Monday, October 25, 2010

The man who changed the course of English history... (and I bet you’ve never heard of him).

Last year, we visited the mighty stone edifice that is Salisbury Cathedral. The interior space is just amazing, and walking underneath the massive scissor columns which have managed to hold up the 7,500 ton stone steeple you really do get a feel of the majesty of man’s homage to God Almighty.... How on earth did they manage to build this thing without it all crashing to earth? It’s like they’ve built a massive medieval anti-gravitational device with thousands of tons of stone suspended above our heads...

Down the centre of the space are a few monumental tombs of the great and the good.. Their stone effigies atop each tomb have been knocked about a bit – a nose chipped here, a finger missing there and a few puritan-inspired graffitos etched neatly into a couple of their foreheads. Most of them had an interesting story to tell. One bloke had actually fought alongside Henry V at the battle of Agincort in 1415. The guy next to him however didn’t appear to have done that much – and what’s more, his nose had received a fearfully bashing...

His name was, Sir john Cheney. And that is all that was said about him really. I took this pic’ of him for posterity..
Fast forward to this summer and I read a fine book on the Battle of Bosworth field and the events leading up to it. The psychology of a battle – Bosworth 1485 by Michael K. Jones is a worthy analysis of an epic event which defined the end of the viciously internecine civil war of the roses, the end of the middle ages and the end of the great royal York dynasty. And as I’m reading it, a name, pivotal to the outcome of the battle is mentioned – and what’s more, I recognised the guy as the man who is laid out in Salisbury Cathedral.

For those not familiar with the battle, the fate of King Richard centred on Lord Stanley’s involvement. Although provisionally promising allegiance to Richard, Stanley, his brother and their great private army held firm on a hillside overlooking the mayhem. They finally came down in favour of Henry Tudor. As they made their way to the ranks of the usurper Henry, Richard realised the game was up. Spurning a chance to leave the field and save his life - in a last, desperate attempt to win, Richard led a cavalry charge of knights specifically aimed at killing Tudor who was sheltering to the rear of his army. They came up against a phalanx of Tudor’s pikemen – the only way through was to dismount and fight hand to hand. As they hacked their way ever closer, Henry’s standard bearer was run through and killed by Richard himself.

Contemporary accounts tell of Richard fighting like a man demented, screaming “Treachery, treachery, treachery” as he fought for his crown – and his life. He was literally within striking distance of his great adversary when Sir John Cheney, the man from Salisbury Cathedral rode his horse between Richard and Henry. Richard’s impetus was halted, his shockwave stopped. Richard struck out at the knight’s horse. Steed and rider tumbled to the ground but by then, Henry’s personal bodyguard had rallied and Richard of York fell, hacked to pieces at the feet of Henry Tudor, the royal usurper.

But for Cheney and his horse getting in the way as Richard was about to strike down Henry, English history would have been very different. Richard’s English army had been defeated, Henry and his army of foreign mercenaries had triumphed largely because of Stanley’s treachery.....

The rest as they say, is history.

1 comment:

Wyrdtimes said...

Intereting stuff. What would have been different I wonder.

Did you see "A history of the world" about the battle of Towton 1461 - if you haven't you will like.