youngest son of Robert, 3rd Lord Hungerford, and a member of a firmly Lancastrian family, is as dramatic as Stafford’s. Lord Robert was among those diehards who held out against Edward IV in northern England until his capture and execution in 1464, and Walter’s elder brother, Sir Thomas Hungerford, suffered death at the scaffold for treason in 1469. Notwithstanding these events, Walter subsequently entered the Commons while Edward was on the throne, although he found it necessary to obtain a general pardon at the accession of Richard III, who later ordered his arrest. Yet he managed to escape and make his way to Tudor. At Bosworth, he killed Sir Robert Brackenbury, lieutenant of the Tower of London, receiving a knighthood on field from Henry for his exploits. He returned to the Commons, again as an MP for Wiltshire, and served the first two Tudor monarchs as a councillor and diplomat.

Stanley, a younger son of a Staffordshire landowner, was likewise knighted at Bosworth by Tudor. Thereafter he joined the King’s household and, like his father before him, he was elected as a knight of the shire for Staffordshire in at least two Parliaments. No paragon of virtue, he gained election in 1495 even though he had procured the murder of his neighbour and fellow household man, William Chetwynd, in the previous year. In spite of such behaviour, he was awarded the honour of burial in Westminster Abbey following his death in 1505.



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