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21.05.10 Ingram, Richard III and the Battle of Bosworth

The Medieval Review

21.05.10 Ingram, Richard III and the Battle of Bosworth


Helion and Company prides itself on being the "world leading publisher of specialist military history." [1] Ingram's work is the first volume in its new series "From Retinue to Regiment 1453-1618," and seems to represent the earliest period it publishes with the exception of some titles on medieval wargames. This niche publishing along with the narrow nature of the book's title may rob the author of a wider reading audience, and they do not fully reflect the broad scope of the contents. But by far the greatest problem lies in the publisher's eschewing of scholarly apparatus in the form of footnotes or endnotes. The bibliography runs less than four pages and is topically arranged, and while many essential texts are included, it is by no means adequate. Publishers notoriously assume that their reading public is allergic to notes. They deny readers the right to check the author's work, follow leads that have piqued their curiosity, and explore the full context of the ideas presented. Given that Ingram argues that his study presents the battle in a new, more international context, and that his conclusions make use of the latest archaeological findings about the battlefield and Richard's physical remains, he is inevitably updating and contradicting older works and authors. Readers deeply steeped in Ricardian lore may be able to puzzle out the authorities he is taking on and the nature, location, and reliability of his sources, but authors have greater responsibilities towards their reading public. The lack of scholarly apparatus makes me think twice about recommending the book to my college library for purchase or to students for their own research, and that is something of a loss given the hard work Ingram has obviously invested in the project.

The Introduction sets forth what Ingram believes are the innovative elements of the work. In addition to utilizing material from the 2010 re-location of Bosworth Field and the 2012 discovery of Richard's remains, he promises a re-evaluation of the Stanleys at the battle and a broader context for the conflict through the roles played by France, Burgundy and Brittany. The Introduction also provides nearly the only discussion of the major chronicles and literary works that will be cited. The summaries are pithy and well-written, and there is some discussion of their limitations and ambiguities. But as later chapters will reveal, the author puts his trust in poems and chronicles written in the sixteenth century or later, composed by authors who may or may not have known people who experienced the events. Ingram argues that the 2010 discovery of the true site of the battle of Bosworth gives new relevancy to these sources, usually dismissed by historians, and that our revised sense of battlefield geography is reflected in the works. This may be true, but a fuller discussion of the care needed to be taken in relying on these sources would be appreciated. The Introduction also includes a section on medieval currency, genealogical tables of the families and rulers involved, and a timeline of major events.

The first chapter provides a brief history of the Wars of the Roses, tracking the origins of the conflict back to Edward III and extending it through the reign of Edward IV and the appointment of the king's brother Richard duke of Gloucester as Protector of the young heir. The chronological analysis is interrupted at this point for the second chapter's examination of "Weapons and Warfare in the Reign of Richard III." This section is probably what loyal Helion followers have been waiting for, but all readers can benefit from the brief but essential exposition on such topics as command, recruitment, organization of armies, and tactics. Here also can be found down-to-earth details of the different kinds of horses, communications efforts, and the logistics of food and water supply for large marching armies with animals. There is discussion of armor and weapons, and the nature of gunpowder. The section on battlefield wounds contains the expected references to skeletal remains from Visby and Towton battlefields, and Henry V's facial injury, but no way for anyone who wants to know more to be guided to further reading. In addition to passing references to sources like the Bridport Muster Roll and The Beauchamp Pageant, photos of re-enactors show how armor and weapons were used. The work as a whole is lavishly illustrated with black-and-white photos, a section of color photos, maps, and some curious sketches from medieval manuscripts which may be a way of avoiding reproduction fees charged by museums and archives.

Chapter 3 returns to the chronological analysis with a focus on Richard duke of Gloucester up to his brother's death in 1483. Ingram cites the DNA analysis of Richard's remains to confirm that at least until the age of five he enjoyed the protein-rich diet of his social class. Good eating, however, was interrupted when family fortunes fell in the late 1450s, and did not return until brother Edward had taken the throne and could extend his fortune to his younger siblings. But soon Richard developed a rare form of idiopathic adolescent-onset scoliosis, that twisted his gracile and delicate body in ways that later came to be inaccurately depicted as a hunchback. Ingram follows the observation that tailoring of both clothing and armor would have disguised the effect, and Richard's own performance on battlefields up to his final moments proved that the spinal defect never hampered his fighting ability. Doubters are directed to the 2014 television documentary featuring a young man with a similar case of scoliosis who was fitted with and trained successfully to fight in full plate armor. The chapter also begins the expansion of the focus, to take note of Edward's 1475 invasion of France and the many pensions and gifts handed out by Louis XI to Yorkist courtiers as they departed his realm.

Henry Tudor receives the same biographical treatment in the fourth chapter, which tracks his Welsh origins, his Beaufort mother, the threat Henry and his uncle Jasper presented to Yorkist rulers, and their escape to the Continent in 1471. The fifth chapter retains the European focus with attention paid to the rule of Louis XI of France, Jasper and Henry's eventual arrival in Brittany, and the duchy's on-again, off-again relationships with England and France. Breton dukes had courted English alliances for decades, falling back into French arms when the threat of invasion and absorption became too great and English promises went unfulfilled. There are references in the text to "papers in the National Library of Wales," (122) and "Flemish sources," (124) but no details as to what these are or if they are contributing novel lines of interpretation.

The focus on Richard returns in the sixth chapter, starting with some comments on the unreliability of the king's portraiture, the 2012 forensic reconstruction of Richard's facial features, and the isotope analysis of his ribs. The last shows that his accession brought a diet richer in meat and wine, no doubt the result of the entertainment the king endured during his royal progress. [2] The chapter recounts Richard's actions, or reactions, that brought him to take the throne from his nephew. Ingram suggests a new interpretation of the 13 June Tower meeting that ended precipitously with William Lord Hastings' beheading, noting that all the people at that meeting were receiving French pensions from Louis XI and that Richard may have had reason to strike suddenly if he suspected Hastings of being a spy. Ingram argues that Richard did not usurp the throne as he was responding to the petition by the three estates, but this point is open to interpretation.

Chapter seven, "Rebellions," begins a series of three chapters with alternating viewpoints (England/Flanders/France/Brittany, or Henry/Richard). The format tends to interrupt the flow of the narrative, but in the case of the geographic divisions, it conveys the interconnectedness of foreign policy and domestic disturbance. Richard's reign was beset by rebellions large and small starting just after his coronation. Rebels found shelter with Henry Tudor in Brittany, although official Breton policy favored peace with the English king in the hopes of troops to defend against French advances. France had suffered the death of its leader as well, the mature and crafty Louis XI giving way to the young and inexperienced Charles VIII. Charles's regency was under dispute, with sister Anne of Beaujeu competing with Louis d'Orléans and both of them looking to Brittany for support. Whether Henry Tudor would be extradited to England, remain in Brittany as a pawn, or transfer to one party or the other in France was the question of the day. Warned that Richard was expecting a cooperative Duke François to hand him over, Henry fled to France to be welcomed by Anne. Richard in turn solidified his alliances with Brittany and Burgundy, and opened negotiations with the Portuguese. This diplomatic combination threatened Anne enough to offer Henry money and troops to invade England. This brief summary does not do justice to the complex international relations Ingram sets forth. His serious integration of Continental policy and English events is a major strength of the book, but stray references in the text to "English papers" (185) or "French writers" (193) do not suffice to ground the arguments and make transparent how the author's interpretation varies from other historians.

From the last pages of the eighth chapter to the end of the book, the focus is on battle preparations, troop strength, and battlefield geography. Tables 1 and 2 in the tenth chapter set forth comparisons of the size of Richard's army and Henry's forces by source, an intriguing exercise but requiring one to flip back to the Introduction for background information on the reliability and accessibility of the works. Ingram argues against those historians who have downplayed the role of highly-trained Continental troops, especially pikemen, in Henry's army, citing the contribution made by the French royal mobile camp of Pont de l'Arche. This point is important to him, but clarity is needed to indicate how his arguments differ from those of Michael Jones and others. [3] The archaeological investigation conducted 2005-2009 led to the discovery of the battlefield over two miles from its traditional site (and, embarrassingly, from an award-winning visitor center). The discovery of lead shot and a battle debris field, and determination of a marshy area as well as the correct orientation of ridge-and-furrow field systems, all helped to identify the area. The adjusted geography, Ingram argues, now makes more sense of later sources like The Song of Ladye Bessiye, The Ballad of Bosworth Fielde, and Polydore Vergil's history. A notoriously poorly documented battle, Bosworth delivered victory to Henry thanks to a flank attack by his French forces, aided by Scots troops and "bristling with 22-foot longspears" (234) that crashed into Richard's front lines. The royal forces began to dissolve at that point, but the king gambled all on a charge directed at Henry himself. He almost made it, but the marshy ground impeded his progress, and the skeletal remains discovered in 2012 record the horrific wounds he suffered before death. The Stanleys, far from fence-sitting until the outcome was clear, played essential roles in Henry's victory and were suitably rewarded.

Following a final chapter on Henry Tudor as king, the book concludes with three brief appendices providing details of the discovery of the battlefield, the skeletal remains of Richard and DNA research, and an order of battle for Bosworth. Given that the remains continue to inspire research, and scientific advancements may fine-tune our knowledge of the king and his last battlefield, we can hope for a revised edition of this work with the proper scholarly apparatus that will fully reveal Ingram's research and contribution to the field.

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Notes:

1. www.helion.co.uk (accessed 9 March 2021).

2. Only last month was a fuller analysis promised, consequent upon the completion of sequencing of Richard's complete genome by Dr. Turi King: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/dna-may-tell-if-richard-iii-was-good-king-or-bad-thing-05j6s2bwl (accessed 27 February 2021).

3. Michael K. Jones, "The Myth of 1485: did France really put Henry Tudor on the throne?" in The English Experience in France, c. 1450-1558: War, diplomacy and cultural exchange, ed. David Grummitt (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002), 85-105. See also Jones, Bosworth 1485, rev. ed. (London: Pegasus Books, 2016).