Friday, 30 October 2009

A horse, a horse. Or maybe not. And certainly not here.

It was fascinating to learn yesterday that archaeologists have now established where the Battle of Bosworth Field actually took place. And it wasn’t exactly where the best-informed opinion previously thought.

Uncertainty about this battle may seem surprising. After all, it signalled the end of what must have been one of the bloodiest periods in English history, the Wars of the Roses. The worst loss of English life in a single day’s fighting occurred at the Battle of Towton, during those wars. The worst bar none. Worse than any single day in the First World War, even.

At Bosworth, Richard III lost not just the battle but his life – the last English monarch killed in battle – opening the way for the victor to become Henry VII and found the Tudor dynasty. When you think that arguably the best monarch we ever had – Elizabeth I – was his granddaughter you can see that this was a pretty key event. And we didn’t know where it happened.

Some years ago I was driving past the supposed site of the battle and pulled over to visit it. I find that I get inexplicably sentimental about being in the actual place where certain things have happened. It gave me a real thrill to be in the place where Richard III had said ‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse’. Though I suspect he probably never said it. But at least I was in the actual place where he didn’t say it. Except that I probably wasn’t. Leicestershire County Council had had the decency, in setting up the visitor centre, to admit that they couldn’t be completely sure that they’d got the site right.

So I was probably not in the place where Richard III probably didn’t say the words Shakespeare attributes to him. Not exactly a classic experience in historical nostalgia.

Well, now we know where the battle really took place. Now I can go there and be properly sentimental about the words that weren’t said there. It feels like the opportunity to make up for a really serious disappointment.

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