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by Frances Casey, Project Manager

Last week, a ceremony took place at the memorial sundial at the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre to commemorate those killed at the Battle of Bosworth on 22nd August 1485. This was the first anniversary to take place at the scene of the battle since the discovery of the body of King Richard III at the site of Greyfriars Church, Leicester in September 2012. Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth as he tried to defend his reign of just over two years against a claim to the throne of England made by Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond.

Battle of Bosworth Field sundial and thrones on the top of Ambion Hill (IWM WMA 64893, ©IWM 2013)

Battle of Bosworth Field sundial and thrones on the top of Ambion Hill (IWM WMA 64893, ©IWM 2013)

Rather than lay wreaths at the sundial, participants at last Thursday’s event held a rose-laying ceremony. The roses make reference to the Wars of the Roses (1455-1487), the civil war between Richard III’s house of York (white rose) and the house of Lancaster (red rose), from which Henry Tudor descended.

With the death of Richard III, the Battle of Bosworth became the deciding battle of the Wars of the Roses, yet assessment of Richard’s reign and its validity has continued to divide people to the present day. The discovery of Richard’s body will help to answer some questions about the fate of the King at the battle, but there are also questions surrounding, and revisions to, assumptions about where specific events took place leading up to and during the battle. These are reflected in the memorials on the battlefield.

Sundial with crown on gnomon and throne to Henry Tudor in the background (IWM WMA 64893, ©IWM 2013)

Sundial with crown on gnomon and throne to Henry Tudor in the background (IWM WMA 64893, ©IWM 2013)

We have recorded 18 memorials to the Wars of the Roses, eight of which commemorate Richard III himself. Of the memorials to Richard, three are sited within the battlefield area and include the sundial at which last Thursday’s anniversary ceremony took place. The sundial commemorates Richard alongside other combatants and is located at the top of Ambion Hill.

Viewing point over the proposed battlefield from Ambion Hill (©IWM 2013)

Viewing point over the proposed battlefield from Ambion Hill (©IWM 2013)

Until 1985 it was thought that the battle had taken place on Ambion Hill, but historians now agree that the likelihood is that Richard’s troops gathered on the hill early on in the battle and that fighting took place to the south west of the hill. The sundial marks the points of the compass and distances to other battlefields of the Wars of the Roses. A central gnomon, the time telling device, is topped with a crown, and at ground level is an inscription which tells the story of the battle, based on that of Polydore Vergil, an Italian at the court of Henry VII. Around the outer dial are three thrones bearing the names of Richard III; Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond; and Thomas, Lord Stanley. Stanley’s throne is shorter than the other two, and it may seem like a surprising addition, but he held sovereignty of the Isle of Man as the ’King of Mann’, and his action at the battle in support of Henry is thought to be decisive.

Richard III Stone of Remembrance (IWM WMA 58484, ©IWM 2013)

Richard III Stone of Remembrance (IWM WMA 58484, ©IWM 2013)

Beside the Battlefield Heritage Centre is a stone of remembrance  which is dedicated to Richard III, erected by the Richard III Society. This was located in nearby Shenton until 1974, as it was thought that Richard had been killed in the area. A plaque added to the memorial in 2009 informs us that ‘after several years of careful study and extensive fieldwork, the true site of the battle was discovered in the area around Mill lane and the Fenn Lane Roman road…The stone has been moved here to allow better and safer public access to it and to allow the field at Shenton to be returned to agricultural use.’

Further down the hill towards the south west of Ambion Hill is ‘Richard’s Well’ . This is a pyramid of stones erected in 1813 over a natural spring. The well commemorates the site where Richard is thought to have drunk spring water either before or during the battle. However, the historian Peter Foss notes that ‘there are several springs on Ambion’ (Foss, 1998, p23), raising the question of which would be the most likely site.

'Richard's Well', Ambion Wood (IWM WMA 58477, ©IWM 2013)

‘Richard’s Well’, Ambion Wood (IWM WMA 58477, ©IWM 2013)

Other memorials to Richard include a floor tablet in Leicester Cathedral and a statue in Castle Gardens, Leicester . The latter was erected by the Richard III Society to commemorate the King who was, echoing the report of Polydore Vergil, ‘Piteously slain fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies. Buried in Leicester’

In his book, The Field of Redemore, The Battle of Bosworth, 1485 (Kairos Press, 1998), Peter Foss reassesses evidence for the battle and notes that sixteenth century chroniclers were inclined towards a Tudor bias (1998, p.12). Since the 1980s, the Richard III Society in particular has gone some way to redress any bias against Richard by erecting memorials to him, even though the facts regarding their locations have been revised. The memorials we have recorded so far, commemorate the Battle as a whole or Richard III’s loss. We have yet to record a memorial which celebrates Henry VII’s victory.

What does seem certain, is that ongoing investigations mean that the debate about Richard III and the Battle of Bosworth is set to continue for a little while longer…

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This post is prompted by a newspaper article, sent in by member of the public, which appeared earlier this month in the Yorkshire Post.  The article deals with plans to add the names of those who died in the two world wars to Featherstone’s war memorial, as these were not included when it was built after the First World War.  (Click here to read the whole article).

Despite the comment in the article from a local historian, “No one knows why the memorial has no names on it, even the smallest village memorials always seem to have names,” it is actually not that uncommon to find memorials with no names.  There are several possible reasons for this, including the follow:  

  • There may have been a shortage of money (inscriptions were paid for by the letter), which is the same reason initials are often used rather than full first names.   
  • There might have been a desire not to accidentally exclude anyone.  Names were collected in a variety of ways and often someone who might have been included was missed.  This is one of the reasons we regularly receive enquiries from people seeking to add missing names (often relatives) to their local memorial.
  • The memorial may not have been large enough to bear all the names.  You are actually more likely to see names on memorials from smaller communities.  Larger communities often had a memorial without names but collected them together in a Book of Remembrance that was kept on display in a prominent location, such as the town hall.

The second interesting point from the article was the following:

“One soldier will be omitted. His details were traced from the single fact that he was known to have a brother called Norman. From that sliver of information, his identity was eventually unearthed.

But he fought in the Spanish Civil War and rules dictate that only those who died serving the Crown should appear on war memorials in this country.

There are many commonly held assumptions about who can and can’t appear on war memorials, but the simple truth is there are no national rules (or even guidance) about this.  Whoever erects a memorial can decide whom they wish to commemorate.  Among the enormous variety of war memorials in this country are memorials to the following: those who served but didn’t die; women; civilians (including babies); animals; foreign nationals (including those from enemy countries); and memorials to those who fought in conflicts abroad in which the UK played no official part, such as the American Civil War and Vietnam.

This also includes 44 memorials to the Spanish Civil War.

The Daily Telegraph recently printed an article on ‘Thankful Villages’.  This was the name given by the writer and topographer Arthur Mee to villages that had not lost a single serviceman in the First World War. At the time he was writing, in the 1930s and 40s, he identified 43 parishes as Thankful Villages.  That he found so few communities where no-one lost their lives brings home the scale of the losses of the First World War.

The Telegraph report stated that these Thankful Villages did not erect war memorials.  In fact, immediately following the war, many of these villages did erect war memorials, giving thanks for the safe return of all those who had served.  Some of these were added to after the Second World War when they again had cause to be thankful.

Twenty seven Thankful (or Blessed) Village memorials can be seen on our database.

‘Thankful Villages’ finally get plaques – Read article in The Daily Telegraph

There are many misconceptions about war memorials.  How much do you know?  Challenge your knowledge with these True or False statements.  Click ‘continue reading‘ to find out the answers.

1)  Someone can only be named on a memorial if they’re not buried in the UK

2)  War memorials can also commemorate those who didn’t die in wars

3) All war memorials are legally protected

4) Anyone can erect a war memorial

5) You don’t find women named on First World War memorials

Click ‘continue reading‘ to find out the answers…..

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