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Battle of Bosworth
Richard's cavalry charge
Though perhaps initially hard pressed, the rebels closed ranks and formed a 'wedge', a classic attacking formation, to punch a hole in the enemy frontage. As this attack went in the Duke of Norfolk’s vanguard seem to have come under severe pressure. Unable to deploy the rearguard in support, Richard now had a critical tactical decision to make. He may have initially intended to support Norfolk with a cavalry charge, but he now saw an opportunity to recover the whole situation.
Richard was advised that Henry was positioned some distance behind his vanguard, protected by just a small body of infantry and a lifeguard of horse. Richard reviewed the situation and a direct attack with a relatively small number of heavy cavalry. This was not the despairing act of a defeated warrior. Richard was a man who had considerable military experience. He had been outmanoeuvred and could see his vanguard in trouble against the rebel army, but he knew that if he could kill the pretender, Henry, then the battle would be won. Most importantly he knew that, with luck, a charge by heavy cavalry against a small body of cavalry and infantry, unprotected by archers, could carry all before it.
At first it seemed that Richard’s daring move would succeed, as they broke through Henry’s lifeguard, getting close enough to the rebel leader to kill his standard bearer. But it was now that Sir William Stanley’s troops made their decisive counter attack, coming to Henry’s aid in the nick of time. ‘A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!’, Shakespeare’s haunting image of the last moments of an evil king, may be Tudor propaganda but Richard was cut off from his lifeguard, his horse was driven into the marsh and he was cut down, his head smashed by a rebel poleaxe.