AT the battle of Bosworth Field in Leicestershire on August 22, 1485, the English King Richard III was killed while fighting the army of Welsh-born Henry Tudor.
The man who is supposed to have dispatched Richard III to the next world was Llandeilo landowner Sir Rhys ap Thomas – at least if his family’s history is to be believed.
When a skeleton was unearthed under the car park of Leicester Social Services in September 2012, a team of forensic scientists was brought in by the archaeologists and historians who had excavated the body.
They concluded that the damage and wounds to the body and skull were consistent with the reported manner in which Richard III had been killed.
According to historical claims, Richard III was a hunchback., The unearthed skeleton did display a pronounced curvature of the spine, showing that Richard suffered from a bone disease known as scoliosis.
The bones have been confirmed as those of Richard III by radio-carbon dating and amatch with the maternal DNA of two living descendants of Richard’s sister. “Beyond reasonable doubt, the individual exhumed at Greyfriars in September 2012, is indeed Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England,”
said Richard Buckley, the lead archaeologist in the project, at a press conference at Leicester University earlier this month.
Richard’s body was reportedly buried in a shallow grave in the church of Greyfriars Abbey in Leicester. Afterwards the trail goes cold, as Greyfriars monastery was demolished in the 1530s.
So who was this Llandeilo man who, his descendants claimed, killed Richard III on that fateful August day in 1485 and ushered in the Tudor dynasty? Well, before the Battle of Bosworth Rhys ap Thomas was just another landowner renting various estates in the Towy valley from the king, including Dinefwr Park in Llandeilo. Immediately after Bosworth he found himself outright owner of these same lands, and more, when Henry VII granted him the Towy valley plus large tracts of Cardiganshire and Pembrokeshire as reward for his support.
When the Lancastrian Henry Tudor had landed near Milford Haven in August 1485 from a 14- year exile in Brittany, Rhys ap Thomas raised a 500-strong Carmarthenshire army in support of Henry against the Yorkist Richard III and marched from Carmarthen, past Dinefwr Castle, on to Llandovery and Brecon, before turning northwards to meet up with Henry’s gathering army of supporters at Welshpool. The final destination was Bosworth in Leicestershire for that historychanging battle.
When Edward IV had died suddenly, in April 1483, Richard, his brother, was named Lord Protector of the Realm for Edward’s son and successor, King Edward V, aged 12. The young king and his brother were swiftly declared illegitimate and Richard was crowned King Richard III on July 6, 1483.
In 1483 Richard took King Edward V and his brother, nine, and imprisoned them in the Tower of London, from where they were never seen again.
Most later historians concluded that they had been murdered by Richard. This has led the depiction of Richard III as a child-slayer, a devious, blackhearted, hunch-backed monster who seized the throne illegally.
But did Rhys ap Thomas, knighted by Henry VII three days after the battle of Bosworth, kill Richard III?
Around 1620 a descendant of Rhys wrote a family history where this claim was made: “King Richard, as a just reward for all his vile actions and horrible murders, being slain in the field, our Welch tradition says that Rhys ap Thomas slew Richard, manfully fighting with him hand to hand. (Sir Rhys ap Thomas and his Family, Ralph A. Griffiths, 1993).”
When medieval kings were killed in battle it was usually by ordinary soldiers breaking through the cordon of bodyguards around a king and cutting him down with axes, swords, pikes etc.
The forensic investigation of the skeleton found under that Leicester car park concluded that multiple wounds to the head and body were the cause of death.
Rhys ap Thomas was a renowned warrior, so it is plausible that he was one of the soldiers who broke through and cut Richard III down. His reward after the battle certainly showed that Henry VII looked on him with high regard.
Walk in the main courtyard of Dinefwr Castle today and you could conceivably claim to be standing literally in the footsteps of the man who sent an English King to his afterlife.
And as you look out from the castle you could just as easily imagine Rhys’ army passing within view of the ramparts on its way to join Henry Tudor in August 1485.
● Terry Norman, is the secretary of Ammanford Archaeology and History Society.