Guest Post: The Elusive Life of Francis, Viscount Lovell by Monika E. Simon

Today it is a pleasure to welcome back Monika E. Simon to the blog, with a second guest blog post. This time we are looking at Francis Lovell, close friend of Richard III who seems to have disappeared after the 1487 Battle of Stoke and the defeat of the forces of pretender Lambert Simnel. Monika’s debut book, From Robber Barons to Courtiers: The Changing World of the Lovells of Titchmarsh, is out at the end of the month. 

The elusive life of Francis, Viscount Lovell

On 24 May 1487 a young boy was crowned Edward VI in Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin by William FitzSimon, Archbishop of Dublin. A large number of Irish bishops, abbots, and priors attended the ceremony, as well as many Anglo-Irish nobles, including by Garret Mor FitzGerald, Earl of Kildare, and a contingent of English noblemen who had never accepted the Henry VII as king or who had abandoned him later. Most notable among these group were John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln and Francis, Viscount Lovell, the nephew and best friend of the previous king Richard III, respectively.

Francis Lovell had been chamberlain of Richard III and was lampooned in William Collingbourne’s often-quoted doggerel, alongside William Catesby and Richard Ratcliffe:

“The catte, the ratte, and Louell our dogge,

Rulyth all Englande vnder the hogge”

Slanderous as the rhyme is, it is also quite memorable and probably one of the most famous quotes of this period.

(Daveleicuk, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Francis Lovell is without doubt the most famous member, not to say the only famous member of his family. However, despite his fame he is a ‘shadowy presence’ to us, to use my favourite description coined by J.M. Williams. The information that can be gathered from the existing records leaves us with huge gaps in our knowledge of his life and not only where one would expect them. While it usual that there are no records of his birth, it is surprising that for three years after coming of age and gaining full possession of his estates in 1477 Francis Lovell is not mention in governmental records. Nobleman like Francis Lovell were normally involved in the administration of the country and individual counties, where their estates were situated. It was not until 1480 that his name appears in the Patent Rolls, when he was appointed to a commission of array in the North Riding of Yorkshire.

Thanks to the fortunate survival of the Paston Letters we know Francis Lovell was married in 1466, at the age of about ten, to Anne FitzHugh, daughter of Henry FitzHugh and Alice Neville, the sister of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, ‘the Kingmaker’. Interestingly, it was only a year later, on 19 November 1467 that his wardship and marriage was granted to the Earl of Warwick. Francis Lovell’s father had died more than two years earlier, on 9 January 1465 and his mother a year later and a half later, on 5 August 1466. It is possible that in the period between his father’s death and the grant of his wardship to the earl of Warwick, Francis Lovell had remained a ward of the king, but the fact that he was already married to the earl’s niece when the grant was recorded could mean that his warship had already been given informally to the earl.

Francis Lovell joined the household of the earl of Warwick at Middleham and it is often assumed that it was in this period he became a close friend of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who was staying with the earl in the same time. However, it is not known when Francis reached the Yorkshire castle nor how long Richard stayed there. It is possible that the two boys spent several years together but also that were both at Middleham only for a short period of time.

Occasionally, when Francis Lovell found himself caught up in the big events of the time, the government’s records shed some light on his life. In 1470 his father-in-law Henry FitzHugh rebelled against Edward IV in support of the earl of Warwick attempt to overthrow the king. The uprising was suppressed and the pardon for Henry FitzHugh included his son-in-law Francis Lovell and Francis’s two sisters Joan and Frideswide as all three of them seemed to have lived in with the FitzHughs at the time.

When the Earl of Warwick was killed in the Battle of Barnett, Francis Lovell was still under age and his wardship was granted to Edward IV’s sister Elizabeth and her husband John de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk. Where he lived at this time is – naturally – unknown. He may have continued to live with his wife’s family, as he joined the Corpus Christi Guild at York alongside his wife Anne, her sister Elizabeth, and her mother Alice Neville in 1473.

Francis Lovell came of age and was given control of his large inheritance in 1477. He was then a very rich and powerful nobleman. How much income he had is difficult to determine but his estates spread over the length and breadth of England from Wiltshire to Yorkshire and from Kent to Chester. Altogether he had held five baronies, four of them had come to his family through fortunate marriages of previous Lords Lovell to heiresses. His grandfather William Lovell had already been assessed with an income of £1,000 in 1436, which made him one of the richest peers below the rank of earl.

Again little is know about Francis Lovell’s life for the next six years. It seems that he spent most of his time in the north far away from the centre of his family’s estates that were largely in the south and the midlands. The few commission he was appointed to where for Yorkshire. In 1480 he accompanied Richard, Duke of Gloucester on campaign in Scotland and was knighted there by the duke. On occasion he must have ventured to the south to look after his estates there, as in 1482, when he wrote to William Stonor that he could not come south as he had planned and asked William Stonor to make sure his deer are looked after in Rotherfield Greys (an estate Francis Lovell had inherited from his grandmother). He would have also attended court and parliament. He was present at least in two parliaments as he was appointed as one of the triers of petitions for England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

Middleham Castle
(leestuartsherriff, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Even though much of his life largely remains hidden from us, Francis Lovell must have made an impression at least on Richard, Duke of Gloucester and also Edward IV. On 4 January 1483 Francis Lovell was created Viscount by the king. Interestingly, a near contemporary description of the ceremony wrongly identified the king as Richard III and on occasion this misidentification can be found in modern historiography as well.

After the death of Edward IV, the succession crisis, and Richard III becoming king in the spring and early summer of 1483, Francis Lovell became more prominent. He was appointed chief butler first for Edward V then for Richard III. More importantly, he was also appointed chamberlain by Richard III. The chamberlain was one of the most influential man at the royal court as he controlled access, both written and in person, to the king. For this reason and because the chamberlain had to be in constant contact with the king, the position was always given to a close friend, someone whom the king trusted absolutely. Next to the queen, the chamberlain was perhaps the most influential man at court. However, how much influence the chamberlain (or the queen) had, cannot be ascertained as it left no trace in the records. Due to their powerful positions chamberlains were often attacked for abusing their

position, as for example William Latimer, chamberlain of Edward III. However, the doggerel mentioned at the start is the only record of Francis Lovell being criticised in person.

How important Francis Lovell had become also was visible to all at the coronation of Richard III as he played an important role in the ceremony. Many of his duties as chamberlain and chief butler were unspecified, but Francis Lovell also purchased the queen’s ring, carried the third sword of state at the coronation, and had to stand before the king during the coronation banquet. Next to him several other members of his family participated in the coronation: his wife, Anne FitzHugh, her mother, Alice Neville, and her sister-in-law Elizabeth Borough were among the twelve noblewomen of the queen Anne Neville. Francis Lovell’s cousin Henry Lovell was the highest ranking of the king’s henchmen.

During the brief reign of Richard III, Francis Lovell was granted considerable estates, including the honour of Wallingford St Valery and the lordships of Cookham and Bray, and was appointed to a number of offices including constable of Wallingford Castle. A particular honour was given to him when he was made a Knight of the Garter, probably in 1483. His garter stall plate can still be seen today in St George’s Chapel, Windsor. On it he lists his full range of titles: ‘Francis Viscount Lovell & de holand Burnett deynccort & Grey.’

Since the Croyland Chronicle reports that Francis Lovell was sent to the Southampton to prepare the defence against the threatening invasion of Henry Tudor, it has been questioned whether he was at the Battle of Bosworth. While it is impossible to be certain, I think it is more likely that he was at the battle, as the Croyland Chronicle does not specify when he was sent south. As chamberlain Francis Lovell also had to be in constant attendance to the king, his absence from court was therefore probably brief. Additionally, two independent sources report that Francis Lovell was at the battle. The proclamation of Henry VII after the battle included Francis Lovell among the fallen as does a memorandum from York from the 23 August 1485.

Francis Lovell’s Garter Stall Plate, St George’s Chapel, Windsor
(Public Domain, digitized by Google).

After the battle of Bosworth Francis Lovell was one of the few men who refused to make peace with Henry VII. Most others, including his cousin Henry Lovell and John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln accepted Henry as king. Again there are only a few occasions when the whereabouts of Francis Lovell are known. He was in Yorkshire where he attempted to kidnap Henry VII, without success. It was later reported that he had fled to Furness Fells and on 19 May 1486 he was said to be in sanctuary in Ely. Shortly thereafter he made his way to Burgundy where he resurfaces at the court of Maria, Duchess of Burgundy and her stepmother Margaret of York.

Another guest there was a boy who claimed to be Edward, Earl of Warwick, the son of George, Duke of Clarence. Sometime later, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln also arrived in Burgundy to support the boy. It is generally believed that the boy was an impostor whose name was Lambert Simnel, though whether this was his real name has been questioned. However, John Ashdown-Hill offers the hypothesis that he was who he claimed to be. George, Duke of Clarence had certainly attempted to smuggle his infant son to Ireland. Ashdown-Hill speculates that he had succeeded and the boy who lived as his son in England was the substitute. If that were the case, and that is a big ‘if’, it would explain why John de la Pole and Francis Lovell supported him.

In 1487, the boy, accompanied by Francis Lovell, John de la Pole, and a company of mercenaries under the command of Martin Schwartz travelled to Ireland where the boy was crowned Edward VI. From Ireland they invaded England only to meet defeat at the Battle of Stoke on 16 June. John de la Pole was killed, the boy king was captured, but the fate of Francis Lovell is unknown.

One theory, possibly first written down by Francis Bacon, was that Francis Lovell lived in a cave or vault according to rumour. Bacon also writes that another report says he drowned in the river Trent when he tried to swim across it after the Battle of Stoke.

The best known theory about what happened to Francis Lovell is that he returned to Minster Lovell to live there in a hidden chamber underneath Minster Lovell Hall, being provided with all he needed by a faithful servant. However, for some reason the servant was prevented from doing so and Francis Lovell died of starvation. According to a report from the early eighteenth century, a skeleton was discovered in a hidden chamber underneath Minster Lovell Hall during construction work. The report claims that the skeleton sat at a table, there was writing material nearby, and a ‘much mouldered cap’. Unfortunately, the skeleton immediately turned to dust after exposure to fresh air. However, no secret chamber, cellar or vault was ever discovered underneath Minster Lovell Hall, which makes this story highly unlikely. Moreover, skeletons do not turn to dust, even if they had been in tightly sealed rooms and are exposed to fresh air. Skeletons or mummified bodies start to decompose quickly if not kept in a carefully controlled environment, but don’t turn to dust.

An intriguing snippet of information is that James IV of Scotland granted a safe conduct to Francis Lovell in 1488. However this trail also disappears and no other reports of Francis Lovell in Scotland exist. Shortly before this date, Francis Lovell’s mother-in-law had made an attempt to find out what happened to him. She had sent Edward Franke to the north to enquire about Francis, but Franke returned without having found out what had happened to Francis. We know of this search, as Alice Neville wrote to John Paston III to cancel a meeting as she said she wanted to stay with her daughter Anne who was very distressed about the lack of news.

Minster Lovell
(Monika E Simon)

Despite his prominent role during the reign of Richard III Francis Lovell also remains almost invisible in contemporary sources. Neither Mancini’s Usurpation of Richard III nor Thomas More’s History of Richard III mention him at all. – Shakespeare gave him only a couple of lines and as a consequence his part is usually cut out of the production and his lines given to somebody else. – Chronicles do mention Francis Lovell only after the battle of Bosworth, generally in connection with his participation in the events surrounding ‘Lambert Simnel’, are recorded.

Francis Lovell’s elusive life and unknown end is just is another mystery of this time that is not short of such. Some are highly controversial like the fate of the ‘Princes in the Tower’ or the credibility of the claim that Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was bigamous, some less often debated like true identity of ‘Lambert Simnel’ or ‘Edward IV’.

About the author:

Monika E. Simon studied Medieval History, Ancient History, and English Linguistics and Middle English Literature at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich, from which she received an MA. She wrote her DPhil thesis about the Lovells of Titchmarsh at the University of York. She lives and works in Munich.



My Books:

Coming 31 May 2021:

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey will be released in the UK on 31 May and in the US on 6 August. And it is now available for pre-order from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly  and Monika Simon

Book Corner: Henry by Tony Riches

Bosworth 1485: After victory against King Richard III, Henry Tudor becomes King of England. Rebels and pretenders plot to seize his throne. The barons resent his plans to curb their power and he wonders who he can trust. He hopes to unite Lancaster and York through marriage to the beautiful Elizabeth of York.

With help from his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, he learns to keep a fragile peace. He chooses a Spanish Princess, Catherine of Aragon, as a wife for his son Prince Arthur. His daughters will marry the King of Scotland and the son of the Emperor of Rome. It seems his prayers are answered, then disaster strikes and Henry must ensure the future of the Tudors.

“A fine end to a superbly researched and well-written trilogy, one I would recommend to anyone with an interest in this period of history.” Best-selling author Terry Tyler.

Henry is the final installment of Tony Riches‘ excellent Tudor Trilogy which has followed the rise of the Tudors from Owen’s relationship with Catherine of Valois, through his son, Jasper, and now to his grandson, Henry, the first Tudor king.

Opening as Henry  is victorious at Bosworth, it follows Henry VII from the moment he becomes king, through the many trials and tribulations of kingship and establishing a new dynasty. This is an enjoyable story of one of England’s least loved and most misunderstood English kings. Tony Riches does an excellent job of giving us an entertaining novel while offering the reader an insight into the life and problems of a man who was not born to be king and who knew little of his subjects after spending his entire adult life in exile in Brittany.

I love the fact that Henry is not the finished product from the very beginning. The author has thought hard about how a man, who suddenly becomes king, may act when feeling his way through the maze of court politics, factions and family divisions, and the actual day-to-day challenges of ruling a country that has suffered 30 years of intermittent warfare and political instability.

Henry paints a portrait of Henry as a man who grew into his role as king, learning from his mistakes and facing up to his insecurities; insecurities arising not from his right to the throne, but from the challenges facing him and not knowing what happened to the Princes in the Tower. Henry Tudor is portrayed as a all-too-human; a man whose decisions about others way on his soul, but are made to ensure the security of himself and his family. He walks a  fine line in an attempt to appease his opponents whilst establishing his authority – and his dynasty.

‘On what grounds do we imprison young Edward Plantagenet?’

Jasper sat in the spare chair and the stubble on his chin as he considered the question. He’d chosen to shave his beard on the journey from Wales. He looked younger clean-shaven, but a beard suited his uncle, and Henry guessed he was already growing it back.

‘King Richard considered the young earl enough of a threat to declare him illegitimate.’

Henry allowed himself a smile. ‘King Richard declared everyone illegitimate, other than himself. Young Edward is a cousin of Princess Elizabeth.’

Jasper returned his smile. ‘Half of England is related to the Woodvilles one way or another.’ His face became serious. ‘We need time, Henry. Time to win over the doubters. We could say it is for young Edward’s own safety?’

Henry picked up his quill and dipped it in Mayor Olney’s inkpot before signing the warrant. ‘We must ensure the boy is well treated – I wish no harm to him.’

Henry is the story of one man’s life and kingship. Moments of crisis and sincerity are interspersed with little moments of tenderness and humour. Tony Riches has taken time to seriously consider the character of his subject, and this comes across in every page of the book. He seems to have spent no less time on the supporting characters. Jasper Tudor and Margaret Beaufort, who have played prominent parts in all 3  book of the Tudor Trilogy are pivotal characters and are well thought out, complex figures. Henry respects them deeply and is well aware of the sacrifices they have made that got him to the throne. Each character in the book is credible, believable, and has his, or her, own unique qualities. The headstrong future king, Henry VIII is wonderfully contrasted with quiet and studious Prince Arthur, while the delightful Mary Tudor steals every scene in which she appears.

thumbnail_Late 16th-century copy of a portrait of Henry VII - Wikimedia Commons
Henry VII

The novel tells the story of Henry and Elizabeth with sensitivity and compassion; charting their life together from the first moments of getting to know each other, through the births and deaths of their children, and the toll that takes on them, not only as individuals, but also as a couple. Indeed, the author seriously considers the effect that being king must have had on Henry’s family life, the compromises he had to make. You get the impression that the poor chap never had enough time in the day to do everything he wanted and that every personal loss takes away a little part of him.

‘I like it here.’ He reached across and took her white-gloved hand in his. ‘We shall make Sheen into a palace fit for a royal family.’

Elizabeth squeezed his hand in agreement. ‘I would like that.’ She gave him a conspiratorial look. This is my most secret place. A sanctuary.’

Henry stared into her bright amber eyes. ‘You spent many months in sanctuary … yet you’ve never spoken of it?’

‘At first I didn’t understand the danger we were in.’ She stared, wide-eyed, into the far distance as she remembered. ‘My mother made a game of it, said it would be a great adventure. Years later she told me my father abandoned us and she thought our enemies might murder us all.’

There are many novels set during the Wars of the Roses. The huge majority revolve around Richard III and the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower. If a novel sees Richard III as a hero, then you can practically guarantee that Henry Tudor is the villain. With Henry, you would therefore be forgiven for expecting the opposite; Henry the hero and Richard the villain.  Richard, of course, gets mentioned, but the story does not revolve around the fallen king and his guilt or innocence, rather it puts him firmly where he was when Henry was king – in the past!

As a novel, Tony Riches has created a fast-paced, enjoyable tale that is virtually impossible to put down – at least until your eyelids are so heavy they need matchsticks to hold them up. It also gives you a deeper understanding of the founder of the Tudor dynasty. I defy anyone – except, maybe, the most ardent of Yorkists – to read this book and not develop a deeper understanding of Henry VII, of the challenges he faced and compromises he made in order to secure peace for the realm and the continuation of his dynasty. Henry is a must-read book for anyone who has a love  of medieval history, the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors.

Although part of a series, Henry can definitely be read as a standalone. Entertaining and insightful, it tells a story that has rarely been told – the one from Henry’s own viewpoint. This is the story of the foundation of, arguably, England’s most famous royal house – and is not to be missed!


Ten Things You Might Not Know About Henry Tudor, by Tony Riches

During the four years of research for my trilogy about the early Tudors, I discovered many little known facts about one of our most overlooked kings, Henry Tudor. Here are a few of my favourites:

  1. Instead of Tudor, Henry could have been called ‘Tidder’ or ‘Tetyr’ or even Tewdwr It seems the name Tudor was a simplification used by scribes in the time of Henry’s grandfather, Owen Tudor.
  2. After his victory at the Battle of Bosworth Henry led a procession through the narrow streets of York, where he was attacked by a man with a dagger. His bodyguards saved him but his reign was nearly over before it began – and he later travelled with some fifty ‘Yeomen of the Guard’ for protection.
  3. Henry didn’t invent the ‘Tudor rose’ – the combined red and white roses had long been known as symbols of the Virgin, representing sacrifice and purity – he simply adopted it as his ‘branding’.
  4. Henry loved gambling with cards and dice and lost huge sums more often than he won. He also kept detailed records of who he’d played against (which included his wife, Elizabeth of York)– and how much he’d lost.
  5. As well as lions and other dangerous animals, which he kept at the Tower of London, Henry kept a pet monkey, thought to be a marmoset, in his private chambers. One day he discovered it had torn up his detailed diary, so there is a gap in his meticulous records.
  6. When the pretender Perkin Warbeck was finally captured, Henry was so enamoured of Warbeck’s wife, Lady Katheryn Gordon, that he kept them both in his household – but wouldn’t let them sleep together. He also bought Lady Katheryn expensive dresses and she became a close companion and confidante, even after Henry had her husband executed.
  7. Henry nearly lost his crown to a mob of Cornish rebels, who marched on London in an armed protest against his tax raising. More men joined them on the way and the rebels reached Blackheath before they could be stopped.
  8. Henry kept various ‘fools’ to entertain his court, including one named ‘Diego the Spaniard’ (possibly as a joke at the expense of Catherine of Aragon’s father, King Ferdinand, who failed to provide the dowry he’d promised.)
  9. At Christmas 1497 Henry and his family were woken in the night by a fire in his private chambers at Sheen Palace. They barely escaped with their lives but the old palace was ruined and Henry had it rebuilt as the Palace of Richmond.
  10. Towards the end of his life Henry suffered from a throat disease referred to as ‘the quinsy’ which his physicians treated (unsuccessfully) with a remedy of celandine, fenugreek and hedgehog fat.

Tony Riches is the author of the best-selling Tudor Trilogy as well as other historical fiction set in the medieval era. He lives by the sea in Pembrokeshire, West Wales with his wife and enjoys sailing and kayaking in his spare time. For more information about Tony’s other books please visit his popular blog, The Writing Desk and website and find him on Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches.  The Tudor Trilogy is available on Amazon UK  Amazon US and Amazon AU


My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.


©2017 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Walking Bosworth’s Battlefield

“Two Kings – One Battle”

The standards of Richard III and Henry VII

Last year I took my 9-year-old son and 40-something husband to visit their first battlefield. We were holidaying in Derbyshire and decided to drive down to Leicestershire and visit Bosworth. With all the hype around the discovery and re-burial of Richard III, it seemed a great way to show a 9-year-old the story of a battle.

He, of course, knows a little of the Richard III story. He can identify the king’s portrait and knows he was involved in the Wars of the Roses, but we don’t linger on the Princes in the Tower too much. I don’t think he is as familiar with Henry VII, but he can tell you all of Henry VIII’s queens, in order, and tell you their fate. So taking my son to the battlefield was a way of giving him a place and time where he could visualise the events and the people.

It worked.

However, what I found surprising was the effect it had on my husband. Hubby is a bit of a computer geek and into all the mod cons. He never had an interest in history before he met me, and even now I can see his eyes glossing over if I talk too much about the past – 15 minutes a day is usually all he can take!

The Sundial on Ambion Hill

I have visited battlefields before; Waterloo, Stamford Bridge, Hastings and a few others. The calm serenity always amazes me. I expect to hear the echoes of battle, the cries of the wounded, clashes of arms and the shouted orders of the battle’s commanders – and the thunder of the horses hooves during the cavalry charge. At Bosworth, if you close your eyes tight, and listen intently, you can almost hear it…..

The Battle of Bosworth Trail

The Battlefield trail is a wonderful leisurely walk. It’s not the actual battlefield; they found that a short distance away a few years ago, but it is Ambion Hill. And standing at the memorial you have a panoramic view of the area; you can  imagine the 2 sides facing each other, troops in the thick of it and those waiting to engage. My son listened in awe as I described the death of Norfolk and the final, desperate charge of Richard III; and Percy’s men standing, watching and waiting – possibly very close to where we were stood at that moment.

View from Ambion Hill

As you walk round the hill and through the woods, there are markers, pointing the way; and viewpoints and information posts telling the story of the battle and explaining the technology and tactics used. One marker explains the use of the longbow, how it dealt death from afar. The marker explained where the archers were positioned during the fighting; you almost expected to look to your right and see them raising their bows to the air.

My son was fascinated by the idea that children as young as he was had already started their knightly training, that there were only about 1,000 knights in the whole of England. And I was amazed to discover that many who could be knights chose not to, in order to avoid the duty and responsibility that came with knighthood; these men were simply called esquires or gentlemen.

Information post explaining the use of cannons in the battle

It amazed my husband to discover that cannon and handguns were in use in the battle. 1485 seems to be too long ago for men to have used gunpowder. The handguns were large and cumbersome weapons, too large for one hand to use; guns were still very much in their infancy. However, it was a scattering of cannon balls and other small metal objects (such heraldic badges, spur rowels and coins), found by metal detectors, which finally meant the location of the battlefield could be confidently identified.

Battle standards in Ambion Wood

Although the general battlefield has now been identified, we still don’t know where individual parts of the action took place. We can’t say for certain where the action between Norfolk and Oxford took place, nor where Norfolk fell. We can’t tell where Stanley and his men were standing, watching for that turn in the battle that made him decide to join Henry Tudor’s forces.

But the specifics don’t matter as much as I expected they would. The battlefield provides its own story. And the fact you can’t say exactly where each part of the action happened serves to highlight the confusion of a battle. When you’re on the ground, in the thick of it, fighting for your life and your king, you wouldn’t be looking round to see where on the field you were. You would be looking to your own survival, fighting the man in front of you while watching your back.

King Richard’s Well, cairn built close to where it is thought the king fell

So the locations of events are vague, but that they are remembered and commemorated is what matters. Whether the marker is where Richard fell matters less than that there is a marker to the fallen king.

And once you have walked the Battlefield Trail, there is the Heritage Centre to visit. The Centre offers wonderful background to the battle, told through the voices of those involved: a serving girl at a local inn, a mercenary’s wife, an archer. The 2 armoured kings stand watch over you as you view artefacts found on the field of battle and study maps and videos explaining the battle and the troop movements.

Henry VII

The Heritage Centre is very hands-on; children can try on the armour and test out the helmets. You can test your ability to draw a longbow; it’s not as easy as you think. By far the most dramatic display is the little corner dedicated to the Barber-Surgeons. The tools of his trade are displayed and a skeleton depicting the wounds of one soldier from the battlefield. Given the recent discovery of Richard III, and the detailed descriptions of his wounds, this seemed a particularly poignant display.

Richard III

Walking the battlefield is a humbling experience. So little is known about the men who fought and died in these fields on 22nd August 1485. And, yet, the date marks so much change in English history: the end of one the Plantagenet dynasty and the start of Tudor rule; the end of the Middle Ages and the beginnings of the Renaissance. Just around the corner were the marital problems of Henry VIII and the English Reformation and the subsequent, glorious reign of Elizabeth I. But the men who fought that day would know nothing of the significance of the battle beyond that moment.


My Books

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England  looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & SwordAmazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.


You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.


Article and all photos © Sharon Bennett Connolly 2015


Article originally published on The Review on 19th August 2015.