Wars of the Roses: Battle of Bosworth Field

Battle of Bosworth Field
Henry VII receives Richard's crown. Public Domain

Conflict & Date

The Battle of Bosworth Field was fought August 22, 1485, during the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485).

Armies & Commanders


  • Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond
  • John de Vere, Earl of Oxford
  • 5,000 men


  • King Richard III
  • 10,000 men


  • Thomas Stanley, 2nd Baron Stanley
  • 6,000 men


Born of dynastic conflicts within the English Houses of Lancaster and York, the Wars of the Roses began in 1455 when Richard, Duke of York clashed with Lancasterian forces loyal to the mentally unstable King Henry VI. Fighting continued over the next five years with both sides seeing periods of ascendancy. Following the death of Richard in 1460, leadership of the Yorkist cause passed to his son Edward, Earl of March. A year later, with the aid of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, he was crowned as Edward IV and secured his hold on the throne with a victory at the Battle of Towton. Though briefly forced from power in 1470, Edward conducted a brilliant campaign in April and May 1471 which saw him win decisive victories at Barnet and Tewkesbury.

When Edward IV died suddenly in 1483, his brother, Richard of Gloucester, assumed the position of Lord Protector for the twelve-year old Edward V.  Securing the young king in the Tower of London with his younger brother, the Duke of York, Richard approached Parliament and argued that Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was invalid making the two boys illegitimate. Accepting this argument, Parliament passed the Titulus Regius which saw Gloucester crowned as Richard III. The two boys vanished during this time. Richard III's reign was soon opposed by many nobles and in October 1483, the Duke of Buckingham led a rebellion to place the Lancastrian heir Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond on the throne.  Thwarted by Richard III, the collapse of the rising saw many of Buckingham's supporters join Tudor in exile in Brittany.

Increasingly unsafe in Brittany due to pressure brought upon Duke Francis II by Richard III, Henry soon escaped to France where he received a warm welcome and aid. That Christmas he proclaimed his intention to marry Elizabeth of York, the daughter of the late King Edward IV, in an effort to unite the Houses of York and Lancaster and advance his own claim to the English throne. Betrayed by the Duke of Brittany, Henry and his supporters were compelled to move to France the following year. On April 16, 1485, Richard's wife Anne Neville died clearing the way for him to marry Elizabeth instead.

To Britain

This threatened Henry's efforts to unite his supporters with those of Edward IV who saw Richard as a usurper. Richard's position was undercut by rumors that he had Anne killed to allow him to marry Elizabeth which alienated some of his backers. Eager to prevent Richard from marrying his prospective bride, Henry mustered 2,000 men and sailed from France on August 1. Landing at Milford Haven seven days later, he quickly captured Dale Castle. Moving east, Henry worked to enlarge his army and gained the support of several Welsh leaders.

Richard Responds

Alerted to Henry's landing on August 11, Richard ordered his army to muster and assemble at Leicester. Moving slowly through Staffordshire, Henry sought to delay battle until his forces had grown. A wildcard in the campaign were the forces of Thomas Stanley, Baron Stanley and his brother Sir William Stanley. During the Wars of the Roses, the Stanleys, who could field a large number of troops, had generally withheld their loyalty until it was clear which side would win. As a result, they had profited from both sides and been rewarded with lands and titles.

Battle Nears

Before departing France, Henry had been in communication with the Stanleys to seek their support. Upon learning of the landing at Milford Haven, the Stanleys had mustered around 6,000 men and had effectively screened Henry's advance. During this time, he continued to meet with the brothers with the goal of securing their loyalty and support. Arriving at Leicester on August 20, Richard united with John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, one of his most trusted commanders, and the next day was joined by Henry Percy, Duke of Northumberland.

Pressing west with around 10,000 men, they intended to block Henry's advance. Moving through Sutton Cheney, Richard's army assumed a position to the southwest on Ambion Hill and made camp. Henry's 5,000 men camped a short distance away at White Moors, while the fence-sitting Stanleys were to the south near Dadlington. The next morning, Richard's forces formed on the hill with the vanguard under Norfolk on the right and the rearguard under Northumberland to the left. Henry, an inexperienced military leader, turned command of his army over to John de Vere, Earl of Oxford.

Dispatching messengers to the Stanleys, Henry asked them to declare their allegiance. Dodging the request, the Stanleys stated that they would offer their support once Henry had formed his men and issued his orders. Forced to move forward alone, Oxford formed Henry's smaller army into a single, compact block rather than dividing it into the traditional "battles." Advancing towards the hill, Oxford's right flank was protected by a marshy area. Harassing Oxford's men with artillery fire, Richard ordered Norfolk to move forward and attack.

Fighting Begins

After exchanges of arrows, the two forces collided and hand-to-hand combat ensued. Forming his men into an attacking wedge, Oxford's troops began to gain the upper hand. With Norfolk under heavy pressure, Richard called for aid from Northumberland. This was not forthcoming and the rearguard did not move. While some speculate that this was due to personal animosity between the duke and king, others argue that the terrain prevented Northumberland from reaching the fight. The situation worsened when Norfolk was struck in the face with an arrow and killed.

Henry Victorious

With the battle raging, Henry decided to move forward with his lifeguard to meet the Stanleys. Spotting this move, Richard sought to end the fight by killing Henry. Leading forward a body of 800 cavalry, Richard skirted around the main battle and charged after Henry's group. Slamming into them, Richard killed Henry's standard bearer and several of his bodyguards. Seeing this, Sir William Stanley led his men into the fight in defense of Henry. Surging forward, they nearly surrounded the king's men. Pushed back towards the marsh, Richard was unhorsed and forced to fight on foot. Fighting bravely to the end, Richard was finally cut down. Learning of Richard's death, Northumberland's men began to withdraw and those battling Oxford fled.


Losses for the Battle of Bosworth Field are not known with any precision though some sources indicate that the Yorkists suffered 1,000 dead, while Henry's army lost 100. The accuracy of these numbers is a subject of debate. After the battle, legend states that Richard's crown was found in a hawthorn bush near where he died. Regardless, Henry was crowned king later that day on a hill near Stoke Golding. Henry, now King Henry VII, had Richard's body stripped and thrown over a horse to be taken to Leicester. There it was displayed for two days to prove that Richard was dead. Moving to London, Henry consolidated his hold on power, establishing the Tudor Dynasty. Following his official coronation on October 30, he made good his pledge to marry Elizabeth of York. While Bosworth Field effectively decided the Wars of the Roses, Henry was forced to fight again two years later at the Battle of Stoke Field to defend his newly-won crown.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "Wars of the Roses: Battle of Bosworth Field." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/wars-of-roses-battle-of-bosworth-field-2360750. Hickman, Kennedy. (2020, August 26). Wars of the Roses: Battle of Bosworth Field. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/wars-of-roses-battle-of-bosworth-field-2360750 Hickman, Kennedy. "Wars of the Roses: Battle of Bosworth Field." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/wars-of-roses-battle-of-bosworth-field-2360750 (accessed March 29, 2023).