Bosworth Field

In Our Time is a BBC radio programme in which Melvyn Bragg and three experts discuss a topic.  It is one of the BBC's best productions. In Our Time is both broadcast on Radio 4 and issued as a podcast.  After each programme Melvyn Bragg sends out an email newsletter. This contains some extra material that emerged after the programme ended.

This is the newsletter for the programme on the Battle of Bosworth Field.

A few after the programme reflections.  One of the reasons, I was told, that the evidence for domestic wars is not as plentiful as that for foreign wars is that foreign wars were audited by the Exchequer, who liked to put down what every single man was paid and when he was paid and who he was, and so for foreign wars we have a very good idea of numbers, of names, of positions in society.  For domestic wars there was a war chest and a noble would come along and ask for money to help him bring his men to battle, and the war chest would be opened, coins would be passed over and a bit of paper would change hands as a receipt.  Most of these bits of paper, it turns out, disappeared.

It was also pointed out that the fighting in medieval wars was very often done by a handful of people who liked fighting and were trained to fight.  They were trained troops and to manipulate a horse in full armour, with weapons to hand, needed a great deal of training and the will to kill had to be cultivated.  This could extend down the scale, especially with bowmen, because at that time in the fifteenth century all adult men had to do archery practice in the towns as well as in the villages, and we know that they did because of reports that we have  of the accidents that occurred!

One of the contributors said that household retainers were very important to the lord leading his troops into the main throng of battle.  They were like a mafia group who had great loyalty to each other which came way before anything else  and that cohesion could be a tremendously important factor.

Lots of talk about longbows being very slowly overtaken by guns.  There‚s a famous painting of knights in full armour firing guns from the shoulder in the 1470s in Burgundy.  Knights in full armour with guns were also common in Germany.  But the transition from longbows to guns took a long time.  Longbows were still taken into the field of battle in the 1560s.  Even at that time they had a faster rate of fire than guns and were more accurate.  Unfortunately, they could not pierce armour which is where guns trumped them.  There‚s a painting, I was told, of a knight in a field walking around like a porcupine with arrows coming out of his armour all over the place, but he, snugly inside the metal, unhurt.

Another reason for the difficulties in finding the battlefield around Bosworth was that the soil is very acidic and therefore arrowheads, which are a great indicator of numbers and so on, were not preserved.

And finally Shakespeare, who we did not get around to, may well have modelled his character of Richard III on a book by Thomas More, who himself saw Richard III as a model monster.

Then out into a rather sunny London, a change after the rain.  I was rather looking forward to walking in the rain.  I got dressed up for it, i.e. raincoat, cap and decent shoes.  Spent forty minutes waiting to meet a friend to talk about a book.  He was waiting for me in reception; I was waiting for him in the coffee room.  Neither of us had the sense to look in the other room.

Off to the office and then to a rough cut.  I wanted to get down to the Lords to vote but things dragged out.  It‚s that sort of time of year as we‚re getting ready for the big South Bank Show Sky Arts Awards, which are a model monster to produce, especially in the last week or two.

But had a wonderful walk in the rain on Hampstead Heath a couple of mornings ago.  Absolutely sluicing down.  Most of the morning walkers, therefore, not on the Heath.  Something terrific about wearing the right clothes when it‚s sheeting with rain and feeling pelted in the face by hard, driving rain.  Not quite as good as the hailstones which drummed me up in Cumberland two weeks ago.  Like white marbles they were, bouncing on the road, bouncing on the roofs of cars.

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