The amazing photographer, Thom Atkinson has recently published what he calls ‘Soldiers Inventories’ on his website. These photos are clearly a work of art and show a love for the subject that is sublime. Each piece is laid out as if it were part of a puzzle and every time I look at them, I spot something different, or work out a different combination as to how something might be used.
This is a fabulous resource for budding authors who want to write either historical fiction, historical fantasy or fantasy of any sort. As such, I thought I would share a photograph a week, with the added challenge that you also get to write a story about the man (or woman if fantasy) who got to wear the gear and use it in anger.
This week’s challenge and resource features the armour of a Yorkist Man at Arms, the sort of chap who fought in the Battle of Bosworth, 1485.
You can see a massive leap forward in the sort of armour that was being used by warriors in those days. Plate armour, which was much easier and quicker to produce than chain mail, has started to dominate, completely changing tactics and weapons.
One such weapon that was designed to combat plate can be seen at the bottom of the photo. The poleaxe was a fearsome weapon and, with most English knights now fighting on foot as opposed to horseback, it became their primary weapon of choice.
This was a two-handed weapon and was held at shoulder height, both elbows tucked tightly into the body so as to absorb any blows to the side of his armour which were more vulnerable than his front. The underarm was especially vital as it was often unarmoured, something that the spike on the end of the poleaxe was ideal for taking advantage of, being of suitable length to penetrate at least one lung and the heart if thrust into the side. They would also be placed onto the visor slit and thrust into the skull
On the top of the weapon was a bone-crushing hammerhead, enabling the wielder to smash his way through this opponent’s protection and get at the soft meat inside. Rather like cracking a lobster. Only far messier. It has to be remembered that armour doesn’t have to be pierced in order for the person inside to suffer horrific injuries. Imagine such a hammer slamming into the side of your helmet. It’s going to unbalance you at the very least. It will certainly weaken the helmet. Now imagine that you’re still seeing stars from the first blow. You’re open to another, one that smashes the metal of your own helmet into your skull. The third blow is delivered whilst you lie twitching on the ground, your skull already fractured, brain fluid leaking from your ears.
To make the hammerhead all that more effective a spike was sometimes added, punching through the armour and weakening it for the rest of the hammerhead. The hole caused would also then be vulnerable to the the long spike at the end of the poleaxe, the dent helping to guide it into the man behind.
The axe was also useful in hamstringing horses, delivering cutting blows to less well-armoured foes, and for finishing a man on the ground. All in all, this was a terribly efficient weapon that dealt out horrific injuries. And that was just one weapon in the arsenal that these well-trained fighters had. Add to this the other weapons that he had to hand, including unarmed combat (yes, that might surprise a lot of readers, but the West had their own unarmed martial arts) and you can see just how dangerous such a man would be. You can see that the leader of the group in the picture to the right from Geoff Oliver’s wonderful photography blog is carrying such a weapon.
Now you have an idea as to what sort of man used this equipment, we shall move on to the actual event.
Richard’s reign began in 1483 when he was handed the throne after his twelve-year-old nephew Edward V, for whom he was acting as Lord Protector, was declared illegitimate and ineligible for the throne. The boy and his younger brother disappeared in mysterious circumstances, and Richard’s support was eroded by rumours of his involvement 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.
The Yorkists lost 1,000 men in the battle compared to only 100 Lancastrians. It was an outright victory and heralded the end of the Plantagenets. However, we’re authors so feel free to play with this. Maybe the Yorkists win as Northumberland’s men thunder into a vulnerable flank, their heavy chargers knocking men asunder. Maybe you’re writing a fantasy story that was set in an earlier age but now that you’ve seen the sort of armour available for this period you’ve changed your mind?
Whatever you decide, I’m sure you’re going to have fun writing about it.