Severe storms and floods delayed downfall of Richard III, new research reveals

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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 had not been thwarted by the weather, an academic claimed yesterday.

The remains of the last Plantagenet king were dug up in a council car park in Leicester last year and, following a lengthy investigation, were positively identified earlier this month.

But Ros Smith, a PhD student at the University of Bristol’s School of Geographical Sciences, believes Richard III may not have met his end at Bosworth Field, if it had not been for the storms of October 1483.

Ms Smith was aware of a great storm and flood in the Severn Estuary in 1483 but she did not realise its historical significance until she read Shakespeare’s Richard III.

Shakespeare’s play, and the chronicles that he used to research historical events, document a co-ordinated 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”.

Ms Smith 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.

Ms 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 defeated Richard III at Bosworth Field, to become Henry VII. Richard was the last English monarch to fall in battle and his death ended the Wars of the Roses.