The March to Bosworth Field

By Terry John Calendar

During the afternoon of Sunday, 7th August 1485 a fleet of thirty ships appeared off the coast of Pembrokeshire, making their way across the restless waters from the south. As the sun began to set, about an hour after high tide, the flotilla turned into the mouth of the Milford Haven waterway and dropped anchor beneath the high, dark red sandstone cliffs on the north side of the Haven at a point where a narrow rocky shoreline fringed a small cove known as Mill Bay.

Had there been any watchers on the cliff tops, they would have seen that the decks of the ships were packed with men. Over 2000 French soldiers were on board, as well as 1,000 Scottish troops and some 400 English and Welshmen. Seeing no signs of resistance, the men began to disembark, bringing with them horses, guns and cannon.

Amongst those who were quickly ferried ashore was a slender man, aged twenty eight, of above average height, with shoulder length brown hair and blue eyes that were later described as ‘cold and sober’. This was Henry Tudor, the Lancastrian claimant to the English throne and he had come to make a bid for the throne. Born at Pembroke Castle on 28 January 1457, he had for many years been in exile in Brittany and had already made one unsuccessful effort to overthrow his rival, King Richard III. Determined to succeed on this occasion, he had left Harfleur in France on 1 August, his French contingent paid for by the French government, with additional companies of Scottish foot soldiers that had been sent to France by James III, King of Scots. 

Traditionally, Henry stepped on to land at a point on the beach which became known as Harry’s Courthouse, or Harry’s Carthouse, towards the eastern end of the cove, but the exact spot has long been covered by rock falls. No sooner was he on dry land than he dropped to his knees and drew a cross in the shingle, which he then kissed. He folded his hands in prayer and began to recite aloud the words ‘Judica me deus et discerne causam meam’. This was the first line of the Psalm 43, ‘Judge me, O Lord and favour my cause’. As the men around him realised what he was saying, they too began to sing, their voices echoing back from the surrounding cliffs.

As the disembarkation continued, banners were unfurled and carried before Henry as he made his way off the beach. One carried an image of St George, but another, equally prominent, carried the image of ‘a red, fiery dragon beaten upon white and green sarcenet.’

Henry now led his men along the narrow valley down which a small stream trickles from higher ground. The way was difficult, and the little army had to push its way across muddy ground and through clumps of long grass and bushes. Sweating in the close air, Henry is said to have remarked ‘Brunt going men, brunt going’, meaning that the ascent was hard. According to legend, this is how the farm at the head of the valley received its name.

From Brunt, the invaders made their way into Dale village; about two miles away and quickly took the castle there. It is not clear how well garrisoned the little stronghold was;  those manning the castle may have been taken completely by surprise, as Mill Bay is hidden from Dale by intervening headlands, and there seems to have been no fighting.

Some reports state that the French troops aboard the ships at Mill Bay refused to disembark until they were certain of a favourable reception. Once they arrived in Dale, they were ‘marvellously well and kindly received,’ and were plied with food and drink. The ships that had carried them from France now wasted no time in setting sail and by the following morning were well away from Pembrokeshire. Henry and his men were well and truly on their own.

That night Henry addressed his men, warning them not to steal from any of the people they were likely to encounter over the coming weeks, to do no harm or wrong, for if they did, their cause would be unlikely to prosper.

Although there is no record of looting by the occupying force, they may have left behind them a terrifying legacy. Within weeks of the landing, a dreadful plague swept across Wales and England. Known as the sweating sickness, because the victims suffered burning temperatures and uncontrollable thirst, it proved fatal within twenty-four hours of the first symptoms. It is possible that the disease was already at work before Henry’s arrival, but to many people it seemed that the French troops had brought it with them. 

On the following day, 8 August, Henry’s army marched on Haverfordwest. On the way they crossed Mullock Bridge, a short distance from Dale. Here occurred an event, almost certainly apocryphal, said to involve Sir Rhys ap Thomas, one of the most influential figures in West Wales. Rhys had promised to support Richard III, saying that Henry Tudor ‘must resolve with himself to make his entrance and irruption over my bellie’. Anxious now to offer his loyalty to Henry, Rhys fulfilled his oath to the king by lying down under the arch of the bridge, whilst the invaders marched across it.

In fact, when Henry reached Haverfordwest, which he occupied without opposition, he learned that Sir Rhys appeared to be dithering over who exactly to support and was possibly no nearer than Carmarthen. Nevertheless, Henry left the town within a few hours and set off for Cardigan, twenty-six miles away. After travelling for about five miles, Henry called a halt. Rumours were flying about that Sir Rhys ap Thomas and others loyal to Richard III had occupied Carmarthen with a large force of armed men. Scouts were sent out and returned with assurances that the rumours were false.
Preseli Hills

The little army now crossed the ridge of the Preseli Hills at Bwlch Gwynt, the Pass of the Wind, where the modern road snakes over the hills. Henry is said to have spent the night at Fagwar Lwyd, a now vanished farmstead, just off the Cardigan Road. At Cardigan itself he is supposed to have rested briefly at the Three Mariners Inn before moving on to Ffynnondewi, St David’s Well, about fourteen miles north-east of Cardigan. Here his men and their horses stopped to drink before a final halt for the night in the parish of Llandysillio-gogo. Henry himself is said to have slept at the nearby house of Llwyndafydd. He was so well entertained there by his host, Dafydd ap Ieuan, that he later presented him with a Hirlas, or drinking horn. It was mounted on a silver stand, decorated with images of the Welsh dragon, a greyhound, roses and a portcullis, a symbol of the Beaufort family, to which Henry’s mother belonged.

By August 10th Henry had reached the vicinity of Aberystwyth, possibly at St Hilary‘s church at Llanilar. Henry rested close by in the ancient mansion of Llidiardau, overlooking the Ystwyth valley.

Henry’s army soon turned eastwards via Machynlleth, heading towards Shrewsbury. Another ancient tradition says that Henry spent the night of 11 August at Mathafarn, the home of Dafydd Llwyd, a prominent poet and prophet. Eager to know the outcome of his bid for the throne, Henry asked Dafydd to forecast the future. 

The poet was in a difficult position and hardly knew what to say. His wife, however, advised him to prophecy a victory for Henry. After all, if Henry lost he would be most unlikely to return to Mathafarn and if he won, there might be a reward from the new king…as indeed there was. Following the victory as Bosworth, Dafydd was made an Esquire of the Body.

After this bout of fortune telling, probably with Henry in a more confident frame of mind, the army moved on through the pass of Bwlch-y-Fedwen to Castle Caerenion. Henry was again entertained by a local gentleman at the house known as Dolarddun.

By 16 August, Henry’s force had occupied Welshpool and moved on to the upper slopes of Mynydd Digoll, the Long Mountain, which gave panoramic views over the River Severn, with England to the east. Here, at last, he met Sir Rhys ap Thomas, who had agreed to support Henry upon the promise of being appointed chamberlain of South Wales. Sir Rhys had brought with him a force of up to 2,000 men and the enlarged army was further swelled during the night by the arrival of other Welsh nobles and their retinues.

On Wednesday 17 August, Henry advanced upon Shrewsbury. Here the gates were closed against him by the town bailiff, Thomas Mitton, who had sworn an oath of allegiance to King Richard. Henry was forced to retreat to the nearby village of Forton, where he camped for the night. The next day he sent messages to Mitton, promising to pass by Shrewsbury without causing any harm and to allow Mitton to keep his oath to Richard.

A similar scene to that at Mullock Bridge is said to have taken place. Mitton lay on the ground, belly uppermost and Henry stepped carefully over him. This tale too may be apocryphal, though there is always the likelihood that this was an accepted way of keeping an oath that people no longer wished to observe. When Henry finally entered the town, legend says that the streets were ‘strewed with herbs and flowers…doors adorned with green boughs’ in celebration.

On the night of 16 August, Henry was at Newport, about twenty miles away, moving on the next day to Stafford. By 19 August he was in Litchfield and two days later he was encamped close to the villages of Witherley, Atterton and Fenny Drayton, not far from Market Bosworth. A few miles away, King Richard had pitched his camp near Sutton Cheney.

The battle began the next day, 22 August and, as we know, ended in defeat and death for Richard III, whose crown was supposedly found beneath a bush and was immediately placed on Henry’s head to the ‘blare of bugles and bray of trumpets …that assaulted the stars’. The age of the Tudors had begun.

Categories:History, Pembrokeshire

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