Four years of intensive historical, topographical and archaeological research have finally borne fruit as a team led by Glenn Foard of the Battlefields Trust and funded by Leicestershire County Council and the HLF has solved one of the great mysteries of English military history and succeeded in locating the site of the battle of Bosworth.
After reassessing documentary evidence, poring over place names and analysing soil samples, Glenn’s team were able to discover the general area in which the fighting took place and now, by carrying out a systematic metal detecting survey, they have actually located the battlefield itself.
Archaeological investigations are not yet complete and until they are, the exact location of the battlefield is still being kept under wraps in order to spare it the attentions of amateur treasure hunters but we now know that the battle was fought not far from Stoke Golding, some two miles or so south-west of Ambion Hill, the ‘traditional’ location of the action.
I think that what makes this work so exciting is the fact that, as well uncovering the location of the battle, the Battlefields Trust has also made some quite startling discoveries about the nature of warfare of the time and about the way that Bosworth was fought. As Glenn has pointed out, the troops who decided the battle were the typical infantry and cavalry of the period, with bow, bill and lance.
But gunpowder weapons, though still in their infancy, were also used at Bosworth, and it’s these that have yielded the archaeological evidence for the battlefield’s location. For the archaeological survey has unearthed the largest group of cannonballs ever found on a medieval battlefield – no less than 22 lead shot of a variety of calibres – ranging from bullets fired from handguns to roundshot from quite large artillery pieces. Bosworth is important then, not only for its role in ushering in a new dynasty, but also for what it can tell us about the development of firepower and in particular the early use of gunpowder weapons which were to change the nature of warfare forever.
The work of the Battlefields Trust at Bosworth has shown just how valuable a historical resource a battlefield can be and how crucial evidence may still lie buried in the soil. But if we are to be able to do elsewhere what the Trust is currently doing at Bosworth we need to be able to preserve these battlefields from development, treasure hunting and intensive farming.
The problem is that, under existing legislation, there’s very little protection for Britain’s battlefields. The current government did offer improved protection under the Heritage Protection Bill but unfortunately it was dropped from this year’s legislative programme. Let’s hope that all the major political parties will see the value of places like Bosworth – both in terms of the historical evidence they can offer and as visitor attractions – and put forward some concrete proposals to protect them.