page id: 192 Battle Report V: A Warhammer Ancients Mega-Battle and historical recreation, in which Henry Tudor once again attempts to strip Richard III, King of England, of his crown.


By Ken "Richard III" Lacy (with notes from John "Henry Tudor" B.)

On 22 August 1485, two young men met at Bosworth Field. At stake was the crown of England itself.

On one side was Richard III, the politically inexperienced and unpopular younger brother of the recently deceased Edward IV, the powerful ruler and general who had "won" the War of the Roses for the House of York. Many of the great noble houses chafed under his rule, and the mysterious disappearance of his two young nephews (Edward's sons) had cast a cloud over his recent coronation.

On the other side was Henry Tudor, a distant in-law of a minor branch of the effectively defunct House of Lancaster. A scholar living on the continent, he had been persuaded by John de Vere, Earl of Oxford (a die-hard supporter of the House of Lancaster, particularly given that his father and brother had been killed by Yorkists) to make a claim for the crown. With a small mercenary army funded almost entirely by the King of France (who was politically feuding with his cousin the Duchess of Burgundy, who had supported the House of York during the War of the Roses), he landed in Wales on 7 August. The army swiftly moved inland, gathering support from disaffected Welsh nobles along the way.

Richard hurriedly called together a large, feudal army and rushed to meet this latest challenge to his authority. On paper, it looked excessively one-sided: even with Welsh supporters Henry's army was outnumbered over 3 to 1 by Richard's forces. But life plays tricks sometimes, and Richard's poor relations with his nobles turned the tide in Henry's favor. Nearly a third of Richard's forces, under Lord Stanley, showed up on 22 August on Henry's side, and nearly another third, under Northumberland, sat back during the ensuing battle and did virtually nothing. Combined with difficulties drawing his lines of battle in the morning, and poor luck in his initial assaults, Richard found his forces foundering. Rather than pull out and retreat, he made a heroic charge toward Henry's position with his bodyguards of knights, hoping to kill the enemy pretender and end the threat to his crown. However, his attack was repulsed, and he was eventually cut down by halberdiers (billmen) in Henry's army.

With that, the House of Tudor took the throne of England, through Henry's (now Henry VII's) tenuous ties to the old House of Lancaster, and the dynasty that would produce Henry VIII and Elizabeth I began.

What...a historical recreation?

This is a battle fascinating on many levels to military history buffs, given that it essentially was evenly matched, and could have gone either way. Henry Tudor's forces (with Lord Oxford, of course), was fairly evenly matched against Richard's "loyal core" of troops, comprised of those led by Norfolk and Brackenbury, and Richard's own bodyguard. Lord Stanley led a somewhat smaller number of troops that tentatively joined Henry's side (but effectively did little apart from mopping up action towards the end of the battle), while, in Northumberland, Richard had a "reserve" nearly equal to the "core" of troops that had fought. For whatever reason, Northumberland never committed his troops, but instead sat out the battle and watched.

Even then, Richard could easily have pulled out and retreated, and fought again another day -- after all, he was nominally in "friendly" territory and could call upon more troops, while Henry could not. Of course, given that Lord Stanley had "gone over" to Henry's side, as had many Welsh nobles, and given his own shaky relations with the nobility, Richard couldn't have been certain of a victory even then. Perhaps that motivated his epic (and ultimately futile, and fatal) charge across the field at Henry's position.

Regardless, it's a perfect battle for historical recreation, and so yours truly and the other Crazy Warhammer Ancients Players at the Warmonger Club organized a Bosworth Megabattle, which we played on 10 January 2001.

The Setup

To keep as much of the flavor of the original battlefield as possible, the five players who participated attempted to recreate on a 4x8 table the main field of battle. We also attempted to largely mimic the set-up of the various forces present on the field. In our recreation, the players (and their forces and lords) were:

Matt � Lord Oxford (O)
John B. � Henry Tudor (H)
Jose � Lord Stanley (S)
Ken � Richard III (R), and Sir Brackenbury (B, in place of Norfolk)
Manny � Northumberland (No)

The scenario would be a straightforward pitched battle. The victory conditions would be slightly different: one army must beat the other to break point or, conversely, kill the enemy general. Since this was a battle which decided who would be king, this condition would decide the battle very definitely, in spite of which side might be winning on points.

As seen in the illustration (which gives a simple idea of the placement of units), the actual placement of units was not too different from what history records. Given the space limits, both my troops and Manny's stretched a bit more to the right than historically was the case, and the forces of John, Jose and Matt covered virtually the whole board edge. The differences were in the plans, and their execution!

My plan was simple: have Brackenbury hold the hill against Oxford and Henry, and throw the bulk of my forces and Manny's around the right edge of the swamp, crush Stanley, then flank Henry and Oxford. This could be accomplished through the judicious use of our cavalry (as we had three heavy cavalry units on our side, compared to two on the other side) and ranged weaponry to first "soften up" the enemy pikes, spears, and cavalry that Stanley was fielding. I also moved my artillery from the "crown" of the hill to the right. Historically, Richard placed his artillery in batteries in FRONT of Brackenbury's position on the hilltops, to "soften" the opposition before charging in. Since I was going to keep Brackenbury quite static and use him to hold my flank, I instead moved the cannon rightward to give us better cross-field angles at Henry's and Oxford's forces as they charged forward.

Conversely, John's plan was for Lord Stanley to hold a defensive line on the right with his pikemen and bills while Oxford's infantry, joined by Henry Tudor's small cavalry contingents, swung left and attacked Brackenbury's forces on Ambion hill. Henry's remaining missile troops would advance in the center and shoot at the opposing missile troops on the hill and on the margins of the swamp. This action closely mirrored the original plan of Oxford and Tudor. As it turned out, this battle would turn out as a test in alternative history: it was a chance to see what might have happened had Richard dealt differently with the original circumstances and foes.

The Battle

My plan worked, though I hesitate to say "to perfection". Henry's army got the first turn and started to swarm forwards, inflicting one or two casualties as it came with arrowfire. Then the Ricardians went, kicking their bold plan into action. After two turns of maneuvering into position, the cavalry and supporting infantry (from Northumberland) were ready to charge, and the massed archers had rather severely shot up Stanley's spearmen and heavy cavalry, forcing them back into an untenable position. Screened by peasant levies, the Ricardian cavalry were within charge range, and in the bottom of the third turn, proceeded to smash into Stanley's infantry, with the militia cleverly moving to screen the flanks of the cavalry. Our ranged fire finally kicked in on the third turn, wiping out the last of Stanley's heavy cavalry and reducing our opponents to infantry units only (except for Henry's small bodyguard of Knights).

Richard and his bodyguard performed superbly, smashing through their opponents and cutting them down as they fled, following into the flanks of further enemy units and causing one of Stanley's precious pike units to flee in panic from the field! Northumberland's cavalry performed somewhat less effectively, however, fleeing as they lost half their number to stakes planted by Stanley's archers, and flanked by Halberdiers! Given this abominable luck, it suddenly looked as though the battle had swung in favor of Henry's forces, as Richard and his bodyguards were suddenly unsupported and charging through enemy territory!

More bad news came to the Ricardians in the following turn. Enemy fire and a failed assault by peasant levies on the hill (attempting to hold back the press of enemy pikemen) resulted in most of the longbow units in the middle, the core of our missile fire, fleeing in panic. Pikemen stormed the hill, smashing into the badly battered billmen led by Brackenbury, who quickly won the title of "first nobleman killed" by ignominiously turning and fleeing with his unit, and being cut down! Stanley looked to be throwing Northumberland's forces back on the right, as his billmen smashed into the flank of the Earl of Northumberland himself, and Henry and Oxford were making strong moves against Brackenbury's depleted forces.

On the bottom of the fourth turn, Richard and his men continued to rampage through the back of the pretender's lines, wiping out another unit and smashing into the side of another. Stanley's infantry were slowed by the arriving second wave of Northumberland's forces, however � three units of veteran billmen, and old Lord Percy (one of Northumberland's subordinates) on foot. Between one unit and two units of peasant levies, Stanley's pikemen are surrounded! The Ricardian forces on the hill, despite the loss of Brackenbury, somehow managed to get themselves all turned around, and moved into a defensive position. Some scattered fire from the middle knocked down a few of Oxford's pikemen. Then a pair of miracles � first, the archers accompanying Northumbria's billmen managed to send an arrow into Lord Stanley, wounding him badly, and the Ricardian cannon managed a lucky shot, downing one of Henry's noble retainers and a few billmen in the unit he led. Northumberland's archers followed by shredding almost a quarter of the same unit. Although nothing to turn the tide of battle, it was a heartening moment for the Ricardians to see the Lord Stanley wounded and the first of Henry's noble supporters fall. Particularly since, mere moments later, Northumberland's heavy cavalry were broken and run down, and Stanley's billmen smashed right into a furious melee on the right!

Now time seemed up even for Richard. His rampage through the back lines of Henry's forces was at an end, and he and his bodyguard was suddenly faced with a solid wall of archers (three large units, in fact) as well as the lone battery of light cannon Henry had brought with him from the continent. A virtual hail of fire flew at his isolated unit of knights, but suddenly fortune smiled on the King of England. Arrows bounced from masterfully crafted armor like raindrops off a duck's back, and the cannon fire miraculously fell short, mere yards in front of Richard himself! Oxford's assault on the hill proved just as unsuccessful, with his pikemen running into a mess of peasant levy, and though they killed them all, this meant they found themselves mere yards from the grim longbows of a Ricardian billman unit! Oxford's own Scots fell short of the charge, and ended up mired on the far side of the hill from the pikes! Stanley was similarly was having difficulties, with his billmen bogged down by the dogged Lord Percy despite fighting their way through peasant levies and enemy billmen.

On the bottom of the fifth turn, the tide began to turn. The archers in the halberdier unit before them brutalized Oxford's pikes, and his Scots, led by Oxford himself, were shredded by arrowfire. Stanley's pikes were flanked by the last of Northumbria's halberdiers and forced from the field, while peasant militia (!) with their rocks and sticks, managed to inflict even more grievous wounds to the very surprised Lord Stanley! Stanley's infantry forces finally overwhelmed Lord Percy, but not before he crucially delayed them just long enough for the last of Northumbria's junior nobles, Lord Scrope, to rally his fleeing heavy cavalry and move them into position to charge! The much-maligned (until this point) Ricardian artillery finally hit their mark perfectly � in a single volley wiping out a good two-thirds of Henry's knights (and almost killing Henry himself). Finally, Richard and his bodyguards, though reduced to half their number, charged headlong into a unit of Welsh spearmen. To the complete surprise of everyone (especially Henry, who had been counting on those billmen to flee, whereupon he planned to smash into Richard's unit in the flank), he failed to rout them!

Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, the Ricardians redoubled their efforts. While Henry frantically repositioned his forces, Stanley heroically threw himself at the battered unit of billmen that had just wiped out the last of his pikemen, and Oxford charged his pikes forward into the billmen, and his Scots headlong into the face of my own! It seemed foolhardy, especially as most of the enemy Scots were wiped out, and the survivors fled � but Oxford himself, mad with vengeance, stayed to fight it out! Then, a miraculous break! Richard's halberds dashed aside the blows of the enemy pikemen on their heavy armor and then overcame their foes. Despite the exhortations of the nearby Oxford, the continental mercenaries broke and ran, and were cut down to a man. The exuberant billmen found themselves just a short dash from Henry's position, just to the side of the marsh...

The bottom of turn six was the nail in the coffin. Lord Scrope, last of Richard's nobles, led a cavalry charge into the flank of Stanley's last unit, breaking them and cutting them down as they fled. Nearby, the last of Northumberland's infantry regiments finally pulled down Stanley himself, while on the left, Henry found himself charged in the rear by enemy billmen! Oxford was flanked by the remnants of several units, and between them and the Scots, he was overwhelmed. Richard (who had broken the Welsh spearmen the turn previous) charged the flank of a nearby unit of French crossbowmen, routing them in short order. The pretender's army was being shredded on both flanks, and although Henry himself was able to beat back the halberdiers that had charged him for a short while, the end was near.

In a final effort to turn the tide, Henry's largest remaining units of archers, and his precious artillery, fired into Richard's bodyguard � but the cannon chose this most inopportune moment to burst its breech, and the arrow fire that had been so accurate earlier was atrocious now. Richard and his bodyguard escaped virtually unscathed. Oxford's Welsh spearmen and Irish mercenaries chose this moment to charge the hill, and did so amazingly successfully, catching the torn-up remnants of the Ricardian's Scots and billmen unawares, and routing them from the scene. This was in vain, for by now the battle was over � Henry, despite the desperate support of his nearby Welsh allies, was cut down by a Ricardian billman near the marshy ground of Bosworth Field.

History is Written by the Victors!
(the Ricardian Wrap-up)

What sheer carnage! Warhammer Ancient Battles pulls no punches � when two forces are as evenly matched as these two, the damage can be rather severe to both sides, and it's certainly visible in this case. On the Ricardian side, the only nobles left were Lord Scrope (cavalry commander for Northumberland's forces), Richard's Standard-bearer Sir Percival Thirwall, and Richard himself! Henry's forces fared far poorer � not only was Henry killed, but also (to the best of my knowledge) not a single one of the lords that supported him survived, either! Our armies were similarly mauled, although Jose by far took the brunt of it (I believe we wiped him out to a model). Not too surprising when you consider that the plan Manny & I elected to use basically threw over 2000 points of models at Jose's 1500, supported by the ranged fire of another 1000 or so points in the first few turns. All things considered, he performed admirably, managing to throw back our initial attack in disarray (except for Richard and his unit of knights, of course) and even looking to hurt us badly on that flank for a while.

On the other flank, Matt was quite upset when he realized I wasn't going to engage him. I actually went so far as to pull three of my units back onto the hill from their initial deployment on the low ground to the "right" of it (from my perspective at the table). He got his moral victory, of course, managing to take the hill at the end of the game, but all things considered, my "delaying" forces over on that flank did pretty well. Too bad Brackenbury died so quickly � it was actually a bit depressing when it happened � but I somehow managed to roll a string of successful rally tests and keep from running with more than a single unit at a time from then on.

The Tudor plan was sound and historically successful, but badly blunted by the Ricardians' delaying tactics on the hill. The flank finally collapsed under the weight of Matt's determined assaults, but it bought enough time for Richard and his heavy cavalry to rampage through the core of the Tudor army. If he could do it again, John admits that tighter placement of Stanley's holding troops against the almost impassible marsh in the center could have slowed the Ricardian assault force more effectively and with fewer troops. This would have made more infantry available for use in the attack against my flank on Ambion hill. As it was, Jose's troops were the most heavily engaged, and his coolness under pressure caused most of the casualties inflicted by the Tudor forces.

Manny certainly deserves the lion's share of the praise, on our side, as his inspired dice-rolling did heavy damage every turn when it came time for our archers to fire. We had five large units of archers, and five units with archers mixed in with billmen, plus two units of skirmishing handgunners!. Our initial set-up, with combat units to the flanks, and missile units on the hills overlooking the marsh, proved highly effective, and the long range of the various missile weapons certainly helped us "reach out and touch" our enemies without having to move that much. Sadly, the artillery proved to be worth every point I had paid (which was very, very little!). It had an inauspicious start, wherein I managed to destroy one cannon and lose a turn of fire on another, but towards the end those cannon redeemed themselves by killing a noble and wiping out most of Henry's cavalry unit. It must be noted that this was about ALL they managed to do. These rules manage to effectively recreate the wonderful experience that was medieval artillery � definitely more bark than bite!

And, in the end, history sort of DID repeat itself, with one of the two contenders for the crown being cut down by a halberdier in the marshy lands near the swamp � except in this case, it was Henry, not Richard. In our recreation, the House of Tudor dies a quiet death before it ever even begun, a mere footnote in the annals of English history, while the Plantagenet dynasty (represented by Richard) lives on! A truly enjoyable Ancients megabattle (and best of all, only three and a half-hours for almost 7 turns of play), and one that we'll all certainly remember.

Created by: system. Last Modification: Monday 26 of January, 2009 03:01:49 PM EST by ZiggyQubert.

RSS feed Calendars