In the early morning hours of August 22, 1485, 331 years of Plantagenet rule over England came to an abrupt end as Henry Tudor’s upstart band of Lancastrians and foreign mercenaries overwhelmed Richard III’s royal forces. Although the Yorkist ruler’s army vastly outnumbered that of the insurgent, the Battle of Bosworth Field unexpectedly turned in Tudor’s favor. By the end of the fight, the king was dead, his corpse trussed up like a boar and tied to a horse, which would deliver him on to an unmarked grave in Leicester. His enemy, the soon-to-be crowned Henry VII, was declared the first Tudor king of England.
More than 500 years later, the site the battle was fought on is poised to suffer its own ignominious defeat; as Dan Martin reports for Leicestershire Live, local councilors approved the development of a $34 million, 83-acre driverless car testing track that infringes on the historic battlefield in a 12 to 5 vote held earlier this week.
According to a statement posted on Twitter, the Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council’s Planning Committee reached its decision after weighing the harm posed to the site against the “significant economic benefits” the venture offers.
The vote was held just under a month after councilors opted to defer an initial decision on the project, which is being spearheaded by automaker Horiba Mira. At the time, Leicestershire Live’s Martin wrote the council hoped Horiba might be able to tweak its design, enabling the track to move forward without encroaching on the site of Bosworth Field. But as Jack Loughran reports for Engineering and Technology, the company announced it could not shift the track south, as this would shorten it and prevent the facility from conducting necessary tests. Horiba did, however, pledge to conduct digital mapping of the battlefield to add further insights on the game-changing 15th-century clash.
Historians and battlefield enthusiasts have bitterly contested the council’s decision. A Change.org petition to halt the project garnered roughly 15,000 signatures, while a spokesman for the Battlefields Trust charity—one of several national heritage organizations that petitioned the council to reject the proposal—said the country was poised to “lose a massive heritage asset.”
Phil Stone of the Richard III Society tells BBC News that the portion of the field touched by the track is exactly where Tudor entered the battle and close to where the last Plantagenet king was cut down as he fought to reach the rebel claimant to his throne.
“If this area is lost, will it set a precedent?” Stone asks. “Will it be more next time?”
The Telegraph reports that the Battlefield Trust has vowed to appeal the decision “at the highest level of government.” In the meantime, Horiba will move forward with development, which is scheduled to launch this December.
Richard Smith, who represented the Battlefield Trust, the Loyal Supporters of Richard III and the Henry Tudor Society at the Tuesday council meeting, concluded, “I’m not going to advocate bloody rebellion, but there will be a lot of disappointment.”
Many of the details surrounding the Battle of Bosworth Field remain unclear, but as Chris Skidmore writes for History Extra, by all accounts, Richard—a polarizing historical figure alternately painted as a murderous usurper and an unjustly villainized ruler—should’ve emerged victorious.
As the two armies collided, the inexperienced Tudor kept to the back of the field, allowing Lancastrian general John de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, to lead his troops. Richard, a battle-worn soldier who had played a significant role in the ongoing Wars of the Roses, which pitted York and Lancaster cousins against each other in a fight for the throne, pushed forward in an attempt to track down Tudor directly. Although his troops successfully killed the younger man’s standard-bearer, Richard failed to reach his actual target. Then, the arrival of a new player shifted the battle decisively in Tudor’s favor.
The Stanley brothers, Thomas and William, were a notoriously unreliable pair, often refusing to commit to a cause unless victory was certain. As the husband of Tudor’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, Thomas was the claimant’s stepfather, but his allegiance to either side remained tenuous. Aware of the Stanleys’ questionable fealty, Richard held Thomas’ eldest son hostage, threatening to execute him if the Stanleys didn’t ride out with the Yorkist armies. Still, the brothers and their 6,000 men sat out the majority of the battle, observing events from the sidelines before making a final decision.
After witnessing Tudor’s increasingly dire straits, William and his troops rode out in support of the soon-to-be king. Surrounded by the combined forces of Tudor and Stanley, Richard knew his luck had changed, and according to Skidmore, reportedly told onlookers, “God forbid I yield one step. This day I will die as a king or win.”
Richard’s final moments were bloody yet brave. As Roff Smith reported for National Geographic in 2014—two years after the deposed king’s remains were unearthed below a Leicester car park—he was likely surrounded by three to four assailants wielding halberds, swords and heavy-bladed daggers. The soldiers delivered 11 blows, including nine to the head, in quick succession. A wound to the lower left side of the skull caused almost instantaneous unconsciousness, and with that, the last Plantagenet king’s two-year reign drew to an ignominious close.