The A-level History module – ‘The Tudors 1485-1603’ -starts with the Battle of Bosworth in January 1485. There are lots of different ways to suitably start the teaching of this module: backstory (back to the “Bed of Ed” – Edward III) and covering the Wars of the Roses, and in terms of fleshing out the characters of Henry Tudor and the reigning monarch Richard III. This year I’ve looked at bringing in primary sources much more immediately, rather than later. This has taken the form of dissecting sources and linking them to Henry Tudor (such as how he was able to consolidate his reign).
Another way is the attempt at more active-learning. Much of the year is spent sat in a classroom studying History, but it could be interesting – and perhaps more engaging – to get out and about more often. Last year, for the first time, I attempted an reenactment of the Battle of Bosworth. It was successful enough for me to try it with a bigger group (of 20 students) in September of this academic year. Some seemed to enjoy it, some clearly disliked it (the “cringe-factor”), but hopefully we gained something out of it by getting out of our seats in the classroom and utilising another part of our brains/bodies.
However, after completing the reenactment I realised that I had completely forgotten to ensure that those who portrayed Henry Tudor and Richard III read out their speeches. I’ll have to correct this and utilise them in a class activity in the near future, because both of the speeches reveal much more of their motivations and character. It is revealing that Henry does not focus on his claim to the throne in terms of his bloodline; which was a very good idea when we consider how Henry’s claim came from his mother and the bastardised-then-legitimised Beaufort line. His call to God and to Richard’s reputed injustices (such as murdering his nephews, ‘The Princes in the Tower’).
Henry Tudor’s Speech at the Battle of Bosworth (22 August 1485)
The decisive point in Henry Tudor’s insurrection was the Battle of Bosworth. Henry rallied his troops by repeating the rumour that Richard III had murdered his brother Clarence and his nephews Edward and Richard (all of whom had been ahead of him in the line of royal succession). Henry also alleged that Richard’s soldiers were forcibly conscripted. By the end of the battle, King Richard III was dead and the rebel was able to claim the title of King Henry VII.
If ever God gave victory to men fighting in a just quarrel, or if he ever aided such as made war for the wealth and tuition [safe-keeping] of their own natural and nutritive country, or if he ever succored them which adventured their lives for the relief of innocents, suppressing of malefactors and apparent offenders – no doubt, my fellows and friends, but he of his bountiful goodness will this day send us triumphant victory and a lucky journey over our proud enemies and arrogant adversaries. For if you remember and consider the very cause of our just quarrel, you shall apparently [clearly] perceive the same to be true, godly, and virtuous. In the which I doubt not but God will rather aid us, yea, and fight for us, than see us vanquished and profligate [overthrown] by such as neither fear him nor his laws nor yet regard justice or honesty.
Our cause is so just that no enterprise can be of more virtue both by the laws divine and civil, for what can be a more honest, goodly, or godly quarrel than to fight against a captain being an homicide and murderer of his own blood and progeny, an extreme destroyer of his nobility, and to his and our country and the poor subjects of the same a deadly mall [hammer], a fiery brand, and a burden untolerable? . . . I assure you that there be yonder in that great battle men brought thither for fear and not for love, soldiers by force compelled and not with good will assembled, persons which desire rather the destruction than salvation of their master and captain, and, finally, a multitude whereof the most part will be our friends and the least part our enemies. For truly I doubt which is greater, the malice of the soldiers toward their captain or the fear of him conceived of his people. For surely this rule is infallible: that as ill men daily covet to destroy the good, so God appointeth the good to confound the ill, and of all worldly goods the greatest is to suppress tyrants and relieve innocents, whereof the one is ever as much hated as the other is beloved.
Richard III’s Proclamation against Henry Tudor (23 June 1485)
This is an excerpt from the statement Richard III issued when he learned of Henry Tudor’s rebellion. Although France had an established royal family, English kings claimed sovereignty there, and one of Richard’s accusations was that Henry had ceded English rights to the French king in order to secure his support. Richard also argued that Henry was a bastard, that he had no right to the throne, that he would redistribute the lands of the church and the nobility, and that he posed an immediate and personal danger to the lives and goods of every English man and woman.
To the intent that the said Henry Tudor might the rather achieve his false intent and purpose by the aid, support, and assistance of the King’s said ancient enemy of France, he hath covenanted and bargained with him and all the Council of France to give up and release in perpetuity all the right, title, and claim that the kings of England have, had, and ought to have to the crown and realm of France.. . . The said Henry Tudor and others the King’s rebels and traitors aforesaid have extended [intended] at their coming, if they may be of power, to do the most cruel murders, slaughters, and robberies and disinheritances that ever were seen in any Christian realm.
For the which and other inestimable dangers to be eschewed, and to the intent that the King’s said rebels, traitors, and enemies may be utterly put from their said malicious and false purpose and soon discomfited [defeated], if they enforce to land [invade], the King our Sovereign Lord willeth, chargeth, and commandeth all and every [each] of the natural and true subjects of this his realm to call the premises [aforementioned matters] to their minds, and like good and true Englishmen to endeavor themselves with all their powers for the defense of them, their wives, children, and goods and hereditaments [properties] against the said malicious purposes and conspiracies which the said ancient enemies have made with the King’s said rebels and traitors for the final destruction of this land.