Bosworth Battlefield Survey
Since August 2005 the Battlefields Trust has undertaken a major new study of Bosworth battlefield, on behalf of Leicestershire County Council.
The project is pushing the boundaries of battlefield studies in an attempt to resolve many of the long standing questions surrounding the battle of Bosworth. The investigation is part of the revitalisation scheme for the site, and is being resourced largely by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
The Trust's project officer, Glenn Foard, is leading a team of national experts from the fields of military history, landscape history and battlefield archaeology in this study. A small group of volunteers as well as several staff from Leicestershire County Council are also working with us, playing a key role in the investigation. On site coordination is provided by Richard Mackinder, who is based at the Battlefield Visitor Centre.
Four years of intensive historical, topographical and archaeological research have finally borne fruit as a team led by Glenn Foard of the Battlefields Trust and funded by Leicestershire County Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund has solved one of the great mysteries of English military history and succeeded in locating the site of the battle of Bosworth. Archaeological investigations are not yet complete and until they are the exact location of the battlefield is still being kept under wraps in order to spare it the attentions of amateur treasure hunters but we now know that the battle was fought not far from Stoke Golding, some two miles or so south-west of Ambion Hill, the ‘traditional’ location of the action. In addition to locating the battlefield, the archaeological survey has unearthed the largest group of cannonballs ever found on a medieval battlefield – no less than 22 lead shot of a variety of calibres – ranging from bullets fired from handguns to roundshot from substantial artillery pieces.
UPDATE ON THE BOSWORTH PROJECT: AUTUMN 2009
Statement – Glenn Foard
Project Officer – Battlefields Trust
Bosworth was one of England’s four great decisive battles of the last 1000 years, alongside Hastings, Naseby and the Battle of Britain.
The Battle of Bosworth, fought on 22nd August 1485, was:
- the last time an English King (Richard III) was killed leading an army in the field
- the key event in ending more than 30 years of dynastic conflict that we now know as the Wars of the Roses
- where Henry VII was crowned as the first of a new Tudor dynasty, heralding a period of greater stability and one to which we still look back as a formative period in English history
For over 200 years the battle was thought to have been fought on Ambion Hill but since 1985 there has been a sometimes vociferous debate between historians as to the true location of the battlefield, with at least four contending sites.
In 2004 I was asked to undertake a reassessment of the evidence. This led in 2005 to the Battlefields Trust being commissioned by Leicestershire County Council, with £154,000 funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, to undertake a major investigation to resolve the issue.
We brought together a team of specialists from various disciplines to apply the techniques of battlefield archaeology to search for the battlefield.
- we reviewed the original documentary evidence for the battle and the armies (Professor Anne Curry, Dr Janet Dickinson)
- reconstructed the historic landscape of the area from documentary sources and archaeological evidence (Dr Mark Page, Tracey Partida, David Hall)
- analysed the field, furlong and other early names (Professor Barrie Cox)
- mapped the soils to identify those which developed in wet conditions (Rodney Burton)
- analysed the peat deposits to establish when each area of marsh disappeared (Universities of Birmingham and Bradford)
- conducted a systematic archaeological survey using metal detectors (Dr Glenn Foard and Richard Mackinder with a volunteer team)
- analysed the metal finds (Dr Glenn Foard, Richard Knox and Rob Janaway)
In the latter stages of the project we obtained further assistance from the University of Leeds, Cranfield University and the Royal Armouries.
There are several topographical clues in the names of the battle and the original accounts of the action, but the key phrase is that by Polydore Vergil who, writing in the early 16th century, noted that
‘Between the armies was a marsh which Henry purposely kept on his right, so it would serve as a fortress to protect his men. At the same time, also by doing this he left the sun behind.’
A range of evidence allowed us at an early stage to dismiss the Atherstone site suggested by Jones. The reconstruction of the medieval landscape then showed that a marsh had never existed on Ambion Hill. It could only lie in the areas identified as meadow. Soils mapping identified those soils which developed in waterlogged conditions, and these closely matched the areas identified as medieval meadow.
The reconstruction of the medieval landscape together with mapping of fen, moor and heath names led us to the general area where the four townships met - where Foss had suggested the battle took place. While pollen analysis followed by Carbon14 dating of peat deposits showed the marsh suggested by Foss had gone many centuries before the battle, we found another that proved to have continued into the medieval period.
Then we discovered that Stoke Golding’s claim to be the birthplace of the Tudor dynasty is likely to be valid, with Crown Hill almost certainly the location where Henry Tudor was became Henry VII. Our first record of Crown Hill and Crown Hill Field is in 1605 but a document from just before 1485 shows clearly that they were then called Garbrodys and Garbrodfelde respectively.
While all this evidence took us to the general area where the action was fought, it was systematic archaeological survey with metal detectors that was the method by which we finally located the battlefield. (To find out more about the techniques involved in this kind of work please visit the ‘Researching Battlefields’ Section of the Resource Centre at http://www.battlefieldstrust.com/resource-centre/battlefieldsuk/periodpageview.asp?pageid=409
In all 7 sq km have been surveyed. Of this 3.7 sq kms have been systematically on 10m transects and 1.1 sq km in the core area on 2.5 m transects. More than 5000 finds have been recorded, though only a tiny proportion of these relate to the battle.
For more than a year we had hints we were close to the action but it was only in the last week of planned fieldwork, in the last possible area, that the critical evidence was found. The project was then extended and intensive work undertaken during 2009 to explore the core of the battlefield. This work now continues in areas lacking evidence because we need to prove where the edges lie.
The troops who decided the battle were the typical infantry and cavalry of the late medieval period, with bow, bill and lance. But it is the new gunpowder weapons which have provided the key archaeological evidence for the location of the battlefield.
‘The king had the artillery of his army fire on the earl of Richmond, and so the French, knowing by the king’s shot the lie of the land and the order of his battle, resolved, in order to avoid the fire, to mass their troops against the flank rather than the front of the king’s battle.’ Jean Molinet (1490)
The archaeological survey of Bosworth battlefield has so far produced 22 lead roundshot fired from artillery and bullets fired from early hand guns – more than all the lead roundshot from all the other battlefields of the 15th and 16th century in Europe put together. They range in size up to 93mm – so the train of artillery at Bosworth already contained some guns as large as saker, the largest mobile field pieces normally deployed on battlefields in succeeding centuries.
The scatter of roundshot from artillery and of bullets from hand guns extends over a distance of more than a kilometre. Because no comparable evidence has been seen before from a medieval battlefield, the interpretation of the pattern we have recovered demands various new research. This will involve the application of modern ballistics and other methods of scientific analysis.
The combined evidence proves that the battle was fought in the area between the villages of Dadlington, Shenton, Upton and Stoke Golding – in a location not previously suggested. Currently we are not releasing the exact location because we fear illicit treasure hunting, which has caused so much damage on Towton battlefield. Though here they would be sadly disappointed, for it has taken us thousands of man hours to recover the small number of finds from the battle, but even if they removed just a handful of finds from the site would destroy important evidence.
The application of gunpowder weapons to the battlefield transformed the nature of warfare and proved a major influence in defining the character of the modern world. Our battle was fought during the period of greatest experimentation and innovation in this new technology, in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. At Bosworth we see an English army a few steps down that path which would ultimately lead to an empire which spanned the globe.
Bosworth has shown the potential of archaeology to contribute to our understanding of the Origins of Firepower – a story of international significance which must now be explored on battlefields across Europe.
From the download areas on the left hand side of this page, you can obtain copies of the Bosworth Battlefield Assessment, which reviews what we knew about the battle and battlefield at the beginning of the project and identifies the major research questions; and a summary of the Project Design, which explains how the investigation is attempting to answer those questions.
For other information about the project and Bosworth battlefield you can also visit the LCC web pages: CLICK HERE
For a news report on this announcement please CLICK HERE
UPDATE ON THE BOSWORTH PROJECT: SUMMER 2007
The Battle of Bosworth was first recorded in the York City Records the day after the battle, where it was called the ‘Field of Redemore’. The battle saw the defeat and death of Richard III, the last English king to die on the battlefield, and the birth of the Tudor dynasty. According to tradition the crowning of Henry Tudor as Henry VII took place on Crown Hill in Stoke Golding.
Towards the end of 2005 Leicestershire County Council was awarded a grant by the Heritage Lottery Fund to investigate the numerous theories as to where the battle was fought, to ensure that the new visitor experience provided the most accurate information about the battle. To do this a team of experts were brought together under the direction of Glenn Foard of the Battlefield Trust, a specialist in battlefield archaeology, to attempt to accurately locate the site. The project runs over three years.
What we know so far
When the Battlefield centre opened in 1977 the accepted theory, as refined for LCC by the historian Danny Williams, was that the battle took place where you can see the standards flying today, on Ambion Hill.
The new research indicates that this is incorrect. All interpretations depend on locating Redmore, and on finding the site of the marsh which Henry used to protect the flank of his army as he attacked Richard. The evidence collected by the team has shown the marsh could never have existed on Ambion Hill. Instead they have narrowed the search down to an area within the medieval manor and chapelry of Dadlington, though we now know that the extent of Dadlington then was somewhat larger than today’s parish.
How do we know this?
The medieval landscape
The medieval landscape has been mapped using evidence from both ground and aerial survey, showing land use as it probably was in around 1300. This map shows which areas were ploughed in the typical strip field system of the period and those which were meadow, pasture or settlements. Marsh could only have existed in the meadows.
In parallel to this the soil itself has also been studied. This work has been done to compliment works already published by the Soil Survey of England and Wales by Cranfield University. It involved taking a series of 10cm plugs of soil down to a depth of as much as 1 metre from hundreds of locations across the area. Different types of soil indicate where a marsh could and couldn’t have existed. In just two locations, both in Dadlington’s former meadow land, this augering has also found peat deposits, which are now being subjected to further analysis to establish when they were open marshland.
Historic maps have been reviewed and areas with relevant names such as fen or marsh have been plotted. Two of these correspond closely to the peat deposits found in the soil survey.
Other documents in local and national archives are also being studied. Those from the mid 17th century and earlier are predominantly written in Latin with each individual document having to be read, translated and then interpreted. This is a challenging task but is producing important new evidence as some of these documents are being studied for the first time.
Sadly our study area has proved to be a poorly documented landscape, possibly due to a lack of monastic or other great estates. However we have had one lucky break: many of the records of the medieval manorial court for Dadlington do survive. These ‘court rolls’ and other documents show that ‘Redmore’ lay within the land of Dadlington. The team are also reviewing other well known sources, one of which refers to Henry VIII supporting the establishment of a chantry at Dadlington to pray for the souls of those killed in the battle.
These documents prove that the battle must have taken place partly or wholly within Dadlington, supporting an existing hypothesis first developed by Peter Foss.
Metal Detecting Survey
Guided by this evidence a systematic archaeological survey using metal detectors is under way. This survey has recovered some objects which may relate to the battle but it has so far failed to find the density of artefacts that have been recovered from the Towton battlefield. At Towton, a battle fought just 24 years before Bosworth, an impressive array of medieval battle related artefacts have been discovered, including over 200 arrow heads. But it is not just at Bosworth that problems have arisen in the archaeological survey. Other medieval battlefields like Bannockburn and Shrewsbury have also so far failed to yield evidence similar to that from Towton.
This raises two questions:
• Are we looking in the right place ?
• Or is Towton unusual?
The Next Step
We need to discover why so many battle related artefacts survive at Towton. Are there perhaps special conditions, of soil chemistry, land use history etc on that site which are not repeated at Bosworth and other medieval battlefields?
To answer this question we have carried out analysis of the soils at Towton to compare them to soils at Bosworth. This does suggest the conditions are very special at Towton, but it does not seem to provide the whole answer. So, we now also need to repeat our metal detecting survey methods on sample areas of another accurately located medieval battlefield. The team will therefore be working Flodden, the last big medieval battle to take place in England, to see if the pattern there looks like that from Towton or if it is far more like that we have seen where we have been working at Bosworth.
The archaeological survey here at Bosworth still has another year to run. It has brought together specialists from many disciplines and has taken expert advice from battlefield archaeologists working in various other countries. The current project has narrowed down the search for the battlefield to very specific areas of Dadlington and its immediate environs. We have proven where the battle could not have been fought, what we aim to do over the next year is to prove exactly where it was fought.
The project has proven an unexpectedly difficult challenge, for it has shown that some of the accepted assumptions about the archaeology of medieval battles may not be correct. It is forcing battlefield archaeologists to rethink the validity of Towton as a benchmark for the study of medieval battlefields. For this reason, whatever the final results of the project, it is already clear that it will have an important impact on the future development of battlefield studies in Europe.