Bosworth 1485: The Battle That Transformed England, by Michael Jones
As someone who has read perhaps more than my fair share of books about the War of The Roses, and the Battle of Bosworth and its leading personages in particular , I found this book to offer a particularly worthwhile approach, in that it neither sought to portray Richard III as some sort of sacrificed and saintly victim of the wicked Tudors nor as some sort of monstrously evil ruler himself who alienated any potential support. The book also manages to supply a convincing explanation for why Henry VII was able to prevail at Bosworth despite his lack of numbers in a way that does not require treachery on the part of Richard III’s army by pointing to the tactics of the pike wall that held against the cavalry charge of the royalist army, tactics that came about as a result of the Swiss wars against Charles the Rash of Burgundy, and tactics that Richard III would have likely been unfamiliar with. The book also presents a great deal of Richard III’s conduct, including his brutal and violent disposal of the princes in the tower, as stemming from a sense of identification with a beloved but departed father who died himself under difficult circumstances during the beginning stages of the Wars of the Roses.
The contents of the book are organized both thematically and chronologically, in that they seek to provide a coherent picture of the context of Bosworth while also providing a convincing picture of Richard III in a positive but reasonable light. The author succeeds in his goal of providing a justification for the behavior of the much maligned king without minimizing his brutality in enforcing his interests as well as rewarding loyalty, a trait he shares with Henry VII, it should be noted. The author bookends his account with the tragedy of Richard III that Shakespeare wrote and the one that he could have written and that was implied in at least some of the material that Shakespeare wrote about, and in between he discusses the martyrdom of Richard, Duke of York, the theater of pain within the Yorkist household involving admissions of an adulterous relationship that led to the birth of Edward IV and the division of the Yorkist house, the search for redemption on the part of Richard III and his obsession with legitimacy, the rivalry between Henry VII and Richard III and the importance of Henry’s own upbringing as a ward and hostage and political refugee who was more an observer than a participant in events for much of his young life, and some observations based on little-examined contemporary source material on the location and combat at the Battle of Bosworth, before closing with a discussion of the author’s view of the tragedy of Richard III.
This book, in a relatively brief 230 pages of core material, gives a good example of historical revisionism that works. For one, it pays attention to contemporary sources in order to cut away the weight of centuries of assumptions that failed to account for the known facts and were themselves based on misguided assumptions about the title of the battle, itself based on local politics about nomenclature. The book manages to have a sympathetic but realistic point of view towards someone it is easy to be unsympathetic towards, and manages also to provide a convincing case of how Henry VII won without treachery given the disparity of numbers, and without turning Richard III into a martyr. The result is an account that provides worthwhile reading and also a better grasp of the circumstances that combine to make Bosworth such an important battle in English history.
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