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An icy calm descended upon him. Resolution stamped itself upon his stern features. He would throw his destiny into the hands of Fate! Every muscle in his lean frame tightened in readiness for action.
He leant forward and stretched out a heavily mailed arm to Sir Richard Ratcliffe. “My lance if you please, sir.” His friend, who insisted upon riding into this battle beside him as his esquire of the body, thrust the long iron-tipped spear into his waiting fist. Straightening up, Richard turned to face the rest of his household knights. The small faithful band of battle-hardened friends and followers, his constant companions for many years, were mounted, armoured and ready for action. Richard looked each of them in the eye; grave and composed they gazed silently back at him. They did not need to be told his intention. The tactic was bold and desperate, in all likelihood many of them would die in its execution, but none of them flinched from what he asked of them. Their loyalty to this man was absolute. They would not fail him and were prepared to follow him into Hell itself if he led them there. Richard lifted himself up in his stirrups so that all might hear him. “We ride to take Henry Tudor.” He paused and gazed unseeingly into the distance, then in a strong and determined voice he vowed, “I will make an end… either of war or of life… will die as king or win victory on this field!”
Turning, he raised a gauntleted arm and signalled to his trumpeters. Once again, the battle call of the fearsome Plantagenets rang out over the plain. Raising his lance high into the air, he pointed his weapon forward to advance. His horse moved forward at a walk. With those he most trusted riding close beside and behind him, the king skirted the northern flank of the royal army. As they gathered speed a sudden gust of wind unfurled the banners above their heads. In the morning breeze Richard’s white boar and the royal lions and lilies streamed out over the battlefield, clearly visible to the rebel mercenaries. Transfixed with astonishment and disbelief at what they were seeing, no one moved to intercept them. With his quarry in his sights, Richard urged his horse to a canter. As they swept past the stationary cavalry of Sir William Stanley towards the dragon banner of Cadwallader, he caught a glimpse of rank upon rank of mounted men in bright red jackets. Richard shouted the order to charge and slammed his visor down. His men rowelled their horses to a full gallop. A voice from amongst Stanley’s cavalry swore loudly, “God’s wounds! They are mad!”
“Aye but ‘tis a magnificent madness,” responded an admiring voice. Alerted by the swelling thunder of horses’ hooves, Henry Tudor and his men halted in puzzlement. They froze horror-struck when they turned to see the king at the head of a company of heavily armoured knights bearing down on them at tremendous speed. The dawning realization that they were under attack galvanized the Tudor’s bodyguards into action but confusion and terror slowed their responses.
The clamour of the battle faded as Richard and White Syrie raced towards the milling mass of infantry and horsemen. As he drew nearer, he heard the desperate screaming of orders. Through the narrow slit of his sights he saw riders forcing their rearing horses into line and the steel ranks of the Pretender’s pike-guard rush forward and begin to close around him. A gap briefly appeared, and through it spurring his horse straight towards him, charged a giant of a man on a massive destrier. He knew from the man’s size that it could only be Sir John Cheyne. The man who had once been his brother Edward’s personal champion, who had patiently taught his younger self the skills of mounted combat and how to get the better of a larger and heavier opponent, was upon him before Richard could wheel his mount around. A touch from Cheyne’s spurs had his horse lunging forward. They crashed together. Cheyne bellowed his challenge and raised his arm to make the killing blow with his enormous battle-axe but fury gave Richard almost superhuman strength. Pulling sharply back on his reins, he raked his spurs along White Syrie’s flanks; the horse screamed and reared. Richard thrust downwards with his lance; Sir John reeled then toppled from the saddle. Trumpets blared frantically. He found himself under attack from all sides. Oblivious to the blows that rained down on him and the screams of horses and dying men, he dropped his lance and began to swing his own gleaming axe with deadly precision. Francis Lovell, Robert Percy and the Stafford brothers surged forward. Surrounding him in a tight protective ring, they slashed their way onward thrusting their horses and their bodies in front of him, forging a way through the Tudor’s bodyguards. The swirling dust cleared, and for a brief moment beyond the heaving mass, Richard caught a glimpse of his enemy. He spurred his mount forward and then he was there. Only a few paces away, attempting to conceal himself behind his French pikemen was the Pretender. Elation rushed through Richard giving man and horse the impetus to crash through the pikemen’s partially formed barrier. Behind it, ashen faced and trembling, the man who would be king made little effort to defend himself. Henry Tudor fumbled for a moment at his scabbard, then, letting his hand drop limply to his side, he waited for the king to strike. Sir William Brandon, the Tudor’s standard bearer, flung himself between Richard and his prey. Swinging his battle-axe up in a high glittering arc, Richard brought it down with brutal force. Down went the red dragon banner and William Brandon lay dead on the trampled ground. He drew his sword; at last he had the treasonous cur at his mercy. The euphoria of victory sizzled through his veins as he held at sword point the man who would steal his crown. His gamble had paid off – he had won the day! The Tudor whelp would learn what it meant to rebel against his king. He would pay the ultimate price for his overweening ambition and Lancastrian aspirations to rule England would be vanquished once and for all. “Take him!” He pulled his mount back to allow Francis Lovell and the others who had ridden beside him to surround his prisoner, but before anyone could move, hordes of Stanley cavalry smashed into their flank and rear. Richard and his small company of knights swung round and found themselves facing the onslaught of a vast army of hostile Welshmen.