Bristol researcher discovers a storm in the Severn saved Richard III
The Battle of Bosworth Field may never have happened if Henry Tudor’s first attempt to seize the throne from Richard III, two years earlier, hadn’t been thwarted by flooding in the River Severn, a researcher at the University of Bristol has discovered.
The last Plantagenet king made headlines internationally recently, when his body was finally discovered beneath a car park in Leicester, more than 500 years after his death.
But Ros Smith, a PhD student in Bristol's School of Geographical Sciences, believes Richard III may not have met his end at Bosworth Field, if it hadn't been for the storms in the Severn in October 1483.
Ros was aware of a great storm and flood in the Severn Estuary in 1483, but it wasn’t until she read Shakespeare’s Richard III that she realised its historical significance.
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Shakespeare’s play, and the chronicles that he used to research historical events, document a coordinated attempt to confront Richard III in 1483. Two armies set out, one led by the Duke of Buckingham and one by the Earl of Richmond (later to become Henry VII), but both failed to meet with Richard.
Shakespeare described how the Duke of Buckingham had amassed an army of Welshmen and aimed to cross the River Severn to confront Richard III at Salisbury but, due to flooding of the river, this became impossible: "by sudden floods and fall of waters, Buckingham’s army is dispers’d and scatter’d".
Ros also noted that the chronicles report that the Earl of Richmond had set sail from Brittany at the same time, with a 5,000 strong army, in an attempt to fight Richard for the crown, but, due to a great storm off the South West coast of England: "The Bretagne navy [was] dispers’d by tempest".
Nobody had ever made the historical connection between the two events before.
Ros Smith said: "The combination of storm and flooding in the Severn Estuary was a significant event and led to the drowning of more than 200 people. Yet it would hardly have been mentioned in the chronicles if it hadn’t disrupted the plans of Dukes and Earls."
The Duke of Buckingham lost his head, but in 1485 the Earl of Richmond landed safely in Pembrokeshire and, with his strengthened army, battled with and defeated Richard III at Bosworth Field, to become Henry VII.