Richard as military commander

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Allegation No. 9: Richard was an inexperienced and untried military leader. His loss at Bosworth shows that his inexperience and lack of military skill was the cause of his ultimate failure on that day.
Rebuttal synopsis: Having led large battle wings in the Battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury, followed by campaigns in Scotland, and considering how historians have described his military prowess, the only fair conclusion to arrive at is that Richard was every bit a skilled, brave and creative military leader.

Written by Max Rettalack
Full Rebuttal: nd

For the “die hard” Ricardian/Yorkist , surely to question Richard III’s military leadership seems outrageously rhetorical. However for those who might question the Duke of Gloucester’s martial prowess here is a brief synopsis of some of his service exploits.

To start with the history books I have studied that assess the enigma that is Richard III, all come up with similar phrases when considering Gloucester’s, soldiering competence. Comments such as: “He was a sound commander and courageous fighter, who had served his brother loyally in the north”.
“A competent general and capable administrator…… . From his estate at Middleham in Yorkshire , he defended the borderlands , fought the Scots when necessary and toured the north as a fair and impartial judge…”.

“Richard was to play a key role …militarily in the affairs of the kingdom.. . At the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury in 1471 Richard commanded with distinction a wing of the Yorkist army. In 1475 Richard took part in the inglorious but profitable French campaign that ended with the Treaty of Picquigny. We are told the Duke of Gloucester opposed the betrayal of the Agincourt spirit….”.

However surely Richard III, Duke of Gloucester’s finest hour of valour came amidst the great personal catastrophe of Bosworth. “ For Richard it was a sorry tale of treachery and tribulation” … . Surrounded by treachery and weighed down by doubts as he must have been , Richard still held the advantage in numbers”. Or so it seemed. But when one considers the Stanley brothers betrayal. “Their combined force was probably greater in number than Henry Tudor’s entire army”. “It is likely that Henry’s force disposed a higher proportion of “professional” soldiers and included many Englishmen who had no hope of pardon if they were defeated. As for the King’s own forces . They “consisted largely of manorial tenants … whose main concern (we may assume) would have been to return safe to their families . They would do what was …necessary ... but lacked the motivation desperation even of those on the other side”. Vergil wrote that some “fought faintly”.

Next ponder the inertia of the Earl of Northumberland who like Lord Hastings’ earlier betrayal is an exasperating conundrum. Why wouldn’t Northumberland fight? No one seems to know. Was he waiting on the Stanley’s lead? Was he even asked to intervene? (Surely he should have gone to Richard’s aid anyway when he saw the seriousness of his plight). Was he impeded by the surrounding melee? Did he simply freeze? Or did a dispute with Richard and the reduction of his power in the north make him less than a reliable ally? Whatever his reason for his refusal to engage, the consequences were costly for his monarch. “The king had been made aware that his rearguard would not support him in his hour of need. Now it was all too clear to him how desperate his situation was.

The scene was now set for Richard III’s charge into chivalric folklore. The King, then led a mounted attack at the head of a retinue of up to two hundred men right across the front of Sir William Stanley’s men , who were at that moment preparing to ride to Henry’s aid. The proud Plantagenet and his remaining loyal lords bore down on those protecting the Welsh usurper. In this … conflict of truly majestic splendour Richard cut down Sir William Brandon Henry’s standardbearer and unhorsed Sir John Cheyney; all 6ft 8inches of him! …But just in time Henry’s supporters , now supplemented by Sir William Stanley’s men closed around their leader. … and the now unhorsed English King was set upon and hacked to death. Surely the last word should go to Juan de Salazar a Spanish soldier of fortune who fought for Richard. Apparently when the battle began to against the King, he was urged to escape but replied according to Salazar with the (now well known words ) “God forbid I yield one step. This day I will die as a king or win”!

I trust this modest account affords at least some defence of the integrity of King Richard III’s abilities as a military leader and general.

Sources: Richard III, by David Baldwin, Battles in Britain 1066-1746 by William Seymour, Brief Lives of The English Monarchs from William the Conqueror to Elizabeth II, by Carolly Erickson , Military History Monthly and The Lives of English Kings and Queens, edited by Antonia Fraser.

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