Archaeologists confirmed yesterday that they have not only found the place where the forces of Lancaster and York made their last stand at the Battle of Bosworth, but also the exact spot where Richard III lost his horse and was killed thus becoming the last English monarch to die in battle.
Battlefields Trust archaeologist Glenn Foard first announced the find last October, but to keep the site safe from looters he refrained from identifying the precise location. Yesterday Foard and the Leicestershire County Council announced that the Battle of Bosworth took place on what is today farmer Alf Oliver’s winter wheat field on both sides of Fen Lane, the old Roman road that linked the towns of Leicester and Atherstone.
One of the crucial finds, the largest of the cannonballs nicknamed “the holy grapefruit” by the archaeologists, was found just behind one of Oliver’s barns. Another key discovery was a silver boar no bigger than a thumbnail, battered but still snarling in rage after 500 years. It was found on the edge of a field still called Fen Hole, which in medieval times was a marsh that played a crucial role in the battle, protecting the flank of Henry Tudor’s much smaller army. The marsh was drained centuries ago, but Oliver said it still gets boggy in very wet summers.
After a charge in which Richard came within almost a sword’s reach of Henry, he lost his horse in the marsh, a moment immortalised in the despairing cry Shakespeare bestowed upon him: “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!”
“The fact that this little boar is Richard’s personal emblem, and made in silver gilt, means that it can only have been given to one of the closest members of his retinue. The man who wore this would have fought and died at Richard’s side,” Foard said.
Richard had other boars made for his supporters, but they were made from base metals like lead. There is only other such silver boar known, and it’s in the British Museum.
The tiny 1.5-inch boar was found by Carl Dawson, a retired university lecturer and one of the many volunteers who have helped scan hundreds of miles in the area with metal detectors. Other finds made on the site include piles of cannonballs and musketballs, a ring of twisted gold and a fragment of gilded sword hilt.
And what of the visitor’s center the Leicestershire County Council built almost 2 miles away on Albion Hill complete with giant stone monument marking the putative spot of Richard’s death? The Albion Hill was in all likelihood still part of Bosworth history, probably as Richard’s camp on the eve of battle and as a thruway for his fleeing troops after the battle was lost.
Here’s a BBC video of the snow-covered battlefield site and the silver boar, and a nifty article focusing on farmer Alf Oliver’s perspective.
12 thoughts on “Bosworth site, spot where Richard died confirmed”
How exciting! What an extraordinary find!
It is at that. Between the silver gilt boar that pinpoints the likely spot of Richard’s death and the huge amounts of artillery shells found — more than found on all the battlefields from that period in Europe combined — it is both proves the accuracy of some of the descriptions of events in contemporary chronicles and blows conventional wisdom about medieval warfare out of the water.
I find the artillery objects more historically compelling than the particular location of the (amazing) boar. There are just too many ways for an object of that size to be moved around during and after a battle to read anything very precise into the spot where it was found.
Of course, the word “pinpoint” is The Guardian’s choice, not necessarily the historians’ choice. But I do think it’s an interesting and under-considered methodological question just how the balance of probabilities are assessed in such a case, with so little formal or precise sense of the kind of factors conditioning the probabilities that a silver-plated boar would end up here or there.
I think it’s the way the boar and its location match the chronicles that makes the claim as firm as it is. Even Hoard suggests that the combination “nail[s] the site”. It’s a bold statement, to be sure, but it’s one that comes from the lead historian not just from the press.
Mind you, Hoard’s position is probably more guarded than the sound bites suggest, but it seems he’s about as sure as a historian can be that boar marks the spot.
I’m with you on the artillery excitement. I’m curious to see what researchers might conclude about the nature of medieval warfare.
Fair enough; but I’m thinking that the vagaries of terms like “site” may be doing a good deal of the work in licensing the use of terms like “nails”. 😉
I’d be interested to ask the researchers something like: How would you draw concentric circles around the point at which the boar was found, and estimate your confidence that Richard was killed somewhere within each circle? How big would each circle be, and by how much would your confidence drop from one to the next?
I mean, I’d be interested in just seeing such confidence-labeled circles sketched out. But I’d be very keen to for their thoughts on what evidential considerations inform their circle sizes and confidence changes, and why.
Hard to tell, of course, but from context it seems to me Hoard meant the site of Richard’s death in that particular sentence. The battle itself ranged much further than the small marsh, so when he refers to nailing the site by finding the boar in the drained marsh I think he probably means Richard’s last stand.
Not that there aren’t several concentric circles to be drawn around the marshy area and wider following the artillery leavings. I’d love to get a peek at them myself.
Perhaps now that a local historian has donated the battleofbosworth.com domain name to the Council, we’ll get a nice juicy website sooner rather than later.
Contemporary descriptions of medieval battles were often influenced by literary romances–one sees this all over Froissart, for example. The emphasis in these chronicles tended to be on chivalric combat between individuals rather than the bloody melee of real battle. Thomas Malory, writing some decades before 1485, staged the final combat between Arthur in Mordred (in the Morte Darthur) such that Arthur and his knights fought in traditional chivalric fashion, while the evil Mordred used “grete gunnes” against his dad. Artillery was, I guess, considered unchivalric and thus unworthy of mention in most chronicles.
But poor Richard. He ran afoul of the Tudor propaganda machine, and its most illustrious hatchet man.
Although it’s still a fabulous play…
Good point about the chroniclers tendency to downplay combat they considered unchivalric, although Froissart described the decisive success of the Welsh longbowmen against heavy cavalry in the Hundred Years’ War.
I think also the amount of artillery found on the field is surprising not compared to chroniclers so much as compared to every other European battlefield up until that point. The firepower at Bosworth really broke the curve.
Really pleased and congratulations to all those who spent the time to work on the site. Many, many years ago, we visited the area and I was told by a man who showed us around Merevale Church [the only bit left of the Abbey where Henry Tudor stayed the night before the battle] that the main battle area would not have been around Ambien Hill, nor would anyone in their right mind charge down a hill into an awaiting army! My friends who were Ricardians would have none of it!
Looking forward to seeing an exhibition of the recovered items.
Excellent point your guide made. The advantage of the high ground lies in keeping it, not in charging down it. 😆
Brilliant article! What a piece of history. Excellent blog. :yes:
Thank you kindly. I just perused your blog and enjoyed it immensely. I can’t wait to read your review of The Coburg Conspiracy.