49Just six weeks after the brazen shields of the 300 brave Spartans failed to stop Xerxes at the pass of Thermopylae, Greece found salvation behind the “wooden walls” of the Athenian navy!

IN 480 BC there occurred one of those turning points in history, where the trajectory of history and the future of Western Civilization hung in the balance. That event was the Persian invasion of Greece.

The roots of this conflict went back twenty years.

Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire, had incorporated the Greek cities along the Aegean coast of modern Turkey, then called Ionia, into his dominions. But in 500-499 B.C., the Ionian Greeks rebelled against Persian rule. The rebels were aided by the Ionian “mother city”, Athens; and by the small city of Eretria, on the island of Euboea. The revolt was short lived; but Persian memory was long.


In 490 B.C., Darius I (called “the Great”) dispatched an expeditionary force to punish Athens and Eretria. The size of the force has at times been exaggerated, but the ground force (fleet aside) was likely around 50,000 men; transported across the Aegean by a substantial fleet of warships.

The Persians quickly overcame and destroyed Eretria. Their army then embarked again and landed on the mainland, on the beach of Marathon; only 25 miles from Athens. After appealing in vain for Spartan aid, the So of their own city (plus a minor contingent from the nearby town of Plataea), the Athenians engaged the Persians with only their own 10,000 hoplites at Marathon.

The Battle of Marathon showed the world for the first time the inherent superiority at close-quarters fighting of Greek hoplites over the lighter armed archers of Asia. The Persian army, despite its numerical advantage, was routed and thrown (literally!) back into the sea.


Ten years later, Darius’ son and successor, Xerxes, launched a second invasion. This one was far, far larger in size and scope than his father’s. Darius had sent a punitive expedition; Xerxes led an invasion, the purposes of which was to bring the free city-states of Greece into “the fold” of the Persian Empire…..

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In 1628, the Hapsburg dream of a united, Catholic Germany ruled from Vienna seemed nearly realized. From Bohemia to Denmark the Catholic-Imperialist forces had crushed all opposition, in a decade of war. The Protestant Electors of the Rhine principalities had been humbled, the Czechs brought back into the Catholic fold, and Denmark defeated and humiliated. By 1630, the Imperial armies of Tilly and Wallenstein were camped along the Baltic shores, with Germany seemingly pacified behind them, and only Protestant Sweden across the icy waters still defiant.

So it was that when Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden crossed the Baltic with only 13,000 men, the Hapsburg Emperor Ferdinand II sneered, “So, we have another little enemy!”

However, the “Lion of the North” was an enemy of no little ability.

Scion of the warrior Vasa dynasty, Gustav II Adolf was the most brilliant offshoot of a family tree known to produce soldiers and statesmen of exception. Coming to the throne in 1611 at the age of 16, he inherited three wars from his father: against Denmark (the Kalmar War), Russia, and against Poland. The first was concluded by treaty in 1613; and the second ended in 1617 with the Treaty of Stolbovo, which excluded Russia from the Baltic Sea. The Polish war dragged on till 1629, ending with the Truce of Altmark, which transferred the large province Livonia to Sweden.

Gustav Adolphus

Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden

These conflicts early in his life not only greatly enhanced the territory and power of the Swedish Empire, which now controlled the eastern Baltic; but honed Gustavus’ native abilities as a commander. In Poland he faced a very good commander in his own right; the great Hetman of the Polish Commonwealth, Stanisław Koniecpolski. Much of the talent he showed later for rapid and unexpected maneuvers may have been learned fighting against this Polish hero; whose hallmark this was. Gustavus also no doubt used the Polish war to develop his tactical theories and to train his small, professional army into a finely tuned machine.

In June of 1630 Gustavus landed in Pomerania; where Sweden already had a base at Stralsund.  The Swedish king set about methodically taking fortresses and towns. Many surrendered upon a show of force; the northern Germans inclined to support any Protestant champion. The Swedish expeditionary force was financed, in large part, by French money: the far-sighted Cardinal Richelieu preferring a continuation of the religious war in Germany to a Germany united under Hapsburg domination on France’s doorstep. Gustavus was also aided by the Emperor’s dismissal of Wallenstein earlier that year, after that great Imperial commander’s failure to capture Stralsund following a prolonged siege. While the bulk of Wallenstein’s army joined Tilly’s, many thousands of veteran mercenaries abandoned Imperial service in disgust, and took service under the Swedish king.


In the next year, the Swedes were too weak to offer battle against Tilly’s superior army; and negotiations for alliance with timid Protestant princes unwilling to brave the wrath of Tilly’s Imperial army seemed to be going nowhere. Then Protestant Magdeburg was captured and sacked by Tilly’s army in May 1631; in an act of barbarity so savage it shocked the sensibilities of Catholic and Protestant alike. Of the 30,000 citizens, only 5,000 survived the orgy of rapine and murder by the Imperial army. For the subsequent fourteen days, burned and mangled bodies were carried to the Elbe River, which became choked with the dead. The Imperial cavalry commander, the Graf zu Pappenheim, wrote:

It is certain that no more terrible work and divine punishment has been seen since the destruction of Jerusalem. All of our soldiers became rich. God was with us.

When Tilly moved into Saxony, pillaging far and wide to feed his ravaging host, the Elector was finally moved to throw his lot in with the Swedes. Gustavas marched on Leipzig, which Tilly’s army had just captured with enormous booty. Reinforced by the Saxon army of 18,000 he now had, along with his own 23,000 Swedes (one Brigade of which was composed of Scots) an army of 41,000.  The Swedish lion was ready to give battle a few miles northwest of Leipzig, on the plain of Breitenfeld.

Johann_Tserclaes_Tilly Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly


Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly, the seventy-two-year-old Walloon general commanding the Imperial army, had learned his trade in the Low Countries under the famed Duke of Parma. He was an accomplished commander, and had defeated every enemy who’d dared face him in battle. Though outnumbered in the coming battle, he was confident his 35,000 men were the equal of any number the Protestants could raise against them!

As veteran as he himself, Tilly’s Imperial army had campaigned for 10 years from the Bohemian Alps to the Baltic. Trained in the Spanish model, the heart of his army was the Imperial tercios: massed blocks of pike-and-musket armed units. Like moving fortresses, these ponderous squares varied between 3,000 and 1,500 men each, drawn-up in up to 30 ranks. Tilly had seventeen tercios deployed at Breitenfeld; about 25,000 trained and experienced infantry.


(Above) Imperial/Spanish tercio, detail from contemporary illustration. (Below) Breakdown of pike vs “shot”


By contrast, Gustavus’ reforms of the Swedish army had created a much different fighting force. Disdaining the ponderous tactics of the tercio, and building upon the work of Maurice of Nassau, Gustavus’ infantry were organized into regiments and Brigades, the latter of 1,500 men. Unlike the Imperial tercio, the Swedes deployed in 4-5 ranks deep; each brigade formed in a cross-shaped formation of pike and supporting musketeers. In battle, these formed-up in two lines; the brigades of the second line supporting the gaps between each brigade in the first. The Swedish system allowed the units to maneuver more rapidly on the field, and to deliver a much higher rate of fire against the enemy.

Swedish Brigade Formation

In numbers and quality of infantry the Imperial forces had the advantage, particularly in quality. Tilly deployed about 25,000 veteran infantry to the Gustavus’ 15,000 Swedes. Though Gustavus’ Swedish Brigades were of excellent quality; the 9,000 Saxon allied infantry were poor quality militia, armed and trained in outdated pike tactics and with few muskets. Tilly had little to fear from these.


17th century pikeman, set to receive a charge

In the 17th century, infantry were the solid core of an army, the pike-blocks providing moving fortresses that dominated the field. But cavalry were the decisive arm in battle, maneuvering on the flanks and in the gaps; the hammer to the tercio’s anvil. Cavalry were a large and effective part of both armies at Breitenfeld.


17th century musketeer

There were of three types of horse during this age in Western Europe: cuirassiers, harquebusiers, and light horse.

The first of these, the cuirassiers, were the supreme heavy cavalry of the day. These were horsemen equipped in three-quarter plate armor (including a cuirass that was proof against firearms) and armed with sword and pistol. They were trained to charge the enemy, the first two ranks discharging their pistols at close quarters before drawing their swords and galloping into the enemy’s ranks. Sweden, poor in resources and lacking large horses, fielded only one regiment of these in the war. The Imperials, on the other hand, had the services of many thousands of such cuirassiers, commanded by Pappenheim; who due to the color of their armor were called “Black Cuirassiers”.


The second type was a hybrid medium cavalry, the archetype for the dragoons of the following century. Though equipped and trained with a harquebus to skirmish with the enemy, mounted or dismounted; they were also quite capable of charging with sword, and many regiments equipped their troopers with a cuirass and helmet.


Finally, the Imperial army had a number of Croat and Hungarian light horse. These were skilled scouts and foragers (the Croats in particular earning a fearsome reputation as plunderers), and in battle could harass the enemy’s flanks or ruthlessly pursue a broken foe. Their counterpart in the Swedish forces was provided by Finns, commanded by Gustav Horn; excellent scouts, foragers, and nearly as feared in battle as the Croats. These were known as Hakkapeliitta, there name based on their battle cry hakkaa päälle (“Cut them down!”).


Swedish cavalry

In pure numbers, Tilly’s Imperial cavalry were outnumbered by their Protestant opponents: 9,000 to Gustavus’ 13,000. But the allied cavalry were more lightly equipped, and none were as heavily armed (and armored) as Pappenheim’s feared Black Cuirassiers. Worse for the Swedish king, 5,000 of Gustavus horsemen were Protestant German contingents of doubtful quality.

In Poland, a land of superb cavalry, Gustavus had resorted to the Huguenot practice (from the French Wars of Religion) in the previous century, of detailing small units of musketeers to support the cavalry with fire. These “”commanded shot” gave the otherwise over-matched Swedish horse a fighting chance at breaking the charge of better mounted and equipped Polish lancers. This practice continued in Gustavus’ German campaigns; and would play a key part in the coming battle at Breitenfeld.

Only in number and quality of guns was the Imperial army at a disadvantage. Larger but less mobile than those of the Swedes, they were set-up in battle before the infantry line. Once placed they were difficult to move, and so usually stayed in one place throughout the battle. The Swedes and their Saxon allies had as many heavy guns, but Gustavus, a great proponent of artillery, had reformed that arm; standardizing the calibers in use and lightening the guns themselves.  The Swedish guns were thus easier to maneuver and faster to load. Additionally, each of the Swedish Brigades had their own integral light artillery, in the form of some six light 3 pounder “regimental guns” per Brigade. These were easy to manhandle in battle, and could sustain a relatively rapid rate of fire. Finally, Gustavus had cross-trained his cavalry and infantry as gunners; so that in a pinch they could man guns whose crews were slain in battle, or turn against their previous owners enemy guns overrun and captured.


Swedish regimental 3lb gun


On a bright and hot morning, September 17 1631, Tilly drew up his 35,000 Imperial troops along some two miles of frontage, deployed in two lines; with a small cavalry reserve. In the Spanish custom, he posted his cavalry on both wings; his stolid tercios in the center, with the artillery spread evenly across the front. A gentle slope favored his dispositions, and the day would begin with the sun at his back and in the eyes of his Protestant foes. The Imperial forces were resplendent in the costume of the day; the imperial colors of red and yellow predominating in what passed for uniforms, beneath buff coats and steel cuirasses.


The Imperial left was commanded by the renown Count von Pappenheim, whose “Black Cuirassiers” were considered the best heavy cavalry in western Europe. Pappenheim had seven full cuirassier regiments attached to his wing (by contrast, the entire Swedish army had but a handful of companies of fully armored cuirassiers). On the opposite flank, the Count Egon von Fürstenberg commanded another five cuirassier regiments; supported by a regiment of dragoons and one of Croat light horse. Fürstenberg also had a large number of heavy guns supporting his wing; which would play a large part in the battle against Gustavus’ Saxon allies.

By contrast, the arrival of Gustavus allied army must have presented a much meaner appearance. In tattered blue and brown homespun, after months of sleeping in plowed fields, the Swedes presented a rustic site compared to their splendid counterparts.


Swedish musketeers and pikemen, life-sized diorama at Swedish Armeemuseum, Stockholm

In full view of their foe, Gustavus drew up his Swedes in two lines and a reserve; with the Saxon allies on their left. The king deployed his Brigades in a chessboard fashion, those of the second line covering gaps equal to their frontage between those of the first. The front line composed of four Brigades, the second of three. Across their front were  twelve heavy guns in one grand battery (as well as the 24 regimental guns of the four infantry Brigades). The guns were commanded by young Lennart Torstensson; a gifted artillery prodigy who, one day, would prove his own worth as an army commander. The infantry of the center were commanded by Maximilian Teuffel, a German soldier in Swedish service.

On the Swedish right were 4,100 horse supported by 1,200 “commanded” musketeers; commanded by the veteran Johan Banér. The Swedish left comprised 2,300 cavalry supported by 800 musketeers; and commanded by Gustavus’ second-in-command, Count Gustav Horn.

battle_breitenefield_initia (1)Beyond Horn’s cavalry wing and facing Fürstenberg was the Saxon army, under the nominal command of their Elector, John George; assisted by a professional German soldier-of-fortune, Hans Georg von Arnim. The Saxon deployed their blocks of pikemen into a wedge formation, supported on either wing by massive wedges of cavalry. Such a formation can only be of use in the offense; and it is evident that Gustavus, who planned to let the Imperial army break itself against the superior Swedish firepower, was not on the same page as his ally.


The battle began with the Imperial screen of Croat light horse attempting to interfere with the Swedish deployment. They were thwarted when Banner unleashed the shaggy Finnish Hakkapeliitta upon them. The Finns gave the Croats the kind of savaging they were used to dealing out; and the Croats scattered back to their own lines. Satisfied with themselves, no doubt, the Finns fell back through the gaps in the Brigades and rejoined the reserve.

Over the next two hours, the artillery exchanged fire.  The Swedes’ better trained gun crews fired three-to-five times faster than their opponents; and soon got the better of the exchange. In response, Tilly ordered his the cavalry on both flanks to attack.*


On Tilly’s left, the fiery Pappenheim led some 5,000 of his Black Cuirassiers in a furious charge on the Swedish right-wing horse, under Banér. Expecting to crush the lighter Swedish horse (even the “heavy” regiments had little more than a simple cuirass worn over a buff coat), Pappenheim’s squadrons received an unexpectedly stout reception: disciplined volleys by the Swedish “commanded” musketeers supporting the Swedish horse; followed by short, determined charges by Banér’s squadrons. Attempts to swing wide and outflank the Swedish line were met by squadrons and companies of the second Swedish line, who, drilled to meet just such a move, coolly wheeled to meet the Imperialists.

Seven times that afternoon Pappenheim, the scarred veteran of countless charges, reordered his squadrons and flung them once again against the ill-mounted, contemptible Swedish horse and those impudent musketeers operating between their squadrons. Each time these darted out, deployed, and fired a deadly hail of lead into his massed squadrons. Into the resulting confusion, the Swedish horsemen counterattacked, and then fell back to reform. Each time Pappenheim’s dwindling regiments pulled back, frustrated and bloodied.


Meanwhile, on the Imperial right, Fürstenberg’s cuirassiers enjoyed a very different outcome against Gustavus’ Saxon allies. Supported by heavy cannonade, the Imperial cavalry charged the inexperienced and poorly led Saxons that formed the left of the allied line. Deployed for attack and not defense, the Saxons were ill-prepared to receive this assault, which proved too much for the Saxon militiamen.Despite their officers best efforts to steady them, they dropped their weapons and fled the field in utter rout! With the blades and pistols of Fürstenberg’s riders in their backs, the 18,000 strong Saxon army quitted the field in mass.

At a stroke, Gustavus was deprived of forty-five percent of his army; and his left-wing exposed. Tilly saw his opportunity, and ordered his infantry to advance to their right at the oblique, in an effort to take advantage of the situation and outflank the Swedes.

Fortunately for the Protestant cause, Fürstenberg needed time to reorder his squadrons; and a tercio, like an elephant, had great mass but little spring. As they ponderously advanced into the void left by the Saxon rout, Gustavus’ intrepid second-in-command, Gustav Horn, had time to order a response.

Acting coolly and quickly, Horn ordered the Swedish second line of foot and horse (which included General John Hepburn’s Green Brigade of Scotsmen) at right angle to their main line; facing and covering the exposed left. As Tilly’s infantry came up and began to wheel to their left, they were brought under fire by regimental guns and some heavy guns of Torstennson’s main battery. Worse for Tilly, their redeployment was further slowed when Horn counter-attacked Fürstenberg’s horsemen, who’d attempted an ineffectual spoiler attack against Horn’s redeploying reserves; and were thrown back into their own advancing tercios, causing disorder and delay.


At 6pm, the battle reached its climax on the Swedish right. Following the repulse of Pappenheim’s seventh assault, Gustavus took personal command of the squadrons on his right. Aware of the rout of the Saxons and the crises on his other flank, it was time to put-paid to Pappenheim and free his right from interference. At the head of his savage Finnish Hakkapeliitta he led the counter-attacked in mass against the retreating Imperials. Repulse turned to rout, and Pappenheim’s famed Black Cuirassiers were stampeded from the field. They did not stop riding till they reached Halle, fifteen miles to the northwest.


The oblique advance of Tilly’s infantry to their right had left his main artillery batteries, which were stationary and unable to maneuver with the infantry, all but deserted in the center of the field. With his Hakkapeliitta in hand, Gustavus rode across his own front to overrun Tilly’s guns, and scattered the small body of Imperial reserve cavalry. Simultaneously, the unoccupied Swedish center began wheeling forward to their left; as the whole battle was changing face 90 degrees.


Now the cross-training of every Swedish soldier as a gunner paid dividends; as the Swedish horsemen turned Tillys guns against the left flank of the tercios, where they delivered a withering enfilade fire against their erstwhile owners. Torstennson’s main battery, no longer occupied with counter-battery fire against the Imperialist guns, now joined in smashing the tightly packed ranks of the Imperial infantry.

Even the best of soldiers can only endure so much. As casualties mounted, the Imperial infantry closed ever-shrinking ranks and began to look to their rear. At that moment, Gustavus delivered the coup-de-grace, attacking simultaneously with cavalry and foot from his right; as Horn led a charge of his cavalry around the right of tercios. Facing envelopment, and the threat of having all retreat cut off, the Imperial army broke.


The Swedish cavalry were not inclined to mercy, and in close pursuit rode among the fleeing masses inflicting with cold steel “Magdeburg quarter”. Only growing darkness and the presence of a deep wood to the rear of the battle put an end to the pursuit and gave the Imperial survivors a place of succor.

Tilly, thrice wounded during the fighting and unconscious, was carried from the field by a small escort.

The battlefield was a charnel house, with perhaps as many as 12,000 dead or dying on the field. 7,000 had grounded arms and surrendered, most of which (being mercenaries) took service with the victor. Of the allied Swedish-Saxon army, some 5,000 were casualties; the majority of which were Saxon (by some accounts, the Swedes loss a mere 200 men).

Capturing the Imperial camp intact, the Swedish forces found it well-victualled, and Gustavus celebrated with his army a titanic victory at Tilly’s expense; dinning and drinking from Imperial stores.


When news of Breitenfeld reached Vienna, the Imperial court was “struck dumb”. This was the first victory in battle by Protestant forces since the 30 Years War had begun in 1618. Throughout the Protestant world, there was rejoicing with a fervor that knew no bounds. At last, a champion had appeared, in the form of the “Lion of the North”, and a hopeless cause had been restored.

In Halle, Tilly could only rally 600 foot. Pappenheim joined him, with a mere 1,400 horse remaining under the Imperial banner. Worse news soon followed, when word came that Gustavus’ forces had overrun Merseburg, and after a brief skirmish forced the surrender of another 3,000 Imperial troops. The battle was a disaster for the Catholic cause, and the Imperial army had overnight ceased to exist.

Breitenfeld was that rare thing: a decisive battle. It utterly changed the tide of a war that had seemed all but over, following 13 uninterrupted years of Catholic-Imperial victory. Though the 30 Years War would drag on for another 17 years, claiming the lives of both Gustavus and Tilly (and, ultimately, Tilly’s successor, Wallenstein) and countless others; soldiers and civilians alike. But after Breitenfield, the cause of Protestantism in Germany was never close to extinction.

Ultimately, Breitenfeld accomplished that, the succor of the Protestant movement in Germany; and one other thing. It prevented an early unification of that country under Hapsburg rule. It would take another two-and-a-half centuries and the genius of Otto Von Bismarck to accomplish that task.

Militarily, Gustavus ushered in the era of linear formations and firepower as the decisive factor in battle. His infantry, fighting in lines of fewer ranks and greater frontage allowed less to cover more; and to deliver more fire to greater effect. Though the pike would continue in use among infantry till the early 18th century, the ratio of pike-to-shot would continue to shift towards firearms; till the invention of the bayonet allowed every infantryman to be both pikeman and musketeer.

In artillery, as well, Gustavus was both visionary and revolutionary. He was the first to make good use of light, mobile field guns in battle; and in the future all European powers would experiment with and develop this arm. Eventually it would lead to mobile horse gun batteries, and more and greater field artillery in every army. Before Gustavus, artillerymen were military contractors, hired generals and princes for each campaign. After Gustavus, they were all military professionals, a branch of every nation’s armed forces.

Breitenfeld solidified Gustavus Adolphus’ reputation as a commander. Though he lost his life a mere fourteen months later at Luetzen, he would forever be rated, by such experts on the subject as Napoleon and Clausewitz, as one of history’s greatest commanders.




*Some scholars of the battle say Pappenheim’s assaults on the Swedish right were impetuous and launched either  without Tilly’s sanction or at least prematurely. That Tilly meant to wait on the defensive till reinforcements joined him. Scholars to this day puzzle over what Tilly planned; but as neither Tilly nor his lieutenants penned an account of the battle, we can only speculate. Some have suggested the old Walloon soldier planned an audacious double envelopment maneuver; using his qualitatively superior cavalry to break both wings of his enemy’s forces; while their center was pinned in place by the mass of his infantry, and the artillery of both sides still pounding away at each other. This may well be the case: Pappenheim’s massive heavy cavalry attack initially on the Swedish right-wing cavalry is reminiscent of Hannibal’s opening gambit at the Battle of Cannae. There, the Carthaginian heavy cavalry led by Maharbal thundered against the Roman left wing horse; shattering them and sending them fleeing from the field. But Gustavus was no Varro (the ill-fated Roman commander at that ancient debacle); and he had an effective counter to Pappenheim’s impetuous assaults.


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On 22 August 1485 the War of the Roses reached a bloody climax at Bosworth Field. Here, Richard III, England’s most controversial king, defended his crown against the Lancastrian champion, Henry Tudor.

The thirty-year long Wars of the Roses was a dynastic struggle between rival branches of the ruling royal family of England, the Plantagenet. These two Houses, cadet branches of the Plantagenet, were descended from sons of the prolific Edward III: the House of York, whose symbol was the white rose, and the House of Lancaster, represented by the red.

After the Yorkist victory at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1461 and the subsequent execution of the Lancastrian king, Henry VI, the war seemed to have come to close. The Yorkist leader Edward IV was firmly in command of his kingdom; and would rule undisturbed till his death in 1483. However, Edward left as heir his son Edward, not yet thirteen years old. His younger brother, Richard of Gloucester was named as guardian for the young prince and Lord Protector of the Realm.

The War of the Roses raged across the map of Britain for 30 years, decimating the nobility of England.

Throughout his brother’s reign (and the struggle for Yorkist victory that established it) Richard of Gloucester had always been the capable, trusted, and loyal lieutenant. As Warden of the North he had proven himself an able captain; successfully campaigning against the Scots, temporarily occupying Edinburgh and capturing the mighty fortress of Berwick in 1482. But as Lord Protector for his young nephew, King Edward V, Richard quickly found his authority challenged by his brother’s widow, the Queen Mother Elizabeth Woodville and her ambitious family.

In the brief struggle for power that followed, Richard outmaneuvered the Woodvilles and took custody of both the young king-to-be and his brother, Prince Richard. The two princes were lodged in the Tower of London; then still used as a royal residence as well as a prison for the most important of prisoners. Over the next month, the boys coronation was postponed; while rumors were circulated that the marriage of Edward IV to Elisabeth Woodville had been illegal. The prince was ultimately disinherited, and on 25 June, an assembly of Lords and Commons declared Richard to be the legitimate king; later confirmed by act of parliament.

Thus began the reign of Richard III, perhaps England’s most controversial king.

The displacement of his brother’s son and heir alienated some supporters of the House of York. The disappearance of the two princes in the tower and rumors of their murder (later confirmed) further tainted Richard’s reign with the charges of usurpation and regicide.

Though there is no evidence that Richard was a “bad king”, division within the kingdom invited adherents of the House of Lancaster to plot a renewal of the War of the Roses. Taking advantage of the disaffection, Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, scion of the Lancastrian dynasty, landed in Wales on August 7, 1485 with a force of French mercenaries.

Wales was a traditional Lancastrian stronghold; and this combined with Henry Tudor’s half-Welsh ancestry allowed him to gather to his standard a sizable force of Welsh troops and remnants of the Lancastrian cause. Welshmen comprised the largest part of his forces; with few, in fact, being English.

Though inexperienced at war, Henry had for advisor and commander the veteran warrior,John de Vere, Earl of Oxford; who had commanded the Lancastrian rightwing at the Battle of Barnet. While he could expect to be outnumbered by the Royal forces Richard would bring to bear, Henry had an “ace up his sleeve”: His mother’s husband, Thomas Lord Stanley, Earl of Derby and Lord of (the Island of) Man.

Stanley was a veteran courtier and intriguer. He was married to Henry Tudor’s formidable mother, Margaret Beaufort; a descendant herself of Edward III on her father’s side. She was a confirmed and dedicated Lancastrian, and for years had been preparing the way for her son to raise the standard of the Lancastrian cause.

Portrait of Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond (the future Henry VII) as a younger man.

As Henry Tudor marched through Wales, he was in communication with his stepfather; who through the agency of his brother, Lord Sir William Stanley, Chamberlain of Chester and north Wales, opened the way through the countryside to Tudor’s Army. Richard, of course, was not ignorant of Lord Stanley’s connection to his enemy; and of the Stanley’s complicity in Tudor’s invasion. His relations with Lord Stanley were strained and had been for over a decade; the enmity between the two erupting into violence in 1470. Wary of Stanley, Richard took his son, Lord Strange, as hostage to discourage him from joining Henry openly.

Meanwhile, Richard called the lords of the realm to assemble under his banner at Leicester on the 16th of August. Many of Richard’s vassals failed to answer the royal summons. The chief lords who did join their king were John Howard Duke of Norfolk, and his son-and-heirThomas, Earl of Surrey; and Henry Percy, 4th Earl of Northumberland. While the Howards were loyal to Richard and the Yorkist cause, Percy is thought to have harbored deep jealousy of Richard dating from his time as Warden of the Northern Marches (a title usually held by a Percy) and the renown Richard had gained in his Scottish campaign. Both Percy and Howard held chief commands during the coming battle: Norfolk commanding the Yorkist Vanguard, and Northumberland the Rearguard/Reserve. On August 20, the royal army, with the arms of England flying overhead alongside Richard’s personal standard, displaying a White Boar; marched from Leicester to intercept Henry’s army, on route to London from Shrewsbury.

Three armies converged on a field south of Bosworth Market, 13 miles west of Leicester: Richard’s, numbering 10,000; Henry Tudor’s army, numbering 5,000; and that of the Stanley brothers, some 6,000 strong. The Stanleys had been in close communication with Tudor, and were ostensibly his ally. However, on the day of battle, they refused to declare themselves one-way-or-another; making the Battle of Bosworth Field a three-sided affair.

Richards took up a position on Ambion Hill, a strong position dominating the battlefield. Elevation aside, it was protected (or constricted, as events would show) by a marsh in the low ground to the left. Richard’s deployment is disputed: Norfolk’s “Van” may have been in the front or on the right of the Yorkist forces; with Richard, commanding the “Main” behind this (or in the center) at the crest of the hill. Northumberland deployed his 4,000 man “Rear” behind or to the left of Richard’s “Main”.

In the plain below, the Lancastrian forces deployed; with Oxford commanding Henry’s forces. Oxford drew his men up in one large “Battle”. The accounts do not make it clear if his forces were primarily dismounted, or if some part of his line (presumably the flanks) were cavalry. Considering that most of his forces were Welsh spearmen and French mercenaries (some of which may have been members of the French king’s “Scots Guards”) it is likely that most of the Lancastrian force was infantry. Only Henry’s bodyguards were certainly mounted.

On the flank of the battle, the Stanleys deployed their forces on rising ground. All attempts by Richard or Henry to command them to declare themselves were met with silence or prevarication.

The battle unfolded Oxford advancing the Lancastrian forces towards Ambion Hill in one body; his right-wing protected by the marsh. An exchange of arrows and even cannon fire followed. (Richard had an unknown number of guns, ranging in caliber from 30mm up to 94mm. Based upon the number of projectiles excavated at the battle site, at least 10 such guns were present. It is unknown if Henry Tudor had any guns at his disposal.)

Norfolk’s vanguard then descending Ambion Hill and engaged Oxford’s force. In the fierce melee that followed, men hacked at each other with a variety of weapons; the most popular being pole-axe or pole-hammer, battle axe, mace, and long sword. Norfolk force was getting the worst of the melee, and Norfolk, who was slain in or after the battle, may have fallen at this stage. Richard ordered Northumberland to bring up his reserve and join Norfolk’s hard-pressed men.

The Knightly-class warriors of the late Middle Ages were superbly armored in mixture of plate and mail. Since the 100 Years War, Men-at-Arms had often chosen to fight on foot, since quality infantry were scarce and to spare the mounts from the lethal firepower of the longbow. During the War of the Roses, the Men-at-Arms fought either mounted or on foot as circumstances dictated. To defeat the high-quality armor of their opponents, they often used pole-weapons (as carried by the figure here), war-hammers(5), maces(6) and battle axes. The latter was Richard III’s chosen weapon at Bosworth. The sword(7-12) was still the signature weapon of the knightly-class.

For reasons unknown, Percy failed to move. Historians argue to this day wither this was treachery or simply an inability of Norfolk to maneuver his force through Richard’s own “Main” or around the marsh to the left. In either case, Richard was forced to commit his own mainbody into the melee to bolster Norfolk’s flagging forces.

Still Tudor’s Welshman held firm. Richard, growing frustrated, decided to finish the issue with a charge of his household knights, directly at Henry himself, visible beneath his banner behind Oxford’s battling forces. It is likely that a gap had opened in the mass of battling men on the plain, and Richard saw this gap as an opportunity to strike directly at his rival.

Charging at the head of his knights, Richard reached Henry’s banner. His lance struck Henry’s standard-bearer, Sir William Brandon, throwing him from his horse and killing him outright. Riding on, Richard unhorsed Henry’s giant bodyguard, Sir John (later Baron) Cheyne , a renown jousting champion; allegedly with the broken stub of his lance. (Cheyne was a massive man of renown strength, called in his day “The Vigorous Knight”. Based upon a 21″ thighbone found in his tomb at Salisbury Cathedral, his height is estimated to be 6 feet 8 inches; a true-life version of George R.R. Martin’s fictional character Ser Gregor Clegane, known as the Mountain“.)

Richard threw down his broken lance and drew a battle axe, his intention now to hack Henry Tudor down. At that very moment, however, the Stanley’s made their move.

Their previously uncommitted force now charged into the flank of Richard’s household knights. In the sudden press, Richard was separated from Henry; and along with his knights was driven back into the marshy ground on the flank.

Outnumbered, Richard’s group fought valiantly but were cut down. Richard hacked left and right with his battle axe, shouting “Treason!” with each blow.

His horse mired in the soft ground, Richard was forced to continue the fight on foot. Here Shakespeare had him shouting, “A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” However, accounts indicate that Richard’s followers offered him their own mounts so he could escape. But Richard refused to quit the field. All chroniclers agree that Richard fought bravely to the end. Eventually overwhelmed, the last Plantagenet King of England died fighting.

(On September 12, 2012 skeletal remains were identified as Richard III. The remains showed some 10 wounds, evidence of Richard’s fearsome last fight. An arrowhead was found embedded in the spine. Perhaps this wound, inflicted by an enemy archer at close range, brought the battling King to his knees. The killing blow seems to have been a blow to the back of Richard’s head by a halberd or bill. Almost certainly Richard’s helmet had been knocked off first; as the blow cleaved very deeply into his skull and through the lower brain. Several postmortem wounds were also inflicted upon the dead king’s body.)

On news of their king’s death, the Yorkist forces still fighting broke, leaving the Lancastrians victorious.

Henry was crowned as Henry VII, on the battlefield.

Northumberland and Norfolk’s son, Surry were both subsequently arrested, but eventually pardoned by Henry and restored to their estates and offices. The Howards served both Henry VII and Henry VIII loyally. Henry Percy was lynched by a northern mob 8 years later; supposedly in revenge for his betrayal of his king at Bosworth.

Richard’s body was taken to Leicester, where it was displayed naked for several days. It was eventually buried in the church at Greyfriers Abbey. In 1536, the Abbey was one of many destroyed by Henry VIII. The location of Richard’s body was lost till recovered in 2012 at the site of Greyfriers.

Along with the signs of trauma noted above, the skeleton refutes the description of Richard given to posterity by Shakespeare. He had no withered arm, and was not a hunchback. He did, however, have scoliosis of the spine; which would have led one shoulder being higher than the other, and a lifetime of discomfort.

The victor, Henry Tudor, cemented his relationship with a marriage to Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Edward IV and Richard’s niece. By this marriage the Houses York and Lancaster were united in his heir, Henry VIII; bringing to England a much needed century of peace under the Tudor Dynasty.

Statue of Richard in the Gardens of Leicester Cathedral; just yards from his final resting place within.

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Long before George R.R. Martin penned his tale of war, intrigue and treachery the ancient world was scene to its own version of The Game of Thrones.

(This is the seventh in a series concerning the Wars of the Diadochi. Part 1 can be read here, and includes comprehensive biographies of the players in this drama. It is strongly advised that you start there before reading on here. The previous installment, Part 6, can be found here  . Stay tuned to this blog for future installments! Special thanks to Michael Park for his indispensable help in filling in the gaps in the sources and putting-up with my incessant questions!)


The First War of the Diadochi had begun. It pitted Perdiccas against an alliance of Antipater, Craterus, and Ptolemy.

In light of Ptolemy’s actions, seizing Alexander’s body and allying with his enemies in Europe,  Perdiccas was forced to reassess his plans. Though he had at his command the Royal Army, and could defeat any other force brought against him by any coalition of satraps; he was now forced to fight on two fronts.

Moving into Europe as he’d planned, and declaring himself king, was out of the question. For one thing, his enemies Antipater and Craterus had a powerful fleet, commanded by White Cleitus; which could block passage across the Hellespont or (further east) at the Bosporus. Even were he to be able to bring a fleet from Phoenicia to aid in crossing into Europe, Craterus and Antipater were supremely skilled generals, with a large and experience army. They knew the land more intimately than did he (Perdiccas had not seen Macedon or Greece since 334, when he’d crossed into Asia with Alexander’s invasion force), and had long-established relations with (or garrisons in) most all of the Greek and Macedonian cities.

They could be expected to maneuver and delay a decisive encounter till it was in their favor; or to buy time while their ally, Ptolemy, sallied forth from Egypt and created chaos and disaffection deep in his rear. Ptolemy, left to his own devices to run amok throughout the empire, might even sway more-and-more satraps in the heart of the empire to rise against Perdiccas as well.

Perdiccas’ (in consultation with his Synhedrion Philoi, his Counsel of Friends) decided to let Antipater and Craterus come to him in Asia for now; while eliminating the weakest member of the coalition, Ptolemy. This made good strategic sense. Let the “Europeans” cross into Asia, which would take time; while he secured his rear and the empire’s heartland by destroying Ptolemy. Then, gathering to his side the eastern satraps, he could return to Anatolia to deal with his other enemies.

Meanwhile, to delay Antipater and Craterus he gave his loyal philos, Eumenes (partial author of most of the current discord) instructions to interfere with Antipater and Craterus’ crossing into Asia; and delay them if they did. The wily Greek, still in Sardis, was given authority over the satrapies that had belonged to Leonnatus and Antigonas (Hellespontine and Greater Phrygia), Asander (Caria), and Menander (Lydia). The first of these satraps was dead; the rest either unreliable or openly in rebellion. This commission gave Eumenes command over most of western Anatolia.

However, Eumenes forces were limited to a small (unknown) number of Macedonians and what he could raise locally, from his own newly conquered satrap of Cappadocia and the Antatolian satrapies loyal to Perdiccas. To help Eumenes maintain their position in Anatolia, Perdiccas further instructed his willful and hotheaded brother, Alcetas, satrap of Pisidia; and Neoptolemus (possibly satrap of Armenia, though that is uncertain) to obey Eumenes, and join their forces to his.

Perdiccas also opened negotiations with the Aetolians; in an attempt to open a second front for his enemies in western Greece. In this he was successful: the following year, they would break the peace they’d made with Antipater and invade Thessaly; overpowering a Macedonian garrison along the way at Amphissa.


In early spring of 320, the Royal Army marched first to Cilicia, where Perdiccas arranged the government; removing partisans of Craterus. While there he learned that the various petty-kings of the island of Cyprus had made alliance with Ptolemy, and were besieging the loyal town of Marium. He arranged an expedition to go over to Marium’s relief, and take over the island; comprised of 800 infantry and 500 horse. Sosigenes of Rhodes was appointed as admiral of the fleet of 200 Phoenician ships that would convey the force to Cyprus; Medius of Larissa (who’d been a friend of Alexander’s, and at whose drinking party the late king had first become ill) to command the mercenary foot; and Aristonus the Bodyguard (who we have not heard of since Babylon following the death of Alexander) over-all commander of the expedition.

Diadachi 320 egyptian campaign

(To continue reading, go here)

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1362408On a hot and dusty plain eight miles from the Roman city of Adrianople, on August 9, 378 A.D., the elite field army of the Eastern Roman Empire and a tribal army of refugee Visigoths fought one of the most celebrated battles in western military history. The results would reverberate for centuries.

The Goths had been enemies of Rome for centuries.

Originating in Sweden (the southern region of which is to this day called East and West Gautland: “Gothland”), this Germanic nation had migrated in the early Christian Era onto the plains of western Ukraine and northern Romania. Under their greatest king, Ermaneric, the Goths created a powerful kingdom in the mid-4th century.

1362416The broad rivers of the Ukraine flow southward, draining into the Black Sea. Throughout the 3rd Century A.D., Gothic longships sailed down these alluvial highways, and from the Black Sea raided the civilized communities along its shores. Passing through the Bosporus and into the Aegean, they brought fire and sword to the ancient towns and cities of Greece and Asia Minor. Athens, Corinth, Argos, Olympia and Sparta: all felt the fury of the Goths. Troy and Ephesus on the coast of Asia were also sacked and pillaged. In the latter, the Great Temple of Diana, one of the “Seven Wonders of the World”, was finally destroyed for all time.

1362413Romans living along the Aegean Coast might well have prayed for deliverance from the “furore Gothicnorum”, the fury of the Goths!

On land, the Goths were equally formidable. In 249 an army of Goths and other barbarian warriors under the Gothic king, Cniva, crossed the lower Danube; raiding into the Roman province of Moesia. After nearly 2 years, they were brought to bay by the Roman Emperor Decius, near the town of Forum Terebronii (modern Razgrad, Bulgaria). On swampy ground, the advancing Roman heavy infantry and cavalry bogged down; and were overcome by showers of Gothic javelins and arrows. Decius was killed, becoming the first Roman emperor to be slain in battle.

This defeat by the Goths made a deep impression on the Romans. And though the Gothic menace abated after their crushing defeat at the hands of the Emperor Claudius “Gothicus” at the Battle of Naissus in 269 A.D.; they remained a “boogie man” in the minds of later Romans.

Then, in the 4th Century of the Christian Era, a greater “boogie man” stormed out of the vast steppes of Central Asia: the Huns!

1362422These nomadic herdsmen had been driven from the borders of China centuries earlier by the Han Chinese. (It is the subject of a great deal of scholarly debate as to whether or not the Huns are the same people as those known in Chinese sources as the Xiongnu. To date there is no consensus on this question.) Over a century, they had drifted ever westwards, across the “sea of grass” that covers the Eurasian hinterland. Along their westward trek, they subjugated or displaced other tribes of nomads. In 370 (approximately), after subjugating the Alans, they entered the lands of the Gothic king, Ermaneric.

The Goths, whose armies were still primarily composed of javelin or bow armed infantry, were no match for the swift-moving Huns, armed with the powerful and deadly composite bow. Like all Asian steppe nomads, Hunnic warfare was a matter of herding or luring the enemy onto killing grounds, where they were worn down by swarms of horse archers. Once the enemy’s numbers were depleted or exhaustion had set in, the Huns closed with the enemy and finished him off with lance, sword, or lasso (which the expert Hun herdsmen used to rope and pull their enemies them from their horses; to be made captive or dragged to their deaths).

1362424The Gothic Kingdom of Ermaneric was overthrown, the old king committing suicide in despair. Rather than submit, the Gothic nation fled westward. Led by Fritigern, many found themselves refugees pushing against the Danube frontier of the Roman Empire.

In 376, the Roman authorities agreed to allow the Goths to take refuge within the Empire. The Romans were interested in settling these warlike people along the frontier province of Moesia, an area devastated by earlier Gothic raids. There they would repopulate the province and act as a buffer against future “barbarian” incursions. This arrangement was a common one the Romans employed throughout the empire, enlisting tribes as foederati: tribal warriors allowed to settle on Roman territory in return for military service….

(To continue reading, go here.)

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marines-45153676275Deadliest Blogger takes a humorous look at the American military; through axioms, instructions, guidelines and various quotes.

“Aim towards the Enemy.”– Instruction printed on U.S. Army Rocket

“When the pin is pulled, Mr. Grenade is not our friend.” -U.S.M.C. Training Bulletin

“Cluster bombing from B-52s is very, very accurate. The bombs are guaranteed to always hit the ground.” -U.S.A.F. literature

“If the enemy is in range, so are you.” Infantryman’s Journal

“A slipping trigger gear could let your M203 grenade launcher fire when you least expect it. That would make you quite unpopular with what’s left of your unit.” -Army’s Magazine of Preventive Maintenance.

(To continue reading, go here)


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Unique among the territories of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, Britain succeeded in holding back and even reversing the tide of Germanic conquest for nearly two centuries. This was an age of heroes… It was the Age of Arthur!

This is the Eighteenth-part of our discussion of Britain in the 5th though the mid-6th Century A.D. It is a fascinating period, with the Classical civilization of Greece and Rome giving way to the Germanic “Dark Ages”; the sunset of Celtic-Roman culture in Britain.

(Read Part Seventeen here. Or start from the beginning, with Part One!)


In the previous chapter we examined Nennius’ tenth of Arthur’s battles, that at “the River Tribruit”. We built a case for that battle to have been fought on the River Forth, eight miles above Stirling; “Gateway to the Highlands” and site of William Wallace’s famous victory over the English. Arthur,  called north by his brother-in-law, King Lot; threatened by  a band of outlaws called the cinbin. “Cinbin” (or Cynbin) translates as “dog-heads”. They are led by a savage character named Garwlwyd (possibly synonymous with the figure known as Gwrgi Garwlwyd in the Welsh Triads).

From their lair along the marches between the British Kingdom of Gododdin and the Pictish Highlands, the Dog Heads raid into Gododdin, carrying off plunder and prisoners; two of which (a boy and girl) they supposedly eat daily!

Making common cause with an Angle pirate chief named Edlfled, the Dog Heads plan to converge  upon and capture Din Eidyn from land and sea.

As recounted in the previous chapter, Arthur and his 300 mounted Cymbrogi rush north from Cornwall, a distance of approximately 515 miles; and arrive in 10 days at Dùn Èideann (or Din Eidyn).  Joining with Lot’s forces, they move against Garwlwyd, camped at the crossing of the Forth at Tribruit (the Fords of Frew). In the resulting Battle of Tribruit/Tryfrwyd the Dog Heads are destroyed; though Garwlwyd may have escaped (to be later assassinated).

Meanwhile, unaware of Garwlwyd’s defeat, his Angle ally Edlfled has landed near Din Eidyn, some 46 miles to the southeast….

(To continue reading, go here!)

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