The site that up until now has been visited by thousands as the probable location of the Battle of Bosworth is marked by a flag and small monument. © Leicestershire County Council.
As every good schoolchild knows, the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 brought an end to Richard III’s reign and ushered in the Tudor dynasty which brought us some of the most colourful monarchs to grace the throne.
But what a lot of people don’t know, and that includes the thousands who visit each year, is exactly where one of the most important battles in British history really took place.
However, all that looks set to change as a series of studies, launched following the announcement of almost £1 million in funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, is conducted to try and track down the real battle site.
"We’ve got some reasonable ideas as to where the area is," Glenn Foard of the Battlefields Trust told the 24 Hour Museum, "this is about proving where it is and answering questions that have been debated for years."
On August 22 1485 Richard III's army met with forces supporting Henry Tudor's claim to the throne in a battle that ushered in the modern era. © Leicestershire County Council.
Led by Leicestershire County Council the project will take place over three years and include major archaeological investigations, paid for by a £990,000 grant from the HLF.
Describing Bosworth as "up there with Hastings, Naseby and Bannockburn," Glenn Foard explained that the battle brought about "a fundamental change" in this country.
"It’s the end of the Wars of the Roses and the introduction of the Tudor era," he said. "Really, it’s the beginning of modern England."
Richard III was made infamous by Shakespeare’s portrayal of him as a hunch-backed murderer and is one of the most reviled characters in British history. His defeat at Bosworth on August 22 1485 by Henry Tudor is considered a major turning point and made him the last king of England to die in battle.
An example of the finds discovered during trial metal detecting at Bosworth - a horse pendant. © Leicestershire County Council.
Since 1974, a visitor centre has stood at Ambion Hill, the site where Richard’s army was thought to have met Henry’s troops. Unlike many historic battles, however, there are no eye-witness accounts and its location has been the subject of furious debate in the historical community.
Some experts put forward the theory that it was fought over a mile away and others have placed it over five miles away. But despite the debate all are now agreed that it didn’t take place where it was originally thought to have done.
Now, for the first time, modern archaeological techniques will be used to build up a picture of what the landscape would have been like at the time. Forensic studies will determine where woodland, marshes, fields and roads would have been situated in 1485, making it easier to identify an area of open ground large enough to have accommodated the 20-25,000 soldiers we know were involved in the battle.
This information will then be compared to contemporary accounts and metal detectors deployed to find artefacts that might indicate the so-called clash point of the battle.
The current visitor centre is set to be completely transformed thanks to the grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. © Leicestershire County Council.
According to Glenn Foard, this is the first time that such a combination of techniques has been used to identify a battlefield site in Europe: "What we are doing for the first time is pulling together all the different disciplines that you need for studying a battlefield," he said.
"It’s a much more scientific approach and we won’t just be dealing with a hypothesis. We are going out there and testing the hypothesis and collecting real information."
As well as identifying the clash point, it is hoped the study will reveal the route along which Henry’s forces chased Richard from the field. It might even uncover Richard’s ultimate resting place.
The lottery grant will also be used to update and refurbish the current visitor centre to reflect the new understanding of the infamous battle. Staff behind the project intend to raise the centre to registered museum status and create displays of artefacts uncovered in the digs.
"Bosworth was a key event in the nation’s history and it could be a top tourist attraction," said HLF regional manager, Sheila Stone. "It’s very exciting that we can help settle the debate once and for all and firmly place Bosworth on the tourist map."