Bosworth Field Comes To Atherstone

Article from pages 26 - 32 of Dickon Independent issue 48

When Tewkesbury Battlefield Society contacted me to say they were organising a coach trip with Michael K. Jones to Atherstone, to see the new location for the battle of Bosworth,1 and would I be interested, naturally I said yes. I spread the word to the rest of the Worcestershire Branch and to the Gloucester Branch, and hoped that Sunday January 26th wouldn’t be wet, cold, or snowy!

I first met Michael K. Jones shortly after his book Bosworth 1485: Psychology of a Battle was published. He came to St Leonard’s Church, Beoley, Worcestershire, in September 2002, to participate in the open weekend celebrating the church’s history. I expect you’re wondering why! Buried within the church is William Sheldon,2 whose tomb announces that he fought for King Richard III at Bosworth. He survived the battle and was attainted by Henry VII.

We had a long chat about the book. I was very impressed by his arguments, and promptly bought a copy, with the added bonus that he signed it for me. It sat on my To Be Read pile for some time before I managed to start reading it. I was worried about the “Psychology” in the title, but my fears proved groundless, as it is very easy to follow his arguments. In fact, I read it again before doing the tour! It’s now out in paperback for £18.99 and well worth buying. An even cheaper edition is due later this year.

Mike takes evidence we’ve known about for years and finds a Bosworth to fit, rather than assuming the early historians made a mistake, and ignoring it. Vergil has Henry facing Richard so that the sun is in the eyes of Richard and his army; the Crowland Chronicle calls it “the battle of Merevale”, and Henry later pays compensation to the villages around Atherstone for damage caused by the battle. In his book, Richard is well prepared for the battle, inspires his troops, and is confident of victory. He has planned a cavalry charge, which is much more likely to have happened on the fields near Atherstone than on the slopes of Ambion Hill.

So let’s go on the tour!

The coach departed from Tewkesbury, and Mike was there from the start. He gave us enlarged copies of the map from his book, showing the new location. (Page 198.) You can also view it on the American Branch’s web site.

We ordered our meals at the pub by mobile phone, and arrived in Atherstone about 12.15 pm, to be met by those who had travelled independently, including local historian John Austin, and Ken Wright 3, a long-standing member of the society. Ken has also just produced a book about Bosworth, based on the traditional site. Mike gave us a quick briefing in the car park and said the coach would be back at 1 pm to take us to the church. Well it was nearly 2 pm before we set off again. There were too many of us to get served so speedily!

I was disappointed not to be going to The Three Tuns for lunch, so I still haven’t seen the mural about the battle on the wall, nor the desecration caused by the landlord putting a pink-painted beam through the end section! Apparently they don’t do meals, so we went to the King’s Head instead and had a very nice meal. But guess which king it was on the sign? Yes, Henry VII!! It was just as well the food was good and cheap, and the staff friendly, as one of the two ladies toilets became blocked as soon as we arrived. Cardinal Morton gets everywhere!

Next stop was the Church of Our Lady, Merevale, originally the gate chapel of Merevale Abbey, and talks by John Austin and Mike. The church and abbey ruins are one mile south-west of Atherstone. Mike believes Henry and his army spent the night before the battle in and around this abbey. Henry paid compensation to the abbey in late 1485 for damage to crops caused by his troops. Later the abbot asked for the lordship of Atherstone to be made over to the abbey, so it would become a permanent memorial to his success in the battle.

In September 1503 Henry VII returned to the abbey and paid for stained glass to commemorate his victory. The glass is now in the church and that’s what we’d all come to see - the figure of St Armel.

John had a surprise for us. When he read about the pike formation helping to win the battle for Henry, something clicked in his memory, and he rescued a box of broken fragments of glass from Merevale Hall. These fragments originally came from the abbey and church. He reassembled some to create a scene of soldiers formed up with pikes making a defensive wall. It’s not very clear but they are there - as I hope you can see!

John Austin has written a brief guide to the church and abbey, and a book 4, both of which were on sale. I only bought the brief guide as I planned to buy a copy of Ken Wright’s book on Bosworth, which takes us back to the original site.

Back to the coach and round to the farmyard and the abbey ruins, watched by the bemused owners! We all trooped around while John gave us a brief history, took photos then hopped back on the bus. A short journey took us past the Bloody Bank, which either contains the bodies of the common soldiers who died in the first ferocious fighting before Richard’s charge, or the victims of the sweating sickness brought over by Henry’s soldiers, who died before the battle began.

Then a trip through a housing estate to Royal Meadow Road, named after the meadow which is still there, where Mike believes the battle of Bosworth was fought. Is that why it still exists? The houses come to the edge of the field, but the whole area where Mike thinks the battle was fought is still green fields.

King Dick’s Hole (or Hold - where Richard III camped) was well across the field in front of some distant farm buildings. We could see Merevale Hall on the skyline behind us, and the abbey was just beyond this, where Henry camped the night before. Round to Hythe Farm, and another stop to view the Hole, which I didn’t photograph, it being a dip in the ground marked by bushes. We couldn’t get very close as we were on the other side of a fence.

Plans to walk part of the site were shelved because we took much longer for lunch than planned. Instead we just drove to various points, clambered off the bus, had the view explained, took photos, clambered back on the bus. At the next stop, about half way round the site, you could still see Merevale Hall on the skyline and a metal tower which marked the edge of Royal Meadow.

The final stop was Derby Spinney, where Mike believes Richard was killed and the crown handed to Henry by William Stanley. Mike believes the name dates from when Thomas replaced his brother in folklore as the hero of Bosworth, after William was executed for treason. You can see a picture of the spinney on the American Branch web site.

By now the light was fading rapidly so again I didn’t take photos. Once again we could look back the way we’d come and see Merevale Hall on the skyline and the metal tower.

Derby Spinney is on the A444, not far from Fenny Drayton, and about 4 miles south-west of the current site for the battlefield – we saw the signs for it as we left the spinney.

The bodies of men killed fighting for Henry were carried to Dadlington (about 4 miles east) for burial as it was on the way to Leicester, rather than taking them back to Merevale Abbey after the fighting was over.

Back aboard the coach again and a return to the pub for a much needed cup of tea and comfort stop, and to drop off those people who had travelled independently then joined us in the few spare seats on the coach.

The weather was very kind to us, dry, with only a little sun, and not too cold. Everyone enjoyed the day and the chance to see the site. How many people are convinced I don’t know.5 Personally it seems quite plausible, especially with the compensation grants given by Henry VII to the towns around Atherstone, for damage caused by the battle. Not something he’d do lightly and not something he did for anywhere else!

The June issue of the Ricardian Bulletin contains letters from Michael K. Jones 6 and Peter Foss 7, discussing their respective locations for the battle.

There are a few more pictures on the Worcestershire Branch’s web site.

  1. See the article by Mike in the Ricardian Register, Volume XXVII, No. 4, Winter 2002, pages 4 – 5. (In our branch library.)

  2. See the article by Geoffrey Wheeler in the Ricardian Register, Volume XXVII, No. 1, Spring, 2002, pages 4 – 9; the reference to William is on page 7. (In our branch library.)

  3. K. S. Wright, The Field of Bosworth, Kingsway Publishing, Leicester, England, £22.
    Contact: Ken Wright, 99 Kingsway, Braunstone, Leicester, LE3 2PL. Telephone 0116 2891 161

  4. John D. Austin, Merevale Church and Abbey. The Stained Glass, Monuments and History of the Church of Our Lady and Merevale Abbey, Warwickshire. Brewin Books, 1998. ISBN: 1858581141, £11.95.

  5. It’s worth reading Keith Stenner’s account of this trip as well. It’s in our branch library in News and Views, April 2003, pages 10 - 15, and in Ricardian Register, Spring 2003, pages 17 - 18.

  6. Michael K. Jones, Bosworth 1485: Psychology of a Battle, Tempus Publishing, 2002, £25, ISBN: 0752423347; and £18.99 for the paperback version (2003). (In our branch library.)

  7. Peter J. Foss, The Field of Redemore: The Battle of Bosworth, 1485, 2nd edition, Kairos Press, 1998. ISBN: 1871344069, £5.95. (In our branch library.)

  8. See also the article on the American Branch’s web site.

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