Around the end of March or beginning of April 1484, the precise date is uncertain, Richard's world began to fall apart. His beloved son died suddenly at Middleham in Yorkshire at the age of ten. Richard and his wife Anne had only one child, upon whom Richard had doubtless built his hopes in the north, for whom he had gathered a substantial inheritance whilst in the north and who had been his heir apparent, the Prince of Wales. The couple were reportedly distraught. Aside from the personal tragedy, this created a dynastic issue for Richard. He could not afford the insecurity of having no heir and so must name someone. Two candidates emerged. The son of his brother, George, Duke of Clarence was nine years old. A child heir would bring with it well known problems. When it was his own son, it was one matter, but could he choose a child now? Edward, Earl of Warwick was the last remaining male heir of the House of York, so his claim was strong, but Richard eventually named another nephew, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln.
John was the eldest son of Richard's sister Elizabeth and her husband the Duke of Suffolk. At around twenty, he was a man, though his claim may have been considered slightly weaker as it was through the female line. Salic Law did not rule in England, but succession through a male line was still generally preferred. The Earl of Lincoln was placed in control of the Council of the North as Richard had been and he proved capable in the role.
It is unclear whether Richard may have intended to name Warwick his heir when he came of age. He placed the young boy and his sister into the care of Lincoln's household to be educated. Lincoln may have been aware that he was a stop gap heir, or Richard may have fully intended to groom Lincoln for power.
Richard was, at this time, only 31 years old and there was a chance that he could still have more children and a male heir of his own. He is known to have had two illegitimate children, probably from before his marriage to Anne. It is notable that Richard, celebrated for his pious devotion, is not known to have had any mistresses during his marriage. As King, he publically berated the immorality of his brother and his court. He provided well for his two illegitimate children, but having disinherited his illegitimate nephews, neither his son nor daughter could have been candidates for the throne. Later, Henry VIII considered legitimising his only illegitimate son to make him heir, but Richard does not appear to have seriously entertained this as an option.
Further tragedy struck in March of 1485 when Anne succumbed to tuberculosis. The illness had killed her sister Isabel and now claimed her life too. An infection in the lungs, the disease causes a persistent cough, blood filled sputum and would have cause Anne's body to waste. It was incurable and unstoppable, even with the medical knowledge at the King's disposal. He had lost his precious son and now his beloved wife of thirteen years was following. Richard surely felt that his world was falling apart around him. He is recorded as weeping openly at her funeral at Westminster Abbey.
To add insult to injury, a rumour sprang up, possibly created by Tudor's growing faction, perhaps even by his mother Lady Margaret, that Richard had been poisoning his wife so that, with her dead, he could marry his own niece, Elizabeth, in order to prevent Tudor from doing so. There is certainly no surviving evidence that this was the case but such was the concern that two of Richard closest advisors, Sir Richard Ratcliffe and Sir William Catesby told him that he must deny the rumours publically. Anne's Neville family in the north could easily become dangerously disaffected if they were to believe the rumours. Eventually Richard agreed to release a denial that he intended to marry his niece, though remained silent on the question of his wife's poisoning. Perhaps he did not wish to dignify the allegation with an answer, but his silence about this, as about other issues, did not necessarily do him any good.
When Henry Tudor's long expected invasion finally came in August of 1485, Richard may have had nothing left to lose.
On 22nd August 1485, Richard III's army faced off against Henry Tudor's collection of rebels and mercenaries. It is likely that most viewed the outcome as a certain victory for the King. He had never yet been defeated in battle whereas Tudor was untried. Richard had with him the Duke of Norfolk and his son along with the Earl of Northumberland, Henry Percy. Richard also took the field with a host of his loyal friends, including Francis Lovell, Richard Ratcliffe, James Harrington and many others. These were close personal friends to the king, most having been drawn to his good lordship in the north and his valour on the battlefield. Richard was not one for the tournament as his brother had been, but was more than prepared for the real thing. These men loved him and would literally lay down their lives for him.
Henry Tudor had landed at Milford Haven in Wales on Sunday 7th August. He had brought with him around 2,000 men, mostly mercenaries supplied by France, and moved through Wales swelling his numbers, though perhaps not by the amount he had hoped. The betrayal of King Richard began almost immediately. Milford Haven was under the jurisdiction of Rhys ap Thomas who Richard had promoted to Principal Lieutenant in south west Wales. Thomas had offered a vow to his King to show his fealty that: 'Whoever ill-fated to the state, shall dare to land in these parts of Wales where I have employment under your majesty, must resolve with himself to make his entrance and irruption over my belly'. Thomas did not resist Tudor, but joined his forces. In order to sooth his honour without being embarrassed in front of his men, Thomas stood below a bridge as Tudor passed over it. Thus Henry Tudor had made his entrance over Thomas's belly, though it was hardly in the spirit of his oath.
By the time he reached Bosworth, Tudor had around 5,000 men. The King had a force of 6,000. The Earl of Northumberland brought a further 3,000 and Lord Stanley fielded his own huge force of 4,000 men. Stanley was supposed to take the field for the king but had a long reputation of sitting on the sidelines until the outcome was decided, or until he could decide it and take the glory for the victory. He had built a private empire based upon this cautious, watchful approach. He was also, by virtue of his marriage, step-father to Henry Tudor who had courted his support since landing. Characteristically, Stanley had not openly committed to either side. Richard was sufficiently suspicious to hold Stanley's son, Lord Strange, a hostage for his father's good behaviour. With his larger force of fiercely loyal men, Richard should have been confident of victory against the rabble assembled before him.
The Duke of Norfolk led Richard's forces into battle. It is uncharacteristic of Richard to sit back. He had placed the Crown upon his helm, something Henry V had done at Agincourt, yet he held back. Perhaps, pragmatically, he did not wish to risk his life with his succession insecure. It is also possible that by this time his scoliosis was increasingly painful and restrictive. The Earl of Oxford led Tudor's vanguard and the fighting was fierce and close, but the Duke of Norfolk was killed and the Earl of Oxford pressed forward. Richard ordered the Earl of Northumberland to engage but he did not move. He ordered Lord Stanley into the fray and he remained still. Richard apparently gave the order for Lord Strange's execution for his father's betrayal, though the order was never followed through.
It was at this point, as the battle was turning against him, that Richard spotted a small group breaking away from the rear of Tudor's army. The invader's banner was flying with them and they were making for Lord Stanley's position to Richard's right, no doubt to personally implore Tudor's step-father to intervene. Richard spotted an opportunity to end things once and for all, one way or another. With his close knit band of brothers in arms, he lowered his lance and spurred his destrier toward the small group. It must have been a sight to behold as the King and his mounted knights thundered down the hill and closed upon the enemy in a blaze of colour and a flash of gleaming plate armour. When it became clear that the approaching charge would reach them before they reached Lord Stanley, Tudor and his retinue turned to face the oncoming attack.
The two forces clashed in a microcosm of the main battle. One by one, Richard friends fell as they ploughed closer to Henry. Ratcliffe, Harrington and all of the others were cut down, but Richard got within feet of Tudor. He personally killed Tudor's standard bearer William Brandon, a measure of how close he came and he slew Sir John Cheney, a giant of a man and at least as experienced a soldier as Richard. Contrary to the popular myth, sources state that Richard was offered a horse by a squire and encouraged to flee the battlefield. Richard refused, telling them he would leave the field as undisputed King of England, or not at all. Perhaps his own abandonment at Ludlow all of those years before had left a deep mark. He would not do the same to his men or his kingdom.
Now, Lord Stanley saw his opportunity. Richard was isolated and failing. He ordered his brother Sir William to attack the King. Richard fell and was killed. Polydore Virgil, who wrote his Historiae Anglicae for Henry Tudor some twenty year later, conceded that 'King Richard alone was killed fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies'. Much like his lawmaking, even his enemies could not bring themselves to criticise his bravery and prowess on the field of battle. The discovery of the scoliosis exhibited by his skeleton makes this martial strength all the more impressive for the restricting pain that it must have caused to the very end.
The legend states that Lord Stanley found the Crown that had fallen from Richard's head and placed it upon that of his step-son. So began the Tudor dynasty. The Plantagenets had ruled England for over three hundred years. They remain the longest ruling dynasty in English history. Richard was also the last King of England to die in battle. His death ushered in the Tudor age and all that it brought to England, for good or ill. It also sealed his fate as a figure of evil in English history.