Sketch of battle standards from the Battle of Bosworth Field, Stoke Golding

The Watchers on the Tower

An air of foreboding and fear hung over the village of Stoke Golding. It was August 1485.

The King’s spies told him that Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond had left France and was making for Wales and then, that he had landed at Milford Haven. The King realised that the waiting, for what would prove to be the last battle of The Wars of the Roses, was almost over. What no one knew, was that Stoke Golding would be at the centre of that battle.

The spies passed along the Roman roads of Watling Street, the Fen Lane, in sight of Stoke Golding and onto the Old Fosse in Leicester and so to Nottingham. Sometimes they passed through the village, seeking food and drink and a change of horse. Then, for a flagon of ale in the village inn they would let slip that Henry was moving through Wales gathering troops as he went. He was in Cardigan, Aberystwyth, Shrewsbury and then Lichfield, and Atherstone. Richard had left Nottingham to intercept him and was in Leicester, Elmesthorpe and heading for Sutton Cheney. Henry was going to make his bid for the Kingdom at Stoke Golding. The villagers would see their King in Battle.

For the inhabitants the excitement mounted. Though professing allegiance to the King, Thomas, Lord Stanley, was Henry’s stepfather and he and his brother Sir William Stanley secretly pledged to aid Henry. They had met and planned their strategy at Atherstone, and now on 20th August Lord Stanley, with his glittering army of knights, and soldiers rode into Stoke from Higham on the Hill.

Headed by his standard bearer and with armour sparkling in the sun, he and his men filled the streets. The simple village folk stood open mouthed in amazement, cheering the knights and soldiers on their way into Dadlington where they made camp on Gamble’s Close, on a ridge which is now to be found down the allotment track at the side of the present Convent and over the grandly named River Tweed .

Henry made camp at Whitemoors, on the Fen Lane and both sides spent the weekend preparing for battle, as they would not fight on the Sabbath. For two nights, hundreds of campfires flickered in the stygian blackness of Whitemoors and Redemore Plain.

The country folk round about found their meagre crops and animals raided to supply food for both sides, and the village blacksmith was kept busy, re-shoeing the horses which the army farriers could not cope with.

The first shafts of dawn light on the 22nd August fell on the waiting armies, but in the village everyone was awake and about before dawn. The older villagers and the more God fearing, sought shelter and sanctuary in the Church of St Margaret. The younger ones went to the church too, forsaking their work, their animals and the harvest in the surrounding fields and, climbing to the battlements of the church, they jostled for position on the north facing sides.

The watchers on the tower were ready to convey news of the battle to all below.

The King was 32 years of age. His army of some 12,000 vastly outnumbered that of 27 year old Henry, although Henry had more horses in his army.

The soldiers on both sides buckled their helms, the archers bent and tested their bows of yew, oak and maple and brushed their arrows.

The infantrymen behind the archers carried swords and a wooden, metal tipped pike for jabbing opponents to death and battle hammers, a heavy, three spiked weapon. The common soldier was lightly armoured, if at all, his tunic being layers of leather stuffed with hemp. He had a plain metal helmet on his head. There were some men with halberds and a few firearms of wrought iron or brass but loading the pellets was a slow process and impossible in hand to hand fighting.
The watchers on the tower saw the armies closing and about ten o’clock heard the shouts of command faintly in the distance. The gap between the two armies began to close. Then at 250 yards they saw the first black flights of arrows, like flocks of birds rising and falling. They could see men on both sides fall, their screams of agony carrying on the morning air.

The archers could use their longbows to good effect at 250 yards. As they closed they proved themselves deadly, firing 15 arrows a minute, the hardened heads of the shafts penetrating the leather tunics of the soldiers and at closer range the armour of the knights.

The watchers with the sharpest eyes could see the various sections of the armies as they closed or fell back. One shouted he could see the King on his white courser. He even claimed to see the sun sparkle on his golden crown.

An hour or so passed, as knight fought knight and fell, and soldiers followed suit, and the screams of the dying came faintly over the fields.

They could see Henry, Earl of Richmond, as he was perhaps only half a mile away. And then, they saw a band of perhaps eighty mounted men, separate from the main army of the King, and with Richard at its head on his white charger, make for the flag of Henry. “The King has won,” shouted the watchers, as they saw through the dust of battle, the King himself strike down Henry’s standard bearer Sir William Brandon, his flag disappearing with him beneath the flailing hooves.  But then the tide turned and the watchers saw the King engulfed by the Stanley armies, and the struggle was over, as Richard’s army started to flee, towards the village.

In the rout which followed, the vanquished were pursued by Henry’s men. The object was to prevent any recovery and so no quarter was given. The watchers could see the dead and hear the screams of the dying in the carnage which followed, as Richard’s men scattered far and wide, fleeing for their lives.

Lord William Stanley and his army stayed on to scour the field for weapons, valuables and clothing. The watchers, who found that a thousand had been slain in the brief ninety minute battle, were recruited to gather the dead from the field, for burial at Dadlington and in common burial pits around Stoke Golding.

There was proof too, of the of the viciousness of mediaeval warfare. Knights and common soldiers were  pierced through with the arrows of the formidable longbow. Those fleeing had sword wounds to the back of their heads and bodies as they were caught from behind, the coup de grace, being administered with a blow from the battle hammer, leaving a neat square hole in the victims skull. Some of the knights had fallen and could not rise because of the weight of armour. They had been dispatched with a simple dagger thrust between one of the plates of their armour.

No mercy had been the order of the day on both sides. The code of chivalry and honour did not exist for the common soldier. It only existed in the single handed combat between knights.

The watchers shuddered as they carried the bodies away for burial. Many showed evidence of torture on that field of conflict, with ears and noses being roughly slashed off. Some had been tied so they could not resist the injuries being inflicted upon them, being dispatched when at the point of death, with a hammer blow. Prisoners were usually put to death and thrown into the grave pits without benefit of prayer or memorial.  Many were the relics of battle found in the grass and soil of the fields around Stoke Golding in the years following Henry’s triumph,

The Crown of King Richard III of England was found in one of Stoke Golding’s fields by Sir Richard Bray and was delivered to Thomas, Lord Stanley, who crowned his step son, the Earl  of Richmond, the most noble King Henry VII.

Henry married Richard’s niece and made a prosperous reign, for the people of England.

Many were the tales told in the hovels and inns of this village in the following years by the watchers on the tower, until the final one of those, who had witnessed the last death of an English King on a field of battle and the village Coronation of another, had joined the ghosts of the dead of Redemore Plain.