Visitors to one of the most important battle sites in British history, immortalised by William Shakespeare with Richard III's desperate offer of his kingdom for a horse, are almost certainly visiting the wrong spot, expert analysis of the evidence has concluded.
Leicestershire County Council is to embark on a three-year archaeological and topographical research project to identify where the Battle of Bosworth was really fought in 1485, marking the end of the Wars of the Roses and the beginning of Tudor England. The battle was the last time a British king was killed on the battlefield.
Some 22,000 people a year attend a visitor centre at Ambion Hill, near Market Bosworth, which marks the spot where the (reputedly) hunchbacked monarch was supposed to have lost his crown to Henry Tudor.
Glenn Foard, a historian, has reviewed the evidence for the council and concluded that an alternative site suggested by a researcher, Peter Foss, 15 years ago is probably the right place. But he is to get a proper chance to check, thanks to a near £1m grant announced by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) today, which will pay for research, including aerial surveys and soil analysis, to help pinpoint where Richard might have cried: "A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!"
The studies could even shed light on whether, as is commonly held, Richard was betrayed by his supporters or whether Henry, subsequently crowned Henry VII, was a superior commander. Mutterings of confusion over where the battle took place emerged only comparatively recently. For years, the classic view of the battle was as recorded by William Hutton in the 18th century.
Only with the 500th anniversary of the battle in 1985 did historians begin to think again. In 1990, Peter Foss published a small book which suggested an alternative site, a mile or so away, on low-lying ground between the villages of Shenton, Stoke Golding and Dadlington. Further coals were thrown upon the fire three years ago when Michael Jones, a historian suggested a third option, near Atherstone in Warwickshire.
Mr Foard thinks Peter Foss is probably right. But whatever emerges, the visitor centre will be updated and modernised along with the current trail identifying key moments in the battle.
Despite the importance of battles such as Hastings and Naseby in British history, it had previously proved impossible to raise the funds for studies of this kind, Mr Foard said. "This is the first opportunity to have a major professionally organised battlefield study in England. It will be the biggest battlefield project we've had in this country."
Sheila Stone, the HLF's regional manager, said: "Bosworth was a key event in the nation's history and it could be a top tourist attraction. It's very exciting we can help settle the debate and firmly place Bosworth on the tourist map."
Britain has 270 known battlefields, of which about 220 are in England, at least 40 in Scotland and fewer than 10 in Wales. It is only in England that an official register of battlefields exists, compiled by English Heritage. Many believe that battlefields are neglected within the hierarchy of heritage sites in terms of funding, compared with the plethora of well-preserved castles, stately homes and Roman sites. Bosworth Field is one of the better-preserved battlefield sites, with a visitors' centre to cater for the perennial crowds of tourists.
Last year on 22 August, the anniversary of the battle, the fighting was re-enacted on Bosworth Field by the Wars of the Roses Federation, complete with footsoldiers, cavalry and knights.
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