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Northamptonshire’s Richard III was the victim of a French coup

Mike Ingram's fascinating new book Richard III and the Battle of Bosworth

My first encounter with the author of Richard III and the Battle of Bosworth now seems like it took place in another era of history.

Many years ago I was news editor of the Northampton Chronicle & Echo and I had stumbled across a fascinating bit of local history – probably about the Battle of Northampton – that had been written by Mike Ingram.

“Why don’t we get him writing for us?” I asked the assembly of wise old heads who used to float around the top tables of newspapers filtering, moderating and reflecting on the editorial copy that was passing by.

“He writes thousands of words. You don’t even know where to start cutting it,” was the reply.

When I set up NQ magazine I was fortunate enough to be able to rethink that decision for myself and Mike’s fascinating articles have been one of the staples of NeneQuirer output over the past couple of years.

You might say that contrary to belief at the time, for the media industry those wise old editorial heads turned out to be more of an expensive luxury than Mike Ingram. Their jobs don’t exist any more but Mike is still championing amazing local stories, albeit medieval ones.

With his book Richard III and The Battle of Bosworth, the casual Northamptonian reader might ask themselves what all this has to do with the Rose of the Shires?

Well Richard III was a Northamptonshire boy, born and partly raised at Fotheringay, and his in-laws were the Grafton Woodvilles. Northamptonshire crops up all through the book which is a wide angle look at the much demonised Richard and his final hours at the Battle of Bosworth.

Mike has tackled the battle from every conceivable angle, right down to most likely armour and tactics employed on the day. His treatment of the clash of armies, which ended the Plantagenet dynasty and began the Tudor age, is the real centrepiece of this book.

The details of Bosworth don’t sit in the public imagination the same way that other key battles from our history do: the saxon shield wall breaking at the Battle of Hastings, the rain of English arrows into the French nobility at Agincourt, the squares of redcoats at Waterloo, even marching towards the machine guns at The Somme.

There is a kind of folk knowledge about these battles that is absent for Bosworth. The best we can summon up is probably a grotesque Mr Punch type figure flailing about in the Midlands mud begging for a horse.

The Tudor propaganda machine, notorious for promoting the hunchback image of the king they had just deposed, may well have been happy to maintain this general lack of understanding about the battle.

Mike builds up a pretty convincing picture of the day’s events and in particular the key role of a French contingent fighting on behalf of Henry Tudor. Henry was very much nurtured and supported by the French, and in many ways Bosworth was their final revenge on the Plantagenet monarchs who had tormented their kingdom for over a century. If it happened today we would call it a French backed coup.

The circumstances of Richard’s likely final moments are incredibly dramatic and if you think a 51 per cent majority for Brexit was a close run thing then the “what ifs” surrounding Richards final desperate charge will knock your socks off.

The Tudors maybe thought the less said about the actual facts of Bosworth the better.

Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne was more tenuous than Richard III’s, which may be one reason Henry didn’t make as much capital as he might have out of the apparent murder of Richard III’s princely nephews in the Tower of London, clearing the way for Richard’s coronation.

We also get Mike’s wisdom on this episode – one of history’s enduring mysteries. He offers up plenty to think about concerning the fate of the princes but whatever the absolute truth of it, there isn’t really a version that completely absolves Richard. Reading Mike’s work also adds some context about what a dangerous game it was to be part of a rich and powerful family at this time in history.

Richard III and The Battle of Bosworth clears away the undergrowth on a pivotal moment in this country’s history. Mike also details the discovery of Richard’s remains in a Leicester car park and the fight to prevent part of the Bosworth battlefield being built on. As a battlefield historian he has an interesting and respectful take on sites such as these (including the Battle of Northampton location in Delapre) which were, after all, places where thousands of people lost their lives.

By tackling this under subject headings rather than chronologically, Mike provides an immersive amount of detail. My only criticism – and this is of medieval naming habits rather than of Mike’s book – are the excessive numbers of Richards and Henrys that abound in this era. You may have to track back to be completely clear who is murdering who at times.

This is what Mike says:

“This is the story of two very different men, Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England and Henry Tudor and how they met in battle on 22 August 1485 at Bosworth Field.

“The Battle of Bosworth along with Hastings and Naseby is one of the most important battles in English history and on the death of Richard, ushered in the age of the Tudors. This book, using contemporary sources, examines their early lives, the many plots against Richard and the involvement of Henry’s mother, Margaret Beaufort. It also offers a new explanation for Richard’s execution of William Hastings.

“Despite recent portrayals as the archetypal fence-sitters, the book also shows that the powerful Stanley family had a long-standing feud with Richard and were not only complicit in the plots against him in the months before the battle, but probably laid the trap that ultimately led to his death on the battlefield.

“It shows that the events that climaxed at Bosworth were made possible by the intrigues of King Louis XI of France and shows that it was not just the fate of England that was at stake but that of France itself. King Louis’ taste for intrigue and double-dealing had earned him the nicknames “the Cunning” and ‘the Universal Spider.’

“The book details how he spun webs of plots and conspiracies first against Edward IV then Richard III, destabilised England and created a platform for Henry’s invasion. Policies that were continued by his daughter, Anne de Beaujeu after Louis death.

“This was also a time of revolution in warfare, so the book, examines English and European way of war at the time and how it affected the outcome at Bosworth. Then using the latest archaeology and contemporary sources it reconstructs the last hours of Richard III, where the battle took place, and how the battle unfolded using step by step maps and includes an order of battle for the day. It finally looks at the aftermath of the battle and how Yorkist resistance to the new regime continued into the reign of Henry VIII.”

Order Mike’s book on Amazon here

Mike will officially launch his book at the Bosworth Medieval Festival and will be doing Q&As and signings on both August 17 and 18.

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