Henry Tudor Recruits Soldiers for His Showdown with King Richard III

Battle of Bosworth, a 19th Century engraving by Philip James de Loutherbourg

At the Battle of Tewkesbury on May 4, 1471, the Yorkists won a huge victory against the Lancastrians. Edward, Prince of Wales, son of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou was killed during the battle and Queen Margaret was captured. Edward IV was king again and on May 21, Henry VI died in the Tower of London, probably on the orders of King Edward. Jasper Tudor had been making his way to meet up with the Lancastrian forces but for whatever reasons, didn’t make it and missed the battle. He knew he would be a target of King Edward and his life was in danger. So he prepared to flee the country.

Another consequence of the battle was the desertion of the Lancastrian cause by Margaret Beaufort and her husband Thomas Lord Stanley. Margaret’s fourteen year old son Henry Tudor was with his uncle Jasper. Because his mother and her husband had chosen sides, he decided to join his uncle in exile. Henry would not see his mother for the next fourteen years.

Henry and Jasper landed in Brittany and were the guests/prisoners of Duke Francis II. Francis used the two men as a diplomatic pawn in negotiating with King Edward in an effort to maintain his independence from France. The two men spent time in various castles in Brittany, sometimes together and sometimes apart. At several junctures, Henry was in jeopardy of being sent back to England but he managed to avoid capture. During the reign of Edward IV, Margaret Beaufort lobbied the king to allow her son to return and re-claim his earldom of Richmond. In April of 1483, she actually had King Edward’s approval for Henry’s return to England but then Edward died unexpectedly.

Edward’s brother Richard Duke of Gloucester usurped the throne from Edward’s son King Edward V. From that point on there were plots and rebellions against his rule. At this point, Henry Tudor was not considered a serious contender for the throne. But when King Edward V and his brother Richard Duke of York disappeared from the Tower of London sometime in the fall of 1483 the situation in England dramatically changed. The Duke of Buckingham, Richard III’s one-time closest ally, defected from his cause and planned a rebellion with others, including Henry Tudor. But the rebellion was unsuccessful and Henry never made it to England due to bad weather at sea.

At Christmas, in the cathedral at Rennes in Brittany, Henry Tudor swore an oath to marry Edward IV’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth of York, to ultimately unite the houses of Lancaster and York. This oath made clear his intention to take the throne from Richard III and many men began to join in Henry’s cause. Richard negotiated an agreement with the duchy of Brittany whereby Henry would be sent back to England and most certain execution in the winter of 1484. Henry was able to make a daring escape to the court of the French King Charles VIII. Charles and his acting regent, his sister Anne de Beaujeu, were pro-active in supporting Henry’s bid to take the throne of England. Preparation, recruiting and fundraising began.

During these tense months, Henry penned numerous letters in an effort to draw men to his cause. Many of these letters were destroyed but there is a copy of one of them which has survived. It is undated and has no specific addressee. Here is how it reads:

“Right trusty, worshipful and honourable good friends, I greet you well. Being given to understand your good devoir and entreaty to advance me to the furtherance of my rightful claim, due and lineal inheritance of that crown and for the just depriving of that homicide and unnatural tyrant which now unjustly bears dominion over you, I give you to understand that no Christian heart can be more full of joy and gladness than the heart of me, your poor exiled friend, who will, upon the instant of your sure advertising what power you will make ready and what captains and leaders you get to conduct, be prepared to pass over the sea with such force as my friends here are preparing for me. And if I have such good speed and success as I wish, according to your desire, I shall ever be most forward to remember and wholly to requite this your great and moving loving kindness in my just quarrel. Given under our signet H
I pray you to give credence to the messenger of that he shall impart to you.”

In early December, Richard responded to Henry’s pleas with a proclamation against Henry, Jasper and many of the most important rebels. He also began recruiting men and putting the entire country on alert for the coming invasion. Henry had everything in place and his ships sailed from Honfleur on August 1, 1485, arriving in Milford Haven in Wales on August 8. He then began moving north-east to engage Richard in battle, recruiting and welcoming men to his cause as he marched.

The march of Henry Tudor (later Henry VII) and Rhys ap Thomas through Wales, to Bosworth field (Image by Llywelyn2000 from Wikimedia Commons)

Henry went about asking the men of Wales to come to his aid affirming his intention was not only to restore England to its ancient state but also the principality of Wales. His goal was to reestablish the ancient rights of Wales as they were before the rebellion of Owen Glendower in 1400. A copy of Henry’s letter to John ap Maredudd survives and reads:

“Right trusty and well beloved, we greet you well. And where it is so that through the help of Almighty God, the assistance of our loving friends and true subjects, and the great confidence that we have to the nobles and commons of this our principality of Wales, we be entered into the same, purposing by the help above rehearsed in all haste possible to descend into our realm of England not only for the adeption [recovery] of the crown unto us of right appertaining, but also for the oppression of that odious tyrant Richard late duke of Gloucester, usurper of our said right, and moreover to reduce as well our said realm of England into his ancient estate, honour and prosperity, as this our said principality of Wales, and the people of the same to their erst [original] liberties, delivering the of such miserable servitudes as they have piteously long stand in. We desire and pray you and upon your allegiance straitly charge and command you that immediately upon the sight hereof, with all such power as ye may make defensibly arrayed for the war, ye address you towards us without any tarrying upon the way, unto such time as ye be with us wheresoever we shall be to our aid for the effect above rehearsed, wherein ye shall cause us in time to come to be your singular good lord and that ye fail not hereof as ye will avoid our grievous displeasure and answer unto at your peril. Given under our signet……”

It is unknown if John ap Maredudd answered Henry’s call but many other Welshman did. Henry’s largely unimpeded march lasted until August 20 when his army was in the vicinity of Richard’s troops near Bosworth Field. Battle commenced sometime on August 22. Even though Henry’s army was outnumbered by Richard’s, the battle was a victory for him when Richard was slain while bravely trying to reach Henry and kill him. Henry Tudor was now King Henry VII. He married King Edward IV’s eldest daughter Elizabeth uniting the houses of Lancaster and York and a new dynasty of English kings began that would last until the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603. Many of the men who answered Henry’s call were richly rewarded by the new king.

Further reading: “The Making of the Tudor Dynasty” by Ralph A. Griffiths and Roger S. Thomas, “Henry VII” by S.B. Chrimes

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