Fourteen Eighty Five – [I]
(Monday 22nd August)
This was the Year of the Red and the White.
Red blood and white flesh but the signs to tell
How Roses red and white had come to blow
In bloody conflict in bleak Redmoors marsh;
With red ambitions, white ideals involved
Red Dragon and White Boar in fatal feud.
This was no quarrel between Wrong and Right,
But culmination of dynastic fate
Engendered thirty years before, when York
And Lancaster adopted, each their badge,
The White Rose and the Red to difference
Their proud supporters in controversy.
Raw red ambitions marched together with
High white ideals of government and law
To bring brave heirs of partial families,
(Richard Plantagenet, the Yorkist king
And Henry Tudor, hopeful scion of
Lancastrian pretensions to the Crown),
To this rough place in armoured panoply
And all the plangent pomp of chivalry;
Together there, atEngland’s central heart,
In Trial-by-Combat to decide, at last,
The mastery ofEngland’s fractious State.
No clear-cut principle divided them,
That White Boar king and that Red Dragon earl;
Only shared dreams of power moved their minds
And brought them to this fateful field of war
Midway from Nottingham’s and Leicester’s walls.
This was the Day of the Red and the White.
At early dawn the Red attack began;
White’s counter-stroke not long delayed to join
Both causes in the business of death.
Crude cannon roared and whistle-arrows flew
In deadly cross-fire at those serried ranks;
Lance, mace and sword with axe, pike, halberd strove
To gain the Golden Trophy of the day.
This was the Hour of the Red and the White.
Seeing the young Pretender isolate,
The King attempted one bold act of chance.
Attended by the bravest of his lords
The Boar sought Dragon in a sudden charge
Which, if successful, won the day for him.
But, at this crucial moment, treachery –
Raw red and unprovoked – frustrated him,
When White Hart chose Red Dragon, not White Boar!.
The gallant White King died heroically
Almost within his axe’s striking-range
Of that Red Earl he sought to end the fray.
His White Boar ensign now with claret stained
As rich, red blood from pale, white flesh ran free;
The White Rose wilted as the red flood flowed
And Red Rose burgeoned on its fair-fleshed food.
From underneath a rough bush, (was it Broom?),
The dinted crown was pulled – whence it was swept
From off the dying White King’s helm – and placed,
By White Hart, on the Red King’s youthful brow
In recognition of his victory.
All that remained – an Act of State – to wed
The White King’s niece; so White to Red conjoin
In Tudor Rose’s symbol of surcease
From fratricidal feudal anarchy;
That England might achieve united peace
Under the Tudor Dynasty, begun
On Redmoors Plain, (now known as Bosworth Field),
In this, the Year of the Red and the White.
Fourteen Eighty Five – [II]
(Richard’s Squire’s Tale)
Yes, I was there on that cursed day
When noble Richard lost his crown
Those twenty long, sad years ago.
I was his squire, you know; the one
Who bore his helmet and his arms
Whenever he would put them off,
From time to time, to talk to his
Advisers on the battlefield.
I was a young lad then, of course:
Hardly escaped my teens, in fact;
But I had been with him before,
My peerless general and lord,
On his campaigns; so I was not
A stranger to the fields of war.
There was an early start that day,
As I remember it. The king
Arose at five o’clock. I closed
Him in his armour before six.
He had no breakfast, being far
Too tense, as usual, to eat
Upon the morning of a fight.
At half-past-six, accompanied
By the LordsNorfolk,Surrey and
Northumberland, with several
More worthies, he surveyed the land
On which the day’s events would turn.
(I went along, of course, to be
Of service to His Majesty
Should he have any need of it).
With practised eye he quickly saw
What dispositions must be made
To gain advantage from the ground
And spoke his orders quietly.
To Lord Northumberland he gave
Scarcely a word; that sullen earl
Requested, and was given straight,
Charge of the Rear Guard and Reserve.
No more was said. I thought the king
Mistrusted him and wished that he
Should not be too close to his side
During the crucial time to come.
This was confirmed when, in aside,
He said to Norfolk and his son:
“We shall not see that Lord today:
And for myself I am not sad,
For I have quite enough of cares
With both the Stanleys holding off
On either flank of us. I fear
That, if we do not early win
Advantage over Richmond, they
Will soon betray me, though I hold
Lord Strange for their security;
For they are well aware that I,
Despite the treason he disclosed,
Will not take his life to account
For their bad faith in me, their king.
I therefore rest my trust in you;
And, if the chance present itself,
I shall take opportunity
In hand to rout the upstart Earl
Before theStanley’s intervene
Or sly Northumberland defect”.
(These words, or similar, he spoke
Within my presence as we gazed
Down to the plain where Oxford’s flag
Defined the rebels’ Vanguard-lines;
For noblemen pay scant regard
To what their body-servants hear).
Duke Norfolk answered, I recall:
“Your Majesty may trust in me,
Though Hell itself should gape-mouth come,
To keep your honour bright. My son
And I will hold Earl Oxford tight
Until God shall accord to you
The victory; that England still
By your just laws will be well ruled
For many years to come. But, if
It should be otherwise, I would
Not wish to serve a lesser king:
Better to die for one’s belief
Than live forever apostate!”.
The king’s pale features flushed, as bright
Flashed his rare smile from careworn face.
The two shook hands, (with Surrey, too),
As Richard warmly promised them
That, if the victory were his,
Then they would quickly comprehend
The favour of a grateful king.
After another look around
The disposed troops of either side –
Including Stanley’s double-threat
Poised at the margins of the field
To North and South – he then affirmed
The tactics of the day to all
Attendant on his royal words:
And to his tent returned to sup
A goblet of cool wine.
At ease, and seeming unconcerned,
He ordered that the battle-crown
Upon his helmet should be set.
I spoke my worried thought in tones
“I pray you not to so disclose
Your royal person, by that sign,
To notice of your enemies!”.
He glared at me a moment, as
Down on my knees I fell in shame,
For publicly upbraiding him.
The nobles watched him, nervously;
His anger could be sudden, fierce!.
But then he smiled, and gently said,
To the amusement of his lords:
“Since when have you been Counsellor
To me?. Yet I well understand
That what you say is uttered from
The love you bear my personage.
Yet see!. Am I not blazoned with
The Royal Coat-of-Arms?. And will
My standards not accompany
My every movement: not to say
These Gentlemen?. How then shall that –
That slender bauble – catch the eye
Of anyone who has not seen
Those larger emblems of my State?.
I thank you for your kindness, but
I have determined, since it is
For that gold trinket that this rash
Adventurer has come into
My peaceful realm to wage this war,
He shall have opportunity
To see it shine before his eyes,
Like mirages in deserts viewed;
And as untouchable by him!.
For I dare any man to try
To take it from me while I live;
He will not long survive my wrath!”.
(He paused, his keen eyes sweeping round
The faces of attendant lords
Challengingly, before resuming).
“So, do not worry on this score.
Rather, beware of those whose faith
In our just cause is not secure;
For there my greatest danger lies!”.
(His words are graven on my heart:
As though with white-hot metal writ!.
Oh, noble monarch!. That his life
Was taken from us when it most
Promised such future happiness
For our land!. Oh, sad misfortune
When so great a heart as his, though
Contained within such little space,
Should be so wasted!. And for why?.
Because some Lords, who better knew
That Buckingham – vile spirit! – had
Destroyed those Royal Wards who stood
Between him and the crown he craved –
And for that wickedness had been
By slandered Richard put to death –
For their own partial vantages
Continued to perpetuate
That calumny against the king!.
Such petty reason for so foul
A deed as to betray their Liege!).
Trumpets ring out as Norfolk sees
The rebel force advance towards
Our battle-lines beneath the flags
Denoting Oxford’s leadership.
The king leaps up, excitedly,
To watch how matters will unfold.
Commands are shouted. Scurriers
Rush back and forth between the bands
Of armoured companies. Loud guns
Explode their stone missiles amongst
Our serried ranks, and arrows sigh
Their litanies of death.
Recall that sound with dread, even
After so many years!. It is
A noise more fearful than the blast
Of bombast cannon, which is much
More sound than great effect; unlike
Those yew-drawn barbs that, with less din,
Pierce armour-plate efficiently
At ninety paces with so straight
An aim as confounds foreign foes.
But I digress; the battle won’t
Stand still for my parentheses!).
The early fighting went our way
As nobleNorfolkand his son
The gallant, loyalSurreyearl,
Honoured their promise to the king
By lockingOxford’s van in grasp
Of iron weaponry. More than
An hour they battled handsomely.
The king, meanwhile, observed all ways
The progress of the conflict and
The dispositions of the troops
Who held the struggle’s outcome in
Hesitant hands and doubtful hearts.
From time to time he gave commands
For redeployment of reserves,
Sending some forwards to assist
Norfolk and Surrey in their skilled
Design to pin great Oxford down;
(For he wasRichmond’s general
Par excellence, experienced
And brave); so if he could be held
Until that moment when the king
Could act decisively, the day
Would end in victory for us.
And suddenly that moment came!.
King Richard saw – what peerless gift
Of generalship! – that Richmond’s group
Of personal retainers, (some
Twenty knights and noblemen), had
Moved out to the flank – determined,
As it seemed, to draw Lord Stanley’s
Disengaged command to enter
The affray – and now was distanced
From its Mainguard’s defensive reach.
“To horse!” cried Richard eagerly:
“Now let us shew this upstart earl –
Whose life was mostly spent abroad
In ignorance of our affairs –
How noble Englishmen can fight!”.
He took his helmet, crowned with gold
As he desired, from out my hands
But – as he went to put it on,
Giving a final glance around –
He saw the gallant Norfolk fall,
Leaving green Surrey in command
Against experienced Oxford’s force.
Yet Richard did not hesitate,
(Such wise war-leader as he was
Knowing this fleeting moment as
The battle’s crucial turning-point),
A single instant. “Tell my Lord
Northumberland to move in aid
Of Surrey and assume control
Until I shall return!”, he said,
(Hiding the doubts within his mind
Of that North lord’s true loyalty);
Then put his helmet on and took
His heavy battle-axe in hand.
Barons and knights prepared themselves
To fight. To my own horse I leaped;
My place beside my Sovereign
Wherever he might choose to go,
However hazardous it be.
It must have made a splendid sight,
That last great charge of chivalry;
(I wish that I had witnessed it;
Hemmed in by others on all sides
I scarce could see in front of me
More than the rumps of horses, backs
Of men rigid in steel and clods
Of flying earth thrown up by hooves),
As down the slope of Ambion
Our battle-group descended:
Two hundred armoured knights, full-tilt
In blazoned surcoats rainbow-hued,
With banners flaring, weapons bright-
Gleaming in the sun; and silent!.
Silent, save the dreadful thunder
Of metalled destriers at speed!.
And at their head, astride his white
War-charger regally bedecked,
Rode Richard, last Plantagenet,
The bravest monarch of his line:
Its last and greatest warrior!.
What noble scene we must have made
As nearerRichmond’s bodyguard
We galloped down the sun-bright slope
Of Ambion’s broad hill; down past
The inter-locked battalions
Of Surrey and Earl Oxford; down
What fear did we rouse
In Richmond’s heart as he looked up
To see us, like avenging Saints,
Descending on him?. Round him drew,
Protectively, his little band
Of knights attendant, as they set
Themselves to meet our closing force.
The crash of contact was severe;
Riders to trampled earth were hurled
As maces stunned, sharp axes sheared,
Lances were shattered, sword-blades broke:
Death and destruction everywhere!.
Then, at the very moment of
Double-disaster came to us.
Stanley appeared upon our flank,
And with him twice a thousand men.
At that same instant Richard’s horse,
Pierced with a pike, fell dead beneath
The king. What foul mischance was this?.
What fate?. One minute he was lost
Amid the wild confusion of
So many bodies, weapons, steeds
Thrashing the ground and air above.
Then he appeared again, his axe
Cleaving a swathe, a fighting-space,
About him as he made his way
Implacably towards his goal:
Richmond, Pretender to his Crown.
I forced myself to him through press
Of flailing bodies, clashing steel
And raucous curses. “Here, my Liege,
A horse for you”, I cried aloud,
“To save yourself!. Lord Stanley has
Betrayed you; all is lost!”. The king –
Still single-minded in his aim,
Though hearing my impassioned cry –
Shouted full-voiced: “A horse?. A horse?.
My kingdom lost?. Not so!. I will
Dispose of this usurper yet!”.
So he pursued his steadfast route,
Quite unsupported now, towards
His enemy. What slaughter then!.
I never saw a man fight so
Until there stood before him none
Between him and the one he sought.
Richmond would flee, but dared not so,
Else were the battle lost and all
His future hopes. He had to stay
And try defend himself against
This superhuman warrior,
The finest soldier in the world!.
As Richard raised his dreadful axe
To save his realm, that very same
Time Stanley hurled his heavy mace.
It struck the king upon his helm,
Dislodging thence the crown. The king
Fell face to ground, but rose again
At once – armour for him was no
Impediment, he was so strong –
Determined to complete his plan
Though death should be the price he paid.
A long lance pierced his iron back,
Another drove into his side;
Then dozens more assaulted him.
A further minute longer he
Stood there, defiantly, then cried,
(As from his nerveless hands, at last,
His lethal weapon fell): “Treason
Most foul has stole my crown away
From me!. Treason!. Treason!. Treason!”.
And then he fell upon his back,
That he might still face his chief foe
Right to the instant of his death.
(I saw all this amidst the fray
For, being a mere squire, I was
No worthy warrior for those
Seeking to claim a trophy-head
Or catch a ransomable lord.
So I was only twenty yards
Away, ignored by all; their eyes
Upon the drama of my king’s
Demise at Richmond’s very feet).
So perished Richard,England’s king,
Upon the Bosworth battlefield.
No other monarch ever ruled
So wisely as that noble man;
No other man had ever died
With courage so supremely great.
His title may be lost; his life
May from his body be divorced
By violence and treachery;
But even his worst enemies
Daren’t take away from him, at last,
The honourable way he fought
And died defending, on that day,
With courage, daring, pride and skill
His claim to England’s governance.
Yes, I was there on that cursed day;
And after all these years I still
Mourn for my Master and my King,
Whose words I heard; whose deeds I saw.
Nobody ever can compare
With his instinctive chivalry
Or with the largeness of his mind.
So leave me, now, and let me grieve
In solitude again; until
Dear death my heart shall reunite
With him; the bravest of the brave
And last, great hero of our race!.
Fourteen Eighty Five (III)
(Henry’s Squire’s Tale)
You ask about the battle that took place
This day, just twenty years ago,when our
Great king deposed the vile usurper?. Well,
You see this silver hair, these shaking hands,
In one aged forty?. It was that event
Which aged me suddenly, as I’ll explain.
It was then; upon that famous day when
King Henry won his crown at Bosworth Field.
Then, I was youthful, handsome, chestnut-haired
And skilled in all the arts of chivalry
Learned in the friendly lists of Tournaments
In France, exiled fromEnglandsince my Lord
Claimed that the crown was rightly his to wear.
I was the body-squire and personal
Attendant of the King – who was mere Earl
Of Richmond at that time.
It was a day –
That of the battle of which you enquire –
So armour-bright and beautiful, it seemed
Great pity to have fighting as one’s work.
It all began quite early, if my mind
Recalls the details properly. At five
The noble Earl of Richmond roused himself
From sleepless bed. He ate a hearty meal:
“Men should not fight on empty stomachs, lad!”,
Before commanding me to buckle him
Inside his battle-suit. (In age he was
Eight years my senior but yet aspired
To take the Throne of England, as his right,
By dispossessing from that lofty seat
The ill-reported monarch who had raised
Himself over the bodies of his Wards –
King Edward and his brother, minors both –
Of whom he was the regent-Governor.
Richmond, himself next nearest to the Crown,
Was not content thatEngland’s king should be
Brought to that Honour by foul mischiefry.
For safety’s sake, inFrance, he had prepared
With kin of those poor, murdered babes, his plans
To set aside the villain who then reigned
And, in himself, refurbishEngland’s fame.
(But I digress!).
Soon after breakfast came
A tense discussion with Earl Pembroke – who
Was Richmond’s uncle – and Earl Oxford, most
Experienced war-leader on our side,
How best to manage that day’s main events
Until the doubtfulStanleysintervened –
If intervene they would! – and on whose part?.
(Nobody there would wager very much
That eitherStanley would participate
Until the issue was already clear!).
Oxford would take the Van and keep it close,
Holding the larger force of Richard’s power
And trying to commit such of its strength
As might expose a weakened place to which
The promised help ofStanleycould be drawn
Before the king could win decisive sway
With his superior arms and generalship.
Lord Pembroke with Earl Henry would remain,
To counsel him at crises of the fight.
“I fear me”,Richmondsaid, “that this may be
A day of hardship for us all to bear.
Each man must do his best, and more indeed,
For victory to come. Would I were sure
Sly Stanley were for me: with Percy, proud
Lord of Northumberland, who hates the king!.
I spent the night in prayer – after return
Back from bothStanleycamps – that Holy God
Would give us aid against this crooked king;
For, if God does not help, then we are lost!”.
“Now, Henry”, answered Pembroke, “that’s no way
To face a day so vital for our cause!.
Whatever private feelings you may have
You will not be alone in them, I know;
But you must put dissemblance on – a mask
Of confidence and bravery – that those
Who take your part today be not unmanned
By such contagious, melancholy thoughts.
Smile, then!. Be generous with hope!. And leave
To God decisions which you cannot make!”.
(A squire learns much that others don’t, because —
Just like the slaves of ancient Rome, of whom
I’d heard from educated courtiers —
The high nobility assume he’s safe
And just ignore his silent presence there).
Richmond, impatient now of more delay
Which might bring further aid toEngland’s king
Should vacillatingStanleyso decide,
Told Oxford to prepare his men and then,
As soon as may be, set the battle on.
That rough, brave man of war, Lord Oxford, laughed:
“Your Grace would like to take his midday meal
With England’s golden crown upon his head?.
So be it, then!. But if, by some mischance,
It should turn out some other way, know this:
Better to try, but fail, than never make
Attempt to reach ambition’s pinnacle!.
Today great glory, or obliquity,
Shall sit upon your brow. My soldier-hope;
That neither shall too dearly have been bought!.
Now, I into the Van, to set in train
The day’s activities, and all our fates”.
Him gone, Lord Pembroke said: “Upon that Earl
We all do lay our lives; for he alone
Has the experience to win this fight.
Yet England has such leadership today,
Commanding numbers which we cannot match,
That even Oxford cannot overcome;
Unless those in the margins come our way
In time to succour us against this king.
But we must not dwell overlong on this,
Or hesitation will undo our cause!”.
Soon trumpets shout; we all to horse at once,
As Oxford sets his troops in brave advance
And closes with Lord Norfolk’s bold array.
The battle-lines engage; the struggle starts
Which will determine this momentous day.
Although in Tournaments I often fought,
This is my first experience of war:
And it is horrible!. So many deaths,
So many frightful injuries sustained
From arrow, sword and lance, from pike and mace
And scything battle-axe!.
But, worst of all,
We see greatOxfordslowly yielding ground
To skilfulNorfolk’s well-planned strategy,
As down the slope of Ambion he rolls
That armour-plated phalanx which he leads.
Lord Pembroke to Earl Oxford sends reserves,
(Led by Earl Talbot, then Lord Arundel),
Until there are no more left to commit
In his support; butNorfolkstill gains ground!.
And then impatient Henry intervenes:
“I will toStanleynow, and bring him in
To join our cause, or kill the coward lord!”.
He hotly speaks; nor does he heed Pembroke’s
Cautious rebuke but angrily declares:
“Uncle, it must be now, or we shall lose
This battle and its hoped-for consequence.
Another chance will never come our way,
For we must win or die this very day!”
Spurs to his charger’s flanks he drove so hard
That blood appeared through gored caparison
As, like a quarrel from a crossbow flung,
Towards Lord Stanley’s ranks he shot away!.
Some twenty Gentlemen-at-arms – with I
Myself amongst them, as my duty was –
Followed his hasty move towards the flank.
It was not long before we heard, above
The beat of hooves and fading battle-noise,
A sound like thunder overwhelming us!.
Raising our eyes, as round the Earl we reined
Our horses back, we saw descending from
The eminence of Ambion a host
Of riders, like a metal wall of death!.
How beautiful! – how terrible! – it was,
That tidal-wave of chivalry!. And there,
In front, on steed of foam, rode Richard, King
Of England; a great axe held on high, like
Some avenging Dæmon sent from Hell’s gates
To punish our brazen insurgency!.
Fright froze us!. We would flee, but we could not!.
We would speak, but words failed us. We would fall,
But armour held us stiffly in our seats!.
I felt the blood drain to my boots; my heart
Seemed stopped within my chest; cold sweat ran down
My face; time was suspended to my sense!.
Oh God!. To die in such pathetic fear
Beneath the onset of that awesome horde!.
Somehow a meagre front was formed in time –
What puny barrier to interpose
Between destruction and security! –
To shield our would-be-king from those who came
To castigate his impropriety
By taking of his hazard life itself.
The shock of contact was intense; dying
Riders to trampled earth were hurled; flags fell;
Sword-blades shattered, lances broke; injury,
Death and destruction everywhere about:
Nowhere to go, nothing to do, but die
Selling our lives as dearly as we might!.
Then, at the very nadir of despair,
A double-miracle appeared to us!.
Stanley himself arrived in the melée
Along with some two thousand men or more.
And at that self-same instant Richard fell,
His charger spitted on abandoned lance!.
“Thank God!”, I shouted, as my tensions snapped,
Released from every pore of my shocked skin,
At this deliverance from certain death.
It was not over yet!. King Richard rose
On foot, axe in his mail-gloved fist, keen eyes –
From opened face-guard – fixed where Richmond sat
Nearby, upon his horse, hemmed round with guards.
Though isolated now, cut off from help,
Surrounded by a hostile company
Who kept his own knights from assisting him,
King Richard quite disdained to cede the fight.
He took no thought for flight to save his life,
(Though someone offered him a horse for that),
But grimly battled nearer to the Earl
Who was the target of his obsessed heart.
He thrashed his bloody path towards the spot
Where Henry, Earl of Richmond, sat as tranced.
No man could stand before that fierce attack
Spurred by the impetus of his will’s aim.
Bodies fell right and left of him; bodies
In front fell, scythed down by his brutal strength,
Skilful technique, implacable resolve.
He seemed invincible as he advanced
Remorselessly towards the Earl, his goal;
Of warrior-kings a true epitome!.
(Was this the monster, then, of whom I’d heard
So many stories?. Was this the evil
King who murdered babes?. Was this the tyrant
Hated by all men?. Somehow, within me,
Admiration rose above such fabled
Alone, quite unsupported,
(So small in stature yet so great in heart!),
Still he pressed forward to his chosen prey –
My Liege-lordRichmond– loudly giving voice:
“Treason!. Treason!” many times; as well might
He cry, indeed, for he had been betrayed!.
Yet not one moment did he cease to wade
Through blood and bodies, swinging his dread axe
With marvellous efficiency – as once
Harold atHastings, to keep his kingdom
Or to die in the attempt, had assailed
Norman invaders – though, like him, in vain!.
From out the throng behind him someone threw
A mace, which knocked him down. Again he rose;
Again he smote about him lustily,
Until some pikemen drove their weapons through
His undefended back and side. He fell
Face up, his eyes fixed on the Earl even
In death; and so, at length, King Richard died,
The last Plantagenet, onBosworth Field.
His was a splendid death to make; the sort
That leaves you proud he was an Englishman!.
(I’ve often wondered, since, how it could be
That such a brave and chivalrous demise
Could be with wicked reputation matched;
But there’s no worth in speculation now).
And so it was that Henry won the crown.
(I think they found it in a hawthorn-bush;
Though how it got there I will never know,
Who witnessed all these things with my own eyes!).
But what I do know is, that I will not –
So long as my life lasts – forget the sight,
(So beautiful!: so terrible!), of that
Majestic charge of noble chivalry
That almost lost, for us, the battlefield –
Which put a score of years upon my life,
Inflicted me with constant-quaking limbs
And prematurely turned my hair to grey –
Upon that day when Henry won the Crown
On Redmoors Plain near Bosworth’s market-town.