The Ballad of Bosworth Field

The Ballad of Bosworth Field
   The Ballad of Bosworth Field is one of the fullest poetic retellings of the 1485 Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD, and may possibly provide authentic details concerning the battle itself. The earliest surviving copy of the ballad dates to the mid–seventeenth century, although a sixteenth-century prose summary of the poem also exists. Like THE SONG OF LADY BESSY and THE ROSE OF ENGLAND, The Ballad of Bosworth Field was composed by someone connected with the Stanley family, for Thomas STANLEY, Lord Stanley, and his brother Sir William STANLEY are central characters. The author may also have been an eyewitness to the battle, for the poem gives an extensive listing of the noblemen and gentlemen whom RICHARD III summoned to meet the invasion of Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond (see Henry VII, King of England).
   After describing Richmond’s landing in WALES and his appeal for aid to the Stanleys, the poem recounts Richard’s arrest and near execution of Stanley’s son Lord Strange, an element common to all major Bosworth ballads. After detailing the mutual determination of the king and Lord Stanley to destroy each other, the poem uses the long list of Richard’s supporters to enhance the gallantry of the Stanley-dominated shires of Lancashire and Cheshire, which are portrayed as standing alone against the mighty royal host. The account of the battle itself tells of the fearsome strength of the king’s ARTILLERY. Although the numbers of royal cannon are likely exaggerated, their detailed description is another story element that points to the poet’s actual presence on the field. Like the other Bosworth ballads, this poem describes Richard’s defiant refusal to flee when the battle seems lost.
   “One foot will I never flee
   Whilst the breath is my breast within!”
   As he said, so did it be;
   If he lost his life, if he were King.
(Bennett, p. 173)
   The ballad closes with a listing of the most important nobles and gentlemen to die in the battle, including, on the king’s side, John HOWARD, duke of Norfolk; Sir Richard RATCLIFFE; and Sir Robert BRACKENBURY, and, on Richmond’s side, William Brandon, the earl’s standard-bearer, who was slain by Richard III himself. The Ballad of Bosworth Field ends with the crowning of Richmond on the battlefield and the public display of Richard’s corpse in Leicester. The value of the Ballad and the other Bosworth poems as sources for the battle itself has been questioned by modern historians, with one even suggesting that the poems may be works of fiction. However, other researchers have made cautious use of the Ballad and its companion pieces to elucidate certain aspects of the battle.
   Further Reading: Bennett, Michael, The Battle of Bosworth (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985); Hammond, P.W., and Anne F. Sutton, Richard III: The Road to Bosworth Field (London: Constable, 1985); Rowse,A. L., Bosworth Field (Garden City,NY: Doubleday, 1966);Williams,D.T., The Battle of Bosworth (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1973); the text of The Ballad of Bosworth Field is available on the Richard III Society Web site at

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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