Oxbow Books, 2013
If you are like me and enjoy wandering across old battlefields, you will have a bucket-list of sites you would like to visit. For most of the readership living in England that will undoubtedly include the site of the Battle of Bosworth fought between King Richard III and the usurper Henry Tudor in August 1485. For 400 years, that would have been a relatively straightforward task, until Colin Richmond came along in 1985 and upset the apple-cart by arguing the ‘accepted’ location for the battle was incorrect. Fast forward twenty years when a full-scale investigation began to locate the true site of Bosworth. For five years, an integrated group of archaeologists and historians searched in libraries and Leicestershire, culminating in a new identification for the battlefield and an excellent book, Bosworth 1485: A Battlefield Rediscovered, written by Glenn Foard and Anne Curry.
Foard and Curry begin with an overview of the hunt for Bosworth before 2005. They consider four main options, examining the pros and cons of each in turn, but like the best detective stories, they leave the reader hanging while they move on to the background and historical investigation. Foard and Curry’s analysis of Bosworth stems from the competing armies and how they might have fought. To do that, they compare and contrast the various narratives of the battle and tease out as much detail as possible that points to the battlefield. Unfortunately, the fruits of that approach did not yield very much, which is how the problem of identification came about in the first place. Foard and Curry do the best with what they have, however, and continue with an exploration of the potential landscape around place-names found in the records. This is where science enters the drama, with an overview of soil types and a reconstruction of the mediaeval topography. Establishing a landscape, however, does not prove a battle was fought on it. Foard and Curry therefore turn to the relatively new science of Battlefield Archaeology in the hope of pinning down the engaging armies. The search slowed considerably with the emphasis on legwork and metal-detecting, but progress was still achieved, particularly with regard to expended gunpowder ammunition. With their archaeological findings in hand, the battlefield detectives got down to the business of interpretation. Without giving away the dénouement, it is sufficient to conclude that the battlefield investigators have found a definitive, and somewhat surprising, venue for the Battle of Bosworth.
At first glance, Bosworth 1485 looks like a glossy coffee-table book that the average reader could skim quickly through. But it is most assuredly not. This is a full-blown historical detective story that rewards careful reading – though at times, I wished the proofreader, if there was one, had followed the same instruction! To their credit, Foard and Curry guide their readers through the science with ease and we can clearly follow their steps in reaching their conclusions. Moreover, there are many maps and photographs in the book to help us along. In short, this may be the new blueprint for how battlefield investigations are conducted. For wargamers interested in the Wars of the Roses, this might be essential reading, especially when considering battlefield terrain and early gunpowder tactics. Bosworth 1485: A Battlefield Rediscovered is a superb book and highly recommended.
Reviewed by Neil Smith