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The death of Richard III

Read an excerpt from the newly published book, Richard III and the Battle of Bosworth, by Mike Ingram. 

On 22 August 1485 Richard III, the last Plantagenet king of England was killed at the Battle of Bosworth.


Exactly how and who carried out the killing remains shrouded in mystery. Having seen his battle line collapsing under the French flank attack, Richard charged Henry Tudor and his bodyguard. He immediately killed William Brandon, Henry’s standard bearer. The standard crashed to the ground only to be picked up, according to Welsh tradition, by Rhys ap Maredudd (Rhys Fawr).

Henry must have been close, because we are told by Vergil that next in Richard’s path was the 6 foot 8 inch John Cheyney. with great force drove him to the ground. Vergil tells us that at this moment ‘Henry abode the brunt longer than ever his owne soldiers wold have wenyd, who wer now almost owt of hope of victory.’ Holinshed says that Richard was no more than a sword point away from Henry, and Michael Drayton in his poem says they were ‘scarce a lance length’ apart. Victory was now within Richard’s grasp.


Image courtesy Helion and Company

It was at this point that William Stanley and his men intervened and charged down off the high ground.  Exactly what happened next is far from clear. Only the Burgundian Molinet says that Richard’s ‘horse leapt into a marsh from which it could not retrieve itself.’ No other contemporary account described exactly what happened next except to say it was at this point in time that Richard was killed. A proclamation by Henry soon after the battle says Richard was killed at a place known as ‘Sandeford’. Where this was has been lost in time, although it was most likely south of the marsh at a crossing point on one of the streams that fed the marsh. His courage during his last moments is unquestionable. According to Vergil, he was ‘killyd fyghting manfully in the thickkest presse of his enemyes’, The Croyland chronicler writes that ‘King Richard fell in the field, struck by many mortal wounds, as a bold and mostvaliant prince.’ Even his detractors were in agreement on Richard’s valour, as the normally venomous John Rous says in his Historia Regum Angliae, he ‘bore himself like a gallant knight and despite his little body and feeble strength, honourably defended himself to his last breath, shouting again and again that he was betrayed, and crying Treason! Treason!’ The Ballad of Ladye Bessyie describes Richard’s death in horrific detail saying:

They beat his bassnet to his head,
Untill the braine came out with blood;
They never left him till he was dead.

A total of eight separate wounds were found on Richard’s skull, suggesting a frenzied attack possibly by more than one person. Although all were perimortem (before death) it is impossible to say in which order they took place because they were all distinct, without any overlap. However, the majority could have only occurred after his helmet had been removed.

A narrow V-shaped cut 0.4 inches (10 mm) long was found on the bottom right side of the lower jaw, which is consistent with marks produced by knives and daggers. There was also a second small cut to the lower jaw, in line with the first but shallower. Both probably occurred when a blade was thrust up inside the helmet to slice the strap and forcibly remove his helmet. The absence of defensive wounds on his hands and arms suggest that he was still wearing armour at the time.


Three shallow glancing blows caused by a sharp blade such as a sword or poll-axe sliced his scalp and shaved the bone, two on the left-hand side above the ear (looking from behind), and one on the top of the skull. None would have been immediately fatal. The pattern of the striations on the cuts suggest that at least two of the three were probably inflicted by the same weapon. On the top of the skull was a keyhole-shaped hole caused by an oblique thrust from a weapon delivered from above and behind, that caused two small flaps of bone on the inside of the skull. This injury could have been caused by the spike of a poll-axe or possibly a Rondel dagger.

In addition, there were two massive wounds to the lower rear of the skull. with smooth straight edges, sliced off part of the skull and was probably caused by a sword, halberd or bill.

One left further damage on the opposite side of the skull, suggesting the weapon passed right through the brain. This wound is characteristic of a stab from the spike of a halberd or bill. Both wounds would have been fatal.


Who actually killed Richard is confused as a number of those present claimed credit.  It is frequently claimed that according to the poet Guto’r Glyn in his ‘In praise of Sir Rhys ap Tomas of Abermarlais’ written very shortly after the battle, Rhys ap Thomas was the killer. However, if we read around the stanza it can be seen that he just says Henry’s men killed him whilst Rhys was on a horse with a lance in the midst of the army.

“The mighty one knows well how to scatter an army,
dagger of battle, he was a fearless young man.
There was a battle, like that of Peredur,
the ravens of Urien prepared it.
King Henry won the day
through the strength of our master:
killing Englishmen, capable hand,
killing the boar, he shaved his head,
and Sir Rhys like the stars of a shield
with the spear in their midst on a great steed.

This is born out by the ballad of Ladye Bessiye which says:

Then Rees ap Thomas with the black raven
Shortly he brake their array.

This implies that Rhys was part of the main battle-line.

However, a bed dated to about 1505 that now stands in Rhys ap Thomas’s room in Derwydd House in Llandybie, Carmarthenshire made out of Welsh oak, A scene carved into the wood, depicts two groups of footmen facing one another each led by mounted knights with lances and, between them stands a much small soldier with a halberd (possibly indicating that he is in the distance?), and it has been suggested that this is  Rhys Ap Thomas, despite evidence suggesting otherwise. In addition, if Thomas was responsible for killing Richard, it is unlikely as he carried a halberd. It is much more likely that that small soldier is one of the French in the distance.

Molinet only says ‘One of the Welshmen then came after him and struck him dead with a halberd’ (which was a standard pole arm in Europe and therefore a generic term). The Denbighshire poet Tudur Aled claimed that it was Rhys ap Maredudd after he recovered Henry’s standard. According to some traditions, it was a man named Wyllyam Gardynyr.


A large proportion of William’s men would have come from North Wales, so it could have been any one of Stanley’s supporters who charged down off the high ground. John Sleigh in his ‘A History of the Ancient Parish of Leek in Staffordshire’ (pub. 1862) suggests it was ‘Radulphus, lord of Rudyerd, who joined Lord Stanley with a large body of men at Bosworth Field and by family tradition, was the one who slew Richard 3rd, August 22nd 1485; to commemorate which Henry 7th allowed him to add to his shield, on a canton a rose or., in a field gules.’ The village of Rudyard, is in the Stanley heartlands of Leek in Staffordshire.

Yet another claimant is Thomas Woodshawe, a tenant from Middleton Hall, near Tamworth. He was made bailiff and keeper of the park of Berkeswell in Warwickshire soon after in recognition for something.

We will probably never know who really killed Richard, but a group of anonymous Stanley supporters seems the most likely. One of them may have been Ralph of Rudyard.

Richard III and the Battle of Bosworth is published by Helion and Company.

This is the story of two very different men, Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England and Henry Tudor and how they met in battle on 22 August 1485 at Bosworth Field.

The Battle of Bosworth along with Hastings and Naseby is one of the most important battles in English history and on the death of Richard, ushered in the age of the Tudors. This book, using contemporary sources, examines their early lives, the many plots against Richard and the involvement of Henry’s mother, Margaret Beaufort. It also offers a new explanation for Richard’s execution of William Hastings. Despite recent portrayals as the archetypal fence-sitters, the book also shows that the powerful Stanley family had a long-standing feud with Richard and were not only complicit in the plots against him in the months before the battle, but probably laid the trap that ultimately led to his death on the battlefield.


1 The Wars of the Roses
2 Weapons and Warfare in the Reign of Richard III
3 Richard: Duke of Gloucester
4 Henry Tudor
5 France, Brittany and Henry Tudor
6 Richard: The King
7 Rebellions
8 Preparations
9 Invasion
10 The Battle of Bosworth Field 22 August 1485
11 King Henry VII
I Finding the Battlefield
II Finding Richard
III Order of Battle

You can find more information, and order the book, from the Helion website.

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