Day 13: The Final Battle

So Richard became king. He had many supporters, but many enemies. One was his dead brother Edward’s widow Elizabeth Woodville—mother of the nephews in the tower, head of a family abruptly out of power. Another was Margaret Beaufort, great-great-granddaughter of Edward III, he already the ancestor of seven kings of England.

A contemporary of Henry VI and Edward IV, Margaret had given birth at age 13 to a son. Her husband, who died when the boy was an infant, was the Welsh nobleman Edmund Tudor. A religious zealot, Margaret believed all her life that her boy Henry was destined to be king. And throughout everything including exile and separation, she urged this obsession on her son for decades.

When Richard took the crown in 1483, various nobles opposing him supported Henry’s return from exile. His mother knew the moment of destiny had come. And so Henry Tudor returned and challenged Richard.

They met on Bosworth Field, about 100 miles north of London, in 1485. Which is where I was standing today.

It’s still a field, with a hill, marsh, and forests just where they’d been when they had shaped the battle. The noise and smoke would have been horrific. There would be carpets of dead bodies, terrified horses falling everywhere, tens of thousands of exhausted men literally fighting for their lives.

King Richard’s horse was eventually killed, tumbling Richard to the ground. The king wanted to keep fighting, so he yelled out for a fresh mount—“My horse! My kingdom for a horse!” Alas, he was soon cornered and killed. Not captured, but killed. His crown was physically handed to Henry Tudor, the commander of the winning army.

Henry Tudor became Henry VII.
He married Elizabeth of York, the dead Edward IV’s daughter, uniting the long-battling Lancastrian and Yorkist families, ending the Wars of the Roses. Thus his symbol was a white and red rose intertwined. Henry VII started the Tudor dynasty; his son would eventually be crowned Henry VIII, and his daughter would eventually be crowned Elizabeth I.

This was the day that I’d been planning for almost a year. The end of the 300-year Plantagenet dynasty, and the start of the Tudor dynasty. The end of the Middle Ages, opening the door to the Renaissance. Today was 1485, and I was at Bosworth, right where I belonged.

I now understand the difference between Edward III, IV, and V, and Henry IV, V, VI, and VII. I know the difference between Anglo-Saxon, Norman, and French architecture, and between English Gothic and Perpendicular Gothic. I’ve learned the difference between Margaret of Anjou and Margaret Beaufort. And I can tell you why it all matters.

I suppose what doesn’t really matter is that I know these things. I created and went on this trip for the very same reason that people did things in the Middle Ages—because it seemed like a good idea.

It was.

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