Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Richard III and Staffordshire

Bill Cawley on the death of the last English King and the Staffordshire connection

The news that bones thought to be those of the last English King Richard III were found under a Leicester car park has fired my interest. The remains, which indicate that the man had curvature of the spine and died violently, might clear up a mystery of something of the character of a much derided monarch.

I should be clear on what side of the Ricardian controversy- who killed the Princes in the Tower- I am on. As a child I was fascinated in the history of the late 15th century especially the life of Richard Plantagenet a monarch whose reputation was falsely blackened by the supporters of the man who beat him at Bosworth Field in 1485 Henry Tudor later Henry VII.

My father used to play a recording of Shakespeare’s play with Laurence Olivier in the title role. I still can recite large chunks of it with the famous opening “ Now is the Winter of our Discontent”. Over the years I have visited places that are associated with Richard such as Middleham, Fotheringhay and Sheriff Hutton just outside York.

There is of course a strong Staffordshire connection with his final battle. In the summer of 1485 Henry Tudor landed in West Wales. He moved west marching through Staffordshire in the hope of gathering support. Whilst in the county he had two secret meetings with Thomas Lord Stanley a kinsman. Stanley whose ancestors came from Stanley near Bagnall had land and supporters in Staffordshire and the North West. He gathered his forces and marched through Newcastle forced under duress to side with King Richard who had his son George under custody.

 The armies of Richard and Henry drew up on the 22nd August in Leicestershire at Bosworth. Stanley held his troops in reserve someway from the main battle. Richard led a direct attack on Henry’s position personally killing a number of knights around Tudor’s standard. It was at this stage that Thomas Stanley committed his force in support of Henry and Richard died according to the chronicle “fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies”. Legend has it that the man who delivered the coup de grace was Ralph Rudyard of Rudyard. Richard’s crown was found according to tradition in a hawthorn hedge and placed on Henry’s head as Henry VII- the founder of the Tudor dynasty. Richard’s remains were buried in a Leicester church until the possible recent discovery