The background to the battle was the death of the childless King Edward the Confessor in January 1066, which set up a succession struggle between several claimants to his throne. Harold was crowned king shortly after Edward’s death, but faced invasions by William, his own brother Tostig and the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada (Harold III of Norway). Hardrada and Tostig defeated a hastily gathered army of Englishmen at the Battle of Fulford on 20 September 1066, and were in turn defeated by Harold at the Battle of Stamford Bridge five days later.
The deaths of Tostig and Hardrada at Stamford Bridge left William as Harold’s only serious opponent. While Harold and his forces were recovering, William landed his invasion forces in the south of England at Pevensey on 28 September 1066 and established a beachhead for his conquest of the kingdom. Harold was forced to march south swiftly, gathering forces as he went.
The exact numbers present at the battle are unknown; modern estimates are around 10,000 for William and about 7,000 for Harold. The composition of the forces is clearer; the English army was composed almost entirely of infantry and had few archers, whereas only about half of the invading force was infantry, the rest split equally between cavalry and archers. Harold appears to have tried to surprise William, but scouts found his army and reported its arrival to William, who marched from Hastings to the battlefield to confront Harold.
The battle lasted from about 9 am to dusk. Early efforts of the invaders to break the English battle lines had little effect; therefore, the Normans adopted the tactic of pretending to flee in panic and then turning on their pursuers. Harold’s death, probably near the end of the battle, led to the retreat and defeat of most of his army. After further marching and some skirmishes, William was crowned as king on Christmas Day 1066.
There continued to be rebellions and resistance to William’s rule, but Hastings effectively marked the culmination of William’s conquest of England. Casualty figures are hard to come by, but some historians estimate that 2,000 invaders died along with about twice that number of Englishmen. William founded a monastery at the site of the battle, the high altar of the abbey church supposedly placed at the spot where Harold died.
Over time, the frontiers of the duchy expanded to the west. In 1002, King Æthelred II of England married Emma, the sister of Richard II, Duke of Normandy. Their son Edward the Confessor spent many years in exile in Normandy, and succeeded to the English throne in 1042. This led to the establishment of a powerful Norman interest in English politics, as Edward drew heavily on his former hosts for support, bringing in Norman courtiers, soldiers, and clerics and appointing them to positions of power, particularly in the Church.
Edward was childless and embroiled in conflict with the formidable Godwin, Earl of Wessex and his sons, and he may also have encouraged Duke William of Normandy’s ambitions for the English throne.
Succession crisis in England
Following King Edward’s death on 5 January 1066, the lack of a clear heir led to a disputed succession in which several contenders laid claim to the throne of England. Edward’s immediate successor was the Earl of Wessex, Harold Godwinson, the richest and most powerful of the English aristocrats and son of Godwin, Edward’s earlier opponent. Harold was elected king by the Witenagemot of England and crowned by Archbishop of YorkEaldred, although Norman propaganda claimed that the ceremony was performed by Stigand, the uncanonically elected Archbishop of Canterbury.
Harold was at once challenged by two powerful neighbouring rulers. Duke William claimed that he had been promised the throne by King Edward and that Harold had sworn agreement to this. Harald III of Norway, commonly known as Harald Hardrada, also contested the succession. His claim to the throne was based on an agreement between his predecessor Magnus I of Norway and the earlier King of England Harthacanute, whereby, if either died without heir, the other would inherit both England and Norway. William and Harald Hardrada immediately set about assembling troops and ships for separate invasions.
Hardrada invaded northern England in early September, leading a fleet of more than 300 ships carrying perhaps 15,000 men. Hardrada’s army was further augmented by the forces of Tostig, who supported the Norwegian king’s bid for the throne. Advancing on York, the Norwegians occupied the city after defeating a northern English army under Edwin and Morcar on 20 September at the Battle of Fulford.
The English army was organised along regional lines, with the fyrd, or local levy, serving under a local magnate – whether an earl, bishop, or sheriff. The fyrd was composed of men who owned their own land, and were equipped by their community to fulfil the king’s demands for military forces. For every five hides, or units of land nominally capable of supporting one household, one man was supposed to serve. It appears that the hundred was the main organising unit for the fyrd. As a whole, England could furnish about 14,000 men for the fyrd, when it was called out. The fyrd usually served for two months, except in emergencies.
It was rare for the whole national fyrd to be called out; between 1046 and 1065 it was only done three times, in 1051, 1052, and 1065. The king also had a group of personal armsmen, known as housecarls, who formed the backbone of the royal forces. Some earls also had their own forces of housecarls. Thegns, the local landowning elites, either fought with the royal housecarls or attached themselves to the forces of an earl or other magnate. The fyrd and the housecarls both fought on foot, with the major difference between them being the housecarl’s superior armour. The English army does not appear to have had a significant number of archers.
Harold had spent mid-1066 on the south coast with a large army and fleet waiting for William to invade. The bulk of his forces were militia who needed to harvest their crops, so on 8 September Harold dismissed the militia and the fleet. Learning of the Norwegian invasion he rushed north, gathering forces as he went, and took the Norwegians by surprise, defeating them at the Battle of Stamford Bridge on 25 September. Harald Hardrada and Tostig were killed, and the Norwegians suffered such great losses that only 24 of the original 300 ships were required to carry away the survivors. The English victory came at great cost, as Harold’s army was left in a battered and weakened state.
William’s preparations and landing
Interior ruins at Pevensey Castle, some of which date to shortly after the Battle of Hastings
William assembled a large invasion fleet and an army gathered from Normandy and the rest of France, including large contingents from Brittany and Flanders. He spent almost nine months on his preparations, as he had to construct a fleet from nothing.[d] According to some Norman chronicles, he also secured diplomatic support, although the accuracy of the reports has been a matter of historical debate. The most famous claim is that Pope Alexander II gave a papal banner as a token of support, which only appears in William of Poitiers’s account, and not in more contemporary narratives.
In April 1066 Halley’s Comet appeared in the sky, and was widely reported throughout Europe. Contemporary accounts connected the comet’s appearance with the succession crisis in England.
William mustered his forces at Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, and was ready to cross the English Channel by about 12 August. But the crossing was delayed, either because of unfavourable weather or to avoid being intercepted by the powerful English fleet. The Normans crossed to England a few days after Harold’s victory over the Norwegians, following the dispersal of Harold’s naval force, and landed at Pevensey in Sussex on 28 September.
A few ships were blown off course and landed at Romney, where the Normans fought the local fyrd. After landing, William’s forces built a wooden castle at Hastings, from which they raided the surrounding area. More fortifications were erected at Pevensey.
Norman forces at Hastings
The exact numbers and composition of William’s force are unknown. A contemporary document claims that William had 776 ships, but this may be an inflated figure. Figures given by contemporary writers are highly exaggerated, varying from 14,000 to 150,000. Modern historians have offered a range of estimates for the size of William’s forces: 7,000–8,000 men, 1,000–2,000 of them cavalry; 10,000–12,000 men; 10,000 men, 3,000 of them cavalry; or 7500 men. The army consisted of cavalry, infantry, and archers or crossbowmen, with about equal numbers of cavalry and archers and the foot soldiers equal in number to the other two types combined.
Later lists of companions of William the Conqueror are extant, but most are padded with extra names; only about 35 named individuals can be reliably identified as having been with William at Hastings.
The main armour used was chainmail hauberks, usually knee-length, with slits to allow riding, some with sleeves to the elbows. Some hauberks may have been made of scales attached to a tunic, with the scales made of metal, horn or hardened leather. Headgear was usually a conical metal helmet with a band of metal extending down to protect the nose. Horsemen and infantry carried shields. The infantryman’s shield was usually round and made of wood, with reinforcement of metal. Horsemen had changed to a kite-shaped shield and were usually armed with a lance.
The couched lance, carried tucked against the body under the right arm, was a relatively new refinement and was probably not used at Hastings; the terrain was unfavourable for long cavalry charges. Both the infantry and cavalry usually fought with a straight sword, long and double-edged. The infantry could also use javelins and long spears. Some of the cavalry may have used a mace instead of a sword. Archers would have used a self bow or a crossbow, and most would not have had armour.
Harold moves south
After defeating his brother Tostig and Harald Hardrada in the north, Harold left much of his forces in the north, including Morcar and Edwin, and marched the rest of his army south to deal with the threatened Norman invasion. It is unclear when Harold learned of William’s landing, but it was probably while he was travelling south. Harold stopped in London, and was there for about a week before Hastings, so it is likely that he spent about a week on his march south, averaging about 27 miles (43 kilometres) per day, for the approximately 200 miles (320 kilometres).
Harold camped at Caldbec Hill on the night of 13 October, near what was described as a “hoar-apple tree”. This location was about 8 miles (13 kilometres) from William’s castle at Hastings. Some of the early contemporary French accounts mention an emissary or emissaries sent by Harold to William, which is likely. Nothing came of these efforts.
Although Harold attempted to surprise the Normans, William’s scouts reported the English arrival to the duke. The exact events preceding the battle are obscure, with contradictory accounts in the sources, but all agree that William led his army from his castle and advanced towards the enemy. Harold had taken a defensive position at the top of Senlac Hill (present-day Battle, East Sussex), about 6 miles (9.7 kilometres) from William’s castle at Hastings.
English forces at Hastings
The exact number of soldiers in Harold’s army is unknown. The contemporary records do not give reliable figures; some Norman sources give 400,000 to 1,200,000 men on Harold’s side.[j] The English sources generally give very low figures for Harold’s army, perhaps to make the English defeat seem less devastating. Recent historians have suggested figures of between 5,000 and 13,000 for Harold’s army at Hastings, and most modern historians argue for a figure of 7,000–8,000 English troops.
These men would have been a mix of the fyrd and housecarls. Few individual Englishmen are known to have been at Hastings; about 20 named individuals can reasonably be assumed to have fought with Harold at Hastings, including Harold’s brothers Gyrth and Leofwine and two other relatives.
The English army consisted entirely of infantry. It is possible that some of the higher class members of the army rode to battle, but when battle was joined they dismounted to fight on foot The core of the army was made up of housecarls, full-time professional soldiers. Their armour consisted of a conical helmet, a mailhauberk, and a shield, which might be either kite-shaped or round. Most housecarls fought with the two-handed Danish battleaxe, but they could also carry a sword.
The rest of the army was made up of levies from the fyrd, also infantry but more lightly armoured and not professionals. Most of the infantry would have formed part of the shield wall, in which all the men in the front ranks locked their shields together. Behind them would have been axemen and men with javelins as well as archers.
Background and location
The battlefield from the north side
Because many of the primary accounts contradict each other at times, it is impossible to provide a description of the battle that is beyond dispute. The only undisputed facts are that the fighting began at 9 am on Saturday 14 October 1066 and that the battle lasted until dusk. Sunset on the day of the battle was at 4:54 pm, with the battlefield mostly dark by 5:54 pm and in full darkness by 6:24 pm. Moonrise that night was not until 11:12 pm, so once the sun set, there was little light on the battlefield.
William of Jumieges reports that Duke William kept his army armed and ready against a surprise night attack for the entire night before. The battle took place 7 miles (11 km) north of Hastings at the present-day town of Battle, between two hills – Caldbec Hill to the north and Telham Hill to the south. The area was heavily wooded, with a marsh nearby. The name traditionally given to the battle is unusual – there were several settlements much closer to the battlefield than Hastings.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle called it the battle “at the hoary apple tree”. Within 40 years, the battle was described by the Anglo-Norman chronicler Orderic Vitalis as “Senlac”,[m] a Norman-French adaptation of the Old English word “Sandlacu”, which means “sandy water”.[n] This may have been the name of the stream that crosses the battlefield.[o] The battle was already being referred to as “bellum Hasestingas” or “Battle of Hastings” by 1087, in the Domesday Book.
Sunrise was at 6:48 am that morning, and reports of the day record that it was unusually bright. The weather conditions are not recorded. The route that the English army took to the battlefield is not known precisely. Several roads are possible: one, an old Roman road that ran from Rochester to Hastings has long been favoured because of a large coin hoard found nearby in 1876. Another possibility is a Roman road between London and Lewes and then over local tracks to the battlefield.
Some accounts of the battle indicate that the Normans advanced from Hastings to the battlefield, but the contemporary account of William of Jumieges places the Normans at the site of the battle the night before. Most historians incline towards the former view, but M. K. Lawson argues that William of Jumieges’s account is correct.
Dispositions of forces and tactics
Harold’s forces deployed in a small, dense formation at the top of steep slope, with their flanks protected by woods and marshy ground in front of them. The line may have extended far enough to be anchored on a nearby stream. The English formed a shield wall, with the front ranks holding their shields close together or even overlapping to provide protection from attack. Sources differ on the exact site that the English fought on: some sources state the site of the abbey, but some newer sources suggest it was Caldbec Hill.
More is known about the Norman deployment. Duke William appears to have arranged his forces in three groups, or “battles”, which roughly corresponded to their origins. The left units were the Bretons, along with those from Anjou, Poitou and Maine. This division was led by Alan the Red, a relative of the Breton count. The centre was held by the Normans, under the direct command of the duke and with many of his relatives and kinsmen grouped around the ducal party.
The final division on the right consisted of the Frenchmen, along with some men from Picardy, Boulogne, and Flanders. The right was commanded by William fitzOsbern and Count Eustace II of Boulogne. The front lines were archers with a line of foot soldiers armed with spears behind. There were probably a few crossbowmen and slingers in with the archers. The cavalry was held in reserve, and a small group of clergymen and servants situated at the base of Telham Hill was not expected to take part in the fighting.
William’s disposition of his forces implies that he planned to open the battle with archers in the front rank weakening the enemy with arrows, followed by infantry who would engage in close combat. The infantry would create openings in the English lines that could be exploited by a cavalry charge to break through the English forces and pursue the fleeing soldiers.
Beginning of the battle
View of the battlefield looking towards Senlac Hill
The battle opened with the Norman archers shooting uphill at the English shield wall, to little effect. The uphill angle meant that the arrows either bounced off the shields of the English or overshot their targets and flew over the top of the hill.
The lack of English archers hampered the Norman archers, as there were few English arrows to be gathered up and reused. After the attack from the archers, William sent the spearmen forward to attack the English. They were met with a barrage of missiles, not arrows but spears, axes and stones. The infantry was unable to force openings in the shield wall, and the cavalry advanced in support. The cavalry also failed to make headway, and a general retreat began, blamed on the Breton division on William’s left.
A rumour started that the duke had been killed, which added to the confusion. The English forces began to pursue the fleeing invaders, but William rode through his forces, showing his face and yelling that he was still alive. The duke then led a counter-attack against the pursuing English forces; some of the English rallied on a hillock before being overwhelmed.
It is not known whether the English pursuit was ordered by Harold or if it was spontaneous. Wace relates that Harold ordered his men to stay in their formations but no other account gives this detail. The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the death of Harold’s brothers Gyrth and Leofwine occurring just before the fight around the hillock. This may mean that the two brothers led the pursuit. The Carmen de Hastingae Proelio relates a different story for the death of Gyrth, stating that the duke slew Harold’s brother in combat, perhaps thinking that Gyrth was Harold. William of Poitiers states that the bodies of Gyrth and Leofwine were found near Harold’s, implying that they died late in the battle.
It is possible that if the two brothers died early in the fighting their bodies were taken to Harold, thus accounting for their being found near his body after the battle. The military historian Peter Marren speculates that if Gyrth and Leofwine died early in the battle, that may have influenced Harold to stand and fight to the end.
Fact or Fiction E03 King Harold
Scene from the Bayeux Tapestry showing mounted Norman cavalrymen fighting Anglo-Saxon infantry
A lull probably occurred early in the afternoon, and a break for rest and food would probably have been needed. William may have also needed time to implement a new strategy, which may have been inspired by the English pursuit and subsequent rout by the Normans. If the Normans could send their cavalry against the shield wall and then draw the English into more pursuits, breaks in the English line might form.
William of Poitiers says the tactic was used twice. Although arguments have been made that the chroniclers’ accounts of this tactic were meant to excuse the flight of the Norman troops from battle, this is unlikely as the earlier flight was not glossed over. It was a tactic used by other Norman armies during the period.
Some historians have argued that the story of the use of feigned flight as a deliberate tactic was invented after the battle; most historians agree that it was used by the Normans at Hastings.
“Harold Rex Interfectus Est” (“King Harold was killed”). Scene from the Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Battle of Hastings and the death of Harold
Although the feigned flights did not break the lines, they probably thinned out the housecarls in the English shield wall. The housecarls were replaced with members of the fyrd, and the shield wall held. Archers appear to have been used again before and during an assault by the cavalry and infantry led by the duke. Although 12th-century sources state that the archers were ordered to shoot at a high angle to shoot over the front of the shield wall, there is no trace of such an action in the more contemporary accounts.
It is not known how many assaults were launched against the English lines, but some sources record various actions by both Normans and Englishmen that took place during the afternoon’s fighting.The Carmen claims that Duke William had two horses killed under him during the fighting, but William of Poitiers’s account states that it was three.
Death of Harold
Stone marking the spot of the high altar at Battle Abbey, where Harold died
Harold appears to have died late in the battle, although accounts in the various sources are contradictory. William of Poitiers only mentions his death, without giving any details on how it occurred. The Tapestry is not helpful, as it shows a figure holding an arrow sticking out of his eye next to a falling fighter being hit with a sword. Over both figures is a statement “Here King Harold has been killed”.
It is not clear which figure is meant to be Harold, or if both are meant. The earliest written mention of the traditional account of Harold dying from an arrow to the eye dates to the 1080s from a history of the Normans written by an Italian monk, Amatus of Montecassino.
William of Malmesbury stated that Harold died from an arrow to the eye that went into the brain, and that a knight wounded Harold at the same time. Wace repeats the arrow-to-the-eye account. The Carmen states that Duke William killed Harold, but this is unlikely, as such a feat would have been recorded elsewhere.
The account of William of Jumièges is even more unlikely, as it has Harold dying in the morning, during the first fighting. The Chronicle of Battle Abbey states that no one knew who killed Harold, as it happened in the press of battle.
A modern biographer of Harold, Ian Walker, states that Harold probably died from an arrow in the eye, although he also says it is possible that Harold was struck down by a Norman knight while mortally wounded in the eye. Another biographer of Harold, Peter Rex, after discussing the various accounts, concludes that it is not possible to declare how Harold died.
Harold’s death left the English forces leaderless, and they began to collapse.Many of them fled, but the soldiers of the royal household gathered around Harold’s body and fought to the end. The Normans began to pursue the fleeing troops, and except for a rearguard action at a site known as the “Malfosse”, the battle was over.
Exactly what happened at the Malfosse, or “Evil Ditch”, and where it took place, is unclear. It occurred at a small fortification or set of trenches where some Englishmen rallied and seriously wounded Eustace of Boulogne before being destroyed by Duke William.
Line Of Fire Battle Of Hastings 1066
Reasons for the outcome
Harold’s defeat was probably due to several circumstances. One was the need to defend against two almost simultaneous invasions. The fact that Harold had dismissed his forces in southern England on 8 September also contributed to the defeat. Many historians fault Harold for hurrying south and not gathering more forces before confronting William at Hastings, although it is not clear that the English forces were insufficient to deal with William’s forces.
Against these arguments for an exhausted English army, the length of the battle, which lasted an entire day, show that the English forces were not tired by their long march. Tied in with the speed of Harold’s advance to Hastings is the possibility Harold may not have trusted Earls Edwin of Mercia and Morcar of Northumbria once their enemy Tostig had been defeated, and declined to bring them and their forces south. Modern historians have pointed out that one reason for Harold’s rush to battle was to contain William’s depredations and keep him from breaking free of his beachhead.
Most of the blame for the defeat probably lies in the events of the battle. William was the more experienced military leader, and in addition the lack of cavalry on the English side allowed Harold fewer tactical options. Some writers have criticised Harold for not exploiting the opportunity offered by the rumoured death of William early in the battle. The English appear to have erred in not staying strictly on the defence, for when they pursued the retreating Normans they exposed their flanks to attack. Whether this was due to the inexperience of the English commanders or the indiscipline of the English soldiers is unclear.
In the end, Harold’s death appears to have been decisive, as it signalled the break-up of the English forces in disarray. The historian David Nicolle said of the battle that William’s army “demonstrated – not without difficulty – the superiority of Norman-French mixed cavalry and infantry tactics over the Germanic-Scandinavian infantry traditions of the Anglo-Saxons.”
The day after the battle, Harold’s body was identified, either by his armour or marks on his body. His personal standard was presented to William, and later sent to the papacy. The bodies of the English dead, including some of Harold’s brothers and his housecarls, were left on the battlefield, although some were removed by relatives later.
The Norman dead were buried in a large communal grave, which has not been found. Exact casualty figures are unknown. Of the Englishmen known to be at the battle, the number of dead implies that the death rate was about 50 per cent of those engaged, although this may be too high. Of the named Normans who fought at Hastings, one in seven is stated to have died, but these were all noblemen, and it is probable that the death rate among the common soldiers was higher.
Although Orderic Vitalis’s figures are highly exaggerated,[w] his ratio of one in four casualties may be accurate. Marren speculates that perhaps 2,000 Normans and 4,000 Englishmen were killed at Hastings. The Normans buried their dead in mass graves. Reports stated that some of the English dead were still being found on the hillside years later. Although scholars thought for a long time that remains would not be recoverable, due to the acidic soil, recent finds have changed this view.
One skeleton that was found in a medieval cemetery, and originally was thought to be associated with the 13th century Battle of Lewes now is thought to be associated with Hastings instead.
Ruins of the monks’ dormitory at Battle Abbey
One story relates that Gytha, Harold’s mother, offered the victorious duke the weight of her son’s body in gold for its custody, but was refused. William ordered that Harold’s body be thrown into the sea, but whether that took place is unclear.
Another story relates that Harold was buried at the top of a cliff. Waltham Abbey, which had been founded by Harold, later claimed that his body had been secretly buried there. Other legends claimed that Harold did not die at Hastings, but escaped and became a hermit at Chester.
William expected to receive the submission of the surviving English leaders after his victory, but instead Edgar the Ætheling[y] was proclaimed king by the Witenagemot, with the support of Earls Edwin and Morcar, Stigand, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Ealdred, the Archbishop of York. William therefore advanced on London, marching around the coast of Kent. He defeated an English force that attacked him at Southwark but was unable to storm London Bridge, forcing him to reach the capital by a more circuitous route.
William moved up the Thames valley to cross the river at Wallingford, where he received the submission of Stigand. He then travelled north-east along the Chilterns, before advancing towards London from the north-west,[z] fighting further engagements against forces from the city. The English leaders surrendered to William at Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. William was acclaimed King of England and crowned by Ealdred on 25 December 1066, in Westminster Abbey.
Despite the submission of the English nobles, resistance continued to erupt for several years. There were rebellions in Exeter in late 1067, an invasion by Harold’s sons in mid-1068, and an uprising in Northumbria in 1068.[In 1069 William faced more troubles from Northumbrian rebels, an invading Danish fleet, and rebellions in the south and west of England. He ruthlessly put down the various risings, culminating in the Harrying of the North in late 1069 and early 1070 that devastated parts of northern England.
A further rebellion in 1070 by Hereward the Wake was also defeated by the king, at Ely.
Battle Abbey was founded by William at the site of the battle. According to 12th-century sources, William made a vow to found the abbey, and the high altar of the church was placed at the site where Harold had died. More likely, the foundation was imposed on William by papal legates in 1070.
The topography of the battlefield has been altered by subsequent construction work for the abbey, and the slope defended by the English is now much less steep than it was at the time of the battle; the top of the ridge has also been built up and levelled.After the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the abbey’s lands passed to secular landowners, who used it as a residence or country house. In 1976 the estate was put up for sale and purchased by the government with the aid of some American donors who wished to honour the 200th anniversary of American independence.
The battlefield and abbey grounds are currently owned and administered by English Heritage and are open to the public.
The Bayeux Tapestry is an embroidered narrative of the events leading up to Hastings probably commissioned by Odo of Bayeux soon after the battle, perhaps to hang at the bishop’s palace at Bayeux.In modern times annual reenactments of the Battle of Hastings have drawn thousands of participants and spectators to the site of the original battle.
The Vikings in the region became known as the “Northmen,” from which “Normandy” and “Normans” are derived.
There is some slight confusion in the original sources about the exact date; it was most likely 5 January, but a few contemporaneous sources give 4 January.
Other contenders later came to the fore. The first was Edgar Ætheling, Edward the Confessor’s great nephew who was a patrilineal descendant of King Edmund Ironside. He was the son of Edward the Exile, son of Edmund Ironside, and was born in Hungary where his father had fled after the conquest of England by Cnut. After his family’s eventual return to England and his father’s death in 1057, Edgar had by far the strongest hereditary claim to the throne, but he was only about thirteen or fourteen at the time of Edward the Confessor’s death, and with little family to support him, his claim was passed over by the Witan. Another contender was Sweyn II of Denmark, who had a claim to the throne as the grandson of Sweyn Forkbeard and nephew of Cnut, but he did not make his bid for the throne until 1069.Tostig Godwinson‘s attacks in early 1066 may have been the beginning of a bid for the throne, but threw in his lot with Harald Hardrada after defeat at the hands of Edwin and Morcar and the desertion of most of his followers he.
The surviving ship list gives 776 ships, contributed by 14 different Norman nobles. This list does not include William’s flagship, the Mora, given to him by his wife, Matilda of Flanders. The Mora is depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry with a lion figurehead.
The comet’s appearance was depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry, where it is connected with Harold’s coronation, although the appearance of the comet was later, from 24 April to 1 May 1066. The image on the tapestry is the earliest pictorial depiction of Halley’s Comet to survive.
Most modern historians agree on this date, although a few contemporary sources have William landing on 29 September.
Most contemporary accounts have William landing at Pevensey, with only the E version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle giving the landing as taking place at Hastings. Most modern accounts also state that William’s forces landed at Pevensey.
Of those 35, 5 are known to have died in the battle: Robert of Vitot, Engenulf of Laigle, Robert fitzErneis, Roger son of Turold, and Taillefer.
“Hoar” means grey, and probably refers to a crab-apple tree covered with lichen that was likely a local landmark.
Of these named persons, eight died in the battle – Harold, Gyrth, Leofwine, Godric the sheriff, Thurkill of Berkshire, Breme, and someone known only as “son of Helloc”.
Some historians have argued, based on comments by Snorri Sturlson made in the 13th century, that the English army did occasionally fight as cavalry. Contemporary accounts, such as in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle record that when English soldiers were forced to fight on horseback, they were usually routed, as in 1055 near Hereford.
This was the name popularised by Edward Freeman,a Victorian historian who wrote one of the definitive accounts of the battle.
“Sandlacu” can be rendered into Modern English as “sandlake”.
Freeman suggested that “Senlac” meant “sand lake” in Old English with the Norman conquerors calling it (in French) “sanguelac”. Freeman regarded this use as a pun because the English translation of “sanguelac” is “blood lake”.
There is a story that the first fighting at Hastings was between a jongleur named Taillefer and some of the English fighters which comes from three sources: the Carmen de Hastingae Proelio, Wace’s Romance de Rou, and the 12th-century account of Henry of Huntingdon.The story has two versions, in one of which Taillefer entertained the Norman army prior to the battle by juggling a sword but then killed an English soldier sent to kill him. Another version has the jongleur charging the English and killing two before dying himself.
The issue is furthered confused by the fact that there is evidence that the 19th century restoration of the Tapestry changed the scene by inserting or changing the placement of the arrow through the eye.
Amatus’ account is less than trustworthy because it also states that Duke William commanded 100,000 soldiers at Hastings.
Modern wargaming has demonstrated the correctness of not pursuing the fleeing Normans,with the historian Christopher Gravett stating that if in a wargame he allowed Harold to pursue the Normans, his opponent “promptly, and rightly, punished such rashness with a brisk counter-attack with proved to be the turning point of the battle — just as in 1066”.
A 12th-century tradition stated that Harold’s face could not be recognised and Edith the Fair, Harold’s common-law wife, was brought to the battlefield to identify his body from marks that only she knew.
It is possible the grave site was located where the abbey now stands.
He states that there were 15,000 casualties out of 60,000 who fought on William’s side at the battle.
This skeleton, numbered 180, sustained six fatal sword cuts to the back of the skull and was one of five skeletons that had suffered violent trauma. Analysis continues on the other remains to try and build up a more accurate picture of who the individuals are.
Ætheling is the Anglo-Saxon term for a royal prince with some claim to the throne.
William appears to have taken this route to meet up with reinforcements that had landed by Portsmouth and met him between London and Winchester. By swinging around to the north, William cut off London from reinforcements.
The first recorded mention of the tapestry is from 1476, but it is similar in style to late Anglo-Saxon manuscript illustrations and may have been composed and executed in England. The Tapestry now is displayed at the former Bishop’s Palace at Bayeux in France
Tomorrow marks the five hundred and thirty first anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth and the end of the War of The Rose’s and for me and many a fascinating period of British/French history. At the end of day King Richard III lay dead , Plantagenet rule came to a bloody, brutal end and the rise of the “sexy” Tudors has began.
As a lover of all things history , especially British/Irish/Roman I have always been fascinated by the key players in the ruthless War of the Rose’s and the sheer brutality of the murder’s they perpetuated and casual deceit they used to forward their quest for the crown of England/Wales. Going against the grain of popular opinion I have always had a soft spot for Richard, regardless of the various murders he has been associated with , not least of all the Prince’s in the Tower. He only ruled for a short term and yet he will go down in history as a giant of British Royalty and the last Battle King of England
Richard’s reign began in 1483. At the request of his brother Edward IV, Richard was acting as Lord Protector for his son Edward V. Richard had Parliament declare Edward V illegitimate and ineligible for the throne, and Richard took it for himself. Richard lost popularity when the boy and his younger brother disappeared after Richard incarcerated them in the Tower of London, and Richard’s support was further eroded by the popular belief that he was implicated in the death of his wife. Across the English Channel in Brittany, Henry Tudor, a descendant of the greatly diminished House of Lancaster, seized on Richard’s difficulties so that he could challenge Richard’s claim to the throne.
Henry’s first attempt to invade England was frustrated by a storm in 1483, but at his second attempt he arrived unopposed on 7 August 1485 on the southwest coast of Wales. Marching inland, Henry gathered support as he made for London. Richard mustered his troops and intercepted Henry’s army south of Market Bosworth in Leicestershire. Thomas, Lord Stanley, and Sir William Stanley brought a force to the battlefield, but held back while they decided which side it would be more advantageous to support.
Richard divided his army, which outnumbered Henry’s, into three groups (or “battles”). One was assigned to the Duke of Norfolk and another to the Earl of Northumberland. Henry kept most of his force together and placed it under the command of the experienced Earl of Oxford. Richard’s vanguard, commanded by Norfolk, attacked but struggled against Oxford’s men, and some of Norfolk’s troops fled the field. Northumberland took no action when signalled to assist his king, so Richard gambled everything on a charge across the battlefield to kill Henry and end the fight. Seeing the king’s knights separated from his army, the Stanleys intervened; Sir William led his men to Henry’s aid, surrounding and killing Richard. After the battle, Henry was crowned king below an oak tree in nearby Stoke Golding, now a residential garden.
Henry hired chroniclers to portray his reign favourably; the Battle of Bosworth was popularised to represent the Tudor dynasty as the start of a new age. From the 15th to 18th centuries the battle was glamorised as a victory of good over evil. The climax of William Shakespeare‘s play Richard III provides a focal point for critics in later film adaptations. The exact site of the battle is disputed because of the lack of conclusive data, and memorials have been erected at different locations.
In 1974, the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre was built on a site that has since been challenged by several scholars and historians. In October 2009, a team of researchers, who had performed geological surveys and archaeological digs in the area from 2003, suggested a location two miles (3.2 km) southwest of Ambion Hill.
During the 15th century, civil war raged across England as the Houses of York and Lancaster fought each other for the English throne. In 1471, the Yorkists defeated their rivals in the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury. The Lancastrian King Henry VI and his only son, Edward of Lancaster, died in the aftermath of the Battle of Tewkesbury. Their deaths left the House of Lancaster with no direct claimants to the throne. The Yorkist king, Edward IV, was in complete control of England.
He attainted those who refused to submit to his rule, such as Jasper Tudor and his nephew Henry, naming them traitors and confiscating their lands. The Tudors tried to flee to France but strong winds forced them to land in Brittany, then a semi-independent duchy, where they were taken into the custody of Duke Francis II.
Henry’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, was a great-granddaughter of John of Gaunt, uncle of King Richard II and father of King Henry IV. The Beauforts were originally bastards, but Henry IV legitimised them on the condition that their descendants were not eligible to inherit the throne. Henry Tudor, the only remaining Lancastrian noble with a trace of the royal bloodline, had a weak claim to the throne, and Edward regarded him as “a nobody”.
The Duke of Brittany, however, viewed Henry as a valuable tool to bargain for England’s aid in conflicts with France and kept the Tudors under his protection.
Edward IV died twelve years after Tewkesbury on 9 April 1483.
His twelve-year-old elder son succeeded him as King Edward V; the younger son, nine-year-old Richard of Shrewsbury, was next in line to the throne. Edward V was too young to rule and a Royal Council was established to rule the country until the king’s coming of age. The royal court was worried when they learned that the Woodvilles, relatives of Edward IV’s widow Elizabeth, were plotting to seize control of the council.
Having offended many in their quest for wealth and power, the Woodville family was not popular. To frustrate the Woodvilles’ ambitions, Lord Hastings and other members of the council turned to the new king’s uncle—Richard, Duke of Gloucester, brother of Edward IV. The courtiers urged Gloucester to assume the role of Protector quickly, as had been previously requested by his now dead brother.
On 13 June, Gloucester accused Hastings of plotting with the Woodvilles and had him beheaded. Nine days later, Gloucester convinced Parliament to declare the marriage between Edward IV and Elizabeth illegal, rendering their children illegitimate and disqualifying them from the throne. With his brother’s children out of the way, he was next in the line of succession and was proclaimed King Richard III on 26 June.
The timing and extrajudicial nature of the deeds done to obtain the throne for Richard won him no popularity, and rumours that spoke ill of the new king spread throughout England. After they were declared bastards, the two princes were confined in the Tower of London and never seen in public again.
Discontent with Richard’s actions manifested itself in the summer after he took control of the country, as a conspiracy emerged to displace him from the throne. The rebels were mostly loyalists to Edward IV, who saw Richard as a usurper. Their plans were co-ordinated by a Lancastrian, Henry’s mother Lady Margaret, who was promoting her son as a candidate for the throne. The highest-ranking conspirator was Buckingham. No chronicles tell of the duke’s motive in joining the plot, although historian Charles Ross proposes that Buckingham was trying to distance himself from a king who was becoming increasingly unpopular with the people.
Michael Jones and Malcolm Underwood suggest that Margaret deceived Buckingham into thinking the rebels supported him to be king.
The plan was to stage uprisings within a short time in southern and western England, overwhelming Richard’s forces. Buckingham would support the rebels by invading from Wales, while Henry came in by sea. Bad timing and weather wrecked the plot. An uprising in Kent started 10 days prematurely, alerting Richard to muster the royal army and take steps to put down the insurrections. Richard’s spies informed him of Buckingham’s activities, and the king’s men captured and destroyed the bridges across the River Severn. When Buckingham and his army reached the river, they found it swollen and impossible to cross because of a violent storm that broke on 15 October.
Buckingham was trapped and had no safe place to retreat; his Welsh enemies seized his home castle after he had set forth with his army. The duke abandoned his plans and fled to Wem, where he was betrayed by his servant and arrested by Richard’s men. On 2 November 1483, he was executed.
Henry had attempted a landing on 10 October (or 19 October), but his fleet was scattered by a storm. He reached the coast of England (at either Plymouth or Poole), and a group of soldiers hailed him to come ashore. They were, in truth, Richard’s men, prepared to capture Henry once he set foot on English soil. Henry was not deceived and returned to Brittany, abandoning the invasion. Without Buckingham or Henry, the rebellion was easily crushed by Richard.
The survivors of the failed uprisings fled to Brittany, where they openly supported Henry’s claim to the throne. At Christmas, Henry Tudor swore an oath to marry Edward IV’s daughter, Elizabeth of York, to unite the warring houses of York and Lancaster.
Henry’s rising prominence made him a great threat to Richard, and the Yorkist king made several overtures to the Duke of Brittany to surrender the young Lancastrian. Francis refused, holding out for the possibility of better terms from Richard. In mid-1484, Francis was incapacitated by illness and while recuperating, his treasurer, Pierre Landais, took over the reins of government. Landais reached an agreement with Richard to send back Henry and his uncle in exchange for military and financial aid. John Morton, a bishop of Flanders, learned of the scheme and warned the Tudors, who fled to France.
The French court allowed them to stay; the Tudors were useful pawns to ensure that Richard’s England did not interfere with French plans to annexe Brittany.
On 16 March 1485, Richard’s queen, Anne Neville, died and rumours spread across the country that she was murdered to pave the way for Richard to marry his niece, Elizabeth. The gossip alienated Richard from some of his northern supporters, and upset Henry across the English Channel. The loss of Elizabeth’s hand in marriage could unravel the alliance between Henry’s supporters who were Lancastrians and those who were loyalists to Edward IV.
Anxious to secure his bride, Henry assembled approximately 2,000 men and set sail from France on 1 August.
A stained-glass window in St. James Church, Sutton Cheney, commemorates the Battle of Bosworth and the leaders of the combatants, Richard III (left) and Henry VII (right).
By the 15th century, English chivalric ideas of selfless service to the king had been corrupted.
Armed forces were mostly raised through musters in individual estates; every able-bodied man had to respond to his lord’s call to arms, and each noble had exclusive authority over his militia. Although a king could raise personal militia from his lands, he could only muster a significantly large army through the support of his nobles. Richard, like his predecessors, had to win over these men by granting gifts and maintaining cordial relationships. Powerful nobles could demand greater incentives to remain on the liege’s side or else they might turn against him.
Three groups, each with its own agenda, stood on Bosworth Field: Richard III and his Yorkist army; his challenger, Henry Tudor, who championed the Lancastrian cause; and the fence-sitting Stanleys.
Small and slender, Richard III did not have the robust physique associated with many of his Plantagenet predecessors. However, he enjoyed very rough sports and activities that were considered manly. His performances on the battlefield impressed his brother greatly, and he became Edward’s right-hand man.
During the 1480s, Richard defended the northern borders of England. In 1482, Edward charged him to lead an army into Scotland with the aim of replacing King James III with the Duke of Albany. Richard’s army broke through the Scottish defences and occupied the capital, Edinburgh, but Albany decided to give up his claim to the throne in return for the post of Lieutenant General of Scotland. As well as obtaining a guarantee that the Scottish government would concede territories and diplomatic benefits to the English crown, Richard’s campaign retook the town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, which the Scots had conquered in 1460.
Edward was not satisfied by these gains, which, according to Ross, could have been greater if Richard had been resolute enough to capitalise on the situation while in control of Edinburgh. In her analysis of Richard’s character, Christine Carpenter sees him as a soldier who was more used to taking orders than giving them. However, he was not averse to displaying his militaristic streak; on ascending the throne he made known his desire to lead a crusade against “not only the Turks, but all [his] foes”.
Duke of Norfolk
Richard’s most loyal subject was John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk. The duke had served Richard’s brother for many years and had been one of Edward IV’s closer confidants. He was a military veteran, having fought in the Battle of Towton in 1461 and served as Hastings’ deputy at Calais in 1471.
Ross speculates that he may have borne a grudge against Edward for depriving him of a fortune. Norfolk was due to inherit a share of the wealthy Mowbray estate on the death of eight-year-old Anne de Mowbray, the last of her family. However, Edward convinced Parliament to circumvent the law of inheritance and transfer the estate to his younger son, who was married to Anne. Consequently, Howard supported Richard III in deposing Edward’s sons, for which he received the dukedom of Norfolk and his original share of the Mowbray estate.
Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland, also supported Richard’s seizure of the throne of England. The Percys were loyal Lancastrians, but Edward IV eventually won the earl’s allegiance. Northumberland had been captured and imprisoned by the Yorkists in 1461, losing his titles and estates; however, Edward released him eight years later and restored his earldom.
From that time, Northumberland served the Yorkist crown, helping to defend northern England and maintain its peace. Initially the earl had issues with Richard III as Edward groomed his brother to be the leading power of the north. Northumberland was mollified when he was promised he would be the Warden of the East March, a position that was formerly hereditary for the Percys.
He served under Richard during the 1482 invasion of Scotland, and the allure of being in a position to dominate the north of England if Richard went south to assume the crown was his likely motivation for supporting Richard’s bid for kingship. However, after becoming king, Richard began moulding his nephew, John de la Pole, 1st Earl of Lincoln, to manage the north, passing over Northumberland for the position. According to Carpenter, although the earl was amply compensated, he despaired of any possibility of advancement under Richard.
Henry Tudor was unfamiliar with the arts of war and a stranger to the land he was trying to conquer. He spent the first fourteen years of his life in Wales and the next fourteen in Brittany and France. Slender but strong and decisive, Henry lacked a penchant for battle and was not much of a warrior; chroniclers such as Polydore Vergil and ambassadors like Pedro de Ayala found him more interested in commerce and finance. Having not fought in any battles ] Henry recruited several experienced veterans on whom he could rely for military advice and the command of his armies.
John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, was Henry’s principal military commander. He was adept in the arts of war. At the Battle of Barnet, he commanded the Lancastrian right wing and routed the division opposing him. However, as a result of confusion over identities, Oxford’s group came under friendly fire from the Lancastrian main force and retreated from the field. The earl fled abroad and continued his fight against the Yorkists, raiding shipping and eventually capturing the island fort of St Michael’s Mount in 1473. He surrendered after receiving no aid or reinforcement, but in 1484 escaped from prison and joined Henry’s court in France, bringing along his erstwhile gaoler Sir James Blount. Oxford’s presence raised morale in Henry’s camp and troubled Richard III.
In the early stages of the Wars of the Roses, the Stanleys of Cheshire had been predominantly Lancastrians. Sir William Stanley, however, was a staunch Yorkist supporter, fighting in the Battle of Blore Heath in 1459 and helping Hastings to put down uprisings against Edward IV in 1471. When Richard took the crown, Sir William showed no inclination to turn against the new king, refraining from joining Buckingham’s rebellion, for which he was amply rewarded. Sir William’s elder brother, Thomas Stanley, 2nd Baron Stanley, was not as steadfast. By 1485, he had served three kings, namely Henry VI, Edward IV, and Richard III. Lord Stanley’s skilled political manoeuvrings—vacillating between opposing sides until it was clear who would be the winner—gained him high positions; he was Henry’s chamberlain and Edward’s steward.
His non-committal stance, until the crucial point of a battle, earned him the loyalty of his men, who felt he would not needlessly send them to their deaths.
Even though Lord Stanley had served as Edward IV’s steward, his relations with the king’s brother, the eventual Richard III, were not cordial. The two had conflicts that erupted into violence around March 1470. Furthermore, having taken Lady Margaret as his second wife in June 1472, Stanley was Henry Tudor’s stepfather, a relationship which did nothing to win him Richard’s favour. Despite these differences, Stanley did not join Buckingham’s revolt in 1483. When Richard executed those conspirators who had been unable to flee England, he spared Lady Margaret. However, he declared her titles forfeit and transferred her estates to Stanley’s name, to be held in trust for the Yorkist crown.
Richard’s act of mercy was calculated to reconcile him with Stanley, but it may have been to no avail—Carpenter has identified a further cause of friction in Richard’s intention to reopen an old land dispute that involved Thomas Stanley and the Harrington family. Edward IV had ruled the case in favour of Stanley in 1473, but Richard planned to overturn his brother’s ruling and give the wealthy estate to the Harringtons. Immediately before the Battle of Bosworth, being wary of Stanley, Richard took his son, Lord Strange, as hostage to discourage him from joining Henry.
Crossing the Channel and through Wales
The attacking force consisted of around 500 exiled Welsh and Englishmen. The history of one “John Major” (published in 1521) said Charles VIII of France had granted Henry 5,000 men of whom 1,000 were Scots, headed by Sir Alexander Bruce. No mention of Scottish soldiers was made by subsequent English historians. After the battle, Bruce was given an annuity of £20 by Henry for his “faithful services”.
This is partly the reason why they were taken up the coast of Wales, under Henry’s stern command, keeping them well apart from the Welsh soldiers under Rhys’ command.
Henry’s crossing of the English Channel in 1485 was without incident. Thirty ships sailed from Harfleur on 1 August and, with fair winds behind them, landed in his native Wales, at Mill Bay (near Dale) on the north side of Milford Haven on 7 August, easily capturing nearby Dale Castle. His long awaited arrival had been hailed by contemporary Welsh bards such as Dafydd Ddu and Gruffydd ap Dafydd as the true prince and “the youth of Brittany defeating the Saxons” in order to bring their country back to glory.
Mill Bay had been chosen as it was completely hidden from view and there was no resistance by the cohort of Richard’s men stationed at Dale where Henry and his men spent the first night.
In the morning they marched to Haverfordwest, the county town of Pembrokeshire, 12 miles away and were received “with the utmost goodwill of all”. Here, the Welshman Arnold Butler (who had met Henry in Brittany) announced that “the whole of Pembrokeshire was prepared to serve him”. Butler’s closest friend was Rhys ap Thomas. That afternoon, Henry and his troops headed north towards Cardigan and pitched camp “at the fifth milestone towards Cardigan” where they were joined by Gruffydd Rede with a band of soldiers and John Morgan of Tredegar. The following day, 9 August, they passed through Bwlch-y-gwynt and over the Preseli mountains and to Fagwyr Llwyd south of Cilgwyn.
Richard’s lieutenant in South Wales, Sir Walter Herbert, failed to move against Henry, and two of his officers, Richard Griffith and Evan Morgan, deserted to Henry with their men.
However, the most important defector to Henry in this early stage of the campaign was probably Rhys ap Thomas, who was the leading figure in West Wales. Richard had appointed Rhys Lieutenant in West Wales for his refusal to join Buckingham’s rebellion, asking that he surrender his son Gruffydd ap Rhys ap Thomas as surety, although by some accounts Rhys had managed to evade this condition. However, Henry successfully courted Rhys, offering the lieutenancy of all Wales in exchange for his fealty.
Henry marched via Aberystwyth while Rhys followed a more southerly route, recruiting 2,000 Welshmen en route to swell Henry’s army when they reunited at Cefn Digoll, Welshpool, thus ensuring that the majority of Henry’s army in the ensuing battle would be Welsh. By 15 or 16 August, Henry and his men had crossed the English border, making for the town of Shrewsbury.
Shrewsbury: the gateway to England
March through Wales, to Bosworth Field.
Since 22 June 1485 Richard had been aware of Henry’s impending invasion, and had ordered his lords to maintain a high level of readiness. News of Henry’s landing reached Richard on 11 August, but it took three to four days for his messengers to notify his lords of their king’s mobilisation. On 16 August, the Yorkist army started to gather; Norfolk set off for Leicester, the assembly point, that night. The city of York, a traditional stronghold of Richard’s family, asked the king for instructions, and receiving a reply three days later sent 80 men to join the king. Simultaneously Northumberland, whose northern territory was the most distant from the capital, had gathered his men and ridden to Leicester.
Although London was his goal, Henry did not move directly towards the city. After resting in Shrewsbury, his forces went eastwards and picked up Sir Gilbert Talbot and other English allies, including deserters from Richard’s forces. Although its size had increased substantially since the landing, Henry’s army was not yet large enough to contend with the numbers Richard could muster.
Henry’s pace through Staffordshire was slow, delaying the confrontation with Richard so that he could gather more recruits to his cause. Henry had been communicating on friendly terms with the Stanleys for some time before setting foot in England, and the Stanleys had mobilised their forces on hearing of Henry’s landing. They ranged themselves ahead of Henry’s march through the English countryside, meeting twice in secret with Henry as he moved through Staffordshire.
At the second of these, at Atherstone in Warwickshire, they conferred “in what sort to arraign battle with King Richard, whom they heard to be not far off”. On 21 August, the Stanleys were making camp on the slopes of a hill north of Dadlington, while Henry encamped his army at White Moors to the northwest of their camp.
Early battle (a scenario based on historical interpretations): elements of Richard’s army charged down Ambion Hill to engage Henry’s forces on the plain. The Stanleys stood at the south, observing the situation.
On 20 August, Richard reached Leicester, joining Norfolk. Northumberland arrived the following day. The royal army proceeded westwards to intercept Henry’s march on London. Passing Sutton Cheney, Richard moved his army towards Ambion Hill—which he thought would be of tactical value—and made camp on it. Richard’s sleep was not peaceful and, according to the Croyland Chronicle, in the morning his face was “more livid and ghastly than usual”.
Late battle (a scenario based on historical interpretations): Richard led a small group of men around the main battle and charged Henry, who was moving towards the Stanleys. William Stanley rode to Henry’s rescue.
The Yorkist army, numbering about 10,000 men, deployed on the hilltop along the ridgeline from west to east. Norfolk’s group (or “battle” in the parlance of the time) of spearmen stood on the right flank, protecting the cannon and about 1,200 archers. Richard’s group, comprising 3,000 infantry, formed the centre. Northumberland’s men guarded the left flank; he had approximately 4,000 men, many of them mounted. Standing on the hilltop, Richard had a wide, unobstructed view of the area. He could see the Stanleys and their 6,000 men holding positions on and around Dadlington Hill, while to the southwest was Henry’s army.
Henry had very few Englishmen—fewer than a thousand—in his army. Between three and five hundred of them were exiles who had fled from Richard’s rule, and the remainder were Talbot’s men and recent deserters from Richard’s army. Historian John Mackie believes that 1,800 French mercenaries, led by Philibert de Chandée, formed the core of Henry’s army . John Mair, writing thirty-five years after the battle, claimed that this force contained a significant Scottish component, and this claim is accepted by some modern writers, but Mackie reasons that the French would not have released their elite Scottish knights and archers, and concludes that there were probably few Scottish troops in the army, although he accepts the presence of captains like Bernard Stewart, Lord of Aubigny.
In total, Henry’s army was around 5,000 strong, a substantial portion of which was made up by the recruits picked up in Wales. Rhys ap Thomas’s Welsh force was described as being large enough to have “annihilated” the rest of Henry’s force.
In their interpretations of the vague mentions of the battle in the old text, historians placed areas near the foot of Ambion Hill as likely regions where the two armies clashed, and thought up possible scenarios of the engagement. In their recreations of the battle, Henry started by moving his army towards Ambion Hill where Richard and his men stood. As Henry’s army advanced past the marsh at the southwestern foot of the hill, Richard sent a message to Stanley, threatening to execute his son, Lord Strange, if Stanley did not join the attack on Henry immediately. Stanley replied that he had other sons. Incensed, Richard gave the order to behead Strange but his officers temporised, saying that battle was imminent, and it would be more convenient to carry out the execution afterwards.
Henry had also sent messengers to Stanley asking him to declare his allegiance. The reply was evasive—the Stanleys would “naturally” come, after Henry had given orders to his army and arranged them for battle. Henry had no choice but to confront Richard’s forces alone.
Well aware of his own military inexperience, Henry handed command of his army to Oxford and retired to the rear with his bodyguards. Oxford, seeing the vast line of Richard’s army strung along the ridgeline, decided to keep his men together instead of splitting them into the traditional three battles: vanguard, centre, and rearguard. He ordered the troops to stray no further than 10 feet (3.0 m) from their banners, fearing that they would become enveloped. Individual groups clumped together, forming a single large mass flanked by horsemen on the wings.]
The Lancastrians were harassed by Richard’s cannon as they manoeuvred around the marsh, seeking firmer ground. Once Oxford and his men were clear of the marsh, Norfolk’s battle and several contingents of Richard’s group, under the command of Sir Robert Brackenbury, started to advance. Hails of arrows showered both sides as they closed. Oxford’s men proved the steadier in the ensuing hand-to-hand combat; they held their ground and several of Norfolk’s men fled the field.
Recognising that his force was at a disadvantage, Richard signalled for Northumberland to assist but Northumberland’s group showed no signs of movement. Historians, such as Horrox and Pugh, believe Northumberland chose not to aid his king for personal reasons. Ross doubts the aspersions cast on Northumberland’s loyalty, suggesting instead that Ambion Hill’s narrow ridge hindered him from joining the battle. The earl would have had to either go through his allies or execute a wide flanking move—near impossible to perform given the standard of drill at the time—to engage Oxford’s men.
At this juncture Richard saw Henry at some distance behind his main force. Seeing this, Richard decided to end the fight quickly by killing the enemy commander. He led a charge of mounted men around the melee and tore into Henry’s group; several accounts state that Richard’s force numbered 800–1000 knights, but Ross says it was more likely that Richard was accompanied only by his household men and closest friends.
Richard killed Henry’s standard-bearer Sir William Brandon in the initial charge and unhorsed burly John Cheyne, Edward IV’s former standard-bearer, with a blow to the head from his broken lance. French mercenaries in Henry’s retinue related how the attack had caught them off guard and that Henry sought protection by dismounting and concealing himself among them to present less of a target. Henry made no attempt to engage in combat himself.
Oxford had left a small reserve of Pike-equipped men with Henry. They slowed the pace of Richard’s mounted charge and bought Tudor some critical time. The remainder of Henry’s bodyguards surrounded their master and succeeded in keeping him away from the Yorkist king. On seeing Richard embroiled with Henry’s men and separated from his main force, William Stanley made his move. He led his men into the fight at Henry’s side. Outnumbered, Richard’s group was surrounded and gradually pressed back.
Richard’s force was driven several hundred yards away from Tudor, near to the edge of a marsh. The king’s horse lost its footing and toppled into it. Richard gathered himself and rallied his dwindling followers, supposedly refusing to retreat:
“God forbid that I retreat one step. I will either win the battle as a king, or die as one.”
In the fighting Richard’s banner man—Sir Percival Thirlwall—lost his legs but held the Yorkist banner aloft until he was killed.
“King Richard, alone, was killed fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies”.
Richard had come within a sword’s length of Henry Tudor before being surrounded by Sir William Stanley’s men and killed. The Burgundian chronicler Jean Molinet says that a Welshman struck the death-blow with a halberd while Richard’s horse was stuck in the marshy ground.
It was said that the blows were so violent that the king’s helmet was driven into his skull. The contemporary Welsh poet Guto’r Glyn implies the leading Welsh Lancastrian Rhys ap Thomas, or one of his men, killed the king, writing that he “killed the boar, shaved his head”.
The identification in 2013 of King Richard’s body shows that the skeleton had 10 wounds, eight of them to the head, clearly inflicted in battle and suggesting he had lost his helmet. The skull showed that a blade had hacked away part of the rear of the skull.
Richard’s forces disintegrated as news of his death spread. Northumberland and his men fled north on seeing the king’s fate, and Norfolk was killed.
Finding Richard’s circlet after the battle, Lord Stanley hands it to Henry.
After the battle, Richard’s circlet was found and brought to Henry, who was crowned king at the top of Crown Hill, near the village of Stoke Golding. According to Vergil, Henry’s official historian, Lord Stanley found the circlet. Historian Stanley Chrimes and Professor Sydney Anglo dismiss the legend of the crown’s finding in a hawthorn bush; none of the contemporary sources reported such an event.
Ross, however, does not ignore the legend. He argues that the hawthorn bush would not be part of Henry’s coat of arms if it did not have a strong relationship to his ascendance. In Vergil’s chronicle, 100 of Henry’s men, compared to 1,000 of Richard’s, died in this battle—a ratio Chrimes believes to be an exaggeration.
The bodies of the fallen were brought to St James Church at Dadlington for burial. However, Henry denied any immediate rest for Richard; instead the last Yorkist king’s corpse was stripped naked and strapped across a horse. His body was brought to Leicester and openly exhibited to prove that he was dead. Early accounts suggest that this was in the major Lancastrian collegiate foundation, the Church of the Annunciation of Our Lady of the Newarke.
After two days, the corpse was interred in a plain unmarked tomb, within the church of the Greyfriars. The location of Richard’s tomb was long uncertain, as the church was demolished following its dissolution in 1538.
On 12 September 2012 archaeologists announced the discovery of a battle-damaged skeleton suspected to be Richard’s in the remains of his burial church in Leicester. On 4 February 2013, it was announced that DNA testing had conclusively identified (“beyond reasonable doubt”) the remains as those of Richard. On Thursday 26 March 2015, these remains were ceremonially buried in Leicester Cathedral. On the following day the new royal tomb of Richard III was unveiled.
Henry dismissed the mercenaries in his force, retaining only a small core of local soldiers to form the “Yeomen of his Garde“, and proceeded to establish his rule of England. Parliament reversed his attainder and recorded Richard’s kingship as illegal, although the Yorkist king’s reign remained officially in the annals of England history. The proclamation of Edward IV’s children as illegitimate was also reversed, restoring Elizabeth’s status to a royal princess.
The marriage of Elizabeth, the heiress to the House of York, to Henry, the master of the House of Lancaster, marked the end of the feud between the two houses and the start of the Tudor dynasty. The royal matrimony, however, was delayed until Henry was crowned king and had established his claim on the throne firmly enough to preclude that of Elizabeth and her kin.
Henry further convinced Parliament to backdate his reign to the day before the battle, retrospectively enabling those who fought against him at Bosworth Field to be declared traitors. Northumberland, who had remained inactive during the battle, was imprisoned but later released and reinstated to pacify the north in Henry’s name. The purge of those who fought for Richard occupied Henry’s first two years of rule, although later he proved prepared to accept those who submitted to him regardless of their former allegiances.
Of his supporters, Henry rewarded the Stanleys the most generously. Aside from making William his chamberlain, he bestowed the earldom of Derby upon Lord Stanley along with grants and offices in other estates. Henry rewarded Oxford by restoring to him the lands and titles confiscated by the Yorkists and appointing him as Constable of the Tower and admiral of England, Ireland, and Aquitaine.
For his kin, Henry created Jasper Tudor the Duke of Bedford. He returned to his mother the lands and grants stripped from her by Richard, and proved to be a filial son, granting her a place of honour in the palace and faithfully attending to her throughout his reign. Parliament’s declaration of Margaret as femme sole effectively empowered her; she no longer needed to manage her estates through Stanley.
Elton points out that despite his initial largesse, Henry’s supporters at Bosworth would only enjoy his special favour for the short term; in later years, he would instead promote those who best served his interests.
Like the kings before him, Henry faced dissenters. The first open revolt occurred two years after Bosworth Field; Lambert Simnel claimed to be Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick, who was Edward IV’s nephew. The Earl of Lincoln backed him for the throne and led rebel forces in the name of the House of York.
The rebel army fended off several attacks by Northumberland’s forces, before engaging Henry’s army at the Battle of Stoke Field on 16 June 1487. Oxford and Bedford led Henry’s men, including several former supporters of Richard III. Henry won this battle easily, but other malcontents and conspiracies would follow.
A rebellion in 1489 started with Northumberland’s murder; military historian Michael C. C. Adams says that the author of a note, which was left next to Northumberland’s body, blamed the earl for Richard’s death.
Legacy and historical significance
Contemporary accounts of the Battle of Bosworth can be found in four main sources, one of which is the English Croyland Chronicle, written by a senior Yorkist chronicler who relied on second-hand information from nobles and soldiers.
The other accounts were written by foreigners—Vergil, Jean Molinet, and Diego de Valera. Whereas Molinet was sympathetic to Richard , Vergil was in Henry’s service and drew information from the king and his subjects to portray them in a good light. Diego de Valera, whose information Ross regards as unreliable, compiled his work from letters of Spanish merchants. However, other historians have used Valera’s work to deduce possibly valuable insights not readily evident in other sources
Ross finds the poem, The Ballad of Bosworth Field, a useful source to ascertain certain details of the battle. The multitude of different accounts, mostly based on second- or third-hand information, has proved an obstacle to historians as they try to reconstruct the battle. Their common complaint is that, except for its outcome, very few details of the battle are found in the chronicles. According to historian Michael Hicks, the Battle of Bosworth is one of the worst-recorded clashes of the Wars of the Roses.
Historical depictions and interpretations
Newport History Society re-enacts Henry’s march through Wales to Bosworth Field during the battle’s quincentenary celebration.
Henry tried to present his victory as a new beginning for the country; he hired chroniclers to portray his reign as a “modern age” with its dawn in 1485. Hicks states that the works of Vergil and the blind historian Bernard André, promoted by subsequent Tudor administrations, became the authoritative sources for writers for the next four hundred years.
As such, Tudor literature paints a flattering picture of Henry’s reign, depicting the Battle of Bosworth as the final clash of the civil war and downplaying the subsequent uprisings. For England the Middle Ages ended in 1485, and English Heritage claims that other than William the Conqueror‘s successful invasion of 1066, no other year holds more significance in English history. By portraying Richard as a hunchbacked tyrant who usurped the throne by killing his nephews, the Tudor historians attached a sense of myth to the battle: it became an epic clash between good and evil with a satisfying moral outcome.
According to Reader Colin Burrow, André was so overwhelmed by the historic significance of the battle that he represented it with a blank page in his Henry VII (1502). For Professor Peter Saccio, the battle was indeed a unique clash in the annals of English history, because
“the victory was determined, not by those who fought, but by those who delayed fighting until they were sure of being on the winning side.”
Historians such as Adams and Horrox believe that Richard lost the battle not for any mythic reasons, but because of morale and loyalty problems in his army. Most of the common soldiers found it difficult to fight for a liege whom they distrusted, and some lords believed that their situation might improve if Richard was dethroned.
According to Adams, against such duplicities Richard’s desperate charge was the only knightly behaviour on the field. As fellow historian Michael Bennet puts it, the attack was “the swan-song of [mediaeval] English chivalry”. Adams believes this view was shared at the time by the printer William Caxton, who enjoyed sponsorship from Edward IV and Richard III. Nine days after the battle, Caxton published Thomas Malory‘s story about chivalry and death by betrayal—Le Morte d’Arthur—seemingly as a response to the circumstances of Richard’s death.
Elton does not believe Bosworth Field has any true significance, pointing out that the 20th-century English public largely ignored the battle until its quincentennial celebration. In his view, the dearth of specific information about the battle—no-one even knows exactly where it took place—demonstrates its insignificance to English society. Elton considers the battle as just one part of Henry’s struggles to establish his reign, underscoring his point by noting that the young king had to spend ten more years pacifying factions and rebellions to secure his throne.
Mackie asserts that, in hindsight, Bosworth Field is notable as the decisive battle that established a dynasty which would rule unchallenged over England for more than a hundred years.
Mackie notes that contemporary historians of that time, wary of the three royal successions during the long Wars of the Roses, considered Bosworth Field just another in a lengthy series of such battles. It was through the works and efforts of Francis Bacon and his successors that the public started to believe the battle had decided their futures by bringing about “the fall of a tyrant”.
William Shakespeare gives prominence to the Battle of Bosworth in his play, Richard III. It is the “one big battle”; no other fighting scene distracts the audience from this action, represented by a one-on-one sword fight between Henry Tudor and Richard III. Shakespeare uses their duel to bring a climactic end to the play and the Wars of the Roses; he also uses it to champion morality, portraying the “unequivocal triumph of good over evil”.
Richard, the villainous lead character, has been built up in the battles of Shakespeare’s earlier play, Henry VI, Part 3, as a “formidable swordsman and a courageous military leader”—in contrast to the dastardly means by which he becomes king in Richard III. Although the Battle of Bosworth has only five sentences to direct it, three scenes and more than four hundred lines precede the action, developing the background and motivations for the characters in anticipation of the battle.
Richard III, Act 5, scene 3: Richard, played by David Garrick, awakens after a nightmare visit by the ghosts of his victims.
Shakespeare’s account of the battle was mostly based on chroniclers Edward Hall‘s and Raphael Holinshed‘s dramatic versions of history, which were sourced from Vergil’s chronicle. However, Shakespeare’s attitude towards Richard was shaped by scholar Thomas More, whose writings displayed extreme bias against the Yorkist king.
The result of these influences is a script that vilifies the king, and Shakespeare had few qualms about departing from history to incite drama.Margaret of Anjou died in 1482, but Shakespeare had her speak to Richard’s mother before the battle to foreshadow Richard’s fate and fulfill the prophecy she had given in Henry VI.
Shakespeare exaggerated the cause of Richard’s restless night before the battle, imagining it as a haunting by the ghosts of those whom the king had murdered, including Buckingham. Richard is portrayed as suffering a pang of conscience, but as he speaks he regains his confidence and asserts that he will be evil, if such needed to retain his crown.
The fight between the two armies is simulated by rowdy noises made off-stage (alarums or alarms) while actors walk on-stage, deliver their lines, and exit. To build anticipation for the duel, Shakespeare requests more alarums after Richard’s councillor, William Catesby, announces that the king is “[enacting] more wonders than a man”. Richard punctuates his entrance with the classic line, “A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!”
He refuses to withdraw, continuing to seek to slay Henry’s doubles until he has killed his nemesis. There is no documentary evidence that Henry had five decoys at Bosworth Field; the idea was Shakespeare’s invention. He drew inspiration from Henry IV‘s use of them at the Battle of Shrewsbury (1403) to amplify the perception of Richard’s courage on the battlefield.
Similarly, the single combat between Henry and Richard is Shakespeare’s creation. The True Tragedy of Richard III, a play earlier than Shakespeare’s, has no signs of staging such an encounter: its stage directions give not a hint of visible combat.
The Battle of Bosworth Field, a Scene in the Great Drama of History, illustrating Beckett’s mocking of Victorian attitude towards history
Despite the dramatic licences taken, Shakespeare’s version of the Battle of Bosworth was the model of the event for English textbooks for many years during the 18th and 19th centuries. This glamorised version of history, promulgated in books and paintings and played out on stages across the country, perturbed humorist Gilbert Abbott à Beckett. He voiced his criticism in the form of a poem, equating the romantic view of the battle to watching a “fifth-rate production of Richard III“: shabbily costumed actors fight the Battle of Bosworth on-stage while those with lesser roles lounge at the back, showing no interest in the proceedings.
In Laurence Olivier‘s 1955 film adaptation of Richard III, the Battle of Bosworth is represented not by a single duel but a general melee that became the film’s most recognised scene and a regular screening at Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre. The film depicts the clash between the Yorkist and Lancastrian armies on an open field, focusing on individual characters amidst the savagery of hand-to-hand fighting, and received accolades for the realism portrayed.
One reviewer for The Manchester Guardian newspaper, however, was not impressed, finding the number of combatants too sparse for the wide plains and a lack of subtlety in Richard’s death scene. The means by which Richard is shown to prepare his army for the battle also earned acclaim. As Richard speaks to his men and draws his plans in the sand using his sword, his units appear on-screen, arraying themselves according to the lines that Richard had drawn. Intimately woven together, the combination of pictorial and narrative elements effectively turns Richard into a storyteller, who acts out the plot he has constructed.
Shakespearian critic Herbert Coursen extends that imagery: Richard sets himself up as a creator of men, but dies amongst the savagery of his creations. Coursen finds the depiction a contrast to that of Henry V and his “band of brothers”.
The adaptation of the setting for Richard III to a 1930s fascist England in Ian McKellen‘s 1995 film, however, did not sit well with historians. Adams posits that the original Shakespearian setting for Richard’s fate at Bosworth teaches the moral of facing one’s fate, no matter how unjust it is, “nobly and with dignity”. By overshadowing the dramatic teaching with special effects, McKellen’s film reduces its version of the battle to a pyrotechnic spectacle about the death of a one-dimensional villain. Coursen agrees that, in this version, the battle and Richard’s end are trite and underwhelming.
The memorial and its plaque
Officially the site of the battle is deemed by Leicestershire County Council to be in the vicinity of the town of Market Bosworth. The council engaged historian Daniel Williams to research the battle, and in 1974 his findings were used to build the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre and the presentation it houses. Williams’s interpretation, however, has since been questioned. Sparked by the battle’s quincentenary celebration in 1985, a dispute among historians has led many to suspect the accuracy of Williams’s theory. In particular, geological surveys conducted from 2003 to 2009 by the Battlefields Trust, a charitable organisation that protects and studies old English battlefields, show that the southern and eastern flanks of Ambion Hill were solid ground in the 15th century, contrary to Williams’s claim that it was a large area of marshland.
Landscape archaeologistGlenn Foard, leader of the survey, said the collected soil samples and finds of medieval military equipment suggest that the battle took place two miles (3 km) southwest of Ambion Hill (52°34′41″N 1°26′02″W), contrary to the popular belief that it was fought near the foot of the hill.
As explored by Professor Philip Morgan, a battle might initially not be named specifically at all. As time passes, writers of administrative and historical records find it necessary to identify a notable battle, ascribing it a name that is usually toponymical in nature and sourced from combatants or observers. This official name becomes accepted by society and future generations without question.
Early records associated the Battle of Bosworth with “Brownehethe”, “bellum Miravallenses“, “Sandeford” and “Dadlyngton field”. The earliest record, a municipal memorandum of 23 August 1485 from York, locates the battle “on the field of Redemore”. This is corroborated by a 1485–86 letter that mentions “Redesmore” as its site.
According to historian Peter Foss, records did not associate the battle with “Bosworth” until 151
Foss is named by English Heritage as the principal advocate for “Redemore” as the battle site. He suggests the name is derived from “Hreod Mor“, an Anglo-Saxon phrase that means “reedy marshland”. Basing his opinion on 13th- and 16th-century church records, he believes “Redemore” was an area of wetland that lay between Ambion Hill and the village of Dadlington, and was close to the Fenn Lanes, a Roman road running east to west across the region.
Foard believes this road to be the most probable route that both armies took to reach the battlefield. Williams dismisses the notion of “Redmore” as a specific location, saying that the term refers to a large area of reddish soil; Foss argues that Williams’s sources are local stories and flawed interpretations of recor
Moreover, he proposes that Williams was influenced by William Hutton‘s 1788 The Battle of Bosworth-Field, which Foss blames for introducing the notion that the battle was fought west of Ambion Hill on the north side of the River Sence. Hutton, as Foss suggests, misinterpreted a passage from his source, Raphael Holinshed‘s 1577 Chronicle. Holinshed wrote, “King Richard pitched his field on a hill called Anne Beame, refreshed his soldiers and took his rest.” Foss believes that Hutton mistook “field” to mean “field of battle”, thus creating the idea that the fight took place on Anne Beame (Ambion) Hill. To “[pitch] his field”, as Foss clarifies, was a period expression for setting up a camp
St James the Greater, Dadlington: the dead of Bosworth Field were buried here.
Foss brings further evidence for his “Redemore” theory by quoting Edward Hall‘s 1550 Chronicle. Hall stated that Richard’s army stepped onto a plain after breaking camp the next day. Furthermore, historian William Burton, author of Description of Leicestershire (1622), wrote that the battle was:
“fought in a large, flat, plaine, and spacious ground, three miles [5 km] distant from [Bosworth], between the Towne of Shenton, Sutton [Cheney], Dadlington and Stoke [Golding]”.
In Foss’s opinion both sources are describing an area of flat ground north of Dadlington.
English Heritage, responsible for managing England’s historic sites, used both theories to designate the site for Bosworth Field. Without preference for either theory, they constructed a single continuous battlefield boundary that encompasses the locations proposed by both Williams and Foss.
The region has experienced extensive changes over the years, starting after the battle. Holinshed stated in his chronicle that he found firm ground where he expected the marsh to be, and Burton confirmed that by the end of the 16th century, areas of the battlefield were enclosed and had been improved to make them agriculturally productive. Trees were planted on the south side of Ambion Hill, forming Ambion Wood. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Ashby Canal carved through the land west and south-west of Ambion Hill. Winding alongside the canal at a distance, the Ashby and Nuneaton Joint Railway crossed the area on an embankment.
The changes to the landscape were so extensive that when Hutton revisited the region in 1807 after an earlier 1788 visit, he could not readily find his way around
Richard’s Well, where the last Yorkist king supposedly took a drink of water on the day of the battle.
Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre was built on Ambion Hill, near Richard’s Well. According to legend, Richard III drank from one of the several springs in the region on the day of the battle. In 1788, a local pointed out one of the springs to Hutton as the one mentioned in the legend. A stone structure was later built over the location. The inscription on the well reads:
“Near this spot, on August 22nd 1485, at the age of 32, King Richard III fell fighting gallantly in defence of his realm & his crown against the usurper Henry Tudor.
The Cairn was erected by Dr. Samuel Parr in 1813 to mark the well from which the king is said to have drunk during the battle.
It is maintained by the Fellowship of the White Boar.”
Northwest of Ambion Hill, just across the northern tributary of the Sence, a flag and memorial stone mark Richard’s Field. Erected in 1973, the site was selected on the basis of Williams’s theory. St James’s Church at Dadlington is the only structure in the area that is reliably associated with the Battle of Bosworth; the bodies of those killed in the battle were buried there.
The rediscovered battlefield and possible battle scenario
The very extensive survey carried out (2005-2009) by the Battlefields Trust headed by Glenn Foard led eventually to the discovery of the real location of the core battlefield. This lies about a kilometer further west than the location suggested by Peter Foss. It is in what was at the time of the battle an area of marginal land at the meeting of several township boundaries. There was a cluster of field names suggesting the presence of marshland and heath. Thirty four lead round shot were discovered as a result of systematic metal detecting (more than the total found previously on all other C15th European battlefields), as well as other significant finds, including a small silver gilt badge depicting a boar. Experts believe that the boar badge could indicate the actual site of Richard III’s death, since this high-status badge depicting his personal emblem, was probably worn by a member of his close retinue.
A new interpretation of the battle now integrates the historic accounts with the battlefield finds and landscape history. The new site lies either side of the Fenn Lanes Roman road, close to Fenn Lane Farm and is some three kilometers to the southwest of Ambion Hill.
Bosworth Battlefield (Fenn Lane Farm)
Based on the round shot scatter, the likely size of Richard III’s army, and the topography, Glenn Foard and Anne Curry think that Richard may have lined up his forces on a slight ridge which lies just east of Fox Covert Lane and behind a postulated medieval marsh. Richard’s vanguard commanded by the Duke of Norfolk was on the right (north) side of Richard’s battle line, with the Earl of Northumberland on Richard’s left (south) side.
Tudor’s forces approached along the line of the Roman road and lined up to the west of the present day Fenn Lane Farm, having marched from the vicinity of Merevale in Warwickshire. The Stanleys were positioned on the south side of the battlefield, on rising ground towards Stoke Golding and Dadlington. The Earl of Oxford turned north to avoid the marsh (and possibly Richard’s guns). This manoeuvre put the marsh on Oxford’s right. He moved to attack Norfolk’s vanguard. Norfolk was subsequently killed.
Northumberland failed to engage, possibly due to the presence of the Stanleys, whose intentions were unclear, or due to the position of the marsh (or for both reasons). With Richard’s situation deteriorating, he decided to launch an attack against Henry Tudor, which almost succeeded, but the king’s horse became stuck in the marsh, and he was killed. Fen Hole (where the boar badge was found) is believed to be a residue of the marsh. When Richard began his charge, Sir William Stanley intervened from the vicinity of Stoke Golding. It was here, on what came to be known as Crown Hill (the closest elevated ground to the fighting), that Lord Stanley crowned Henry Tudor after Richard was killed.
Bosworth Battlefield actual site
The windmill close to which the Duke of Norfolk is said to have died (according to the ballad “Lady Bessy”) was Dadlington windmill. This has disappeared but is known to have stood at the time of the battle, in the vicinity of Apple Orchard Farm and North Farm, Dadlington. A small cluster of significant finds was made in this area, including a gold livery badge depicting an eagle. The windmill lay between the core battlefield and Richard’s camp on Ambion Hill and the rout of Norfolk’s vanguard was in this direction. This also accounts for the large number of dead in Dadlington parish, leading to the setting up of the battle chantry there.
Historic England have re-defined the boundaries of the registered Bosworth Battlefield to incorporate the newly identified site. There are hopes that public access to the site may be possible in the future.
Upon Napoleon’s return to power in March 1815, many states that had opposed him formed the Seventh Coalition and began to mobilize armies. Wellington and Blücher’s armies were cantoned close to the north-eastern border of France. Napoleon chose to attack them in the hope of destroying them before they could join in a coordinated invasion of France with other members of the coalition. Waterloo was the decisive engagement of the Waterloo Campaign and Napoleon’s last. According to Wellington, the battle was “the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life”. The defeat at Waterloo ended Napoleon’s rule as Emperor of the French, and marked the end of his Hundred Days return from exile. Napoleon abdicated 4 days later, and on 7 July coalition forces entered Paris.
After the Battle of Quatre Bras, Wellington withdrew from Quatre Bras to Waterloo. After the simultaneous Battle of Ligny the Prussians withdrew parallel to Wellington, drawing a third part of Napoleon’s forces away from Waterloo to the separate and simultaneous Battle of Wavre. Upon learning that the Prussian army was able to support him, Wellington decided to offer battle on the Mont-Saint-Jeanescarpment, across the Brussels road. Here he withstood repeated attacks by the French throughout the afternoon, aided by the progressively arriving Prussians. In the evening Napoleon committed his last reserves to a desperate final attack, which was narrowly beaten back. With the Prussians breaking through on the French right flank Wellington’s Anglo-allied army counter-attacked in the centre, and the French army was routed.
The battlefield is located in the municipalities of Braine-l’Alleud and Lasne, about 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) south of Brussels, and about 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) from the town of Waterloo. The site of the battlefield today is dominated by a large monument, the Lion’s Mound. As this mound was constructed from earth taken from the battlefield itself, the contemporary topography of the battlefield near the mound has not been preserved.
If Napoleon could destroy the existing coalition forces south of Brussels before they were reinforced, he might be able to drive the British back to the sea and knock the Prussians out of the war and then turn his armies towards the Austrians and Russians. An additional consideration was that there were many French-speaking sympathisers in Belgium and a French victory might trigger a friendly revolution there. Also, the British troops in Belgium were largely second-line troops; most of the veterans of the Peninsular War had been sent to North America to fight in the War of 1812.
A map of the Waterloo campaign
The resurgent Napoleon’s strategy was to isolate the Allied and Prussian armies and annihilate each one separately
Napoleon’s headquarters on the eve of the battle, the Caillou (“Pebble”) Farm
Marshal Michel Ney exercised tactical control of the greater part of the French forces for most of the battle
Wellington’s initial dispositions were intended to counter the threat of Napoleon enveloping the Coalition armies by moving through Mons to the south-west of Brussels. This would have cut Wellington’s communications with his base at Ostend, but would have pushed his army closer to Blücher’s. Napoleon manipulated Wellington’s fear of this loss of his supply chain from the channel ports with false intelligence.
By June, Napoleon had raised a total army strength of about 300,000 men. The force at his disposal at Waterloo was less than one third that size, but they were nearly all loyal and experienced soldiers. He divided his army into a left wing commanded by Marshal Ney, a right wing commanded by Marshal Grouchy and a reserve under his command (although all three elements remained close enough to support one another). Crossing the frontier near Charleroi before dawn on 15 June, the French rapidly overran Coalition outposts, securing Napoleon’s “central position” between Wellington’s and Blücher’s armies.
Only very late on the night of 15 June, was Wellington certain that the Charleroi attack was the main French thrust. In the early hours of 16 June, at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball in Brussels, he received a dispatch from the Prince of Orange and was shocked by the speed of Napoleon’s advance. He hastily ordered his army to concentrate on Quatre Bras, where the Prince of Orange, with the brigade of Prince Bernhard of Saxe-Weimar, was holding a tenuous position against the soldiers of Ney’s left wing. Ney’s orders were to secure the crossroads of Quatre Bras, so that, if necessary, he could later swing east and reinforce Napoleon.
Napoleon moved against the concentrated Prussian army first. On 16 June, with a part of the reserve and the right wing of the army, he attacked and defeated Blücher’s Prussians at the Battle of Ligny. The Prussian centre gave way under more heavy French assaults but the flanks held their ground. Ney, meanwhile, found the crossroads of Quatre Bras lightly held by the Prince of Orange, who repelled Ney’s initial attacks but was gradually driven back by overwhelming numbers of French troops. First reinforcements and then Wellington arrived. He took command and drove Ney back, securing the crossroads by early evening, too late to send help to the Prussians, who were defeated at the Battle of Ligny on the same day. The Prussian defeat made Wellington’s position at Quatre Bras untenable, so the next day he withdrew northwards, to a defensive position he had reconnoitred the previous year—the low ridge of Mont-Saint-Jean, south of the village of Waterloo and the Sonian Forest.
The Prussian retreat from Ligny went uninterrupted and seemingly unnoticed by the French. The bulk of their rearguard units held their positions until about midnight and some elements did not move out until the following morning, ignored by the French. Crucially, the Prussians did not retreat to the east, along their own lines of communication. Instead, they too fell back northwards—parallel to Wellington’s line of march, still within supporting distance and in communication with him throughout. The Prussians rallied on Bülow’s IV Corps, which had not been engaged at Ligny and was in a strong position south of Wavre.
Once he had intelligence of the Prussian defeat, Wellington organised a retreat from Quatre Bras to Waterloo. Napoleon, with the reserves, made a late start on 17 June and joined Ney at Quatre Bras at 13:00 to attack Wellington’s army but found the position empty. The French pursued Wellington’s retreating army all the way to Waterloo, however due to weather and the head start that Napoleon’s tardy advance had allowed Wellington, apart from a cavalry action at Genappe there was no other substantial engagement.
Before leaving Ligny, Napoleon ordered Grouchy, commander of the right wing, to follow up the retreating Prussians with 33,000 men. A late start, uncertainty about the direction the Prussians had taken and the vagueness of the orders given to him meant that Grouchy was too late to prevent the Prussian army reaching Wavre, from where it could march to support Wellington. By the end of 17 June, Wellington’s army had arrived at its position at Waterloo, with the main body of Napoleon’s army following. Blücher’s army was gathering in and around Wavre, around 8 miles (13 km) to the east of the city.
Three armies were involved in the battle: Napoleon’s Armée du Nord; a multinational army under Wellington; and a Prussian army under Blücher.
The French army of around 69,000 consisted of 48,000 infantry, 14,000 cavalry, and 7,000 artillery with 250 guns. Napoleon had used conscription to fill the ranks of the French army throughout his rule, but he did not conscript men for the 1815 campaign. His troops were mainly veterans with considerable experience and a fierce devotion to their Emperor. The cavalry in particular was both numerous and formidable, and included fourteen regiments of armoured heavy cavalry and seven of highly versatile lancers.
Wellington claimed that he himself had “an infamous army, very weak and ill-equipped, and a very inexperienced Staff”. His troops consisted of 67,000 men: 50,000 infantry, 11,000 cavalry, and 6,000 artillery with 150 guns. Of these, 25,000 were British (including a disproportionate number of Irishmen), with another 6,000 from the King’s German Legion (KGL). All of the British Army troops were regular soldiers but only 7,000 of them were Peninsular War veterans. In addition, there were 17,000 Dutch and Belgian troops, 11,000 from Hanover, 6,000 from Brunswick, and 3,000 from Nassau.
Many of the troops in the Coalition armies were inexperienced.[a][b] The Dutch army had been re-established in 1815, following the earlier defeat of Napoleon. With the exception of the British and some from Hanover and Brunswick who had fought with the British army in Spain, many of the professional soldiers in the Coalition armies had spent some of their time in the French army or in armies allied to the Napoleonic regime. The historian Barbero states that in this heterogeneous army the difference between British and foreign troops did not prove significant under fire.
Wellington was also acutely short of heavy cavalry, having only seven British and three Dutch regiments. The Duke of York imposed many of his staff officers on Wellington, including his second-in-command the Earl of Uxbridge. Uxbridge commanded the cavalry and had carte blanche from Wellington to commit these forces at his discretion. Wellington stationed a further 17,000 troops at Halle, 8 miles (13 km) away to the west. They were not recalled to participate in the battle but were to serve as a fallback position should the battle be lost. They were mostly composed of Dutch troops under Prince of Orange’s younger brother Prince Frederik of the Netherlands. They were placed as a guard against any possible wide flanking movement by the French forces, and also to act as a rearguard if Wellington was forced to retreat towards Antwerp and the coast. According to Hofschröer, the best Dutch troops were at Halle and he questions the reasons for their placement.[c]
The Prussian army was in the throes of reorganisation. In 1815, the former Reserve regiments, Legions, and Freikorps volunteer formations from the wars of 1813–1814 were in the process of being absorbed into the line, along with many Landwehr (militia) regiments. The Landwehr were mostly untrained and unequipped when they arrived in Belgium. The Prussian cavalry were in a similar state. Its artillery was also reorganising and did not give its best performance – guns and equipment continued to arrive during and after the battle.
Off-setting these handicaps the Prussian Army had excellent and professional leadership in its General Staff organisation. These officers came from four schools developed for this purpose and thus worked to a common standard of training. This system was in marked contrast to the conflicting, vague orders issued by the French army. This staff system ensured that before Ligny, three-quarters of the Prussian army concentrated for battle at 24 hours notice.
After Ligny, the Prussian army, although defeated, was able to realign its supply train, reorganise itself, and intervene decisively on the Waterloo battlefield within 48 hours. Two and a half Prussian army corps, or 48,000 men, were engaged at Waterloo – two brigades under Bülow, commander of IV Corps, attacked Lobau at 16:30, while Zieten’s I Corps and parts of Pirch I’s II Corps engaged at about 18:00.
A view of the battlefield from the Lion’s mound. On the top right are the buildings of La Haye Sainte.
The Waterloo position was a strong one. It consisted of a long ridge running east-west, perpendicular to, and bisected by, the main road to Brussels. Along the crest of the ridge ran the Ohain road, a deep sunken lane. Near the crossroads with the Brussels road was a large elm tree that was roughly in the centre of Wellington’s position and served as his command post for much of the day. Wellington deployed his infantry in a line just behind the crest of the ridge following the Ohain road.
Using the reverse slope, as he had many times previously, Wellington concealed his strength from the French, with the exception of his skirmishers and artillery. The length of front of the battlefield was also relatively short at 2.5 miles (4.0 km). This allowed Wellington to draw up his forces in depth, which he did in the centre and on the right, all the way towards the village of Braine-l’Alleud, in the expectation that the Prussians would reinforce his left during the day.
A map showing the local geography, with Waterloo defending the approach to Brussels, 1816.
In front of the ridge, there were three positions that could be fortified. On the extreme right were the château, garden, and orchard of Hougoumont. This was a large and well-built country house, initially hidden in trees. The house faced north along a sunken, covered lane (usually described by the British as “the hollow-way”) along which it could be supplied. On the extreme left was the hamlet of Papelotte.
Both Hougoumont and Papelotte were fortified and garrisoned, and thus anchored Wellington’s flanks securely. Papelotte also commanded the road to Wavre that the Prussians would use to send reinforcements to Wellington’s position. On the western side of the main road, and in front of the rest of Wellington’s line, was the farmhouse and orchard of La Haye Sainte, which was garrisoned with 400 light infantry of the King’s German Legion.
On the opposite side of the road was a disused sand quarry, where the 95th Rifles were posted as sharpshooters. This position presented a formidable challenge to any attacking force. Any attempt to turn Wellington’s right would entail taking the entrenched Hougoumont position. Any attack on his right centre would mean the attackers would have to march between enfilading fire from Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte. On the left, any attack would also be enfiladed by fire from La Haye Sainte and its adjoining sandpit, and any attempt at turning the left flank would entail fighting through the lanes and hedgerows surrounding Papelotte and the other garrisoned buildings on that flank, and some very wet ground in the Smohain defile.
The French army formed on the slopes of another ridge to the south. Napoleon could not see Wellington’s positions, so he drew his forces up symmetrically about the Brussels road. On the right was I Corps under d’Erlon with 16,000 infantry and 1,500 cavalry, plus a cavalry reserve of 4,700. On the left was II Corps under Reille with 13,000 infantry, and 1,300 cavalry, and a cavalry reserve of 4,600. In the centre about the road south of the inn La Belle Alliance were a reserve including Lobau’s VI Corps with 6,000 men, the 13,000 infantry of the Imperial Guard, and a cavalry reserve of 2,000.
In the right rear of the French position was the substantial village of Plancenoit, and at the extreme right, the Bois de Paris wood. Napoleon initially commanded the battle from Rossomme farm, where he could see the entire battlefield, but moved to a position near La Belle Alliance early in the afternoon. Command on the battlefield (which was largely hidden from his view) was delegated to Ney.
Wellington rose at around 02:00 or 03:00 on 18 June, and wrote letters until dawn. He had earlier written to Blücher confirming that he would give battle at Mont-Saint-Jean if Blücher could provide him with at least one corps; otherwise he would retreat towards Brussels. At a late-night council, Blücher’s chief of staff, August Neidhardt von Gneisenau, had been distrustful of Wellington’s strategy, but Blücher persuaded him that they should march to join Wellington’s army. In the morning Wellington duly received a reply from Blücher, promising to support him with three corps.
From 06:00 Wellington was in the field supervising the deployment of his forces. At Wavre, the Prussian IV Corps under Bülow was designated to lead the march to Waterloo as it was in the best shape, not having been involved in the Battle of Ligny. Although they had not taken casualties, IV Corps had been marching for two days, covering the retreat of the three other corps of the Prussian army from the battlefield of Ligny. They had been posted farthest away from the battlefield, and progress was very slow. The roads were in poor condition after the night’s heavy rain, and Bülow’s men had to pass through the congested streets of Wavre and move 88 artillery pieces. Matters were not helped when a fire broke out in Wavre, blocking several streets along Bülow’s intended route. As a result, the last part of the corps left at 10:00, six hours after the leading elements had moved out towards Waterloo. Bülow’s men were followed to Waterloo first by I Corps and then by II Corps.
Napoleon breakfasted off silver plate at Le Caillou, the house where he had spent the night. When Soult suggested that Grouchy should be recalled to join the main force, Napoleon said, “Just because you have all been beaten by Wellington, you think he’s a good general. I tell you Wellington is a bad general, the English are bad troops, and this affair is nothing more than eating breakfast”.
Napoleon’s surprisingly dismissive statements should not be taken at face value, given the Emperor’s maxim that “in war, morale is everything” and that praising the enemy is always wrong, as it reduces one’s morale. Indeed, he had been seen engaging in such pre-battle, morale-boosting harangues on a number of occasions in the past and on the morning of the battle of Waterloo he had to deal with his chief of staff’s pessimism and nervousness and had to respond to several persistent and almost defeatist objections from some of his senior generals.
Later on, being told by his brother, Jerome, of some gossip overheard by a waiter between British officers at lunch at the ‘King of Spain’ inn in Genappe that the Prussians were to march over from Wavre, Napoleon declared that the Prussians would need at least two days to recover and would be dealt with by Grouchy. Surprisingly, Jerome’s overheard gossip aside, the French commanders present at the pre-battle conference at Le Caillou had no information about the alarming proximity of the Prussians and did not suspect that Blücher’s men would start erupting onto the field of battle in great numbers just five hours later.
Napoleon had delayed the start of the battle owing to the sodden ground, which would have made manoeuvring cavalry and artillery difficult. In addition, many of his forces had bivouacked well to the south of La Belle Alliance. At 10:00, in response to a dispatch he had received from Grouchy six hours earlier, he sent a reply telling Grouchy to “head for Wavre [to Grouchy’s north] in order to draw near to us [to the west of Grouchy]” and then “push before him” the Prussians to arrive at Waterloo “as soon as possible”.
At 11:00, Napoleon drafted his general order: Reille’s Corps on the left and d’Erlon’s Corps to the right were to attack the village of Mont-Saint-Jean and keep abreast of one another. This order assumed Wellington’s battle-line was in the village, rather than at the more forward position on the ridge. To enable this, Jerome’s division would make an initial attack on Hougoumont, which Napoleon expected would draw in Wellington’s reserves, since its loss would threaten his communications with the sea. A grande batterie of the reserve artillery of I, II, and VI Corps was to then bombard the centre of Wellington’s position from about 13:00. D’Erlon’s corps would then attack Wellington’s left, break through, and roll up his line from east to west. In his memoirs, Napoleon wrote that his intention was to separate Wellington’s army from the Prussians and drive it back towards the sea.
The historian Andrew Roberts notes that “It is a curious fact about the Battle of Waterloo that no one is absolutely certain when it actually began”. Wellington recorded in his dispatches that at “about ten o’clock [Napoleon] commenced a furious attack upon our post at Hougoumont”. Other sources state that the attack began around 11:30.[d] The house and its immediate environs were defended by four light companies of Guards, and the wood and park by Hanoverian Jäger and the 1/2nd Nassau.[e]
The initial attack by Bauduin’s brigade emptied the wood and park, but was driven back by heavy British artillery fire, and cost Bauduin his life. As the British guns were distracted by a duel with French artillery, a second attack by Soye’s brigade and what had been Bauduin’s succeeded in reaching the north gate of the house. Sous-Lieutenant Legros, a French officer, broke the gate open with an axe. Some French troops managed to enter the courtyard. The 2nd Coldstream Guards and 2/3rd Foot Guards arrived to help. There was a fierce melee, and the British managed to close the gate on the French troops streaming in. The Frenchmen trapped in the courtyard were all killed. Only a young drummer boy was spared.
Fighting continued around Hougoumont all afternoon. Its surroundings were heavily invested by French light infantry, and coordinated attacks were made against the troops behind Hougoumont. Wellington’s army defended the house and the hollow way running north from it. In the afternoon, Napoleon personally ordered the house to be shelled to set it on fire,[f] resulting in the destruction of all but the chapel. Du Plat’s brigade of the King’s German Legion was brought forward to defend the hollow way, which they had to do without senior officers. Eventually they were relieved by the 71st Foot, a British infantry regiment. Adam’s brigade was further reinforced by Hugh Halkett’s 3rd Hanoverian Brigade, and successfully repulsed further infantry and cavalry attacks sent by Reille. Hougoumont held out until the end of the battle.
I had occupied that post with a detachment from General Byng’s brigade of Guards, which was in position in its rear; and it was some time under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel MacDonald, and afterwards of Colonel Home; and I am happy to add that it was maintained, throughout the day, with the utmost gallantry by these brave troops, notwithstanding the repeated efforts of large bodies of the enemy to obtain possession of it.
When I reached Lloyd’s abandoned guns, I stood near them for about a minute to contemplate the scene: it was grand beyond description. Hougoumont and its wood sent up a broad flame through the dark masses of smoke that overhung the field; beneath this cloud the French were indistinctly visible. Here a waving mass of long red feathers could be seen; there, gleams as from a sheet of steel showed that the cuirassiers were moving; 400 cannon were belching forth fire and death on every side; the roaring and shouting were indistinguishably commixed—together they gave me an idea of a labouring volcano. Bodies of infantry and cavalry were pouring down on us, and it was time to leave contemplation, so I moved towards our columns, which were standing up in square.
— Major Macready, Light Division, 30th British Regiment, Halkett’s brigade, 
The fighting at Hougoumont has often been characterised as a diversionary attack to draw in Wellington’s reserves which escalated into an all-day battle and drew in French reserves instead. In fact there is a good case to believe that both Napoleon and Wellington thought that holding Hougoumont was key to winning the battle. Hougoumont was a part of the battlefield that Napoleon could see clearly, and he continued to direct resources towards it and its surroundings all afternoon (33 battalions in all, 14,000 troops). Similarly, though the house never contained a large number of troops, Wellington devoted 21 battalions (12,000 troops) over the course of the afternoon in keeping the hollow way open to allow fresh troops and ammunition to reach the buildings. He moved several artillery batteries from his hard-pressed centre to support Hougoumont, and later stated that “the success of the battle turned upon closing the gates at Hougoumont”.
Napoleon Bonaparte – 1815 Battle of Waterloo
First French infantry attack
Map of the battle. Napoleon’s units are in blue, Wellington’s in red, Blücher’s in grey.
The 80 guns of Napoleon’s grande batterie drew up in the centre. These opened fire at 11:50, according to Lord Hill (commander of the Anglo-allied II Corps),[g] while other sources put the time between noon and 13:30. The grande batterie was too far back to aim accurately, and the only other troops they could see were skirmishers of the regiments of Kempt and Pack, and Perponcher’s 2nd Dutch division (the others were employing Wellington’s characteristic “reverse slope defence“).[h] Nevertheless, the bombardment caused a large number of casualties. Though some projectiles buried themselves in the soft soil, most found their marks on the reverse slope of the ridge. The bombardment forced the cavalry of the Union Brigade (in third line) to move to its left, as did the Scots Greys, to reduce their casualty rate.
At about 13:00, Napoleon saw the first columns of Prussians around the village of Lasne-Chapelle-Saint-Lambert, four or five miles (three hours march for an army) away from his right flank. Napoleon’s reaction was to have Marshal Soult send a message to Grouchy telling him to come towards the battlefield and attack the arriving Prussians. Grouchy, however, had been executing Napoleon’s previous orders to follow the Prussians “with your sword against his back” towards Wavre, and was by then too far away to reach Waterloo. Grouchy was advised by his subordinate, Gérard, to “march to the sound of the guns”, but stuck to his orders and engaged the Prussian III Corps rear guard under the command of Lieutenant-GeneralBaronJohann von Thielmann at the Battle of Wavre. Moreover, Soult’s letter ordering Grouchy to move quickly to join Napoleon and attack Bülow would not actually reach Grouchy until after 20:00.
A little after 13:00, I Corps’ attack began. D’Erlon, like Ney, had encountered Wellington in Spain, and was aware of the British commander’s favoured tactic of using massed short-range musketry to drive off infantry columns. Rather than use the usual nine-deep French columns deployed abreast of one another, therefore, each division advanced in closely spaced battalion lines behind one another. This allowed them to concentrate their fire, but it did not leave room for them to change formation.
The formation was initially effective. Its leftmost division, under François-Xavier Donzelot, advanced on La Haye Sainte. The farmhouse was defended by the King’s German Legion. While one French battalion engaged the defenders from the front, the following battalions fanned out to either side and, with the support of several squadrons of cuirassiers, succeeded in isolating the farmhouse. The King’s German Legion resolutely defended the farmhouse. Each time the French tried to scale the walls the outnumbered Germans somehow held them off. The Prince of Orange saw that La Haye Sainte had been cut off and tried to reinforce it by sending forward the Hanoverian Lüneberg Battalion in line. Cuirassiers concealed in a fold in the ground caught and destroyed it in minutes and then rode on past La Haye Sainte, almost to the crest of the ridge, where they covered d’Erlon’s left flank as his attack developed.
At about 13:30, d’Erlon started to advance his three other divisions, some 14,000 men over a front of about 1,000 metres (1,100 yards), against Wellington’s left wing. At the point they aimed for they faced 6,000 men: the first line consisted of the Dutch 1st “Brigade van Bylandt” of the 2nd Dutch division, flanked by the British brigades of Kempt and Pack on either side. The second line consisted of British and Hanoverian troops under Sir Thomas Picton, who were lying down in dead ground behind the ridge. All had suffered badly at Quatre Bras. In addition, the Bijlandt brigade had been ordered to deploy its skirmishers in the hollow road and on the forward slope. The rest of the brigade was lying down just behind the road.[i][j]
At the moment these skirmishers were rejoining their parent battalions, the brigade was ordered to its feet and started to return fire. On the left of the brigade, where the 7th Dutch Militia stood, a “few files were shot down and an opening in the line thus occurred.” The battalion had no reserves and was unable to close the gap.[k] D’Erlon’s troops pushed through this gap in the line and the remaining battalions in the Bylandt brigade (8th Dutch Militia and Belgian 7th Line Battalion) were forced to retreat to the square of the 5th Dutch Militia, which was in reserve between Picton’s troops, about 100 paces to the rear. There they regrouped under the command of Colonel Van Zuylen van Nijevelt.[l][m] A moment later the Prince of Orange ordered a counterattack, which actually occurred around 10 minutes later. Bylandt was wounded and retired off the field, passing command of the brigade to Lt. Kol. De Jongh.[n]
D’Erlon’s men ascended the slope and advanced on the sunken road, Chemin d’Ohain, that ran from behind La Haye Sainte and continued east. It was lined on both sides by thick hedges, with Bylandt’s brigade just across the road while the British brigades had been lying down some 100 yards back from the road, Pack’s to Bylandt’s left and Kempt’s to Bylandt’s right. Kempt’s 1,900 men were engaged by Bourgeois’ brigade of 1,900 men of Quiot’s division. In the centre, Donzelot’s division had pushed back Bylandt’s brigade. On the right of the French advance was Marcognet’s division led by Grenier’s brigade consisting of the 45e Régiment de Ligne and followed by the 25e Régiment de Ligne, somewhat less than 2,000 men, and behind them, Nogue’s brigade of the 21e and 45e regiments. Opposing them on the other side of the road was Pack’s 9th Brigade consisting of three Scottish regiments: the Royal Scots, the 42nd Black Watch, the 92nd Gordons and the 44th Foot totaling something over 2,000 men. A very even fight between British and French infantry was about to occur.
The French advance drove in the British skirmishers and reached the sunken road. As they did so, Pack’s men stood up, formed into a four deep line formation for fear of the French cavalry, advanced, and opened fire. However, a firefight had been anticipated and the French infantry had accordingly advanced in more linear formation. Now, fully deployed into line, they returned fire and successfully pressed the British troops; although the attack faltered at the centre, the line in front of d’Erlon’s right started to crumble. Picton was killed shortly after ordering the counter-attack and the British and Hanoverian troops also began to give way under the pressure of numbers. Pack’s regiments, all four ranks deep, advanced to attack the French in the road but faltered and began to fire on the French instead of charging. The 42nd Black Watch halted at the hedge and the resulting fire-fight drove back the British 92nd Foot while the leading French 45e Ligne burst through the hedge cheering. Along the sunken road, the French were forcing the Allies back, the British line was dispersing, and at two o’clock in the afternoon Napoleon was winning the Battle of Waterloo.
Charge of the British heavy cavalry
Our officers of cavalry have acquired a trick of galloping at everything. They never consider the situation, never think of manoeuvring before an enemy, and never keep back or provide a reserve.
More than 20 years of warfare had eroded the numbers of suitable cavalry mounts available on the European continent; this resulted in the British heavy cavalry entering the 1815 campaign with the finest horses of any contemporary cavalry arm. British cavalry troopers also received excellent mounted swordsmanship training. They were, however, inferior to the French in manoeuvring in large formations, cavalier in attitude, and unlike the infantry some units had scant experience of warfare. The Scots Greys, for example, had not been in action since 1795. According to Wellington, though they were superior individual horsemen, they were inflexible and lacked tactical ability. “I considered one squadron a match for two French, I didn’t like to see four British opposed to four French: and as the numbers increased and order, of course, became more necessary I was the more unwilling to risk our men without having a superiority in numbers.”
The two brigades had a combined field strength of about 2,000 (2,651 official strength); they charged with the 47-year-old Uxbridge leading them and a very inadequate number of squadrons held in reserve. There is evidence that Uxbridge gave an order, the morning of the battle, to all cavalry brigade commanders to commit their commands on their own initiative, as direct orders from himself might not always be forthcoming, and to “support movements to their front”. It appears that Uxbridge expected the brigades of Sir John Ormsby Vandeleur, Hussey Vivian and the Dutch cavalry to provide support to the British heavies. Uxbridge later regretted leading the charge in person, saying “I committed a great mistake”, when he should have been organising an adequate reserve to move forward in support.
The Household Brigade crossed the crest of the Allied position and charged downhill. The cuirassiers guarding d’Erlon’s left flank were still dispersed, and so were swept over the deeply sunken main road and then routed. The sunken lane acted as a trap, funnelling the flight of the French cavalry to their own right and away from the British cavalry. Some of the cuirassiers then found themselves hemmed in by the steep sides of the sunken lane, with a confused mass of their own infantry in front of them, the 95th Rifles firing at them from the north side of the lane, and Somerset’s heavy cavalry still pressing them from behind. The novelty of fighting armoured foes impressed the British cavalrymen, as was recorded by the commander of the Household Brigade.
The blows of the sabres on the cuirasses sounded like braziers at work.
Continuing their attack, the squadrons on the left of the Household Brigade then destroyed Aulard’s brigade. Despite attempts to recall them, they continued past La Haye Sainte and found themselves at the bottom of the hill on blown horses facing Schmitz’s brigade formed in squares.
To their left, the Union Brigade suddenly swept through the infantry lines (giving rise to the legend that some of the 92nd Gordon Highland Regiment clung onto their stirrups and accompanied them into the charge).[o] From the centre leftwards, the Royal Dragoons destroyed Bourgeois’ brigade, capturing the eagle of the 105th Ligne. The Inniskillings routed the other brigade of Quoit’s division, and the Scots Greys came upon the lead French regiment, 45th Ligne, as it was still reforming after having crossed the sunken road and broken through the hedge row in pursuit of the British infantry. The Greys captured the eagle of the 45th Ligne and overwhelmed Grenier’s brigade. These would be the only two eagles captured from the French during the battle. On Wellington’s extreme left, Durutte’s division had time to form squares and fend off groups of Greys.
Private of the Chevau-légers of the line (lancers) who routed the Union Brigade.
As with the Household Cavalry, the officers of the Royals and Inniskillings found it very difficult to rein back their troops, who lost all cohesion. Having taken casualties, and still trying to reorder themselves, the Scots Greys and the rest of the Union Brigade found themselves before the main French lines. Their horses were blown, and they were still in disorder without any idea of what their next collective objective was. Some attacked nearby gun batteries of the Grande Battery.  Though the Greys had neither the time nor means to disable the cannon or carry them off, they put very many out of action as the gun crews were killed or fled the battlefield. Sergeant Major Dickinson of the Greys stated that his regiment was rallied before going on to attack the French artillery: Hamilton, the regimental commander, rather than holding them back cried out to his men “Charge, charge the guns!”. Napoleon promptly responded by ordering a counter-attack by the cuirassier brigades of Farine and Travers and Jaquinot’s two Chevau-léger (lancer) regiments in the I Corps light cavalry division. Disorganized and milling about the bottom of the valley between Hougoumont and La Belle Alliance, the Scots Greys and the rest of the British heavy cavalry were taken by surprise by the countercharge of Milhaud’scuirassiers, joined by lancers from Baron Jaquinot’s 1st Cavalry Division.
As Ponsonby tried to rally his men against the French cuirassers, he was attacked by Jaquinot’s lancers and captured. A nearby party of Scots Greys saw the capture and attempted to rescue their brigade commander. However, the French lancer who had captured Ponsonby killed him and then used his lance to kill three of the Scots Greys who had attempted the rescue. By the time Ponsonby died, the momentum had entirely returned in favour of the French. Milhaud’s and Jaquinot’s cavalrymen drove the Union Brigade from the valley. The result was very heavy losses for the British cavalry. A countercharge, by British light dragoons under Major-General Vandeleur and Dutch–Belgian light dragoons and hussars under Major-General Ghigny on the left wing, and Dutch–Belgian carabiniers under Major-General Trip in the centre, repelled the French cavalry.
All figures quoted for the losses of the cavalry brigades as a result of this charge are estimates, as casualties were only noted down after the day of the battle and were for the battle as a whole.[p] Some historians, Barbero for example, believe the official rolls tend to overestimate the number of cavalrymen present in their squadrons on the field of battle and that the proportionate losses were, as a result, considerably higher than the numbers on paper might suggest.[q] The Union Brigade lost heavily in both officers and men killed (including its commander, William Ponsonby, and Colonel Hamilton of the Scots Greys) and wounded. The 2nd Life Guards and the King’s Dragoon Guards of the Household Brigade also lost heavily (with Colonel Fuller, commander of the King’s DG, killed). However, the 1st Life Guards, on the extreme right of the charge, and the Blues, who formed a reserve, had kept their cohesion and consequently suffered significantly fewer casualties.[r] On the rolls the official, or paper strength, for both Brigades is given as 2,651 while Barbero and others estimate the actual strength at around 2,000[s] and the official recorded losses for the two heavy cavalry brigades during the battle was 1,205 troopers and 1,303 horses.[t]
Jan Willem Pieneman: The Battle of Waterloo (1824). Duke of Wellington, centre, flanked on his left by Lord Uxbridge in hussar uniform. On the image’s far left, Cpl. Styles of the Royal Dragoons flourishes the eagle of the 105emeLigne. The wounded Prince of Orange is carried from the field in the foreground.
Some historians, such as Chandler and Weller, assert that the British heavy cavalry were destroyed as a viable force following their first, epic charge. Barbero states that the Scots Grey were practically wiped out and that the other two regiments of the Union Brigade suffered comparable losses. Other historians, such as Clark-Kennedy and Wood, citing British eyewitness accounts, describe the continuing role of the heavy cavalry after their charge. The heavy brigades, far from being ineffective, continued to provide valuable services. They countercharged French cavalry numerous times (both brigades), halted a combined cavalry and infantry attack (Household Brigade only), were used to bolster the morale of those units in their vicinity at times of crisis, and filled gaps in the Anglo-allied line caused by high casualties in infantry formations (both brigades). This service was rendered at a very high cost, as close combat with French cavalry, carbine fire, infantry musketry and—more deadly than all of these—artillery fire steadily eroded the number of effectives in the two brigades.[u] At 6 o’clock in the afternoon the whole Union Brigade could field only 3 squadrons, though these countercharged French cavalry, losing half their number in the process. At the end of the fighting the two brigades, by this time combined, could muster one squadron.
14,000 French troops of D’Erlon’s I Corps had been committed to this attack. The I Corps had been driven in rout back across the valley costing Napoleon 3,000 casualties including over 2,000 prisoners taken. Also some valuable time was lost, the charge had dispersed numerous units and it would take until 16:00 hours for D’Erlon’s shaken corps to reform. And although elements of the Prussians now began to appear on the field to his right, Napoleon had already ordered Lobau’s VI corps to move to the right flank to hold them back before D’Erlon’s attack began.
A little before 16:00, Ney noted an apparent exodus from Wellington’s centre. He mistook the movement of casualties to the rear for the beginnings of a retreat, and sought to exploit it. Following the defeat of d’Erlon’s Corps, Ney had few infantry reserves left, as most of the infantry had been committed either to the futile Hougoumont attack or to the defence of the French right. Ney therefore tried to break Wellington’s centre with cavalry alone. Initially Milhaud’s reserve cavalry corps of cuirassiers and Lefebvre-Desnoëttes’ light cavalry division of the Imperial Guard, some 4,800 sabres, were committed. When these were repulsed, Kellermann’s heavy cavalry corps and Guyot’s heavy cavalry of the Guard were added to the massed assault, a total of around 9,000 cavalry in 67 squadrons. When Napoleon saw the charge he said it was an hour too soon.
Wellington’s infantry responded by forming squares (hollow box-formations four ranks deep). Squares were much smaller than usually depicted in paintings of the battle – a 500-man battalion square would have been no more than 60 feet (18 m) in length on a side. Vulnerable to artillery or infantry, squares that stood their ground were deadly to cavalry, because they could not be outflanked and because horses would not charge into a hedge of bayonets. Wellington ordered his artillery crews to take shelter within the squares as the cavalry approached, and to return to their guns and resume fire as they retreated.
Witnesses in the British infantry recorded as many as 12 assaults, though this probably includes successive waves of the same general attack; the number of general assaults was undoubtedly far fewer. Kellermann, recognising the futility of the attacks, tried to reserve the elite carabinier brigade from joining in, but eventually Ney spotted them and insisted on their involvement.
A British eyewitness of the first French cavalry attack, an officer in the Foot Guards, recorded his impressions very lucidly and somewhat poetically:
About four p.m., the enemy’s artillery in front of us ceased firing all of a sudden, and we saw large masses of cavalry advance: not a man present who survived could have forgotten in after life the awful grandeur of that charge. You discovered at a distance what appeared to be an overwhelming, long moving line, which, ever advancing, glittered like a stormy wave of the sea when it catches the sunlight. On they came until they got near enough, whilst the very earth seemed to vibrate beneath the thundering tramp of the mounted host. One might suppose that nothing could have resisted the shock of this terrible moving mass. They were the famous cuirassiers, almost all old soldiers, who had distinguished themselves on most of the battlefields of Europe. In an almost incredibly short period they were within twenty yards of us, shouting “Vive l’Empereur!” The word of command, “Prepare to receive cavalry”, had been given, every man in the front ranks knelt, and a wall bristling with steel, held together by steady hands, presented itself to the infuriated cuirassiers.
“The artillery officers had the range so accurately, that every shot and shell fell into the very centre of their masses.” (Original inscription and drawing after George Jones)
In essence this type of massed cavalry attack relied almost entirely on psychological shock for effect. Close artillery support could disrupt infantry squares and allow cavalry to penetrate; at Waterloo, however, co-operation between the French cavalry and artillery was not impressive. The French artillery did not get close enough to the Anglo-allied infantry in sufficient numbers to be decisive. Artillery fire between charges did produce mounting casualties, but most of this fire was at relatively long range and was often indirect, at targets beyond the ridge. If infantry being attacked held firm in their square defensive formations, and were not panicked, cavalry on their own could do very little damage to them. The French cavalry attacks were repeatedly repelled by the steadfast infantry squares, the harrying fire of British artillery as the French cavalry recoiled down the slopes to regroup, and the decisive countercharges of Wellington’s light cavalry regiments, the Dutch heavy cavalry brigade, and the remaining effectives of the Household Cavalry. At least one artillery officer disobeyed Wellington’s order to seek shelter in the adjacent squares during the charges. Captain Mercer, who commanded ‘G’ Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, thought the Brunswick troops on either side of him so shaky that he kept his battery of six nine-pounders in action against the cavalry throughout, to great effect:[v]
I thus allowed them to advance unmolested until the head of the column might have been about fifty or sixty yards from us, and then gave the word, “Fire!” The effect was terrible. Nearly the whole leading rank fell at once; and the round shot, penetrating the column carried confusion throughout its extent … the discharge of every gun was followed by a fall of men and horses like that of grass before the mower’s scythe.
A British square puts up dogged resistance against attacking French cavalry.
For reasons that remain unclear, no attempt was made to spike other allied guns while they were in French possession. In line with Wellington’s orders, gunners were able to return to their pieces and fire into the French cavalry as they withdrew after each attack. After numerous costly but fruitless attacks on the Mont-Saint-Jean ridge, the French cavalry was spent.[w] Their casualties cannot easily be estimated. Senior French cavalry officers, in particular the generals, experienced heavy losses. Four divisional commanders were wounded, nine brigadiers wounded, and one killed – testament to their courage and their habit of leading from the front. Illustratively, Houssaye reports that the Grenadiers à Cheval numbered 796 of all ranks on 15 June, but just 462 on 19 June, while the Empress Dragoons lost 416 of 816 over the same period. Overall Guyot’s Guard heavy cavalry division lost 47% of its strength.
Eventually it became obvious, even to Ney, that cavalry alone were achieving little. Belatedly, he organised a combined-arms attack, using Bachelu’s division and Tissot’s regiment of Foy’s division from Reille’s II Corps (about 6,500 infantrymen) plus those French cavalry that remained in a fit state to fight. This assault was directed along much the same route as the previous heavy cavalry attacks. It was halted by a charge of the Household Brigade cavalry led by Uxbridge. The British cavalry were unable, however, to break the French infantry, and fell back with losses from musketry fire.
Uxbridge recorded that he tried to lead the Dutch Carabiniers, under Major-General Trip, to renew the attack and that they refused to follow him. Other members of the British cavalry staff also commented on this occurrence. However, there is no support for this incident in Dutch or Belgian sources.[y] Meanwhile, Bachelu’s and Tissot’s men and their cavalry supports were being hard hit by fire from artillery and from Adam’s infantry brigade, and they eventually fell back. Although the French cavalry caused few direct casualties to Wellington’s centre, artillery fire onto his infantry squares caused many. Wellington’s cavalry, except for Sir John Vandeleur’s and Sir Hussey Vivian’s brigades on the far left, had all been committed to the fight, and had taken significant losses. The situation appeared so desperate that the Cumberland Hussars, the only Hanoverian cavalry regiment present, fled the field spreading alarm all the way to Brussels.[z]
The storming of La Haye Sainte by Knötel
French capture of La Haye Sainte
At approximately the same time as Ney’s combined-arms assault on the centre-right of Wellington’s line, rallied elements of D’Erlon’s I Corps, spearheaded by the 13th Légère, renewed the attack on La Haye Sainte and this time were successful, partly because the King’s German Legion’s ammunition ran out. However, the Germans had held the centre of the battlefield for almost the entire day, and this had stalled the French advance. Ney then moved horse artillery up towards Wellington’s centre and began to pulverise the infantry squares at short range with canister. The 30th and 73rd Regiments suffered such heavy losses that they had to combine to form a viable square.
The possession of La Haye Sainte by the French was a very dangerous incident. It uncovered the very centre of the Anglo-Allied army, and established the enemy within 60 yards of that centre. The French lost no time in taking advantage of this, by pushing forward infantry supported by guns, which enabled them to maintain a most destructive fire upon Alten’s left and Kempt’s right …
The success Napoleon needed to continue his offensive had occurred. Ney was on the verge of breaking the Allied centre.
Along with this artillery fire a multitude of French tirailleurs occupied the dominant positions behind La Haye Sainte and poured an effective fire into the squares. The situation was now so dire that the 33rd Regiment’s colours and all of Halkett’s brigade’s colours were sent to the rear for safety, described by historian Alessandro Barbero as, “… a measure that was without precedent.” Wellington, noticing the slackening of fire from La Haye Sainte, with his staff rode closer to it. French skirmishers appeared around the building and fired on the British command as it struggled to get away through the hedgerow along the road. Alten ordered a single battalion, the Fifth KGL to recapture the farm. Their Colonel Ompteda obeyed and chased off some French skirmishers until French cuirassiers fell on his open flank, killed him, destroyed his battalion and took its colour. A Dutch–Belgian cavalry regiment ordered to charge, retreated from the field instead, fired on by their own infantry. Merlen’s Light Cavalry Brigade charged the French artillery taking position near La Haye Sainte but were shot to pieces and the brigade fell apart. The Netherlands Cavalry Division, Wellington’s last cavalry reserve behind the centre having lost half their strength was now useless and the French cavalry, despite its losses, were masters of the field compelling the allied infantry to remain in square. More and more French artillery was brought forward.
A French battery advanced to within 300 yards of the 1/1st Nassau square causing heavy casualties. When the Nassauers attempted to attack the battery they were ridden down by a squadron of cuirassiers . Yet another battery deployed on the flank of Mercer’s battery and shot up its horses and limbers and pushed Mercer back. Mercer later recalled, “The rapidity and precision of this fire was quite appaling. Every shot almost took effect, and I certainly expected we should all be annihilated. … The saddle-bags, in many instances were torn from horses’ backs … One shell I saw explode under the two finest wheel-horses in the troop down they dropped.”
French tirailleurs occupied the dominant positions, especially one on a knoll overlooking the square of the 27th. Unable to break square to drive off the French infantry because of the presence of French cavalry and artillery, they had to remain in that formation and endure the fire of the tirailleurs. That fire nearly annihilated the 27th Foot, the Inniskillings, who lost two-thirds of their strength within that three or four hours.
The banks on the road side, the garden wall, the knoll and sandpit swarmed with skirmishers, who seemed determined to keep down our fire in front; those behind the artificial bank seemed more intent upon destroying the 27th, who at this time, it may literally be said, were lying dead in square; their loss after La Haye Sainte had fallen was awful, without the satisfaction of having scarcely fired a shot, and many of our troops in rear of the ridge were similarly situated.
During this time many of Wellington’s generals and aides were killed or wounded including Somerset, Canning, de Lancey, Alten and Cooke. The situation was now critical and Wellington, trapped in an infantry square and ignorant of events beyond it, was desperate for the arrival of help from the Prussians. He later wrote,
The time they occupied in approaching seemed interminable. Both they and my watch seemed to have stuck fast.
The first Prussian corps to arrive in strength was Bülow’s IV Corps. Bulow’s objective was Plancenoit, which the Prussians intended to use as a springboard into the rear of the French positions. Blücher intended to secure his right upon Frichermont using the Bois de Paris road. Blücher and Wellington had been exchanging communications since 10:00 and had agreed to this advance on Frichermont if Wellington’s centre was under attack. General Bülow noted that the way to Plancenoit lay open and that the time was 16:30.
At about this time, as the French cavalry attack was in full spate, the 15th Brigade IV Corps was sent to link up with the Nassauers of Wellington’s left flank in the Frichermont-La Haie area with the brigade’s horse artillery battery and additional brigade artillery deployed to its left in support. Napoleon sent Lobau’s corps to intercept the rest of Bülow’s IV Corps proceeding to Plancenoit. The 15th Brigade threw Lobau’s troops out of Frichermont with a determined bayonet charge, then proceeded up the Frichermont heights, battering French Chasseurs with 12-pounder artillery fire, and pushed on to Plancenoit. This sent Lobau’s corps into retreat to the Plancenoit area, driving Lobau past the rear of the Armee Du Nord’s right flank and directly threatening its only line of retreat. Hiller’s 16th Brigade also pushed forward with six battalions against Plancenoit.
Napoleon had dispatched all eight battalions of the Young Guard to reinforce Lobau, who was now seriously pressed. The Young Guard counter-attacked and, after very hard fighting, secured Plancenoit, but were themselves counter-attacked and driven out. Napoleon sent two battalions of the Middle/Old Guard into Plancenoit and after ferocious bayonet fighting—they did not deign to fire their muskets—this force recaptured the village.
Zieten’s flank march
Situation from 17:30 to 20:00
Throughout the late afternoon, Zieten’s I Corps had been arriving in greater strength in the area just north of La Haie. General Müffling, Prussian liaison to Wellington, rode to meet I Corps. Zieten had by this time brought up his 1st Brigade, but had become concerned at the sight of stragglers and casualties from the Nassau units on Wellington’s left and from the Prussian 15th Brigade. These troops appeared to be withdrawing and Zieten, fearing that his own troops would be caught up in a general retreat, was starting to move away from Wellington’s flank and towards the Prussian main body near Plancenoit. Zieten had also received a direct order from Blücher to support Bülow, Zieten obeyed and marched to Bülow’s aid. Müffling saw this movement away and persuaded Zieten to support Wellington’s left flank. Zieten resumed his march to support Wellington directly, and the arrival of his troops allowed Wellington to reinforce his crumbling centre by moving cavalry from his left.
I Corps proceeded to attack the French troops before Papelotte and by 19:30 the French position was bent into a rough horseshoe shape. The ends of the line were now based on Hougoumont on the left, Plancenoit on the right, and the centre on La Haie. Durutte had taken the positions of La Haie and Papelotte in a series of attacks, but now retreated behind Smohain without opposing the Prussian 24th Regiment as it retook both. The 24th advanced against the new French position, was repulsed, and returned to the attack supported by Silesian Schützen (riflemen) and the F/1st Landwehr. The French initially fell back before the renewed assault, but now began seriously to contest ground, attempting to regain Smohain and hold on to the ridgeline and the last few houses of Papelotte.
The 24th Regiment linked up with a Highlander battalion on its far right and along with the 13th Landwehr regiment and cavalry support threw the French out of these positions. Further attacks by the 13th Landwehr and the 15th Brigade drove the French from Frichermont. Durutte’s division, finding itself about to be charged by massed squadrons of Zieten’s I Corps cavalry reserve, retreated from the battlefield. I Corps then advanced to the Brussels road and the only line of retreat available to the French.
Attack of the Imperial Guard
Meanwhile, with Wellington’s centre exposed by the fall of La Haye Sainte and the Plancenoit front temporarily stabilised, Napoleon committed his last reserve, the hitherto-undefeated Imperial Guard infantry. This attack, mounted at around 19:30, was intended to break through Wellington’s centre and roll up his line away from the Prussians. Although it is one of the most celebrated passages of arms in military history, it had been unclear which units actually participated. It appears that it was mounted by five battalions of the Middle Guard,[aa] and not by the grenadiers or chasseurs of the Old Guard. Three Old Guard battalions did move forward and formed the attack’s second line, though they remained in reserve and did not directly assault the allied line.[ab]
Napoleon addresses the Old Guard as it prepares to attack the Anglo-allied centre at Waterloo.
… I saw four regiments of the middle guard, conducted by the Emperor, arriving. With these troops, he wished to renew the attack, and penetrate the centre of the enemy. He ordered me to lead them on; generals, officers and soldiers all displayed the greatest intrepidity; but this body of troops was too weak to resist, for a long time, the forces opposed to it by the enemy, and it was soon necessary to renounce the hope which this attack had, for a few moments, inspired.
Napoleon himself oversaw the initial deployment of the Middle and Old Guard. The Middle Guard formed in battalion squares, each about 550 men strong, with the 1st/3rd Grenadiers, led by Generals Friant and Poret de Morvan, on the right along the road, to their left and rear was General Harlet leading the square of the 4th Grenadiers, then the 1st/3rd Chasseurs under General Michel, next the 2nd/3rd Chasseurs and finally the large single square of two battalions of 800 soldiers of the 4th Chasseurs led by General Henrion. Two batteries of Imperial Guard Horse Artillery accompanied them with sections of two guns between the squares. Each square was led by a general and Marshal Ney, mounted on his 5th horse of the day, led the advance.
Behind them, in reserve, were the three battalions of the Old Guard, right to left 1st/2nd Grenadiers, 2nd/2nd Chasseurs and 1st/2nd Chasseurs. Napoleon left Ney to conduct the assault, however Ney led the Middle Guard on an oblique towards the Allied centre right instead of attacking straight up the centre, Napoleon would send Ney’s senior ADC Colonel Crabbé to order Ney to adjust. But Crabbé was unable to get there in time. Other troops rallied to support the advance of the Guard. On the left infantry from Reille’s corps that was not engaged with Hougoumont and cavalry advanced. On the right all the now rallied elements of D’Érlon’s corps once again ascended the ridge and engaged the allied line. Of these, Pégot’s brigade broke into skirmish order and moved north and west of La Haye Sainte and provided fire support to Ney, once again unhorsed, and Friant’s 1st/3rd Grenadiers. The Guards first received fire from some Brunswick battalions, but the return fire of the grenadiers forced them to retire. Next, Colin Halket’s brigade front line consisting of the 30th Foot and 73rd traded fire but they were driven back in confusion into the 33rd and 69th regiments, Halket was shot in the face and seriously wounded and the whole brigade retreated in a mob. Other allied troops began to give way as well. A counter attack by the Nassauers and the remains of Kielmansegge’s brigade from the allied second line, led by the Prince of Orange, was also thrown back and the Prince of Orange was seriously wounded. General Harlet brought up the 4th Grenadiers and the allied centre was now in serious danger of breaking. It was at this moment that the timely arrival of the Dutch General Chassé turned the tide in favour of the allies.
Chassé’s relatively fresh Dutch division was sent against them, led by a battery of Dutch horse-artillery commanded by Captain Krahmer de Bichin. The battery opened a destructive fire into the victorious 1st/3rd Grenadiers’ flank. This still did not stop the Guard’s advance, so Chassé ordered his first brigade (Colonel Hendrik Detmers) to charge the outnumbered French with the bayonet, who faltered and broke.
The 4th Grenadiers, seeing their comrades retreat and having suffered heavy casualties themselves, now wheeled right about and retired.
British 10th Hussars of Vivian’s Brigade (red shakos – blue uniforms) attacking mixed French troops, including a square of Guard grenadiers (left, middle distance) in the final stages of the battle.
To the left of the 4th Grenadiers were the two squares of the 1st/ and 2nd/3rd Chasseurs who angled further to the west and had suffered more from artillery fire than the grenadiers. But as their advance mounted the ridge they found it apparently abandoned and covered with dead. Suddenly 1,500 British Foot Guards under Maitland who had been lying down to protect themselves from the French artillery rose and devastated them with point-blank volleys. The chasseurs deployed to answer the fire, but began to waver, some 300 falling from the first volley, killing General Michel. A bayonet charge by the Foot Guards then broke them, the British losing order in their pursuit.
The 4th Chasseurs battalion, 800 strong, now came up on the flank of the British guardsmen and the two battalions of British Foot Guards lost all cohesion and dashed back up the slope as a disorganized crowd with the chasseurs in pursuit. At the crest the chasseurs came upon the battery that had caused severe casualties on the 1st and 2nd/3rd Chasseurs, they opened fire and swept away the gunners. The left flank of the square now came under fire from a heavy formation of British skirmishers, the chasseurs drove them back, but the skirmishers were replaced as the 52nd Light Infantry, led by John Colborne, wheeled in line onto the chasseurs’ flank and poured a devastating fire into them, the chasseurs returned a very sharp fire killing or wounding some 150 men of the 52nd. The 52nd then charged. Under this onslaught, the chasseurs broke.
The last of the Guard retreated headlong. A ripple of panic passed through the French lines as the astounding news spread: “La Garde recule. Sauve qui peut!” (“The Guard is retreating. Every man for himself!”) Wellington now stood up in Copenhagen’s stirrups and waved his hat in the air to signal a general advance. His army rushed forward from the lines and threw themselves upon the retreating French.
The surviving Imperial Guard rallied on their three reserve battalions (some sources say four) just south of La Haye Sainte for a last stand. A charge from Adam’s Brigade and the Hanoverian Landwehr Osnabrück Battalion, plus Vivian’s and Vandeleur’s relatively fresh cavalry brigades to their right, threw them into confusion. Those left in semi-cohesive units retreated towards La Belle Alliance. It was during this retreat that some of the Guards were invited to surrender, eliciting the famous, if apocryphal,[ac] retort “La Garde meurt, elle ne se rend pas!” (“The Guard dies, it does not surrender!”)[ad]
At about the same time, the Prussian 5th, 14th, and 16th Brigades were starting to push through Plancenoit, in the third assault of the day. The church was by now on fire, while its graveyard—the French centre of resistance—had corpses strewn about “as if by a whirlwind”. Five Guard battalions were deployed in support of the Young Guard, virtually all of which was now committed to the defence, along with remnants of Lobau’s corps. The key to the Plancenoit position proved to be the Chantelet woods to the south. Pirch’s II Corps had arrived with two brigades and reinforced the attack of IV Corps, advancing through the woods.
The 25th Regiment’s musketeer battalions threw the 1/2e Grenadiers (Old Guard) out of the Chantelet woods, outflanking Plancenoit and forcing a retreat. The Old Guard retreated in good order until they met the mass of troops retreating in panic, and became part of that rout. The Prussian IV Corps advanced beyond Plancenoit to find masses of French retreating in disorder from British pursuit. The Prussians were unable to fire for fear of hitting Wellington’s units. This was the fifth and final time that Plancenoit changed hands.
French forces not retreating with the Guard were surrounded in their positions and eliminated, neither side asking for nor offering quarter. The French Young Guard Division reported 96 per cent casualties, and two-thirds of Lobau’s Corps ceased to exist.
Despite their great courage and stamina, the French Guards fighting in the village began to show signs of wavering. The church was already on fire with columns of red flame coming out of the windows, aisles and doors. In the village itself—still the scene of bitter house-to-house fighting—everything was burning, adding to the confusion. However, once Major von Witzleben’s manoeuvre was accomplished and the French Guards saw their flank and rear threatened, they began to withdraw. The Guard Chasseurs under General Pelet formed the rearguard. The remnants of the Guard left in a great rush, leaving large masses of artillery, equipment and ammunition wagons in the wake of their retreat. The evacuation of Plancenoit led to the loss of the position that was to be used to cover the withdrawal of the French Army to Charleroi. The Guard fell back from Plancenoit in the direction of Maison du Roi and Caillou. Unlike other parts of the battlefield, there were no cries of “Sauve qui peut!” here. Instead, the cry “Sauvons nos aigles!” (“Let’s save our eagles!”) could be heard.
— Official History of the 25th Regiment, 4 Corps, 
The French right, left, and centre had all now failed. The last cohesive French force consisted of two battalions of the Old Guard stationed around La Belle Alliance; they had been so placed to act as a final reserve and to protect Napoleon in the event of a French retreat. He hoped to rally the French army behind them, but as retreat turned into rout, they too were forced to withdraw, one on either side of La Belle Alliance, in square as protection against Coalition cavalry. Until persuaded that the battle was lost and he should leave, Napoleon commanded the square to the left of the inn. Adam’s Brigade charged and forced back this square, while the Prussians engaged the other.
As dusk fell, both squares withdrew in relatively good order, but the French artillery and everything else fell into the hands of the allies. The retreating Guards were surrounded by thousands of fleeing, broken French troops. Coalition cavalry harried the fugitives until about 23:00, with Gneisenau pursuing them as far as Genappe before ordering a halt. There, Napoleon’s abandoned carriage was captured, still containing diamonds left behind in the rush to escape. These became part of King Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia’s crown jewels; one Major Keller of the F/15th received the Pour le Mérite with oak leaves for the feat. By this time 78 guns and 2,000 prisoners had also been taken, including more generals.
There remained to us still four squares of the Old Guard to protect the retreat. These brave grenadiers, the choice of the army, forced successively to retire, yielded ground foot by foot, till, overwhelmed by numbers, they were almost entirely annihilated. From that moment, a retrograde movement was declared, and the army formed nothing but a confused mass. There was not, however, a total rout, nor the cry of sauve qui peut, as has been calumniously stated in the bulletin.
In the middle of the position occupied by the French army, and exactly upon the height, is a farm (sic), called La Belle Alliance. The march of all the Prussian columns was directed towards this farm, which was visible from every side. It was there that Napoleon was during the battle; it was thence that he gave his orders, that he flattered himself with the hopes of victory; and it was there that his ruin was decided. There, too, it was that, by happy chance, Field Marshal Blücher and Lord Wellington met in the dark, and mutually saluted each other as victors.
Other sources agree that that the meeting of the commanders took place near La Belle Alliance, with this occurring at around 21:00. However, historian Peter Hofschröer has written that Wellington and Blücher met at Genappe around 22:00, signifying the end of the battle.
Waterloo cost Wellington around 15,000 dead or wounded and Blücher some 7,000 (810 of which were suffered by just one unit: the 18th Regiment, which served in Bülow’s 15th Brigade, had fought at both Frichermont and Plancenoit, and won 33 Iron Crosses). Napoleon’s losses were 24,000 to 26,000 killed or wounded and included 6,000 to 7,000 captured with an additional 15,000 deserting subsequent to the battle and over the following days.
22 June. This morning I went to visit the field of battle, which is a little beyond the village of Waterloo, on the plateau of Mont-Saint-Jean; but on arrival there the sight was too horrible to behold. I felt sick in the stomach and was obliged to return. The multitude of carcasses, the heaps of wounded men with mangled limbs unable to move, and perishing from not having their wounds dressed or from hunger, as the Allies were, of course, obliged to take their surgeons and waggons with them, formed a spectacle I shall never forget. The wounded, both of the Allies and the French, remain in an equally deplorable state.
— Major W. E. Frye After Waterloo: Reminiscences of European Travel 1815–1819.
Invasion of France by the Seventh Coalition armies in 1815
At 10:30 on 19 June General Grouchy, still following his orders, defeated General Thielemann at Wavre and withdrew in good order—though at the cost of 33,000 French troops that never reached the Waterloo battlefield. Wellington sent his official dispatch describing the battle to England on 19 June 1815; it arrived in London on 21 June 1815 and was published as a London Gazette Extraordinary on 22 June. Wellington, Blücher and other Coalition forces advanced upon Paris.
Napoleon announced his second abdication on 24 June 1815. In the final skirmish of the Napoleonic Wars, Marshal Davout, Napoleon’s minister of war, was defeated by Blücher at Issy on 3 July 1815. Allegedly, Napoleon tried to escape to North America, but the Royal Navy was blockading French ports to forestall such a move. He finally surrendered to CaptainFrederick Maitland of HMSBellerophon on 15 July. There was a campaign against French fortresses that still held out; Longwy capitulated on 13 September 1815, the last to do so. The Treaty of Paris was signed on 20 November 1815. Louis XVIII was restored to the throne of France and Napoleon was exiled to Saint Helena, where he died in 1821.
Royal Highness, – Exposed to the factions which divide my country, and to the enmity of the great Powers of Europe, I have terminated my political career; and I come, like Themistocles, to throw myself upon the hospitality (m’asseoir sur le foyer) of the British people. I claim from your Royal Highness the protections of the laws, and throw myself upon the most powerful, the most constant, and the most generous of my enemies.
Maitland’s 1st Foot Guards, who had defeated the Chasseurs of the Guard, were thought to have defeated the Grenadiers, although they had only faced Chasseurs of the newly raised Middle Guard. They were nevertheless awarded the title of Grenadier Guards in recognition of their feat and adopted bearskins in the style of the Grenadiers. Britain’s Household Cavalry likewise adopted the cuirass in 1821 in recognition of their success against their armoured French counterparts. The effectiveness of the lance was noted by all participants and this weapon subsequently became more widespread throughout Europe; the British converted their first light cavalry regiment to lancers in 1816, their uniforms, of Polish origin, were based on those of the Imperial Guard lancers.
Waterloo was a decisive battle in more than one sense. Every generation in Europe up to the outbreak of the First World War looked back at Waterloo as the turning point that dictated the course of subsequent world history. In retrospect, it was seen as the event that ushered in the Concert of Europe, an era characterised by relative peace, material prosperity and technological progress. The battle definitively ended the series of wars that had convulsed Europe, and involved many other regions of the world, since the French Revolution of the early 1790s. It also ended the First French Empire and the political and military career of Napoleon Bonaparte, one of the greatest commanders and statesmen in history.[ae]
It was followed by almost four decades of international peace in Europe. No further major conflict occurred until the Crimean War. Changes to the configuration of European states, as refashioned after Waterloo, included the formation of the Holy Alliance of reactionary governments intent on repressing revolutionary and democratic ideas, and the reshaping of the former Holy Roman Empire into a German Confederation increasingly marked by the political dominance of Prussia. The bicentenary of Waterloo has prompted renewed attention to the geopolitical and economic legacy of the battle and the century of relative transatlantic peace which followed.[af]
Views on the reasons for Napoleon’s defeat
General Antoine-Henri, Baron Jomini, one of the leading military writers on the Napoleonic art of war, had a number of very cogent explanations of the reasons behind Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo.[ag]
In my opinion, four principal causes led to this disaster:
The first, and most influential, was the arrival, skilfully combined, of Blücher, and the false movement that favoured this arrival;[ah] the second, was the admirable firmness of the British infantry, joined to the sang-froid and aplomb of its chiefs; the third, was the horrible weather, that had softened the ground, and rendered the offensive movements so toilsome, and retarded till one o’clock the attack that should have been made in the morning; the fourth, was the inconceivable formation of the first corps, in masses very much too deep for the first grand attack.
Wellington himself wrote in his official dispatch back to London: “I should not do justice to my own feelings, or to Marshal Blücher and the Prussian army, if I did not attribute the successful result of this arduous day to the cordial and timely assistance I received from them. The operation of General Bülow upon the enemy’s flank was a most decisive one; and, even if I had not found myself in a situation to make the attack which produced the final result, it would have forced the enemy to retire if his attacks should have failed, and would have prevented him from taking advantage of them if they should unfortunately have succeeded.”
Despite their differences on other matters, discussed at length in Carl von Clausewitz‘s study of the Campaign of 1815 and Wellington’s famous 1842 essay in reply to it, the Prussian theorist and historian Clausewitz agreed with Wellington on this assessment. Indeed, Clausewitz viewed the battle prior to the Prussian intervention more as a mutually exhausting stalemate than as an impending French victory, with the advantage, if any, leaning towards Wellington.
Many modern authors, however, share the view that Wellington faced imminent defeat without Prussian help. For example, Parkinson (2000) writes: “Neither army beat Napoleon alone. But whatever the part played by Prussian troops in the actual moment when the Imperial Guard was repulsed, it is difficult to see how Wellington could have staved off defeat, when his centre had been almost shattered, his reserves were almost all committed, the French right remained unmolested and the Imperial Guard intact. …. Blucher may not have been totally responsible for victory over Napoleon, but he deserved full credit for preventing a British defeat.” Zabecki (2014) writes: “Blucher’s arrival not only diverted vital reinforcements, but also forced Napoleon to accelerate his effort against Wellington. The tide of battle had been turned by the hard-driving Blucher.”
Some portions of the terrain on the battlefield have been altered from their 1815 appearance. Tourism began the day after the battle, with Captain Mercer noting that on 19 June “a carriage drove on the ground from Brussels, the inmates of which, alighting, proceeded to examine the field.” In 1820, the Netherlands’ King William I ordered the construction of a monument. The Lion’s Hillock, a giant mound, was constructed here using 300,000 cubic metres (390,000 cu yd) of earth taken from the ridge at the centre of the British line, effectively removing the southern bank of Wellington’s sunken road.
Every one is aware that the variously inclined undulations of the plains, where the engagement between Napoleon and Wellington took place, are no longer what they were on 18 June 1815. By taking from this mournful field the wherewithal to make a monument to it, its real relief has been taken away, and history, disconcerted, no longer finds her bearings there. It has been disfigured for the sake of glorifying it. Wellington, when he beheld Waterloo once more, two years later, exclaimed, “They have altered my field of battle!” Where the great pyramid of earth, surmounted by the lion, rises to-day, there was a hillock which descended in an easy slope towards the Nivelles road, but which was almost an escarpment on the side of the highway to Genappe. The elevation of this escarpment can still be measured by the height of the two knolls of the two great sepulchres which enclose the road from Genappe to Brussels: one, the English tomb, is on the left; the other, the German tomb, is on the right. There is no French tomb. The whole of that plain is a sepulchre for France.
The alleged remark by Wellington about the alteration of the battlefield as described by Hugo was never documented, however.
Other terrain features and notable landmarks on the field have remained virtually unchanged since the battle. These include the rolling farmland to the east of the Brussels–Charleroi Road as well as the buildings at Hougoumont, La Haye Sainte, and La Belle Alliance.
Apart from the Lion Mound, there are several more conventional but noteworthy monuments throughout the battlefield. A cluster of monuments at the Brussels–Charleroi and Braine L’Alleud–Ohain crossroads marks the mass graves of British, Dutch, Hanoverian and King’s German Legion troops. A monument to the French dead, entitled L’Aigle blessé (“The Wounded Eagle”), marks the location where it is believed one of the Imperial Guard units formed a square during the closing moments of the battle.
A monument to the Prussian dead is located in the village of Plancenoit on the site where one of their artillery batteries took position. The Duhesme mausoleum is one among the few graves of the fallen. It is located at the side of Saint Martin’s Church in Ways, a hamlet in the municipality of Genappe. Seventeen fallen officers are buried in the crypt of the British Monument in the Brussels Cemetery in Evere. The remains of a 23-year-old soldier named Friederich Brandt were discovered in 2012. He was a slightly hunchbacked infantryman, 1.60 metres (5.2 ft) tall, and was hit in the chest by a French bullet. His rifle, coins, and position on the battlefield identified him as an Hanoverian fighting in the King’s German Legion.
As part of the bicentennial celebration of the battle, in 2015 Belgium minted a 2 Euro coin depicting the Lion monument over a map of the field of battle. France officially protested this issue, while the Belgian government noted that the French mint sells souvenir medals at Waterloo. After 180,000 coins were minted but not released, the issue was melted. Instead, Belgium issued an identical commemorative coin in the non-standard value of 2½ Euros. Legally only valid within the issuing country (but unlikely to circulate) it was minted in brass, packaged, and sold by the Belgian mint for 6 Euros. A 10 Euro coin, showing Wellington, Blücher, their troops and the silhouette of Napoleon, was also available in silver for 42 Euros.
Napoleon’s headquarters on the eve of the Battle (now the Musée du Caillou)
Monument to the King’s German Legion (left) and Gordon (right) and the Lion mound
South Portal of the Goumont or Hougoumont farm
Monument to the last fighters of the Grand Army (The Wounded Eagle)
The British Waterloo Campaign Memorial at the Brussels Cemetery
Waterloo, Napoleon statue erected close to the Bivouac de l’Empereur hostel
The 8th Infantry Regiment: In this place 18 June 1815 the 8th Infantry’s Durutte Division successfully attacked the German 2nd Legion of Colonel von Ompteda.
Victor Hugo column, portrait
General Duhesme tomb in Ways
Death mask of Napoleon, taken a day and a half after he died on the island of St. Helena at age 51. His eyes are closed, lips slightly parted, and his shaven head is tilted backward, resting on a pillow garnished with a tassel at each corner. Napoleon’s original death mask was created on May 7, 1821
The Battle of Musa Qala (also Qaleh or Qal’eh) was a British led military action in Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan, launched by the Afghan National Army and the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) against the Taliban on 7 December 2007.
After three days of intense fighting, the Taliban retreated into the mountains on 10 December. Musa Qala was officially reported captured on 12 December, with Afghan Army troops pushing into the town centre.
The operation was codenamed snakepit (Pashto: Mar Kardad).
Senior ISAF officers, including U.S. general Dan K. McNeill, the overall ISAF commander, agreed to the assault on 17 November 2007. It followed more than nine months of Taliban occupation of the town, the largest the insurgents controlled at the time of the battle. ISAF forces had previously occupied the town, until a controversial withdrawal in late 2006.
It was the first battle in the War in Afghanistan in which Afghan army units were the principal fighting force. Statements from the British Ministry of Defence (MOD) emphasised that the operation was Afghan-led, although the ability of Afghan units to function without NATO control was questioned during the battle. Military engagement over Musa Qala is part of a wider conflict between coalition forces and the Taliban in Helmand. Both before and after the battle, related fighting was reported across a larger area, particularly in Sangin district to the south of Musa Qala.
Musa Qala, Helmand Province, Afghanistan
Musa Qala is a town of around 15,000 to 20,000 people, with another 25,000 in the surrounding area.ISAF forces were first deployed in the town in mid-June 2006, as part of the “platoon house” strategy. This consisted of protecting the district centres of Northern Helmand with small detachments of British ISAF troops, at the request of the provincial governor Mohammed Daoud.
This move met with an unexpectedly fierce resistance from the Taliban and local tribesmen, who used conventional, rather than asymmetric tactics, to drive the coalition from their positions. The isolated British garrison found itself under siege and constant attack for long periods, and their replacements could only be brought in after a full battle group operation, codenamed Snakebite, broke through Taliban lines in early August.
The fighting ended in October 2006 when, in a controversial move, control was ceded to local tribal elders. The deal was intended to see neither British nor Taliban forces in the town in an effort to reduce conflict and civilian casualties. At the time, a British officer commented:
“There is an obvious danger that the Taliban could make the deal and then renege on it.”
The Taliban did renege on the agreement, quickly over-running the town with 200 to 300 troops in February 2007. The Taliban seizure followed a US airstrike that incensed militants; a Taliban commander’s brother and 20 followers were killed in the attack. A confluence of tribal politics, religion, and money from the opium trade helped ensure the uneasy truce would not hold. At the time, the government claimed they could retake the town within 24 hours, but that plan had been postponed to avoid causing civilian casualties.
Musa Qala was the only significant town held by the Taliban at the time of the assault, and they had imposed a strict rule on its inhabitants. Special tribunals were set up, pronouncing sentences of stoning, amputation, or death by hanging against those who were considered enemies, or who contravened a strict interpretation of the Sharia. Four men are known to have been hanged as spies during this period.
The Taliban also levied heavy taxes, closed down schools, and drafted local men into their ranks by force. Other deprivations were reminiscent of previous Taliban rule: men attacked for not wearing beards; music banned and recordings smashed; women punished for not wearing the burqa. The town is situated in a major opium poppy growing area and a BBC correspondent has reported it to be the centre of the heroin trade in Afghanistan.
Coalition military manoeuvres and a build-up of troops and supplies continued for weeks before the assault. On 1 November, British forces started reconnaissance patrols in preparation for the attack In the middle of that month, the MOD reported that troops from 40 Commando Royal Marines and the Right Flank Company of the Scots Guards were patrolling outside the town to confuse the Taliban insurgents and disrupt their supply routes.
In the days before the assault, reconnaissance patrols penetrated as close as a 1.5 miles (2.4 km) to the Musa Qala town centre. Hundreds of families were reported to have fled from the pending assault, after the coalition dropped leaflets in warning.
Furthermore, the coalition secured the defection of a critical tribal leader, Mullah Abdul Salaam, who had been governor of Uruzgan province under Taliban rule.A leader of the Alizai tribe, Salaam was reported to be in negotiation with the coalition as early as October 2007, causing a rift within the Taliban.
His defection was personally sought by Afghan president Hamid Karzai and he brought as many as one third of the Taliban forces defending Musa Qala to the coalition side. However, it is unclear if they fought on the side of the ISAF or simply stayed out of the fight.
Prior to the battle, two thousand militants were reported to be holding the town. A similar claim of 2,050 “fully armed fighters” was made in late November by Enqiadi, a taliban commander. At the time, Enqiadi seemed confident that the whole of Helmand province would fall to the Taliban in the winter of 2007–08.
Subsequent estimates reduced numbers of Taliban fighters, with an ISAF officer suggesting that the maximum strength was closer to two to three hundred.
Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan: Members of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment prepare for air assault on Musa Qala.
The main assault on Musa Qala began at 4 pm on 7 December. Several Taliban were reportedly killed in US airstrikes as the attack began. That evening some 600 American soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division were airlifted to the north of the town in 19 helicopters.
Chinook and Blackhawk troop carriers escorted by Apache attack helicopters were involved in the assault. During the night the paratroopers broke through Taliban trenches to clear the way for further ground troops and then dug defensive positions.
During the attack, an Apache was hit by ground fire and had one engine knocked out but the pilot, CW2 Thomas O. Malone, managed to land safely despite being injured. More than 2,000 British troops of the Helmand Task Force (then under the direction of 52nd Infantry Brigade), including Scots Guards, Household Cavalry, and Royal Marines from 40 Commando, became involved in the operation. British troops set up a cordon around the town to aid the US attack and also began an advance with Afghan troops from the south, west, and east, exchanging gunfire with the Taliban.
At least on the first day of the battle these advances may have served as a feint to divert attention from the main US air assault Danish and Estonian troops were also involved in the initial assault.
Sergeant Lee Johnson
Fighting continued on 8 December. As British and Afghan soldiers continued their ground advance, US air forces repeatedly attacked the Taliban, including numerous anti-aircraft positions surrounding the town.
The Taliban defended positions surrounded by minefields, a principal danger to coalition forces. The assault made progress nonetheless, with the Afghan Ministry of Defence reporting that day: “In this operation so far, 12 terrorists were killed, one captured and a number of weapons and ammunitions were seized.”
A British soldier, Sergeant Lee Johnson of the 2nd Battalion (Green Howards) Yorkshire Regiment, was killed shortly after 10 am on the eighth, when his vehicle drove over a mine; another soldier was seriously injured in the blast.
Taliban forces took up new positions to defend the town on 9 December. Taliban sources suggested at the time that militants from nearby areas were entering the town to reinforce its defence. Fighting was on-going through the day and bombs planted by insurgents continued to take a toll on ISAF forces:
An American soldier, Corporal Tanner J O’Leary of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was killed by the detonation of an improvised explosive device
US Marine Musa Qala patrol, Afghanistan, Jan 2011
By 10 December, news outlets reported that the Taliban insurgents had withdrawn north from the area and that Afghan Army and ISAF forces were in control of the town.
The British MOD was more cautious at the time, advising that “steady progress” had been made but that coalition forces remained on the outskirts of Musa Qala. Nevertheless, the Afghan government suggested that the coalition had “completely captured” the town.
NATO announced the town’s capture on the 11th, however at the time the MOD suggested forces were still proceeding cautiously “compound to compound”, only officially confirmed the capture of Musa Qala the next day. Afghan troops were called forward for the final push and by midday on the twelfth were reported to be in the town centre, in a gesture symbolising their ability to fight and defeat the Taliban on their own. Lieutenant Colonel Richard Eaton, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, described the retaking of the town:
The current situation in Musa Qaleh is that it is underneath the Afghan flag … Midmorning today [12 December 2007] our operations to relieve and recapture Musa Qaleh were concluded with the final phase being an assault into Musa Qaleh by the Afghan Army…. The cooperation with the Afghan troops has been very good indeed. General Muhayadan was crucially involved in the planning. He moved his planning team to collocate with Headquarters 52 Brigade in Lashkar Gar. Brigadier Andrew Mackay, commander of the Helmand Task Force, emphasised that the coalition’s plan encouraged the less committed local fighters—the so-called “tier two” Taliban—to break away from the more ideologically driven militants. This strategy may have been successful; Afghan president Hamid Karzai declared that he had been approached by Taliban members wanting to swap sides after a string of insurgent exactions against civilians.
“They hanged a boy of 15 from a ceiling and lit two gas canisters under him.”
Precise Taliban casualties were not reported although the Afghan Defence Ministry suggested hundreds killed, detained, or captured. The insurgents claimed 17 Afghan army and ISAF killed, and blamed the British for at least 40 civilians deaths, but their claims may not be reliable.
Although fierce in the first days, the battle did not produce the house-to-house combat that had been feared; the Taliban largely retreated without protracted resistance. Poor weather conditions, including fog, may have allowed them to retreat more easily.
Taliban spokesmen suggested the retreat was designed to avoid continued airstrikes and civilian casualties within the town. By the time the town centre was reached, fighting proved “unremarkable” and according to one senior US officer:
“The urban center of Musa Qala was not significantly opposed, it was not significantly barricaded”.
The final advance into the town’s main bazaar by the Afghan Army was physically led by an Advanced Search Team of the Royal Engineers of the British Army followed by EOD and the main Afghan force who raised their flag for the world’s press.
Relevance to larger campaign
Kajaki Dam, River Helmand
Musa Qala is just one flashpoint in the wider Helmand province campaign, a coalition effort to dislodge the Taliban from the volatile province, largely led by British forces. The battle to retake the town sparked conflict in adjoining areas. In November 2007, when reconnaissance patrols began, “vicious” Taliban attacks were launched in Sangin Valley, Helmand province, to the south, including one which saw Royal Marine Commandos endure two days of rocket and mortar fire.
Just three days before the main assault, on 4 December, British forces suffered a fatality to the north of the village of Sangin, when Trooper Jack Sadler was killed by a roadside bomb.
The week prior to the assault saw a variety of other engagements in Helmand: the British confronted sustained attack near the Kajaki Dam, northeast of Sangin; further west, Estonian, British and American troops were engaged near the town of Nawzad at the center of Nawzad District. Danish forces under British command were attacked in the town of Gereshk.
In the days after the main battle was launched, Lieutenant Colonel Eaton confirmed that the Taliban were attempting to create pressure in other areas but that attacks on British bases had been repulsed. One Taliban commander noted:
“We have launched attacks in Sangin and in Sarwan Kala (Sarevan Qaleh) … We have orders to attack the British everywhere.”
When the principal Taliban retreat from Musa Qala occurred fighting continued elsewhere: on the eleventh and twelfth, retreating Taliban militants attacked a government centre in Sangin. They were repulsed with 50 killed, according to the Afghan Defence Ministry.
American, British, and other NATO special forces were specifically deployed to prevent the Taliban from withdrawing north into Baghran District, and east into Orūzgān Province, their traditional refuge.
The Afghan flag is raised over Musa Qala following its recapture.
British officers expressed satisfaction that Musa Qala had been recaptured without any artillery shells or bombs hitting the town itself. However, they acknowledged that the Taliban had not been definitively defeated and would probably “have another go” in the area.
Taliban fighters were believed to have merged back into the local rural population after the defeat, their traditional dress providing simple cover. In the days after the battle, counter-attacks on the town were considered likely and coalition officials suggested sustained defence would be necessary;
British forces plan to reinforce Musa Qala but have emphasised that future defence of the village will be largely Afghan controlled. The optimistic picture of Afghan capability presented by ISAF command has been challenged. A reporter on the ground, writing for The Times, notes that the Afghan forces “could barely function without NATO’s protection and NATO had to cajole them to move forward”.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown was in Helmand at the time of the assault, visiting troops at Camp Bastion. He suggested success at Musa Qala would provide a step toward Afghan peace and promised continued reconstruction relief. Coalition and Afghan government plans include the construction of a local mosque, the rebuilding of a district centre, police buildings, schools, and the repair of the electricity infrastructure.
The governor of Helmand, Assadullah Wafa, said a delegation would visit Musa Qala to distribute 5,000 tons of aid to returning civilians in the immediate aftermath of the battle.
On 26 December, engineers from 69 Gurkha Field Squadron, 36 Engineer Regiment moved into Musa Qala and started rebuilding the district centre. Their task includes the construction of a perimeter fence made of Hesco bastions, and sangars (watchtowers) made of sandbags.
Various Taliban supplies were seized by coalition forces following the battle. On 13 December, British and Afghan army units located bomb factories and weapons caches as they moved further into the outskirts of Musa Qala and searched Taliban positions. At the same time, the first civilians started to return to the area, some with reports of Taliban punishments and claims of active Pakistani and Arab jihadis.
A new orientation of British strategy in Helmand is to use military force to curb the influence of local drug barons, whose trade supports the insurgents. On 16 December, British troops burned an estimated £150 to £200 million worth of heroin that had been found in a drug factory and other buildings in Musa Qala.
The strategic purpose of controlling Musa Qala is both to squeeze Taliban operations in south-western Afghanistan and to serve as a symbol of Afghan National Army and ISAF strength; the town had taken on iconic proportions, according to British officials. The Taliban, however, continue to enjoy significant civilian support despite their atrocities and the broader campaign to win over the region remains difficult
Troop shortages have made it difficult for NATO to hold areas seized from the Taliban in southern Afghanistan.
Civilian return to the town was slow, with shops still shuttered on 16 December. Civilian casualty reports were conflicting: one resident claimed 15 dead bodies lay in a single street and another that his family were dead under rubble. The coalition rejected such claims, admitting only that two children had been injured, and possibly killed, when a car driving at high speeds towards ISAF troops during the battle overturned when the driver was shot dead
Coalition and Afghan authorities continued their efforts to win over Taliban sympathizers. However a “miscommunication between authorities” created some tension. In late December, two western diplomats were expelled from Afghanistan. Governor Assadullah Wafa accused them of holding secret talks with the Taliban and proposing bribes to them; the secret talks were denied as a misunderstanding by a UN spokesperson.
In January 2008, Mullah Abdul Salaam was appointed governor of Musa Qala district by the Afghan government, a gesture that was intended to encourage other Taliban commanders to change sides.
Click here for details on The Siege of Musa Qala which took place between July 17 and September 12, 2006 in Afghanistan’s Helmand province
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The battle was the decisive encounter in a war that was primarily about James’s attempt to regain the thrones of England and Scotland, resulting from the Invitation to William and William’s wife, Mary, to take the throne. It is regarded as a crucial moment in the struggle between Irish Protestant and Catholic interests.
The previous year William had sent the Duke of Schomberg to take charge of the Irish campaign. He was a 75-year-old professional soldier who had accompanied William during the Glorious Revolution. Under his command, affairs had remained static and very little had been accomplished, partly because the English troops, unaccustomed to the climate, suffered severely from fever. William, dissatisfied with the state of affairs in Ireland, decided to take charge in person.
In an Irish context, the war was a sectarian and ethnic conflict, in many ways a re-run of the Irish Confederate Wars of 50 years earlier. For the Jacobites, the war was fought for Irish sovereignty, religious tolerance for Catholicism, and land ownership. The Catholic upper classes had lost almost all their lands after Cromwell’s conquest, as well as the right to hold public office, practice their religion, and sit in the Irish Parliament. They saw the Catholic King James as a means of redressing these grievances and securing the autonomy of Ireland from England. To these ends, under Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnel, they had raised an army to restore James after the Glorious Revolution. By 1690, they controlled all of Ireland except for the province of Ulster. Most of James II’s troops at the Boyne were Irish Catholics.
The majority of Irish people were Jacobites and supported James II due to his 1687 Declaration of Indulgence or, as it is also known, the Declaration for the Liberty of Conscience, that granted religious freedom to all denominations in England and Scotland and also due to James II’s promise to the Irish Parliament of an eventual right to self-determination.
Conversely, for the Williamites, the war was about maintaining Protestant and English rule in Ireland. They feared for their lives and their property if James and his Catholic supporters were to rule Ireland, nor did they trust the promise of tolerance, seeing the Declaration of Indulgence as a ploy to re-establish Catholicism as the sole state religion. In particular, they dreaded a repeat of the Irish Rebellion of 1641, which had been marked by widespread killing. For these reasons, Protestants fought en masse for William of Orange. Many Williamite troops at the Boyne, including their very effective irregular cavalry, were Ulster Protestants, who called themselves “Inniskillingers” and were referred to by contemporaries as “Scots-Irish“.
Ironically, historian Derek Brown notes that if the battle is seen as part of the War of the Grand Alliance, Pope Alexander VIII was an ally of William and an enemy to James; the Papal States were part of the Grand Alliance with a shared hostility to the Catholic Louis XIV of France, who at the time was attempting to establish dominance in Europe and to whom James was an ally.
The opposing armies in the battle were led by the Roman Catholic King James II of England, Scotland, and Ireland and opposing him, his nephew and son-in-law, the Protestant King William III (“William of Orange”) who had deposed James the previous year. James’s supporters controlled much of Ireland and the Irish Parliament. James also enjoyed the support of his cousin, Louis XIV, who did not want to see a hostile monarch on the throne of England. Louis sent 6,000 French troops to Ireland to support the Irish Jacobites. William was already Stadtholder of the Netherlands and was able to call on Dutch and allied troops from Europe as well as England and Scotland.
James was a seasoned officer who had proven his bravery when fighting for his brother – King Charles II – in Europe, notably at the Battle of the Dunes (1658). However, recent historians have noted that he was prone to panicking under pressure and making rash decisions, possibly due to the onset of the dementia which would overtake him completely in later years. William, although a seasoned commander, was hardly one of history’s great generals and had yet to win a major battle.
Many of his battles ended in stalemates, prompting at least one modern historian to argue that William lacked an ability to manage armies in the thick of conflict. William’s success against the French had been reliant upon tactical manoeuvres and good diplomacy rather than force. His diplomacy had assembled the League of Augsburg, a multi-national coalition formed to resist French aggression in Europe. From William’s point of view, his takeover of power in England and the ensuing campaign in Ireland was just another front in the war against King Louis XIV.
The Williamite army at the Boyne was about 36,000 strong, composed of troops from many countries. Around 20,000 troops had been in Ireland since 1689, commanded by Schomberg. William himself arrived with another 16,000 in June 1690. William’s troops were generally far better trained and equipped than James’s. The best Williamite infantry were from Denmark and the Netherlands, professional soldiers equipped with the latest flintlock muskets. There was also a large contingent of French Huguenot troops fighting with the Williamites. William did not have a high opinion of his English and Scottish troops, with the exception of the Ulster Protestant irregulars who had held Ulster in the previous year. The English and Scottish troops were felt to be politically unreliable, since James had been their legitimate monarch up to a year before. Moreover, they had only been raised recently and had seen little battle action.
The Jacobites were 23,500 strong. James had several regiments of French troops, but most of his manpower was provided by Irish Catholics. The Jacobites’ Irish cavalry, who were recruited from among the dispossessed Irish gentry, proved themselves to be high calibre troops during the course of the battle. However, the Irish infantry, predominantly peasants who had been pressed into service, were not trained soldiers. They had been hastily trained, poorly equipped, and only a minority of them had functional muskets. In fact, some of them carried only farm implements such as scythes at the Boyne. On top of that, the Jacobite infantry who actually had firearms were all equipped with the obsolete matchlock musket.
William had landed in Carrickfergus in Ulster on 14 June 1690 and marched south to take Dublin. He was heard to remark that ‘the place was worth fighting for’. James chose to place his line of defense on the River Boyne, around 30 miles (48 km) from Dublin. The Williamites reached the Boyne on 29 June. The day before the battle, William himself had a narrow escape when he was wounded in the shoulder by Jacobite artillery while surveying the fords over which his troops would cross the Boyne.
The battle itself was fought on 1 July OS (11th NS), for control of a ford on the Boyne near Drogheda, about 2.5 kilometres (1.6 mi) northwest of the hamlet of Oldbridge (and about 1.5 kilometres (0.9 mi) west-northwest of the modern Boyne River Bridge). William sent about a quarter of his men to cross the river at Roughgrange, about 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) west of Donore and about 6 miles (9.7 km) southwest of Oldbridge. The Duke of Schomberg’s son, Meinhardt, led this crossing, which Irish dragoons in picquet under Neil O’Neill unsuccessfully opposed. James, an inexperienced general, thought that he might be outflanked and sent half his troops, along with most of his artillery, to counter this move. What neither side had realised was that there was a deep, swampy ravine at Roughgrange. Because of this ravine, the opposing forces there could not engage each other, but literally sat out the battle. The Williamite forces went on a long detour march which, later in the day, almost saw them cut off the Jacobite retreat at the village of Naul.
At the main ford near Oldbridge, William’s infantry, led by the elite Dutch Blue Guards, forced their way across the river, using their superior firepower to slowly drive back the enemy foot soldiers, but were pinned down when the Jacobite cavalry counter-attacked. Having secured the village of Oldbridge, some Williamite infantry tried to hold off successive cavalry attacks with disciplined volley fire, but were scattered and driven into the river, with the exception of the Blue Guards. William’s second-in-command, the Duke of Schomberg, and George Walker were killed in this phase of the battle. The Williamites were not able to resume their advance until their own horsemen managed to cross the river and, after being badly mauled, managed to hold off the Jacobite cavalry until they retired and regrouped at Donore, where they once again put up stiff resistance before retiring.
The Jacobites retired in good order. William had a chance to trap them as they retreated across the River Nanny at Duleek, but his troops were held up by a successful rear-guard action. The Dutch secretary of King William, Constantijn Huygens Jr., has given a good description (in Dutch) of the battle and its aftermath, including subsequent cruelties committed by the victorious soldiers.
The casualty figures of the battle were quite low for a battle of such a scale—of the 50,000 or so participants, about 2,000 died. Three-quarters of the dead were Jacobites. William’s army had far more wounded. At the time, most casualties of battles tended to be inflicted in the pursuit of an already-beaten enemy; this did not happen at the Boyne, as the counter-attacks of the skilled Jacobite cavalry screened the retreat of the rest of their army, and in addition William was always disinclined to endanger the person of James, since he was the father of his wife, Mary. The Jacobites were badly demoralised by the order to retreat, which lost them the battle. Many of the Irish infantrymen deserted. The Williamites triumphantly marched into Dublin two days after the battle. The Jacobite army abandoned the city and marched to Limerick, behind the River Shannon, where they were unsuccessfully besieged.
Soon after the battle William issued the Declaration of Finglas, offering full pardons to ordinary Jacobite soldiers but not to their leaders. After his defeat, James did not stay in Dublin, but rode with a small escort to Duncannon and returned to exile in France, even though his army left the field relatively unscathed. James’s loss of nerve and speedy exit from the battlefield enraged his Irish supporters, who fought on until the Treaty of Limerick in 1691; he was derisively nicknamed Seamus a’ chaca (“James the shit”) in Irish.
There is an oral tradition stating that no battle took place at all, that a symbolic victory was shown by the crossing of the River Boyne and that the total fatalities were a result of Williamite cavalry attacking the local able-bodied men.
It is well documented that Williams’ horse on that day was black, despite all Orange Order murals depicting it as white with William holding his sword between the horse’s ears to make it resemble a unicorn as a symbol of his “Saviour” status. Depictions of William have been strongly influenced by Benjamin West‘s 1778 painting The Battle of the Boyne.
The battle was overshadowed by the defeat of an Anglo-Dutch fleet by the French two days later at the Battle of Beachy Head, a far more serious event in the short term; only on the continent was the Boyne treated as an important victory. Its importance lay in the fact that it was the first proper victory for the League of Augsburg, the first-ever alliance between the Vatican and Protestant countries. The victory motivated more nations to join the alliance and in effect ended the fear of a French conquest of Europe.
The Boyne also had strategic significance for both England and Ireland. It marked the end of James’s hope of regaining his throne by military means and probably assured the triumph of the Glorious Revolution. In Scotland, news of this defeat temporarily silenced the Highlanders supporting the Jacobite Rising, which Bonnie Dundee had led. In Ireland, the Boyne fully assured the Jacobites that they could successfully resist William. But it was a general victory for William, and is still celebrated by the Protestant Orange Order on the Twelfth of July. Ironically, due to the political situation mentioned above, the Pope also hailed the victory of William at the Boyne, ordered the bells of the Vatican to be rung in celebration.
Some Irish Catholics who were taken prisoner after the battle were tortured until they agreed to convert to Protestantism.
The Treaty of Limerick was very generous to Catholics. It allowed most land owners to keep their land so long as they swore allegiance to William of Orange. It also said that James could take a certain number of his soldiers and go back to France. However, Protestants in England were annoyed with this kind treatment towards the Catholics, especially when they were gaining strength and money. Because of this, penal laws were introduced. These laws included banning Catholics from owning weapons, reducing their land, and prohibiting them from working in the legal profession.
River Boyne, west of Drogheda, today
View of the commemorative obelisk, prior to 1883. It was destroyed in 1923.
Medal Struck to Commemorate the Battle of the Boyne (Robert Chambers, p.8, July 1832)
Originally, Irish Protestants commemorated the Battle of Aughrim on 12 July (old style, equivalent to 22 July new style), symbolising their victory in the Williamite war in Ireland. At Aughrim, which took place a year after the Boyne, the Jacobite army was destroyed, deciding the war in the Williamites’ favour. The Boyne, which, in the old Julian calendar, took place on 1 July, was treated as less important, third after Aughrim and the anniversary of the Irish Rebellion of 1641 on 23 October.
In 1752, the Gregorian calendar was adopted in Ireland, which erroneously placed the Boyne on 12 July instead of Aughrim (the correct equivalent date was 11 July, as the difference between the calendars for the year in question, 1690, was not 11 days but only 10 days). However, even after this date, “The Twelfth” still commemorated Aughrim.[clarification needed] But after the Orange Order was founded in 1795 amid sectarian violence in Armagh[further explanation needed], the focus of parades on 12 July switched to the Battle of the Boyne.[further explanation needed] Usually the dates before the introduction of the calendar on 14 September 1752 are mapped in English language histories directly onto the Julian dates without shifting them by 10 or 11 days.
Being suspicious of anything with Papist connotations, however, rather than shift the anniversary of the Boyne to the new 1 July[clarification needed] or celebrate the new anniversary of Aughrim, the Orangemen continued to march on 12 July which was (erroneously) thought to have marked the battle of the Boyne in New Style dates.[clarification needed] Despite this, there are also smaller parades and demonstrations on 1 July, the date which maps the old style date of the Boyne to the new style in the usual manner and which also commemorate the heavy losses of the 36th (Ulster) Division on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916.
The memory of the battle also has resonance among Irish nationalists. In 1923, IRA members blew up a large monument to the battle on the battlefield site on the Boyne and destroyed a statue of William III in 1929 that stood outside Trinity College, Dublin in the centre of the Irish capital.
Twelfth in Northern Ireland 2013 (BBC Documentary)
The Battle of the Boyne remains a controversial topic today in Northern Ireland, where some Protestants remember it as the great victory over Catholics that resulted in the sovereignty of Parliament and the Protestant monarchy.
In recent decades, “The Twelfth” has often been marked by confrontations, as members of the Orange Order attempt to celebrate the date by marching past or through what they see as their traditional route. Some of these areas, however, now have a nationalist majority who object to marches passing through what they see as their areas.
Each side thus dresses up the disputes in terms of the other’s alleged attempts to repress them; Nationalists still see Orange Order marches as provocative attempts to “show who is boss”, whilst Unionists insist that they have a right to “walk the Queen’s highway”. Since the start of The Troubles, the celebrations of the battle have been seen as playing a critical role in the awareness of those involved in the unionist/nationalist tensions in Northern Ireland.
The battlefield today
The site of the Battle of the Boyne sprawls over a wide area west of the town of Drogheda. In the County Development Plan for 2000, Meath County Council rezoned the land at the eastern edge of Oldbridge, at the site of the main Williamite crossing, to residential status. A subsequent planning application for a development of over 700 houses was granted by Meath County Council and this was appealed by local historians to An Bord Pleanala (The Planning Board). In March 2008 after an extremely long appeal process, An Bord Pleanala approved permission for this development to proceed. However, due to the current economic climate in Ireland, no work has yet started on this development.
The current Interpretive Centre dedicated to informing tourists and other visitors about the battle is about 1-mile (1.6 km) to the west of the main crossing point. This facility was redeveloped in 2008 and is now open for tourists. The battle’s other main combat areas (at Duleek, Donore and Plattin – along the Jacobite line of retreat) are marked with tourist information signs.
On 4 April 2007 in a sign of improving relations between unionist and nationalist groups, the newly elected First Minister of Northern Ireland, the Reverend Ian Paisley, was invited to visit the battle site by the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern later in the year. Following the invitation, Paisley commented that “such a visit would help to demonstrate how far we have come when we can celebrate and learn from the past so the next generation more clearly understands”. On 10 May the visit took place, and Paisley presented the Taoiseach with a Jacobite musket in return for Ahern’s gift at the St Andrews talks of a walnut bowl made from a tree from the site. A new tree was also planted in the grounds of Oldbridge House by the two politicians to mark the occasion.
Like the vast majority of Protestants in Northern Ireland apart from my Birthday, Christmas and our family holiday to Ballyferris, the 12th of July was the biggest and most important day of the year. In 1663 the Protestant King Billy defeated the Catholic King James at the Battle of Boyne and changed the course of Irish history forever. Three hundred years later on the 12th of July every year Northern Ireland came to a standstill as the Protestant majority took to the streets and celebrated the most sacred day in the Protestant calendar. As a child I loved the whole 12th experience and counted the days down until the great day arrived. For weeks before the 12th all the children, with the help of adults would gather all sorts of burnable material for the bonfire that would be lit the night before, to signal the beginning of the celebrations. After school we would rush home, have something to eat and head of in the hunt for wood and whatever else we could find that would burn. Sometimes there would be dozens of us going back and forth to the gel carrying whatever we could find and placing it on the ever growing bonfire in the middle of the square. In Glencairn alone there would be about five or six bonfires and it was always very competitive to see which area could collect the most wood and have the biggest bonfire. Competition between the various parts of the estate were fierce and as the eleventh grew closer, the older boys would be allowed to stay out all night with suitable adults and guard the wood from raids from those at the top or bottom of the estate. As the day grew closer, the excitement was almost tangible and in the early evening sunshine we would gather around the ever-growing tower of wood and play until darkness. There was always a hunt, the command centre and if we were lucky the older boys would let us go inside and wait until they returned from another hunt for wood. One day when there was only myself and a few of the other younger children guarding the wood , the boys from the top of the estate came charging through the square in a bare faced raid on our precious wood. There were only about five of us and there was about fifteen of them and they were all older than us and there was little we could do but stand by and watch as they made off with their precious bounty. Taking control I told David to run as fast as he could and find the rest of our gang. Picking up stones from the ground I began pelting the enemy with missiles. The others soon joined in and before long the enemy had to duck and hide as we threw everything we could find at them. But we were well out numbered and it was only a matter of time before they had over powered us and decided to take me prisoner, as I seemed to be in charge.
Panic and terror washed over me as I was lead away to the enemy camp at the top of the estate. To add insult to injury a boy named Y forced me to help him carry a door stolen from our bonfire. I was threatened with a dig in the face if I tried to run away or do anything stupid, so I decided self preservation was the best course of action and was a model prisoner. As we marched in single file towards the top of the estate and the enemy bonfire, I wondered with dread what fate awaited me when we arrived there. A few weeks before John Jackson had also been captured in a raid and when he was finally set free he had a black eye and a busted lip. As I marched on all sorts of thoughts of pain and torture were going through my mind, when suddenly I heard the sound of running feet and raised voices. As I turned I was delighted to see my brother and about ten of our gang running towards us. Panic set into the enemy as they realized what was happening and some of them dropped what they were carrying and fled. Before I knew what was happening my rescuers had caught up with us and a massive fight broke out between the two warring sides. I dropped my end of the door I was carrying and jumped on Y terrorising him with a blood curdling scream that rose from deep within me. I was free! The noise was deafening as the two sides fought a running battle, but reinforcements had arrived from our gang and before long we had beaten the enemy into retreat. When they had all fled, we gathered up our stolen wood and sang as we made our way back to our camp.
I was a hero and that night guarding the bonfire I wallowed as all those present praised my heroic deeds of the day and I now had access to the hut whenever I liked.
As the great day drew closer our house was always in a state of complete chaos. Dad was busy making sure everything was ready for the bands biggest and most important march of the year. There were over forty people in the band and they all had to have uniforms that fitted perfectly and instruments that were at the peak of their working year. While dad got on with that, Granny took us down town and rigged us out with new clothes and shoes for the big day. Image was everything and regardless of how scruffy and dirty we looked the rest of the year, on the 12th of July we would be immaculately turned out. Granny had an old friend called Isaac who lived in Ballysillan and although he was half blind, deaf and always drunk, he had in his day been a competent barber and Granny saw no reason not to continue sending me and David over to Isaac whenever a hair cut was in order, even though he had been retired for over thirty years. Besides he only charged £1.50 and as money was always tight it made perfect sense. Unfortunately for us he would give us a cut that would have shamed a corpse and eventually I came up with the idea that we should cut each other’s hair and pocket the money for ourselves.
These plans went well for a few months until one-day granny give us the money to go and get our hairs cut. When we got back, Granny was stood by the door waiting for us, which was most unusual and asked us had Isaac cut our hair? When we answered yes, she asked us how he was. By now we were both starting to get a bit suspicious and nervously answered ok. How were we to know that he had died the night before from a sudden heart attached and was now in the morgue having the final hair cut of his life. Needless to say Granny went ape and we got a good thumping for the lies. From that day on Granny personally escorted us to the barbers and watched with a critical eye as we had our hairs cut.
The Sash my Father Wore
SHANKILL PROTESTANT BOYS FLUTE BAND, SINGING THE SASH
Growing up in loyalist Belfast every child knew the words to the Sash and it was our national anthem.
So sure l’m an Ulster Orangeman, from Erin’s isle I came,
To see my British brethren all of honour and of fame,
And to tell them of my forefathers who fought in days of yore,
That I might have the right to wear, the sash my father wore!
It is old but it is beautiful, and its colours they are fine
It was worn at Derry, Aughrim, Enniskillen and the Boyne.
My father wore it as a youth in bygone days of yore,
And on the Twelfth I love to wear the sash my father wore.
For those brave men who crossed the Boyne have not fought or died in vain
Our Unity, Religion, Laws, and Freedom to maintain,
If the call should come we’ll follow the drum, and cross that river once more
That tomorrow’s Ulsterman may wear the sash my father wore!
And when some day, across the sea to Antrim’s shore you come,
We’ll welcome you in royal style, to the sound of flute and drum
And Ulster’s hills shall echo still, from Rathlin to Dromore
As we sing again the loyal strain of the sash my father wore!
As the 12th grew closer and closer there was always an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation whilst everyone counted the days down. The various bonfires were now mountains of burnable material that towered high above the houses and flats that surrounded the area. Apart from the hundreds of bands and orange lodge’s from Northern Ireland that would be marching on the day, dozen’s more would travel over from Scotland, Mainland England and as far afield as Canada & Australia. This was the most sacred day in the Loyalist calendar. Loyalist’s from across the world would make the pilgrimage back to Northern Ireland to celebrate their culture and age old traditions. Even at nine years old I felt a tremendous sense of pride and loyalty and passion at the Protestant culture and traditions that governed my daily life in Loyalist West Belfast. I was no different from any other child from a working class Protestant family in Northern Ireland. Although unlike my peers I had a secret Catholic mother.
Like all other Loyalist areas of Belfast and throughout Northern Ireland Glencairn was awash with Loyalist flags, red, white and blue bunting, murals and countless houses had Union Jacks and Red Hand of Ulster flag’s flying proudly from the front. As the twelfth of July approached this visual proclamation of Protestant pride took on a new meaning and the paving stones would be painted red, white and blue whilst almost every house in the estate flew a Loyalist or Protestant flag of some description. As a child this added to the sense of excitement for me and I took this as a sign of the glorious party that everyone would take part in to celebrate the twelfth.
When the 11th of July finally arrived Granny would come round to our house first thing and sort dad and us all out and make sure we had enough food to see us over the holiday period. We would be almost bursting with excitement and as soon as breakfast was over, David, Shep and I were out the door and heading towards the bonfire, where we would meet up with our mates and spend the day collecting last minute material for the fire and generally playing around. As evening approached adults would gradually start to gather around the bonfire and the celebrations would get in to full swing. Loud Loyalist music would be blaring from various houses around the square and as the night wore on more and more people would gather and the whole square came alive with the sound of laughter and people enjoying themselves. Everybody took part in the celebrations and the whole community mucked in to make sure the occasion was really special and a night to remember. Local women would prepare loads and loads of food for the party and this would be distributed throughout the day to anyone who needed a bite to eat. As the evening wore on the music got louder, the adults would become very loud and funny as the drink kicked in and as darkness engulfed Belfast the time to light the children’s bonfire would arrive. Finally when everyone was in place, to cries of delight from the gathered crowds, an Effie of the pope was placed on the top of the bonfire. On this night more than any other, the two communities of Northern Ireland were divided more than ever, as the Protestant majority noisily celebrated its supremacy over the Catholic minority. Surrounded by all my family and friends I watched in awe as the bonfire was lit and the flames, slowly at first, then faster licked their way up towards the top and the pope. As the flames grew higher and higher and finally reached the pope and engulfed him in flames, screams of joy rang out through the summer’s nights and echoed around the estate and Protestant Northern Ireland. Shouts of encouragement egged the flames on until finally the pope disintegrated in front of our eyes and we all took great joy from the fact the he was obviously suffering a terrible death.
As grew older & wiser my hatred of the Pope and all things Catholic diminished ,but my hatred of Republicans & The IRA is as strong today as it was when I was a Child. I blamed them for the misery & slaughter they unleased in their quest for a United Ireland and the 1000’s of innocent victims now in too early graves.
We had killed and burned to cinders the father of the hated Catholic Church and her people and we sang and yelled with pleasure as the ritual the stirred in us. As the fire burned the crackle of the wood and the spit of the flames filled the air and children would dance round the fire, laughing and singing with the adults until it was time for bed. Eventually Granny would come and find David, Shep and me and bring us home in protest to bed. As soon as we were settled down she would go out into the square again and David and I would climb out of bed and watch from our bedroom window, the antics of the drunken adults as they sang and danced the night away around the burning bonfire.
First thing next morning Granny would be round at the crack of dawn and yell for us to get up as she busied herself making everyone a full Ulster Fry and getting us ready. Before long the house was in complete chaos as Granny washed and fed us and made sure we were smartly turned out for the day. As the morning wore on members of the band would arrive for last minute preparation and before long the whole street was out and about, as the band nervously got in a few last minutes of practice. At about eight thirty the whole band would start to gather outside the shops and take up their places. By now the route out of the estate was lined with hundreds of people, regardless of age or hangovers, who had come to see them off. When everyone was in place dad took up his position at the right of the procession and after one last check shouted, “March” and they would strike up a tune and begin to march. Every year a loyal crowd of followers would fall in beside them and accompany them on the 26 mile march to the field. Much to my annoyance I was too young to be allowed to go with them and I longed for the day when I would be old enough. As we stood on the kerb watching them go my heart was full of pride as I watched dad in his uniform lead them down the Road and out of the estate. When they were out of sight we would all travel down to Ormeau Road, where hundreds of bands and Orange men would meet before making their way to the field. Tens of thousands lined the route and as a child it seemed to me the whole world had gathered to celebrate with 12th of July. Our family always sat outside the garage on the lower Ormeau road and watched as hundred of bands, of all shapes and colours, lead thousands of bowler hatted Orangemen and women to the field.
Throughout Northern Ireland dozens of similar parades were taking place, but the march in Belfast was always by far the biggest and the most important of the day. We watched with mounting excitement as various bands passed and waited with baited breath for dad’s band to come into view, so we could cheer them on.
Each band would be attached to an Orange lodge that marched in front of them all the way to the field. They all had a unique uniform that extinguished them from the other bands marching. The hardcore Loyalist and paramilitary flute bands always got the loudest cheers and when a talented leader came into view everyone watched with nervous anticipation as he done various tricks with his pole, flinging it high into the sky, before catching it on the way down and immediately throwing it over his neck or under his legs before going into an routine.. Although dad’s band was an accordion band and we all took great pride in them being part of the parade, the flute and hardcore Loyalist bands were the crowds favourite and when they played a familiar tune huge cheers arose from the gathered crowd and people would join in and sing a long at the top of their voices until the band passed and another came into view. I always loved the sound of the Lambeg drums as they made their way to where we were standing and their mournful tunes drifted far over our heads and echoed through the streets of Belfast, as a warning to the Catholic people that today was our day and we were the masters of Northern Ireland. A sea of colour washed past as band after band marched by us on their way to the field. Apart from local and famous flute bands getting the loudest cheers , bands from the Shankill Road brought the loudest cheers of encouragement and joy , these were our people, come to our shore to support us in our never ending war against the IRA and Catholic people and we made sure they knew we appreciated their commitment. When dad’s band finally came into sight a huge cheer rang out from all of us and those among the spectators from Glencairn and the surrounding areas. As they passed us we would call dad’s name and when he and the other’s from the band noticed us they would all turn and salute us as they marched past. I almost burst with pride as I watched them move off and disappear in to the distance and always regretted that I was not going with them. The parade took about two hours to pass us and when it was all over, Granny would take us home. Exhausted from shouting and singing after dinner we would while away the time until 17:30, when we would go back to town to cheer them on their homeward journey from the field. When it was all over there would always be lots of parties in the estate as we clung desperately to the day and never wanted it to end. By the time we eventually got to bed I would be counting down the days until next year and the time I was old enough to take part in the parade and go all the way to the mystical field with dad and the rest of the band. Sleep came easily and I dreamt I was the leader of one of the more famous bands and the best leader in the whole wide world.
Every year on the 13th July the entire Chambers clan, aunties, uncles, grandparents, cousin’s, close friends and an assortment of animals would descend on Ballyferris Caravan Park to start the annual holidays. Ballyferris is a small seaside town on the east coast of County Down and like all other aspects of our life it was a Protestant town and a favourite destination for Protestants throughout Belfast and the Shankill road area. It was like a home from home and we all loved and looked forward to our yearly visits there. In the early years we never had a car and would travel down on the bus or train, depending on how much money we had. We must have looked like a Sunday school outing as 9 adults shepherded over a dozen kids through the centre of Belfast towards the train or bus station. When we finally arrived in Ballyferris we would all help unpack the luggage and settle into various caravans that stood side by side looking out towards the sea. There were that many of us that it must have looked as though we had taken over the whole caravan site and the other children always sought us out as they wanted to become part of our massive gang. There was a huge green in the centre of the site and at every opportunity two teams were rustled together and a football match would get under way. I used to love it if I got picked to play on the same side as dad and other members of the family and the rest of the family cheered on from the touchline. I dreamt that I was George Best, playing for Manchester United. When we weren’t playing football or flying our kites David, wee Sam , Pickle and me would go down to the beach in search of crabs and other sea life and if they were lucky to survive being captured , we would bring them up to the green and race them for packets of sweets and crisps etc. Once wee Sam and I got separated from the other as we climbed further and further over the rocks until we were right by the sea’s edge. We lost all sense of time as we cast our crab lines out as far as possible in our quest to catch the biggest crab. Gradually it started to rain and as it began to fall heavier and heavier we decided to pack up and head back to the caravan with our bucket of nervous crabs. As we turned to leave we noticed with mounting panic that the tide had come in and we were completely surrounded by the rising sea water. Our frantic cries finally caught the attention of a man walking his dog on the beach and before long the whole family and most of the other people staying at the caravan site were gathered at the edge of the water telling us not to move and the coastguards were on their way. Panic turned to excitement as a dot appeared in the distance sea and the coast boat came slowly into view. Wee Sam and I were pleased as punch as the boat drew up and the coastguard helped us into the boat. As the boat made its way to the beach we waved like royalty to the gathered crowds on the beachfront. Sadly our joy was short lived as when we arrived on the beach we got a severe ticking off from our parents and any other adult who felt like having a go. Not that we let this spoil our new found fame and at every opportunity for the rest of the holiday we boasted to our peers about our daring rescue by the coast guard from the jaws of certain death.
In the evening if the weather was good we would all gather as much food and drink as we could carry and go down to the beach to have a BBQ or picnic. We would collect wood from the beach and before long we would have a fire going and cook baked potatoes and roast sausages round the edge. As darkness rolled in we would sit around the fire singing Loyalist song and telling stories and before long I would fall asleep on dad’s knee and the next thing I knew I was waking up the next morning, in the caravan to the sounds and smells of Granny making breakfast. The best part of the whole holiday for me and the other children was when we would all be gathered up and went to Millisle , a seaside town about two miles away with a huge funfair. Sometime’s when the weather was really good we would walk to Millisle along the beach front and as it came into view we would race over the sand dunes in a scramble to see who could get there first. The day would be spent going from one ride to another and although I loved it all, I enjoyed the dodgem cars best of all and I drove like a kamikaze pilot as I crashed into dad and anyone else I could catch. Dad always seemed to enjoy our time at the funfair and he took part in loads of different games until he had won us all a present of some description. After exhausting ourselves on the rides we would join our grandparents and others on the beach for a picnic and if we were really lucky we were treated to fish and chips from one of the many chippies along the seas front. After dinner dad and his brothers would go for a pint in one of the local bars and we kids would amuse ourselves by burying each other in the sand and paddling by the water’s edge. It was always with great sadness for me when these days came to an end and I would feel heartbroken as we packed up our things for the bus back to the caravan site. I never wanted these holidays to end and when the day came that we would be travelling back to Belfast I would take long walks along the beach and through the caravan site and considered hiding until everyone else had left and I could stay there forever. Dad and the others were used to my wander lust and a search party was soon despatched to find me and bring me back into the fold. As the bus pulled away from the caravan site, taking us home, I fought to hold back my tears as I said a silent goodbye to Ballyferris and the bright lights of the fun fair.
Years later as a teenager, with my life in tatters and on the brink of suicide, I ran away from home and ended up back in Ballyferris. But this time I was all alone and it was mid winter, snowing, freezing cold and the funfair was in complete darkness. And my beloved father was dead.
Brown was born in Leith, near Edinburgh, Scotland. He first flew when he was eight or ten when he was taken up in a Gloster Gauntlet by his father, the younger Brown sitting on his father’s knee.
In 1936, Brown’s father, an ex-Royal Flying Corps pilot, had taken him to see the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Hermann Göring had recently announced the existence of the Luftwaffe, so Brown and his father met, and were invited to join social gatherings by members of the newly disclosed organisation. It was here that Brown first met Ernst Udet, a former World War I fighter ace.
Brown soon discovered in himself and Udet a shared love of flying and Udet offered to take Brown up with him. Brown eagerly accepted the German’s offer and after his arrival at the appointed airfield at Halle, he was soon flying in a two-seat Bucker Jungmann, which Udet threw around much to Brown’s delight. Udet told Brown he “must learn to fly” and that he “had the temperament of a fighter pilot”. He also told Brown to learn German.
In 1937, Brown left the Royal High School and entered Edinburgh University, studying Modern Languages with an emphasis on German. While there he joined the university’s Air Unit and received his first formal flying instruction. In February 1938 he returned to Germany, where, having been invited to attend the 1938 Automobile Exhibition by Udet, by then a Luftwaffe Major General, he saw the demonstration of the Focke-Wulf Fw 61helicopter flown by Hanna Reitsch before a small crowd inside the Deutschlandhalle. During this visit he met and got to know Reitsch. Brown was later to renew his acquaintance with her after the war, in less pleasant circumstances, she having been arrested after the German surrender in 1945.
In the meantime, Brown had been selected to take part as an exchange student at the Schule Schloss Salem, located on the banks of Lake Constance, and it was while there in Germany that Brown was woken up with a loud knocking on his door one morning in September 1939. Upon opening the door he was met by a woman with the announcement that “our countries are at war“. Soon after, Brown was arrested by the SS. Fortunately, after 3 days incarceration, they merely escorted Brown in his MG Magnette sports car to the Swiss border, saying they were allowing him to keep the car because they “had no spares for it”.
The loss of life was such that 802 Squadron was disbanded until February 1942. On 10 March 1942 he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his service on Audacity, in particular “For bravery and skill in action against Enemy aircraft and in the protection of a Convoy against heavy and sustained Enemy attacks”.
His aptitude for deck landings led to his posting for the testing of carriers’ landing arrangements before they were brought into service. The testing involved multiple combinations of landing point and type of aircraft. with the result that by the close of 1943 he had performed around 1,500 deck landings on 22 different carriers. In six years at RAE, Brown recalls that he hardly ever took a single day’s leave.
In 1943 Brown resumed operational flying, being seconded to Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) squadrons flying escort operations to USAAFB-17s over France. His job was to train them in deck-landing techniques, though on airfields.[Note 1] As a form of quid pro quo he joined them on fighter operations.
He also flew several stints with Fighter Command in the air defence of Great Britain. During this time, in the summer of 1944 Brown’s home was destroyed by a V-1 “Doodlebug” cruise missile, concussing his wife and causing serious injury to their cleaner, including the loss of one eye.
After his time operational, again in 1943, he then went back to the RAE, this time to perform experimental flying, almost immediately being transferred to southern Italy to evaluate captured Regia Aeronautica and Luftwaffe aircraft. This Brown did with almost no tuition, information having to be gleaned from whatever documents were available. On completion of these duties, his commander, being impressed with his performance, sent him back to the RAE with the recommendation that he be employed in the Aerodynamics Flight department at Farnborough. During the first month in the Flight, Brown flew thirteen aircraft types, including a captured Focke-Wulf Fw 190.
While at Farnborough as Chief Naval Test Pilot, Brown was involved in the deck landing trials of the Sea Mosquito, the heaviest aircraft yet chosen to be flown from a British carrier. Brown landed one for the first time on HMS Indefatigable on 25 March 1944. This was the first landing on a carrier by a twin-engined aircraft. The fastest speed for deck landing was 86 kts, while the stall speed was 110 kts.
At this time, the RAE was the leading authority on high-speed flight and Brown became involved in this sort of testing, flights being flown where the aircraft, usually a Spitfire, would be dived at speeds of the high subsonic and near transonic region. Figures achieved by Brown and his colleagues during these tests reached Mach 0.86 for a standard Spitfire IX, to Mach 0.92 for a modified Spitfire PR Mk XI flown by his colleague Sqn Ldr Anthony F. Martindale.
Together with Brown and Martindale, the RAE Aerodynamics Flight also included two other test pilots, Sqn Ldr James “Jimmy” Nelson and Sqn Ldr Douglas Weightman.
During this same period the RAE was approached by United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) General Jimmy Doolittle with a request for help, as the 8th Air Force had been having trouble when their Lightning, Thunderbolt and Mustang aircraft, providing top cover for the bombers, dived down onto attacking German fighters, some of the diving US fighters encountering speed regions where they became difficult to control. As a result of Doolittle’s request, early in 1944 the P-38H Lightning, P-51B Mustang and P-47C Thunderbolt, were dived for compressibility testing at the RAE by Brown and several other pilots. The results of the tests were that the tactical Mach numbers, i.e., the manoeuvring limits, were Mach 0.68 for the Lightning, Mach 0.71 for the Thunderbolt and Mach 0.78 for the Mustang. The corresponding figure for both the Fw 190 and Bf 109 was Mach 0.75. The tests flown by Brown and his colleagues resulted in Doolittle being able to argue with his superiors for the Mustang to be chosen in preference to the P-38 and P-47 for all escort duties from then on, which it subsequently was.
Brown had been made aware of the British progress in jet propulsion in May 1941 when he had heard of the Gloster E.28/39 after diverting in bad weather to RAF Cranwell during a flight and had subsequently met Frank Whittle when asked to suggest improvements to the jet engine to make it more suitable for naval use. This resulted in the Gloster Meteor being selected as the Royal Navy‘s first jet fighter, although, as it turned out, few would be used by them. Brown was also selected as the pilot for the Miles M.52supersonic research aircraft programme, and he flew modified aircraft incorporating components intended for the M.52; however, the post-war government later cancelled the project in 1945 with the M.52 almost complete.
During carrier compatibility trials, Brown crash-landed a Fairey Firefly Mk I, Z1844, on the deck of HMS Pretoria Castle on 9 September 1943, when the arrestor hook indicator light falsely showed the hook was in the “down” position. The fighter hit the crash barrier, sheared off its undercarriage and shredded the propeller, but the pilot was unhurt. On 2 May 1944, he was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire “for outstanding enterprise and skill in piloting aircraft during hazardous aircraft trials.”
A Royal Air Force Hoverfly I of the type flown by Brown from Speke to Farnborough in 1945
In February 1945, Brown learned that the Aerodynamics Flight had been allocated three Sikorsky R-4B Hoverfly/Gadfly helicopters. He had never seen one of these tail-rotor machines, so a trip to Farnborough was arranged and Brown had a short flight as a passenger in one. A few days later, Brown and Martindale were sent to RAF Speke to collect two new R-4Bs. On arrival, they found the American mechanics assembling the machines, and when Brown asked the Master Sergeant in charge about himself and Martindale being taught to fly them, he was handed a “large orange-coloured booklet” with the retort; “Whaddya mean, bud? – Here’s your instructor”. Brown and Martindale examined the booklet and after several practice attempts at hovering and controlling the craft, followed by a stiff drink, they set off for Farnborough. Brown and Martindale managed the trip safely, if raggedly, in formation, although sometimes as much as a couple of miles apart.
On 4 April, Brown added another “first” to his logbook when engaged in trials in relation to the flexible deck concept with HMS Pretoria Castle, in which he was supposed to make a number of landing approaches to the escort carrier in a Bell Airacobra, which had coincidentally been modified with a tail hook. During one of these passes, Brown declared an emergency and was given permission to make a deck landing; a ruse which had previously been agreed with the carrier’s captain, Caspar John. Although the landing was achieved without difficulty, the long take off run required for the Airacobra meant that even with the ship steaming at full speed, there was little margin of error. This was the first carrier landing and take off for any aircraft with a tricycle undercarriage.
With the end of the European war in sight, the RAE prepared itself to acquire German aeronautical technology and aircraft before it was either accidentally destroyed or taken by the Soviets, and, because of his skills in the language, Brown was made CO of “Enemy Flight”. He flew to Northern Germany; among the targets for the RAE was the Arado Ar 234, a new jet bomber that the Allies, particularly the Americans, were much interested in. A number of the jets were based at an airfield in Denmark, the German forces having retreated there. He expected to arrive at a liberated aerodrome, just after it had been taken by the British Army; however, German resistance to the Allied advance meant that the ground forces had been delayed and the airfield was still an operational Luftwaffe base. Luckily for Brown, the commanding officer of the Luftwaffe airfield at Grove offered his surrender, Brown taking charge of the airfield and its staff of 2,000 men until Allied forces arrived the next day.
Subsequently, Brown and Martindale, along with several other members of the Aerodynamics Flight and assisted by a co-operative German pilot, later ferried twelve Ar 234s across the North Sea and on to Farnborough. The venture was not without risk, as before their capture, the Germans had destroyed all the engine log books for the aircraft, leaving Brown and his colleagues no idea of the expected engine hours remaining to the machines. Because of the scarcity of the special high-temperature alloys for use in their construction, the Junkers Jumo 004 engines had a life of only 25 hours – it was thus not known whether the engines were brand new or just about to expire.
During this period, Brown was asked by Brigadier Glyn Hughes, the Medical Officer of the British 2nd Army occupying the newly liberated Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, to help interrogate the former camp commandant and his assistant. Agreeing to do so, he subsequently interviewed Josef Kramer and Irma Grese, Brown remarking; “Two more loathsome creatures it is hard to imagine” and describing the latter as “… the worst human being I have ever met.” Kramer and Grese were later tried and hanged for war crimes.
The captured He 177 A-5 in British markings flown by Brown at Farnborough in September 1944
After World War II‚ Brown commanded the Enemy Aircraft Flight, an elite group of pilots who test-flew captured German and Italian aircraft. That experience makes Brown one of the few men qualified to compare both Allied and Axis aeroplanes as they flew during the war. He flight-tested 53 German aircraft, including the Me 163B Komet rocket fighter. His flight test of this rocket plane, apparently the only one by an Allied pilot, was accomplished unofficially: it was deemed to be more or less suicidal due to the notoriously dangerous propellants C-Stoff and T-Stoff. Brown also flight tested all three of the German jet designs to see front-line action in the war: the Messerschmitt Me 262 and the Arado Ar 234, each type powered by Junkers Jumo 004 engines, and the BMW 003-powered Heinkel He 162 turbojet combat aircraft.
As an RAEtest pilot he was involved in the wartime Miles M.52supersonic project, test flying a Spitfire fitted with the M.52’s all moving tail, diving from high altitude to achieve high subsonic speeds. He was due to fly the M.52 in 1946, but this fell through when the project was cancelled. The all moving tail information, however, supplied upon instruction from the British government ostensibly as part of an information exchange with the Americans (although no information was ever received in return), allowed Bell to modify its XS-1 for the true transsonic pitch controllability, allowing in turn Chuck Yeager to become the first man to exceed Mach 1 in 1947.
In a throwback to his days testing aircraft in high speed dives, while at the RAE Brown performed similar testing of the Avro Tudor airliner. The requirement was to determine the safe limiting speed for the aircraft and to gather data on high-speed handling of large civil aircraft in preparation for a projected four-jet version of the Tudor. Flying from 32,000 ft, in a succession of dives to speeds initially to Mach 0.6, he succeeded in diving the Tudor up to Mach 0.7, an unusual figure for such a large piston-engined aeroplane, this speed figure being dictated by the pilot’s discretion, as pulling the aircraft out of the dive had required the combined efforts of both Brown and his second pilot. However, as an airliner, the Tudor was not a success. The planned jet-version of the Tudor would later become the Avro Ashton.
The high-speed DH 108VW120 that Brown flew. This aircraft later crashed, killing Brown’s successor at the RAE, Sqn Ldr Stuart Muller-Rowland.
In 1946 he test flew a modified (strengthened and control-boosted) de Havilland DH.108 after a crash in a similar aircraft while diving at speeds approaching the sound barrier had killed Geoffrey de Havilland, Jr. Brown initially started his tests from a height of 35,000 ft, rising to 45,000 ft and during a dive from the latter he achieved a Mach number of 0.985. It was only when attempting the tests from the same height as de Havilland, 4,000 ft,that he discovered that in a Mach 0.88 dive from that altitude the aircraft suffered from a high-gpitchoscillation at several hertz (Hz). “the ride was smooth, then suddenly it all went to pieces … as the plane porpoised wildly my chin hit my chest, jerked hard back, slammed forward again, repeated it over and over, flogged by the awful whipping of the plane …”. Remembering the drill he had often practised, Brown managed to pull back gently on both stick and throttle and the motion; “… ceased as quickly as it had started”. He believed that he survived the test flight partly because he was a shorter man, de Havilland having suffered a broken neck possibly due to the violent oscillation. Test instrumentation on Brown’s flight recorded during the oscillations accelerations of +4 and −3g’s at 3 Hz. Brown described the DH 108 as; “A killer. Nasty stall. Vicious undamped longitudinal oscillation at speed in bumps”. All three DH.108 aircraft were lost in fatal accidents.
In 1948 Brown was awarded the Boyd Trophy for his work in trials for the rubber deck landing system. On 30 March 1949 he was granted a permanent Royal Navy commission as a lieutenant, with seniority backdated to his original wartime promotion to the rank.
On 12 August 1949, he was testing the third of three Saunders-Roe SR.A/1 jet-powered flying-boat fighter prototypes, TG271, when he struck submerged debris, the aircraft sinking in the Solent off Cowes, Isle of Wight. He was pulled unconscious from the cockpit of the wrecked aircraft, having been knocked out in the crash, by Saunders-Roe test pilot Geoffrey Tyson. He was promoted lieutenant-commander on 1 April 1951,commander on 31 December 1953 and captain on 31 December 1960.
In the 1950s during the Korean War, Brown was seconded as an exchange officer for two years to the United States Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent, Maryland, where he flew a number of American aircraft, including 36 types of helicopter. In January 1952, it was while here that Brown demonstrated the steam catapult to the Americans, flying a Grumman Panther off the carrier HMS Perseus while the ship was still tied up to the dock at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. It had been planned for Brown to make the first catapult launch with the ship under way and steaming into any wind; however, the wind on the day was so slight that British officials decided that, as the new steam catapult was capable of launching an aircraft without any wind, they would risk their pilot (Brown) if the Americans would risk their aircraft. The launch was a success and US carriers would later feature the steam catapult. It was around the same time that another British invention was being offered to the US, the Angled Flight deck, and Brown once again was called upon to promote the concept. Whether due to Brown or not, the first US aircraft carrier modified with the new flight deck, the USS Antietam, was ready less than nine months later.
In 1954 Brown, by then a Commander, became Commander (Air) of the RNAS Brawdy, where he remained until returning to Germany in late 1957, becoming Chief of British Naval Mission to Germany, his brief being to re-establish German naval aviation after its pre-war integration with and subornation to, the Luftwaffe. During this period Brown worked closely with Admiral Gerhard Wagner of the German Naval Staff. Training was conducted initially in the UK on Hawker Sea Hawks and Fairey Gannets, and during this time Brown was allocated a personal Percival Pembroke aircraft by the Marineflieger, which, to his surprise, the German maintenance personnel took great pride in. It was, in fact, the first exclusively naval aircraft the German Navy had owned since the 1930s. Brown led the re-emergence of naval aviation in Germany to the point that in 1960 Marineflieger squadrons were integrated into NATO.
Later Brown enjoyed a brief three-month period as a test pilot for the Focke-Wulf company, helping them out until they could find a replacement after the company’s previous test pilot had been detained due to having relatives in East Germany.
In the 1960s, due to his considerable experience of carrier aviation, Brown, while working at the Admiralty as Deputy Director of Naval Air Warfare, was consulted on the flight deck arrangement of the planned new UK class of aircraft carrier, the CVA-01, although the ship was subsequently cancelled while still on the stocks. In September 1967 came his last appointment in the Royal Navy when, as a Captain, he took command of HMS Fulmar, then the Royal Naval Air Station (now RAF), Lossiemouth, until March 1970. He was appointed a Naval Aide de Camp to Queen Elizabeth II on 7 July 1969 and promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1970 New Year Honours. He relinquished his appointment as Naval ADC on 27 January 1970 and retired from the Royal Navy later in 1970.
On 24 February 2015 Brown delivered the Edinburgh University Mountbatten Lecture, entitled “Britain’s Defence in the Near Future.” Speaking at the Playfair Library, he warned: “They [the Russians] are playing a very dangerous game of chess. … They are playing it to the hilt. It may develop into that. It is certainly showing the same signs as what caused the Cold War.”
He flew aircraft from Britain, the United States, Germany, Italy and Japan and is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as holding the record for flying the greatest number of different aircraft. The official record is 487, but includes only basic types. For example, Captain Brown flew fourteen versions of the Spitfire and Seafire and although these versions are very different they appear only once in the list. The list includes only aircraft flown by Brown as ‘Captain in Command’.
Because of the special circumstances involved, he didn’t think that this record would ever be beaten.
He also held the world record for the most carrier landings, 2,407, partly compiled in testing the arrestor wires on more than twenty aircraft carriers during World War II.
In his book “Wings on my sleeve” (page 157 et seq), Brown records his admiration of a number of erstwhile colleagues who deserve recognition:-
Brown ends this section with “These men and women were civil servants, but they worked hours, took responsibility, and produced results far beyond what their country paid them for. To me they represent the true measure of Britain’s greatness.”
Brown wrote several books about his experiences, including many describing the flight characteristics of the various aircraft he flew and an autobiography, Wings on My Sleeve, first published in 1961 and considerably up-dated in later editions. He was also the author of dozens of articles in aviation magazines and journals.
His most well-known series of articles is “Viewed from the Cockpit” which was published (and occasionally re-published) in the journal Air International. Flight review highlights in this series have included the following types:
Messerschmitt Bf 109 E (Emil) and G (Gustav) – Brown successfully flew the G-12 Training sub-type from the rear cockpit, a flight that very nearly ended in disaster given the extremely poor visibility afforded the instructor.
“My favourite piston engine (aircraft) is the de Havilland Hornet. For the simple reason it was over-powered. This is an unusual feature in an aircraft, you could do anything on one engine, almost, that you could do on two. It was a ‘hot rodMosquito‘ really, I always described it as like flying a Ferrari in the sky.
“On the jet side I was a great admirer of the F-86 Sabre, but in particular, the Model E (F-86E) which had the flying tail, and this gave me what I call the ‘perfect harmony of control’. If a pilot has this perfect harmony of control you feel you’re part of the aeroplane and you’re bonded with it really. You’ve got into it and the aeroplane welcomes you and says ‘thank God you’ve come, you’re part of me anyway’ and to fly like that is a sheer delight.”
Brown’s last flight as a pilot was in 1994, but in 2015 was still lecturing and regularly attending the British Rocketry Oral History Programme (BROHP), where the annual presentation of the Sir Arthur Clarke Awards takes place. In 2007 he was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Brown lived, in semi-retirement, at Copthorne, West Sussex, where he was interviewed by BBC Radio 4 in April 2013 and in June 2014 he was the subject of the hour-long BBC Two documentary Britain’s Greatest Pilot: The Extraordinary Story of Captain Winkle Brown.
Assessing his achievements Mark Bowman, Chief Test Pilot at BAE Systems, said, “They didn’t have the advantage of high-tech simulators. He just had to look at the aircraft and think what he was going to do with it”, adding that he would have been flying the aircraft with “the benefit of a slide rule, not a bank of computers as we have now.”
Brown received the affectionate nickname “Winkle” from his Royal Navy colleagues. Short for “Periwinkle”, a small mollusc, the name was given to Brown because of his short stature of 5 ft 7 in (1.70 m). Brown has partly attributed his survival, through a number of incidents, to his small stature and his ability to “curl himself up in the cockpit”.
10 March 1942 Temporary Sub-Lieutenant (A) Eric Melrose Brown RNVR of HMS Audacity, is awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) in particular “For bravery and skill in action against Enemy aircraft and in the protection of a Convoy against heavy and sustained Enemy attacks”.
The leading battalions (of the 36th (Ulster) Division) had been ordered out from the wood just before 7.30am and laid down near the German trenches … At zero hour the British barrage lifted. Bugles blew the “Advance”. Up sprang the Ulstermen and, without forming up in the waves adopted by other divisions, they rushed the German front line ….. By a combination of sensible tactics and Ulster dash, the prize that eluded so many, the capture of a long section of the German front line, had been accomplished.
During the Battle of the Somme the Ulster Division was the only division of X Corps to have achieved its objectives on the opening day of the battle. This came at a heavy price, with the division suffering in two days of fighting 5,500 officers and enlisted men killed, wounded or missing. War correspondent Philip Gibbs said of the Division, “Their attack was one of the finest displays of human courage in the world.
Of nine Victoria Crosses given to British forces in the battle, four were awarded to 36th Division soldiers.
An arch in the Shankill Road area of Belfast commemorating the 36th Ulster Division.
Thiepval – Somme
“I am not an Ulsterman but yesterday, the 1st July, as I followed their amazing attack, I felt that I would rather be an Ulsterman than anything else in the world.”
Captain Wilfred Spender after the Battle of the Somme
The Somme From Defeat to Victory
Thiepval, as a battle memorial, commemorates the 1916 Anglo-French offensive on the Somme. It pays tribute and respect for those who died where it stands (90% of commemorations 1 July – 13 November 1916) and is the biggest British war memorial to the missing of The Western Front, both in physical size and the numbers it commemorates (more than 73,000). It was built in the late 1920s to early 1930s.
The 36th Ulster Division’s sector of the Somme lay astride the marshy valley of the river Ancre and the higher ground south of the river. Their task was to cross the ridge and take the German second line near Grandcourt. In their path lay not only the German front line, but just beyond it, the intermediate line within which was the Schwaben Redoubt.
To their left flank was the 29th Division, which included the Newfoundlanders. For them in less than half an hour it was all over; 801 men went into action and on the unwounded name call next day, only 68 answered.
To their right flank was the 32nd Division, including the Grimsby Chums. Prior to the attack at 07:28 a large mine was exploded beneath the German line; the Chums would then attack at 07:30. Unknown to them, the mine was short of the German position. During the 2-minute gap between explosion and whistle, the Germans set up their machine guns, probably in the new bunker which would give them a second defense. The attack did not last long; their task was to take the fortress village of Thiepval.
The First Day of the Somme was the anniversary (Julian Calendar) of the Battle of the Boyne, a fact remarked on by the leaders of the Division. Stories that some men went over the top wearing orange sashes are, however,sometimes thought to be myths.
“There was many who went over the top at the Somme who were Ulstermen, at least one, Sergeant Samuel Kelly of 9th Inniskillings wearing his Ulster Sash, while others wore orange ribbons”
When some of his men wavered, one Company commander from the West Belfasts, Maj. George Gaffikin, took off his Orange Sash, held it high for his men to see and roared the traditional war-cry of the battle of the Boyne; ” Come on, boys! No surrender!” 
On 1 July, following the preliminary bombardment, the Ulstermen quickly took the German front line. But intelligence was so poor that, with the rest of the division attacking under creep bombardment (artillery fired in front or over men; they advance as it moves), the Ulstermen would have come under attack from their own bombardment at the German first line.
But they still advanced, moving to the crest so rapidly that the Germans had no time to come up from their dugouts (generally 30–40 feet below ground). In the Schwaben Redoubt, which was also taken, so successful was the advance that by 10:00 some had reached the German second line. But again they came under their own barrage, not due to finish until 10:10. However, this successful penetration had to be given up before nightfall, as it was unmatched by those at its flanks. The Ulstermen were exposed in a narrow salient, open to attack on three sides. They were running out of ammunition and supplies, and a full German counter-attack at 22:00 forced them to withdraw, giving up virtually all they gained.
The Ulstermen had gained an advantage on the day of battle by not sticking to the rigid orders issued. Both the German and British generals considered the men of the New Army/Kitcheners Men as insufficiently trained in the skills of warfare. Consequently, the battle tactics they were ordered to follow by commanders was more strict and regimented than those of regular army. But the Ulstermen advanced during the bombardment by pushing forward small trenches the depth of a man, then cutting the barbed wire which was 30 inches in depth and height in places (before bombardment). So when the bombardment stopped at 07:28/07:30 the Ulstermen attacked quickly. These Ulstermen were also here by choice. Kitchener asked Sir Edward Carson for some of the already armed men of the Ulster Division. He hoped for a Brigade (4x battalions), he got in Volunteers, a Division (3x Brigade). Thiepval was not to fall until late September; the Schwaben Redoubt fell in mid-October. The battle ended in mid-November. The Allies advanced 8 km and the British suffered 420,000 casualties, the French 195,000, and the Germans 650,000. The only success was relieving the French at Verdun. On the first day of battle, the British suffered 57,740 casualties, of which 19,240 were dead (the largest single loss). 60% of the officers involved were killed.
The Ulster Memorial Tower
36th Ulster Division March Past Centenary Parade 09/05/15 ( Full Main Parade)
The Ulster Memorial Tower was unveiled by Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson in Thiepval, France, on 19 November 1921, in dedication to the contributions of the 36th Ulster Division during World War I. The tower marks the site of the Schwaben redoubt, against which the Ulster Division advanced on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
Lord Carson had intended to perform the unveiling himself, but due to illness, his place was taken by Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson. The money was raised by public subscription in Northern Ireland in memory of the officers and men of the 36th (Ulster) Division, and all Ulsterman who died in the great war.
The tower itself is a replica of Helen’s Tower at Clandeboye, County Down. It was at Helen’s Tower that the men of the then newly formed Ulster Division drilled and trained on the outbreak of World War I. For many of the men of the 36th (Ulster) Division, the distinctive sight of Helen’s Tower rising above the surrounding countryside was one of their last abiding memories of home before their departure for England and, subsequently, the Western Front.
Rifleman Robert Quigg, 12th Battalion The Royal Irish Rifles. Awarded for actions during the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916. Also awarded the Medal of Order of St. George (Fourth Class), the highest honour of the Russian Empire.
Lieutenant Geoffrey Cather 9th Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers. Died 25 years old, 2 July 1916, Battle of the Somme.
Captain Wilfred Spender of the Ulster Division’s HQ staff after the Battle of the Somme was quoted in the press as saying, “I am not an Ulsterman but yesterday, the 1st. July, as I followed their amazing attack, I felt that I would rather be an Ulsterman than anything else in the world. My pen cannot describe adequately the hundreds of heroic acts that I witnessed… The Ulster Volunteer Force, from which the division was made, has won a name which equals any in history. Their devotion deserves the gratitude of the British Empire.” The final sentences of Captain Wilfred Spender’s account furthered his viewpoint:
The Ulster Division has lost more than half the men who attacked and, in doing so, has sacrificed itself for the Empire which has treated them none too well. Their devotion, which no doubt has helped the advance elsewhere, deserved the gratitude of the British Empire. It is due to the memory of these brave fellows that their beloved Province shall be fairly treated.
After the war had ended, King George V paid tribute to the 36th Division saying, “I recall the deeds of the 36th (Ulster) Division, which have more than fulfilled the high opinion formed by me on inspecting that force on the eve of its departure for the front. Throughout the long years of struggle, which now so gloriously ended, the men of Ulster have proved how nobly they fight and die …”.
“The record of the Thirty-Sixth Division will ever be the pride of Ulster. At Theipval in the battle of the Somme on July 1st 1916; at Wytschaete on June 17th,1917, in the storming of the Messines Ridge; on the Canal du Nord, in the attack on the Hindenburg Line of November 20th same year; on March 21, 1918, near Fontaine-les-Clercs, defending their positions long after they were isolated and surrounded by the enemy; and later in the month at Andechy in the days of ‘backs to the wall’, they acquired a repution for conduct and devotion deathless in military history of the United Kingdom, and repeatedly signalised in the despatches of the Commander-in-Chief.”
Colonel John Buchan (History of War)
North of Theipval the Ulster Division broke through the enemy trenches, passed the crest of the ridge, and reached the point called the Crucifix, in rear of the first German position. For a little while they held the strong Schwaben Rebout (where), enfiled on three sides, they went on through successive German lines, and only a remnant came back to tell the tale. Nothing finer was done in the war. The splendid troops drawn from those Volunteers who had banded themselves together for another cause, now shed their blood like water for the liberty of the world.”
Whether town dweller or country lad, volunteer or regular, officer or other rank, Catholic or Protestant, the Sons of Ulster knew a comradship and a trust in adversity that should be a lesson to us all.
British forces worked on UTC (Zulu) Time and many reports and sources quote the timing of events based on Zulu time. All times stated in this page are reflected as local, Falkland Island time (UTC−3), the same as Argentine time. On the day of the battle, sunrise was at 08:39 and sunset at 16:58. To avoid confusion between similar company designations, Argentine companies are referred to in the form “Company A” while British forces are referred to as “A Company.”
Terrain and conditions
Map 1: Context map showing location of the Darwin isthmus in relation to the Falkland Islands. Area in red matches the area covered by Map 2
Vegetation and terrain: Low tussock covered hills with gorse filled valleys. Image is looking south in the direction of A Company, 2 Para attack with Darwin settlement on the left. Darwin Hill on the right.
Goose Green and Darwin are on a narrow isthmus connecting Lafonia to Wickham Heights, which together form the large eastern island of the Falkland Islands. The terrain is rolling and treeless and is covered with grass outcrops, areas of thick gorse and peat bogs making effective camouflage and concealment extremely difficult. From May to August, the southern hemisphere winter, the ground is sodden and frequently covered with brackish water, causing movement to be slow and exhausting, especially at night. The isthmus has two settlements, both on the eastern coastal edge with Darwin settlement to the north and Goose Green to the south. The islands have a cold, damp climate and light, drizzly rains occur two out of every three days with continuous winds. Periods of rain, snow, fog, and sun change rapidly, and sunshine is extremely limited, leaving few opportunities for troops to warm up and dry out.
Reasons for the attack
The bulk of the Argentine forces were in positions around Port Stanley about 50 miles (80 km) to the east of San Carlos. The Argentine positions at Goose Green and Darwin were well defended by a force of combined units equipped with artillery, mortars, 35 mm cannon and machine guns. British intelligence indicated that the Argentine force only presented limited offensive capabilities and did not pose a major threat to the landing area at San Carlos. Consequently, Goose Green seemed to have no strategic military value for the British in their campaign to recapture the islands and initial plans for land operations had called for Goose Green to be isolated and bypassed.
After the British landings at San Carlos on 21 May and while the bridgehead was being consolidated, no offensive ground operations had been conducted and activities were limited to digging fortified positions, patrolling and waiting; during this time Argentine air attacks caused significant loss of and damage to British ships in the area around the landing grounds. These attacks, and the lack of movement of the landed forces out of the San Carlos area, led to a feeling among senior commanders and politicians in the UK that the momentum of the campaign was being lost. As a result, British Joint Headquarters in the UK came under increasing pressure from the British government for an early ground offensive of political and propaganda value. There were also fears that the United Nations Security Council would vote for a cease-fire, maintaining current positions. If the Darwin-Goose Green isthmus could be taken prior to such a decision, British forces would control access to the entire Lafonia and thus a significant portion of East Falkland. On 25 May Brigadier Julian Thompson, ground forces commander, commanding 3 Commando Brigade, was again ordered to mount an attack on Argentine positions around Goose Green and Darwin.
The defending Argentine forces, known as Task Force Mercedes, consisted of two companies of Lieutenant-Colonel Italo Piaggi‘s 12th Infantry Regiment (IR12)—his third company (Company B) was still deployed on Mount Kent as Combat Team Solari and was only to re-join the battalion after the first days fighting. The Task Force in 1982 also contained a company of the Ranger-type 25th Infantry Regiment (IR25). Air defence was provided by a battery of six 20 mm Rheinmetall manned by Air Force personnel and two radar-guided Oerlikon 35 mm anti-aircraft guns from the 601st Anti-Aircraft Battalion, that would be employed in a ground support role in the last stages of the fighting. There was also one battery of three OTO Melara Mod 56 105 mm pack howitzers from the 4th Airborne Artillery Regiment. Pucarás based at Stanley, armed with rockets and napalm, provided close air support. Total forces under Piaggi’s commanded numbered 1083 men.
Piaggi’s orders required him: (a) to provide a reserve battle group (Task Force Mercedes) in support of other forces deployed to the west of Stanley; (b) to occupy and defend the Darwin isthmus; and (c) to defend Military Air Base Condor located at Goose Green. He assumed an all-round defence posture with Company A, IR12 providing the key to his defence, they being deployed along a gorse hedge running across the Darwin isthmus from Darwin Hill to Boca House. Piaggi deployed his Recce Platoon as an advance screen forward of Company A IR12 towards Coronation Ridge while Company C IR12 were deployed south of Goose Green to cover the approaches from Lafonia. To replace his Company B left on Mount Kent, he created a composite company from headquarters and other staff and deployed them in Goose Green. 1st Lt Carlos Daniel Esteban‘s “Ranger” Company C IR25 provided a mobile reserve and were billeted at the school-house in Goose Green. Elements were also deployed to Darwin settlement, Salinas Beach and Boca House and the air force security cadets together with the anti-aircraft elements were charged with protecting the airfield. Minefields had been laid in areas deemed tactically important (Refer Map 2) to provide further defence against attack.
Argentinian 120mm mortar position (possibly close to Goose Green)
On paper Piaggi had a full regiment, but it consisted of units from three separate regiments from two different brigades, none of whom had ever worked together. IR12 consisted mostly of conscripts from the northern, sub-tropical province of Corrientes, while the IR25 Company was considered an elite formation and well-led. At the start of the battle, the Argentinian forces had about the same number of effective combatants as the British paratroopers. Some elements were well-trained and displayed a high degree of morale and motivation (Company C IR25 and 25 Signal company); one of their officers remarking that: “…we are going to defend something that is ours.” Other companies were less well motivated, with the 12th Regiment chaplain, Padre Santiago Mora writing:
The conscripts of 25th Infantry wanted to fight and cover themselves in glory. The conscripts of 12th Infantry Regiment fought because they were told to do so. This did not make them any less brave. On the whole, they remained admirably calm.
The Argentine positions were well-selected, and officers were well-briefed. In the weeks before the battle British air strikes, poor logistic support and inclement conditions had contributed to the reduction of overall Argentine morale, but it remained strong among the officers, NCOs and conscripts of the 25th Regiment company and 4th Airborne Artillery battery.
Remains of Harrier XZ998, shot down over Goose Green on 27 May 1982.
On 4 May three Royal Navy Sea Harriers operating from HMS Hermes attacked the airfield and installations at Goose Green. During the operation, a Sea Harrier was shot down by Argentine 35mm anti-aircraft fire, killing its pilot. As part of the diversionary raids to cover the British landings in the San Carlos area on 21 May, which involved naval shelling and air attacks, ‘D’ Squadron of the SAS put in a major raid to simulate a battalion-sized attack on the Argentine troops dug in on Darwin Ridge. Argentine forces had also spotted 2 Para reconnaissance parties in the days prior to the attack. Throughout 27 May, Royal Air Force Harriers were active over Goose Green. One of them, responding to a call for help from 2 Para, was lost to 35mm fire while attacking Darwin Ridge. The Harrier attacks, the sighting of the reconnaissance elements as well as the BBC announcing that the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment were poised and ready to assault Darwin and Goose Green the day before the assault alerted the Argentine garrison to the impending attack.
British assault force
Thompson ordered 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment (2 Para) to prepare for and execute the operation as they were the unit closest to Goose Green in the San Carlos defensive perimeter. He ordered Lieutenant-ColonelHerbert ‘H’ Jones, Officer Commanding 2 Para, to “carry out a raid on Goose Green isthmus and capture the settlements before withdrawing in a reserve for the main thrust to the north.” The “capture” component appealed more to Jones than the “raid” component, although Thompson later acknowledged that he had assigned insufficient forces to rapidly execute the “capture” part of the orders.
Milan missile, similar to those used in the battle
SAS reconnaissance had reported that the Darwin – Goose Green area was occupied by one Argentine company. Brigade intelligence reported that enemy forces consisted of three infantry companies (two from IR12 and one from IR25), one platoon from IR8 plus a possible amphibious platoon together with artillery and helicopter support. Jones was not too perturbed by the conflicting intelligence reports and, incorrectly, tended to believe the SAS reports, on the assumption that they were actually “on the spot” and were able to provide more accurate information than the Brigade intelligence staff. Based on this intelligence and the orders from Thompson, Jones planned the operation to be conducted in six phases, as a complicated night / day, silent / noisy attack. C Company was to secure the start line and then A Company was to launch the attack from the start line on the left (Darwin) side of the isthmus. B Company would launch their attack from the start line directly after A Company had initiated contact and would advance on the right (Boca House) side of the isthmus. Once A and B Companies had secured their initial objectives, D Company would then advance from the start line between A and B Companies and were to “go firm” on having exploited their objective. This would be followed by C Company, who were required to pass through D Company and neutralise any Argentine reserves. C Company would then advance again and clear the Goose Green airfield after which the settlements of Darwin and Goose Green would be secured by A and D Companies respectively.
As most of the helicopter airlift capability had been lost with the sinking of the Atlantic Conveyor, 2 Para were required to walk the 13 miles (21 km) from San Carlos to the forming-up place at Camilla Creek House. C Company and the commando engineers moved out from there at 22:00 on 27 May to clear the route to the start line for the other companies. A fire base (consisting of air and naval fire controllers, mortars and snipers) was established by Support Company west of Camilla Creek, and they were in position by 02:00 on the morning of 28 May. The three guns from 8 Battery, their crew and ammunition had been flown in to Camilla Creek House by 20 Sea King helicopter sorties after last light on the evening of 27 May. The attack, to be initiated by A company, was scheduled to start at 03:00, but because of delays in registering the support fire from HMS Arrow, only commenced at 03:35.
20th Century Battlefields – Falklands War
Map 2: Actual course of British attack: Goose Green, 28–29 May 1982
At 03:35 HMS Arrow opened fire (she was to fire a total of 22 star-shell (illumination) and 135 rounds of 4.5″ HE shells in a 90-minute bombardment), signalling the start of the attack. In the ensuing night battle about twelve Argentines were killed. The platoon under Sub-Lieutenant Gustavo Adolfo Malacalza fought a delaying action against the British paratroopers, blooding themselves on Burntside Hill before taking up combat positions again on Darwin Ridge.
Major Philip Neame’s D Company was temporarily halted by the Coronation Ridge position. Two of his men, 24-year-old Lance-Corporal Gary Bingley and 19-year-old Private Barry Grayling darted out from under cover to charge the enemy machine gun nest that was holding up the advance. Both were hit 10 metres (11 yd) from the machine gun, but shot two of the crew before collapsing. Bingley “got hit in the head and I got hit in the hip,” Grayling recalled in an interview published in 2007. “Unfortunately, he didn’t make it.” Bingley was posthumously awarded the Military Medal and Grayling was decorated with the Queen’s Gallantry Medal. With the enemy machine gun out of action, the Paras were able to clear the Argentine platoon position, at the cost of three dead.
Then 2 Para moved on to the south via Darwin Parks. The Argentines made a determined stand along Darwin Ridge. As A and B Companies moved south from Coronation Ridge they were raked by fire from a couple of concealed Argentine FN MAG machine guns. An Argentine senior NCO, Company Sergeant-MajorJuan Carlos Cohelo, is credited with rallying the IR12’s A Company remnants falling back from Darwin Parks, and was later awarded the Medal of Valour in Combat. He was seriously wounded later in the day. Another two IR12 NCOs, reported to be sergeants, who had fallen back from the earlier fighting, at great risk to themselves cleared the jammed machinegun of IR25 Private Jorge Oscar Ledesma, allowing him to resume fire at a critical point in the morning battle; Ledesma’s fire killed Colonel Jones, according to 2012 Argentine reports.
The first British assault was broken up by fire from Sub-Lieutenant Ernesto Orlando Peluffo‘s IR12 platoon after the platoon sergeant, Buenaventura Jumilla, warned that the British were approaching. Corporal David Abols later said that an Argentine sniper was mainly responsible for holding up A Company and with shooting several Paras in the morning fighting.[a] Nevertheless, the Paras called on the Argentines to surrender. The death of Lieutenant-Colonel Jones was attributed to a sniper identified as Corporal Osvaldo Faustino Olmos, who was interviewed by the British newspaper “Daily Express” in 1996.Corporal Olmos, of IR25 had refused to leave his foxhole and his section fired at Jones and the five paratrooperss who accompanied him as he moved forward.[b]
At this juncture of the battle, 2nd Para’s advance had become stuck. A Company was in the gorse line at the bottom of Darwin Hill, and against the entrenched Argentines who were looking down the hill at them. As it was now daylight, Jones led an unsuccessful charge up a small gully resulting in the death of the adjutant, Captain Wood, A Company’s second-in-command Captain Dent, and Corporal Hardman.
Shortly thereafter Jones was seen to run west along the base of Darwin Ridge to a small re-entrant, followed by his bodyguard. He checked his Sterling submachine gun, then ran up the hill towards an Argentine trench. He was seen to be hit once, then fell, got up and was hit again from the side. He fell metres short of the trench, hit in the back and the groin, and died within minutes.[c]
As Jones lay dying, his men radioed for urgent casualty evacuation. However, the British Scout Helicopter sent to evacuate Jones was shot down by an Argentine FMA IA 58 Pucara ground attack aircraft. The pilot, Lt. Richard Nunn RM was killed and posthumously received the DFC, and the aircrewman, Sgt. Belcher RM badly wounded in both legs. Corporal José Luis Ríos, of the 12th Regiment’s Reconnaissance Platoon who in the opinion of historian Hugh Bicheno had killed Lieutenant-Colonel Jones, was later fatally wounded manning a machine-gun in his trench by Corporal Abols firing a 66 mm rocket.[d]
Remnants of Argentinian defensive positions along gorse hedge on Darwin Hill
By then it was 10.30 am and Major Dair Farrar-Hockley‘s A Company made a third attempt, but this petered out. Eventually the British company, hampered by the morning fog as they advanced up the slope of Darwin Ridge, were driven back to the gulley by the fire of 1st Platoon of IR25’s C Company, under the command of 2nd Lieutenant Roberto Estévez.
During this action Lieutenant Estévez directed Argentine 105 mm artillery and 120 mm mortar fire that posthumously earned him the Argentine Nation to the Heroic Valour in Combat Cross (CHVC). 2 Para’s mortar crews fired 1,000 rounds to keep the enemy at bay, and helped stop the Argentines getting a proper aim at the Paras.[e]
It was almost noon before the British advance resumed. A Company soon cleared the eastern end of the Argentine position and opened the way forward. There had been two battles going on in the Darwin hillocks – one around Darwin Hill looking down on Darwin Bay, and an equally fierce one in front of Boca Hill, also known as Boca House Ruins. Sub-Lieutenant Guillermo Ricardo Aliaga‘s 3rd Platoon of RI 8’s C Company held Boca Hill. The position of Boca Hill was taken after heavy fighting by Major John Crosland’s B Company with support from the MILAN anti-tank platoon. Sub-Lieutenants Aliaga and Peluffo were gravely wounded in the fighting. Crosland was the most experienced British officer and, as the events of the day unfolded, it was later said that Crosland’s cool and calm leadership of his soldiers on the battlefield turned the Boca House section of the front line.
About the time of the victory at the Boca Hill position, A Company overcame the Argentine defenders on Darwin Hill, finally taking the position that had resisted for nearly six hours,[f] with many Argentine and British casualties. Majors Farrar-Hockley and Crosland each won the Military Cross for their efforts. Corporal David Abols was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal for his daring charges which turned the Darwin Hill battle.
Attack on the airfield
35mm Oerlikon, similar to the two guns deployed by Argentinean forces at the airfield
After the victory on Darwin Ridge, C and D Companies began to make their way to the small airfield as well as Darwin School, which was east of the airfield, while B Company made their way south of Goose Green Settlement. A Company remained on Darwin Hill. C Company took heavy losses when they became the target of intense direct fire from 35 mm anti-aircraft guns, causing 20 per cent casualties. Private Mark Hollman-Smith, a signaller in the company headquarters, was killed by anti-aircraft guns while trying to recover a heavy machine gun from wounded Private Steve Russell.
Lieutenant James Barry’s No. 12 Platoon, D company, saw some fierce action at the airfield. They were ambushed, by another platoon of the 25th Regiment but one of his men shot dead two of the attackers, and then reported the events to Major Neame.[g] The platoon sergeant charged the attacking enemy with his machine gun, killing four of them. Private Graham Carter won the Military Medal by rallying No. 12 Platoon and leading it forward at bayonet point to take the airfield.
The IR25 platoon defending the airfield fled into the Darwin-Goose Green track and was able to escape. Sergeant Sergio Ismael Garcia of IR25 single-handedly covered the withdrawal of his platoon during the British counterattack. He was posthumously awarded the Argentine Nation to the Valour in Combat Medal. Four Paras of D Company and approximately a dozen Argentines were killed in these engagements. Among the British dead were 29-year-old Lieutenant Barry and two NCOs, Lance-Corporal Smith and Corporal Sullivan, who were killed after Barry’s attempt to convince Sub Lieutenant Juan José Gómez Centurión to surrender, had been rebuffed.[h] C Company had not lost a single man in the Darwin School fighting, but Private Steve Dixon, from D Company, died when a splinter from a 35 mm anti-aircraft shell struck him in the chest. The Argentine 35mm anti-aircraft guns under the command of Second Lieutenant Claudio Oscar Braghini reduced the schoolhouse to rubble after sergeants Mario Abel Tarditti and Roberto Amado Fernandez reported to him that sniper fire was coming from there.
At around this time three Harriers made an attack on the Argentine 35mm gun positions; the army radar-guided guns were unable to respond effectively because a piece of mortar shrapnel had earlier struck the generator to the guns and fire-control radar. This greatly lifted morale among the British paras and helped convince Piaggi of the futility of continued resistance. Although it was not known at the time, the Harriers came close to being shot down in their bomb run after being misidentified as enemy aircraft by Lieutenant-Commander Nigel Ward and Flight Lieutenant Ian Mortimer of 801 Squadron.[i]
Situation at last light on 28 May
J Company, 42 Commando, RM arrive in Goose Green as reinforcements on the evening of 28 May after fighting had ceased, but prior to the Argentinian surrender.
By last light, the situation for 2 Para was critical. A Company was still on Darwin Hill north of the gorse hedge, B Company had penetrated much further south and had swung in a wide arc from the western shore of the isthmus eastwards towards Goose Green. They were isolated and under fire from an Argentinian platoon and unable to receive mutual support from the other companies. To worsen their predicament Argentine helicopters—a Puma, a Chinook and six Hueys—landed southwest of their position just after last light, bringing in the remaining Company B of IR12 (Combat Team Solari) from Mount Kent. B company managed to bring in artillery fire on these new reinforcements, forcing them to disperse towards the Goose Green settlement, while some re-embarked and left with the departing helicopters. For C Company, the attack had also fizzled out after the skirmish at the school-house with the company commander injured, no radio contact and the platoons scattered with up to 1,200m between them. The C Company second-in-command was also unaccounted for. D Company had regrouped just before last light, and they were deployed to the west of the dairy; exhausted, hungry, low on ammunition and without water. Food was redistributed to share one ration-pack between two men for A and C Companies, but B and D Companies could not be reached. At this time a British helicopter casualty evacuation flight took place, successfully extracting C Company casualties on the forward slope of Darwin Hill under fire from Argentine positions.
To Keeble, the situation looked precarious: the settlements had been surrounded but not captured, and his companies were exhausted, cold and low on water, ammunition and food. His concern was that the Company B reinforcements dropped by helicopter would either be used in an early morning counter-attack, or used to stiffen the defences around Goose Green. He had seen the C Company assault stopped in its tracks by the AA fire from the airfield, and had seen the Harrier strikes of earlier that afternoon missing their intended targets. In an order group with the A and C Company commanders, he indicated his preference for calling for an Argentine surrender rather than facing an ongoing battle the following morning. His alternative plan, if the Argentines did not surrender, was to “flatten Goose Green” with all available fire-power and then launch an assault with all forces possible, including reinforcements he had requested from Thompson. On Thompson’s orders, J Company of 42 Commando, Royal Marines, the remaining guns of 8 Battery, and additional mortars were helicoptered in to provide the necessary support.
Once Thompson and 3 Brigade had agreed to the approach, a message was relayed by CB radio from San Carlos to Mr. Eric Goss, the farm manager in Goose Green – who in turn delivered it to Piaggi. The call explained the details of a planned delegation who would go forward from the British lines to the Argentine positions in Goose Green bearing a message. Piaggi agreed to receive the delegation. Soon after midnight, two Argentine Air Force warrant officer prisoners of war were sent to meet with Piaggi and to hand over the proposed terms of surrender.[j] On receiving the terms, Piaggi concluded “..The battle had turned into a sniping contest. They could sit well out of range of our soldiers’ fire and, if they wanted to, raze the settlement. I knew that there was no longer any chance of reinforcements from 6th [Compañía ‘Piribebuy’] Regiment’s B Company and so I suggested to Wing Commander [Vice Commodore] Wilson Pedrozo that he talk to the British. He agreed reluctantly.” The next morning, agreement for an unconditional surrender was reached and Pedrozo held a short parade and those on parade then laid down their weapons. After burning the regimental flag, Piaggi led the troops and officers, carrying their personal belongings, into captivity.
Prisoners and casualties
Initial burial place of British casualties at Ajax Bay
Between 45 and 55 Argentines were killed (32 from IR12, 13 from Company C 25IR, five killed in the Platoon from IR8, 4 Air Force staff and one Navy servicemen) and about 86 wounded. The claim in various British books that the 8th Regiment lost five killed defending Boca House is disputed, with other sources claiming that Corporal Juan Waudrik (supposedly killed at Boca House) was mortally wounded in late May after the tractor he was riding detonated a mine at Fox Bay, and that Privates Simón Oscar Antieco, Jorge Daniel Ludueña, Sergio Fabián Nosikoski and Eduardo Sosa, the four conscripts reportedly killed fighting alongside Waudrik, were killed in the same locality on West Falkland during a naval bombardment on 9 May. In all, the 8IR lost 5 killed during the Falklands War. The remainder of the Argentine force were taken prisoner. Argentine dead were buried in a cemetery to the north of Darwin, and the wounded were evacuated to hospital ships via the medical post in San Carlos. Prisoners were used to clear the battlefield; in an incident involving the moving of artillery ammunition, four IR12 conscripts were involved in a huge explosion that caused two fatalities and two seriously wounded. After clearing the area and assisting with the burying of the dead, the prisoners were marched to and interned in San Carlos. The British lost 18 killed (16 Paras, one Royal Marine pilot and one commando sapper) and 64 wounded. The seriously wounded were evacuated to the hospital ship Uganda.
Lieutenant-Colonel Ítalo Ángel Piaggi surrendered his forces in Goose Green on the Argentinian National Army Day (29 May). After the war he was forced to resign from the army, and faced ongoing trials questioning his competence at Goose Green. In 1986 he wrote a book titled Ganso Verde, in which he strongly defended his decisions during the war and criticised the lack of logistical support from Stanley. In his book he said that Task Force Mercedes had plenty of 7.62mm rifle ammunition left, but had run out of 81mm mortar rounds, and there were only 394 shells left for the 105mm artillery guns. On 24 February 1992, after a long fight in both civil and military courts, Piaggi had his retired military rank and pay reinstated as a full colonel. He died in July 2012.
Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert ‘H’ Jones was buried at Ajax Bay on 30 May; after the war his body was exhumed and transferred to the British cemetery in San Carlos. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
Major Chris Keeble, who took over command of 2 Para when Jones was killed, was awarded the DSO for his actions at Goose Green. Keeble’s leadership at Goose Green was one of the key factors which lead to the British victory, in that his flexible style of command and the autonomy he afforded to his company commanders was much more successful than the rigid control and adherence to plan exercised by Jones. Despite sentiment among the soldiers of 2 Para for him to remain in command, he was superseded by Lieutenant-Colonel David Robert Chaundler, who was flown in from Britain to take command of the battalion.
Order of battle
All order of battle data from Fitz-Gibbon (2002), unless otherwise stated
Argentine Forces (Task Force Mercedes) Lieutenant Colonel I. Piaggi
British Forces (2 Para Group) Lieutenant Colonel H. Jones
The following forces were present at the start of fighting at circa 06:35 on 28 May 1982
HQ Company (-) Infantry Regiment 12 (Lt. Col. Piaggi)
HQ Company (-) 2 Para (Lt. Col H. Jones)
Company A, Infantry Regiment 12 (1st Lt. Manresa)
A Company, 2 Para (Maj. D. Farrar-Hockley)
Company C, Infantry Regiment 12 (1st Lt. Fernández)
B Company, 2 Para (Maj. J. Crossland)
Company C, Infantry Regiment 25 (1st Lt. Esteban)
C (Patrol) Company, 2 Para [two platoons] (Maj. Roger Jenner)
Argentinian cemetery north of Darwin where most of the Argentinian casualties of the Goose Green battle were buried.
Memorial to 2 Para Group west of Darwin settlement, Falklands
Memorial to Lt. Col. H. Jones VC OBE, outside Darwin settlement, marking the spot where he was killed.
Memorial to casualties from 59 Independent Commando Squadron, Royal Engineers, one of whom was killed in the Battle of Goose Green – NW of Darwin settlement.
Unofficial memorial to a fallen paratrooper in the gorse leading up to Darwin Hill.
During the planning of the assault of both Darwin and Goose Green, the Battalion Headquarters were listening in to the BBC World Service. The newsreader announced that the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment were poised and ready to assault Darwin and Goose Green, causing great confusion with the commanding officers of the battalion. Lieutenant Colonel Jones became furious with the level of incompetence and told BBC representative Robert Fox he was going to sue the BBC, Whitehall and the War Cabinet.
In the years after the battle, Argentine army officers and NCOs were accused of handing out brutal field punishment to their troops at Goose Green (and other locations during the war). In 2009, Argentine authorities in Comodoro Rivadavia ratified a decision made by authorities in Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego. announcing their intention to charge 70 officers and NCOs with inhumane treatment of conscript soldiers during the war. There were claims, however, that false testimonies were used as evidence in accusing the Argentine officers and NCOs of abandonment, and Pablo Vassel who has made the denouncements, had to step down from his post as president of Human Rights Department of Corrientes province. Other veterans are sceptical about the veracity of the accusations with Colonel José Martiniano Duarte, an ex-601 Commando Company officer in the Falklands, saying that it has become fashionable for ex-conscripts to now accuse their superiors of abandonment. Since the 2009 announcement was made, no one in the military or among the retired officers and NCOs has been charged, causing Vassel in April 2014 to comment:
For over two years we’ve been waiting for a final say on behalf of the courts … There are some types of crimes that no state should allow to go unpunished, no matter how much time has passed, such as the crimes of the dictatorship. Last year Germany sentenced a 98-year-old corporal for his role in the concentration camps in one of the Eastern European countries occupied by Nazi Germany. It didn’t take into account his age or rank.
During the Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal and Spain pioneered European exploration of the globe, and in the process established large overseas empires. Envious of the great wealth these empires generated, England, France, and the Netherlands began to establish colonies and trade networks of their own in the Americas and Asia. A series of wars in the 17th and 18th centuries with the Netherlands and France left England (and then, following union between England and Scotland in 1707, Great Britain) the dominant colonial power in North America and India.
The independence of the Thirteen Colonies in North America in 1783 after the American War of Independence caused Britain to lose some of its oldest and most populous colonies. British attention soon turned towards Asia, Africa, and the Pacific. After the defeat of France in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792–1815), Britain emerged as the principal naval and imperial power of the 19th century (with London the largest city in the world from about 1830).Unchallenged at sea, British dominance was later described as Pax Britannica (“British Peace”), a period of relative peace in Europe and the world (1815–1914) during which the British Empire became the global hegemon and adopted the role of global policeman. In the early 19th century, the Industrial Revolution began to transform Britain; by the time of the Great Exhibition in 1851 the country was described as the “workshop of the world”. The British Empire was expanded to include India, large parts of Africa and many other territories throughout the world. Alongside the formal control it exerted over its own colonies, British dominance of much of world trade meant that it effectively controlled the economies of many regions, such as Asia and Latin America. Domestically, political attitudes favoured free trade and laissez-faire policies and a gradual widening of the voting franchise. During the century, the population increased at a dramatic rate, accompanied by rapid urbanisation, causing significant social and economic stresses. To seek new markets and sources of raw materials, the Conservative Party under Disraeli launched a period of imperialist expansion in Egypt, South Africa, and elsewhere. Canada, Australia, and New Zealand became self-governing dominions.
By the start of the twentieth century, Germany and the United States had challenged some of Britain’s economic lead. Subsequent military and economic tensions between Britain and Germany were major causes of the First World War, during which Britain relied heavily upon its empire. The conflict placed enormous strain on the military, financial and manpower resources of Britain. Although the empire achieved its largest territorial extent immediately after World War I, Britain was no longer the world’s pre-eminent industrial or military power. In the Second World War, Britain’s colonies in South-East Asia were occupied by Japan. Despite the final victory of Britain and its allies, the damage to British prestige helped to accelerate the decline of the empire. India, Britain’s most valuable and populous possession, achieved independence as part of a larger decolonisation movement in which Britain granted independence to most of the territories of the Empire. The political transfer of Hong Kong to China in 1997 marked for many the end of the British Empire. Fourteen overseas territories remain under British sovereignty. After independence, many former British colonies joined the Commonwealth of Nations, a free association of independent states. The United Kingdom is now one of 16 Commonwealth nations, a grouping known informally as the Commonwealth realms, that share one monarch—Queen Elizabeth II.
All areas of the world that were ever part of the British Empire. Current British Overseas Territories have their names underlined in red.
No further attempts to establish English colonies in the Americas were made until well into the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, during the last decades of the 16th century. In the meantime the Protestant Reformation had turned England and Catholic Spain into implacable enemies . In 1562, the English Crown encouraged the privateersJohn Hawkins and Francis Drake to engage in slave-raiding attacks against Spanish and Portuguese ships off the coast of West Africa with the aim of breaking into the Atlantic trade system. This effort was rebuffed and later, as the Anglo-Spanish Wars intensified, Elizabeth I gave her blessing to further privateering raids against Spanish ports in the Americas and shipping that was returning across the Atlantic, laden with treasure from the New World. At the same time, influential writers such as Richard Hakluyt and John Dee (who was the first to use the term “British Empire”) were beginning to press for the establishment of England’s own empire. By this time, Spain had become the dominant power in the Americas and was exploring the Pacific ocean, Portugal had established trading posts and forts from the coasts of Africa and Brazil to China, and France had begun to settle the Saint Lawrence River area, later to become New France.
Plantations of Ireland
Although England trailed behind other European powers in establishing overseas colonies, it had been engaged during the 16th century in the settlement of Ireland with Protestants from England and Scotland, drawing on precedents dating back to the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169. Several people who helped establish the Plantations of Ireland also played a part in the early colonisation of North America, particularly a group known as the West Country men.
In 1578, Elizabeth I granted a patent to Humphrey Gilbert for discovery and overseas exploration. That year, Gilbert sailed for the West Indies with the intention of engaging in piracy and establishing a colony in North America, but the expedition was aborted before it had crossed the Atlantic. In 1583 he embarked on a second attempt, on this occasion to the island of Newfoundland whose harbour he formally claimed for England, although no settlers were left behind. Gilbert did not survive the return journey to England, and was succeeded by his half-brother, Walter Raleigh, who was granted his own patent by Elizabeth in 1584. Later that year, Raleigh founded the colony of Roanoke on the coast of present-day North Carolina, but lack of supplies caused the colony to fail.
In 1603, James VI, King of Scots, ascended (as James I) to the English throne and in 1604 negotiated the Treaty of London, ending hostilities with Spain. Now at peace with its main rival, English attention shifted from preying on other nations’ colonial infrastructures to the business of establishing its own overseas colonies. The British Empire began to take shape during the early 17th century, with the English settlement of North America and the smaller islands of the Caribbean, and the establishment of private companies, most notably the English East India Company, to administer colonies and overseas trade. This period, until the loss of the Thirteen Colonies after the American War of Independence towards the end of the 18th century, has subsequently been referred to by some historians as the “First British Empire”.
The Caribbean initially provided England’s most important and lucrative colonies, but not before several attempts at colonisation failed. An attempt to establish a colony in Guiana in 1604 lasted only two years, and failed in its main objective to find gold deposits. Colonies in St Lucia (1605) and Grenada (1609) also rapidly folded, but settlements were successfully established in St. Kitts (1624), Barbados (1627) and Nevis (1628). The colonies soon adopted the system of sugar plantations successfully used by the Portuguese in Brazil, which depended on slave labour, and—at first—Dutch ships, to sell the slaves and buy the sugar. To ensure that the increasingly healthy profits of this trade remained in English hands, Parliament decreed in 1651 that only English ships would be able to ply their trade in English colonies. This led to hostilities with the United Dutch Provinces—a series of Anglo-Dutch Wars—which would eventually strengthen England’s position in the Americas at the expense of the Dutch. In 1655, England annexed the island of Jamaica from the Spanish, and in 1666 succeeded in colonising the Bahamas.
Map of British colonies in North America, 1763–1776.
Two years later, the Royal African Company was inaugurated, receiving from King Charles a monopoly of the trade to supply slaves to the British colonies of the Caribbean. From the outset, slavery was the basis of the British Empire in the West Indies. Until the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, Britain was responsible for the transportation of 3.5 million African slaves to the Americas, a third of all slaves transported across the Atlantic. To facilitate this trade, forts were established on the coast of West Africa, such as James Island, Accra and Bunce Island. In the British Caribbean, the percentage of the population of African descent rose from 25 percent in 1650 to around 80 percent in 1780, and in the 13 Colonies from 10 percent to 40 percent over the same period (the majority in the southern colonies). For the slave traders, the trade was extremely profitable, and became a major economic mainstay for such western British cities as Bristol and Liverpool, which formed the third corner of the so-called triangular trade with Africa and the Americas. For the transported, harsh and unhygienic conditions on the slaving ships and poor diets meant that the average mortality rate during the Middle Passage was one in seven.
In 1695, the Scottish Parliament granted a charter to the Company of Scotland, which established a settlement in 1698 on the isthmus of Panama. Besieged by neighbouring Spanish colonists of New Granada, and afflicted by malaria, the colony was abandoned two years later. The Darien scheme was a financial disaster for Scotland—a quarter of Scottish capital was lost in the enterprise—and ended Scottish hopes of establishing its own overseas empire. The episode also had major political consequences, persuading the governments of both England and Scotland of the merits of a union of countries, rather than just crowns. This occurred in 1707 with the Treaty of Union, establishing the Kingdom of Great Britain.
At the end of the 16th century, England and the Netherlands began to challenge Portugal’s monopoly of trade with Asia, forming private joint-stock companies to finance the voyages—the English, later British, East India Company and the Dutch East India Company, chartered in 1600 and 1602 respectively. The primary aim of these companies was to tap into the lucrative spice trade, an effort focused mainly on two regions; the East Indies archipelago, and an important hub in the trade network, India. There, they competed for trade supremacy with Portugal and with each other. Although England ultimately eclipsed the Netherlands as a colonial power, in the short term the Netherlands’ more advanced financial system and the three Anglo-Dutch Wars of the 17th century left it with a stronger position in Asia. Hostilities ceased after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when the Dutch William of Orange ascended the English throne, bringing peace between the Netherlands and England. A deal between the two nations left the spice trade of the East Indies archipelago to the Netherlands and the textiles industry of India to England, but textiles soon overtook spices in terms of profitability, and by 1720, in terms of sales, the British company had overtaken the Dutch.
Peace between England and the Netherlands in 1688 meant that the two countries entered the Nine Years’ War as allies, but the conflict—waged in Europe and overseas between France, Spain and the Anglo-Dutch alliance—left the English a stronger colonial power than the Dutch, who were forced to devote a larger proportion of their military budget on the costly land war in Europe. The 18th century saw England (after 1707, Britain) rise to be the world’s dominant colonial power, and France becoming its main rival on the imperial stage.
At the concluding Treaty of Utrecht, Philip renounced his and his descendants’ right to the French throne and Spain lost its empire in Europe. The British Empire was territorially enlarged: from France, Britain gained Newfoundland and Acadia, and from Spain, Gibraltar and Minorca. Gibraltar became a critical naval base and allowed Britain to control the Atlantic entry and exit point to the Mediterranean. Spain also ceded the rights to the lucrative asiento (permission to sell slaves in Spanish America) to Britain.
During the middle decades of the 18th century, there were several outbreaks of military conflict on the Indian subcontinent, the Carnatic Wars, as the English East India Company (the Company) and its French counterpart, the Compagnie française des Indes orientales, struggled alongside local rulers to fill the vacuum that had been left by the decline of the Mughal Empire. The Battle of Plassey in 1757, in which the British, led by Robert Clive, defeated the Nawab of Bengal and his French allies, left the Company in control of Bengal and as the major military and political power in India. France was left control of its enclaves but with military restrictions and an obligation to support British client states, ending French hopes of controlling India. In the following decades the Company gradually increased the size of the territories under its control, either ruling directly or via local rulers under the threat of force from the British Indian Army, the vast majority of which was composed of Indian sepoys.
The British and French struggles in India became but one theatre of the global Seven Years’ War (1756–1763) involving France, Britain and the other major European powers. The signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763) had important consequences for the future of the British Empire. In North America, France’s future as a colonial power there was effectively ended with the recognition of British claims to Rupert’s Land, and the ceding of New France to Britain (leaving a sizeable French-speaking population under British control) and Louisiana to Spain. Spain ceded Florida to Britain. Along with its victory over France in India, the Seven Years’ War therefore left Britain as the world’s most powerful maritime power.
Loss of the Thirteen American Colonies
England’s Greatest Loss : Documentary on How Britain Lost The American Colonies
During the 1760s and early 1770s, relations between the Thirteen Colonies and Britain became increasingly strained, primarily because of resentment of the British Parliament’s attempts to govern and tax American colonists without their consent. This was summarised at the time by the slogan “No taxation without representation“, a perceived violation of the guaranteed Rights of Englishmen. The American Revolution began with rejection of Parliamentary authority and moves towards self-government. In response Britain sent troops to reimpose direct rule, leading to the outbreak of war in 1775. The following year, in 1776, the United States declared independence. The entry of France to the war in 1778 tipped the military balance in the Americans’ favour and after a decisive defeat at Yorktown in 1781, Britain began negotiating peace terms. American independence was acknowledged at the Peace of Paris in 1783.
Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. The loss of the American colonies marked the end of the “first British Empire”.
The loss of such a large portion of British America, at the time Britain’s most populous overseas possession, is seen by some historians as the event defining the transition between the “first” and “second” empires, in which Britain shifted its attention away from the Americas to Asia, the Pacific and later Africa. Adam Smith‘s Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, had argued that colonies were redundant, and that free trade should replace the old mercantilist policies that had characterised the first period of colonial expansion, dating back to the protectionism of Spain and Portugal. The growth of trade between the newly independent United States and Britain after 1783 seemed to confirm Smith’s view that political control was not necessary for economic success.
Events in America influenced British policy in Canada, where between 40,000 and 100,000 defeated Loyalists had migrated from America following independence. The 14,000 Loyalists who went to the Saint John and Saint Croix river valleys, then part of Nova Scotia, felt too far removed from the provincial government in Halifax, so London split off New Brunswick as a separate colony in 1784. The Constitutional Act of 1791 created the provinces of Upper Canada (mainly English-speaking) and Lower Canada (mainly French-speaking) to defuse tensions between the French and British communities, and implemented governmental systems similar to those employed in Britain, with the intention of asserting imperial authority and not allowing the sort of popular control of government that was perceived to have led to the American Revolution.
Tensions between Britain and the United States escalated again during the Napoleonic Wars, as Britain tried to cut off American trade with France and boarded American ships to impress men into the Royal Navy. The US declared war, the War of 1812, and invaded Canadian territory as Britain invaded American territory, but the pre-war boundaries were reaffirmed by the 1814 Treaty of Ghent, ensuring Canada’s future would be separate from that of the United States.
Since 1718, transportation to the American colonies had been a penalty for various criminal offences in Britain, with approximately one thousand convicts transported per year across the Atlantic. Forced to find an alternative location after the loss of the 13 Colonies in 1783, the British government turned to the newly discovered lands of Australia. The western coast of Australia had been discovered for Europeans by the Dutch explorer Willem Jansz in 1606 and was later named New Holland by the Dutch East India Company, but there was no attempt to colonise it. In 1770 James Cook discovered the eastern coast of Australia while on a scientific voyage to the South Pacific Ocean, claimed the continent for Britain, and named it New South Wales. In 1778, Joseph Banks, Cook’s botanist on the voyage, presented evidence to the government on the suitability of Botany Bay for the establishment of a penal settlement, and in 1787 the first shipment of convicts set sail, arriving in 1788. Britain continued to transport convicts to New South Wales until 1840. The Australian colonies became profitable exporters of wool and gold, mainly because of gold rushes in the colony of Victoria, making its capital Melbourne the richest city in the world and the largest city after London in the British Empire.
During his voyage, Cook also visited New Zealand, first discovered by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1642, and claimed the North and South islands for the British crown in 1769 and 1770 respectively. Initially, interaction between the indigenous Māori population and Europeans was limited to the trading of goods. European settlement increased through the early decades of the 19th century, with numerous trading stations established, especially in the North. In 1839, the New Zealand Company announced plans to buy large tracts of land and establish colonies in New Zealand. On 6 February 1840, Captain William Hobson and around 40 Maori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi. This treaty is considered by many to be New Zealand’s founding document, but differing interpretations of the Maori and English versions of the text have meant that it continues to be a source of dispute.
Britain was challenged again by France under Napoleon, in a struggle that, unlike previous wars, represented a contest of ideologies between the two nations. It was not only Britain’s position on the world stage that was threatened: Napoleon threatened to invade Britain itself, just as his armies had overrun many countries of continental Europe.
The Napoleonic Wars were therefore ones in which Britain invested large amounts of capital and resources to win. French ports were blockaded by the Royal Navy, which won a decisive victory over a Franco-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar in 1805. Overseas colonies were attacked and occupied, including those of the Netherlands, which was annexed by Napoleon in 1810. France was finally defeated by a coalition of European armies in 1815. Britain was again the beneficiary of peace treaties: France ceded the Ionian Islands, Malta (which it had occupied in 1797 and 1798 respectively), Mauritius, St Lucia, and Tobago; Spain ceded Trinidad; the Netherlands Guyana, and the Cape Colony. Britain returned Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guiana, and Réunion to France, and Java and Suriname to the Netherlands, while gaining control of Ceylon (1795–1815).
Abolition of slavery
The Story of William Wilberforce
With support from the British abolitionist movement, Parliament enacted the Slave Trade Act in 1807, which abolished the slave trade in the empire. In 1808, Sierra Leone was designated an official British colony for freed slaves. The Slavery Abolition Act passed in 1833 abolished slavery in the British Empire on 1 August 1834 (with the exception of St. Helena, Ceylon and the territories administered by the East India Company, though these exclusions were later repealed). Under the Act, slaves were granted full emancipation after a period of 4 to 6 years of “apprenticeship”.
An elaborate map of the British Empire in 1886, marked in the traditional colour for imperial British dominions on maps.
Between 1815 and 1914, a period referred to as Britain’s “imperial century” by some historians, around 10,000,000 square miles (26,000,000 km2) of territory and roughly 400 million people were added to the British Empire. Victory over Napoleon left Britain without any serious international rival, other than Russia in central Asia. Unchallenged at sea, Britain adopted the role of global policeman, a state of affairs later known as the Pax Britannica, and a foreign policy of “splendid isolation“. Alongside the formal control it exerted over its own colonies, Britain’s dominant position in world trade meant that it effectively controlled the economies of many countries, such as China, Argentina and Siam, which has been characterised by some historians as “Informal Empire“.
British imperial strength was underpinned by the steamship and the telegraph, new technologies invented in the second half of the 19th century, allowing it to control and defend the empire. By 1902, the British Empire was linked together by a network of telegraph cables, the so-called All Red Line.
The East India Company drove the expansion of the British Empire in Asia. The Company’s army had first joined forces with the Royal Navy during the Seven Years’ War, and the two continued to co-operate in arenas outside India: the eviction of Napoleon from Egypt (1799), the capture of Java from the Netherlands (1811), the acquisition of Singapore (1819) and Malacca (1824) and the defeat of Burma (1826).
From its base in India, the Company had also been engaged in an increasingly profitable opium export trade to China since the 1730s. This trade, illegal since it was outlawed by the Qing dynasty in 1729, helped reverse the trade imbalances resulting from the British imports of tea, which saw large outflows of silver from Britain to China. In 1839, the confiscation by the Chinese authorities at Canton of 20,000 chests of opium led Britain to attack China in the First Opium War, and resulted in the seizure by Britain of Hong Kong Island, at that time a minor settlement.
During the late 18th and early 19th centuries the British Crown began to assume an increasingly large role in the affairs of the Company. A series of Acts of Parliament were passed, including the Regulating Act of 1773, Pitt’s India Act of 1784 and the Charter Act of 1813 which regulated the Company’s affairs and established the sovereignty of the Crown over the territories that it had acquired. The Company’s eventual end was precipitated by the Indian Rebellion, a conflict that had begun with the mutiny of sepoys, Indian troops under British officers and discipline. The rebellion took six months to suppress, with heavy loss of life on both sides. The following year the British government dissolved the Company and assumed direct control over India through the Government of India Act 1858, establishing the British Raj, where an appointed governor-general administered India and Queen Victoria was crowned the Empress of India. India became the empire’s most valuable possession, “the Jewel in the Crown”, and was the most important source of Britain’s strength.
A series of serious crop failures in the late 19th century led to widespread famines on the subcontinent in which it is estimated that over 15 million people died. The East India Company had failed to implement any coordinated policy to deal with the famines during its period of rule. Later, under direct British rule, commissions were set up after each famine to investigate the causes and implement new policies, which took until the early 1900s to have an effect.
The Dutch East India Company had founded the Cape Colony on the southern tip of Africa in 1652 as a way station for its ships travelling to and from its colonies in the East Indies. Britain formally acquired the colony, and its large Afrikaner (or Boer) population in 1806, having occupied it in 1795 to prevent its falling into French hands, following the invasion of the Netherlands by France. British immigration began to rise after 1820, and pushed thousands of Boers, resentful of British rule, northwards to found their own—mostly short-lived—independent republics, during the Great Trek of the late 1830s and early 1840s. In the process the Voortrekkers clashed repeatedly with the British, who had their own agenda with regard to colonial expansion in South Africa and with several African polities, including those of the Sotho and the Zulu nations. Eventually the Boers established two republics which had a longer lifespan: the South African Republic or Transvaal Republic (1852–77; 1881–1902) and the Orange Free State (1854–1902). In 1902 Britain occupied both republics, concluding a treaty with the two Boer Republics following the Second Boer War (1899–1902).
In 1869 the Suez Canal opened under Napoleon III, linking the Mediterranean with the Indian Ocean. Initially the Canal was opposed by the British; but once opened, its strategic value was quickly recognised and became the “jugular vein of the Empire”. In 1875, the Conservative government of Benjamin Disraeli bought the indebted Egyptian ruler Isma’il Pasha‘s 44 percent shareholding in the Suez Canal for £4 million (£340 million in 2013). Although this did not grant outright control of the strategic waterway, it did give Britain leverage. Joint Anglo-French financial control over Egypt ended in outright British occupation in 1882. The French were still majority shareholders and attempted to weaken the British position, but a compromise was reached with the 1888 Convention of Constantinople, which made the Canal officially neutral territory.
With French, Belgian and Portuguese activity in the lower Congo River region undermining orderly incursion of tropical Africa, the Berlin Conference of 1884–85 was held to regulate the competition between the European powers in what was called the “Scramble for Africa” by defining “effective occupation” as the criterion for international recognition of territorial claims. The scramble continued into the 1890s, and caused Britain to reconsider its decision in 1885 to withdraw from Sudan. A joint force of British and Egyptian troops defeated the Mahdist Army in 1896, and rebuffed a French attempted invasion at Fashoda in 1898. Sudan was nominally made an Anglo-Egyptian Condominium, but a British colony in reality.
The last decades of the 19th century saw concerted political campaigns for Irish home rule. Ireland had been united with Britain into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland with the Act of Union 1800 after the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and had suffered a severe famine between 1845 and 1852. Home rule was supported by the British Prime minister, William Gladstone, who hoped that Ireland might follow in Canada’s footsteps as a Dominion within the empire, but his 1886 Home Rule bill was defeated in Parliament. Although the bill, if passed, would have granted Ireland less autonomy within the UK than the Canadian provinces had within their own federation, many MPs feared that a partially independent Ireland might pose a security threat to Great Britain or mark the beginning of the break-up of the empire. A second Home Rule bill was also defeated for similar reasons. A third bill was passed by Parliament in 1914, but not implemented because of the outbreak of the First World War leading to the 1916 Easter Rising.
World wars (1914–1945)
World War 1 Explained
By the turn of the 20th century, fears had begun to grow in Britain that it would no longer be able to defend the metropole and the entirety of the empire while at the same time maintaining the policy of “splendid isolation“. Germany was rapidly rising as a military and industrial power and was now seen as the most likely opponent in any future war. Recognising that it was overstretched in the Pacific and threatened at home by the Imperial German Navy, Britain formed an alliance with Japan in 1902 and with its old enemies France and Russia in 1904 and 1907, respectively.
Britain’s fears of war with Germany were realised in 1914 with the outbreak of the First World War. Britain quickly invaded and occupied most of Germany’s overseas colonies in Africa. In the Pacific, Australia and New Zealand occupied German New Guinea and Samoa respectively. Plans for a post-war division of the Ottoman Empire, which had joined the war on Germany’s side, were secretly drawn up by Britain and France under the 1916 Sykes–Picot Agreement. This agreement was not divulged to the Sharif of Mecca, who the British had been encouraging to launch an Arab revolt against their Ottoman rulers, giving the impression that Britain was supporting the creation of an independent Arab state.
A poster urging men from countries of the British Empire to enlist in the British army.
The British declaration of war on Germany and its allies also committed the colonies and Dominions, which provided invaluable military, financial and material support. Over 2.5 million men served in the armies of the Dominions, as well as many thousands of volunteers from the Crown colonies. The contributions of Australian and New Zealand troops during the 1915 Gallipoli Campaign against the Ottoman Empire had a great impact on the national consciousness at home, and marked a watershed in the transition of Australia and New Zealand from colonies to nations in thei