Monday, 30 December 2013

Why Richard III Lost at Bosworth: A Look at the Grieving Process

In the years of my research and study, I have learned not to just look at one aspect of a story or an event, but the whole thing. The BIG picture we call it.  The background, the people in it, as well as the suggestive psyche of the people in the event we study. You could almost call it profiling.

One of the most popular questions I get a lot is “what is your opinion of X ,Y, or Z? It’s not a simple answer, or not an easy question to just lay out on the floor to people. There is so much to medieval life, politics, and society, that a simple answer, really isn’t simple.
Highlighting this, we can look at Richard III of England and his down fall at Bosworth. Was it really just a poor battle strategy or were there events that perhaps preluded to his ill fate, that day? In order to really understand this complex yet very compelling man, its best to look at psychologically what was going on in his head, as well as the political backdrop of the time.

A very private man, a very catholic, and loyal man; rumors were being spread like wild fire from the crowd in London, and at every chance they got.  They did have a version of a newspaper so it is quiet possible that he did know of these rumors, for it’s noted he denied accusations of the relationship with his niece, and of the knowledge of the fate of the princes in the tower.  He also didn’t really know of their deaths until told.  Stated in Cold Case: Reopened: Princes in the Tower, we see a legal perspective into the mystery.  To sum it all up, it is highly suggested in the end, that Henry Tudor VII more than likely had a greater hand in their disappearance/death than Richard.  The author who is a crime solver, not a historian, pointed out two things: 1, the timely manner he took in appealing Titulus Regis so he could marry Elizabeth of York, and 2, the fact he knew Warbeck was a pretender and finally 3. he too never accused Richard of the murders either.  These three things are major factors when looking at ones guilt, thus he points out and leads to his conclusion. 

So imagine you are Richard, you have lost your wife, right after your only heir and you are dealing with rumors that your nephews are dead and you did it.  That’s three traumas and all in a very short period of time. Psychology tells us that trauma can alter ones mental status; cause physical and mental exhaustion, it interferes with ones ability to cope, reason, and it can integrate itself in to a person’s ideas and emotions. It also can cause emotional detachment and what we now know: PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).  ( Grief which Richard knew all too well, is a huge stressor, and can be viewed as trauma.  It is directly linked to the emotional process in ones mind. ( We know for a fact from historical record, he did cry at Anne’s funeral, hinting he was having a very natural response to this loss.  Promoting his mind was healthy in dealing with this loss at that point in time.  

When looking at how we grieve, it is a process.  It involves coping, confronting reality and emotions with religion or other coping mechanisms. Grief was something he could control; bereavement is a different story. This is a reaction something you cannot control.  He had seen death already many times, his brother Edward, George, his son, even his father, all four very close individuals he lost in a fairly short period of time.  All of this can cause one to be quiet overwhelmed when you add his wife, his soul mate, Anne to the list.  It is greatly possible his grieving process was at an early stage and very rushed due to his political need.

When looking at the grieving process as a whole, the process for a healthy person with stable mind can take up to a year to get through the first 2 stages.  The first stage of “Shock and Denial” normally is about 3 months, the second stage of “Intense Concern,” which can ”manifest by being unable to think of anything else. Even during daily tasks, thoughts of the loss keep coming to mind. Conversations with someone in this stage, have a tendency to turn to the loss as well.” This stage can take up to six months to a year to go through.  This second stage, is the stage Richard was in when he rode off to Bosworth. Anne died in March of 1485.  Richards’s final battle was in August of the same year. Five months is not a lot of time to grieve the loss of a wife, and properly plan a very complex battle. It was a battle that had the fate of his life, as well as his country and throne at stake.  The sheer thought of mental pressure of this event would have been quiet taxing adding to his emotional and mental state of exhaustion.  More than likely, Richard was in fact mentally and emotionally exhausted the day he rode out to meet Henry Tudor on the battlefield. What unfolded next was pure horror to anyone’s eyes. Betrayal from those he thought supported him, Stanley was icing on the cake so to say.

In conclusion, what caused Richard’s downfall at Bosworth? We can blame unknown military tactics, betrayal, but really did him in was his own emotions that where results of natural causes of fate and Fortune’s Wheel, which was still turning. A series of events had unfolded (the death of Anne, the gossip from the Princes missing or dead making way around the country, and the unpopularity in London court) and he just did not have enough time to deal with all of them properly in a healthy manner, and surely clear thinking was not in his favor.  The thought process leading up to and planning for Bosworth more than likely wasn’t a display of his best military planning, experience, something was ad miss the whole battle. I am sure some of the motivation and actions from him leading up to the battle and his death were signs that he was still grieving, and his thought process greatly muddled and not where it needed to be: to win.  The loss of a loved one is a powerful thing and it can defiantly change ones thought process, as we have seen.  For if Anne had still been alive, the outcome might have been different. History would have been different. Richard might have lived.


1. Garber, Mark. Cold Case Reopened: The Princes in The Tower. Kindle Edition. ©2013
2. Kail, Robert V. Human Development: A Life-Span View Published by Wadsworth, Canada ©2010. pp. 613-627

A.C. McMillin  ©December 29, 2013


  1. This context is what I tried to understand... Nowadays we know a lot of post-trauma... stress the question was ..if even this (traumas-stress) being R3 a man born in war times, constantly lost,
    did he get develop a kind of mechanism to stay strong... emotionally? despite of facts... Thanks Andy I like reading about R3!!! (mode on)

  2. Nicely developed essay. I wonder...with death so prevalent in the fifteenth century, was the grieving process expected to be faster/less tormenting? I also wonder if everyone seemed a little crazed by all the hardship surrounding them. Definitely food for thought. Thank you!

  3. Great essay! Thanks for bringing more light to Richard III's story!