The Battle of Bosworth Field: A Welsh Victory? Robin Evans Puts Henry Tudor's Victory into Welsh Historical Perspective. (Talking Points)

By Evans, Robin | History Review, December 2002 | Go to article overview
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The Battle of Bosworth Field: A Welsh Victory? Robin Evans Puts Henry Tudor's Victory into Welsh Historical Perspective. (Talking Points)


Evans, Robin, History Review


Bosworth Field, 22 August, 1485. The Yorkist forces of Richard III faced those of the Lancastrian Henry Tudor. The ensuing battle would last approximately two hours and Richard would be the first English king to be slain on the battlefield since Richard I in 1199. England had a new king, Henry VII, but his success was due in no small measure to Welsh support and to his Welsh ancestry. In return, Wales expected a great deal of the new king of England.

The Redeemer Cometh

To begin to understand the significance of Bosworth Field to the Welsh, and Welsh support for Henry, one needs to remember that the Cymry (Welsh) were intensely aware of their British heritage. A most significant strand to this heritage was the belief that one day a leader would appear who would free Britain from the English and ensure that Britons would once again rule Britain. When Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain) circa 1135 it was widely regarded as a genuine history of Britain. It was this history which presented the prophecy of the return of a leader who would free the Britons to a wider audience. However, such prophecies were known in Wales long before the Historia was written. It comes as no surprise to understand that Geoffrey's history was popular in Wales, particularly in light of the subsequent relationship between Wales and England.

The attempt by the House of Gwynedd to unify Wales in the thirteenth century had led to a direct response from Edward I of England. The result was the death of Llywelyn Ein Llyw Olaf (Llywelyn the Last) in 1282, which in turn ensured English dominance over Wales. By the Statute of Rhuddlan 1284 Wales was divided into two political and administrative areas. The Principality was under the king's control and was defended by 14 castles. The marcher lordships, on the other hand, were a collection of independent authorities where lawlessness was rife. Under such circumstances it is not surprising that there were around 90 castles in the marches in the 14th century! A parallel development of course was the establishment of a large number of towns--the vast majority of which were English plantations. The town and its castle were `symbolical of conquest and the imposition of an alien regime, and the presence within Wales of a privileged burgess element'. It is hardly surprising therefore that, despite the death of Llywelyn Ein Llyw Olaf, there was no end to the prophecies of a national leader who would free the Welsh. Indeed the bards, who were a vital aspect of Welsh culture and identity, continued to emphasise the coming of y mab darogan, a redeemer who would lead the Welsh to freedom.

Such a leader appeared in the fifteenth century. Owain Glyndwr's rebellion of September 1400 quickly became a national war and the belief in the man of destiny certainly played its part in securing support for his cause. His achievements and radical aspirations `captured the imagination of succeeding generations of Welshmen'. However, his failure to defeat the English led to the introduction of the Penal Laws of Henry IV. According to Gwyn Alf Williams, `The ferocious racist penal legislation passed at the height of the Glyn Dwr rebellion turned the Welsh into unpersons without civic rights'. While the wars added to the continuing decline of Wales both socially and economically, the penal laws left a legacy of hate for the English. Anti English sentiment characterised Welsh prophecies and the manner of Owain Glyndwr's disappearance--he was not captured and his death was never confirmed--certainly added to the expectations that a hero would return some day.

However, while the Penal Laws, prophecies and anti-English sentiment continued, the harsh realities of everyday life gave those Welshmen who so desired the opportunity and desire for advancement within the English sphere. This was because the effects of war, plague and economic decline led to Wetshmen being able to settle in the boroughs, probably in great numbers.

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