The Tudor Society

Was there really no chaplain available for Richard III before the Battle of Bosworth?

Thank you to William (Bill) for asking this question. His full question was: "Paul Murray Kendall's book Richard The Third states that there was no chaplain available for services in the King's army before the Battle of Bosworth. What does this mean? It seems incredible that Catholic soldiers would not hear Mass before going forth to battle."

I forwarded the question to author and historian Nathen Amin, and in the meantime, I did some digging. I knew that Michael Jones said the same in his book Bosworth and that the information came from "The Crowland Chronicle". I looked it up and found this bit in the chronicle:

"At day-break on the Monday following there were no chaplains present to perform Divine service on behalf of king Richard, nor any breakfast prepared to refresh the flagging spirits of the king; besides which, as it generally stated, in the morning he declared that during the night he had seen dreadful visions, and had imagined himself surrounded by a multitude of dæmons."

I spoke to Nathen and he was aware of this bit in the chronicle. He said that in the past it has been read to mean that the chronicle was suggesting that God had forsaken Richard III, that his visions and the fact that no chaplain was present were bad omens. However, it could simply mean that Richard rose earlier than expected, perhaps due to his bad dreams, and so the chaplains weren't ready and neither was breakfast, which would make sense. Nathen advised that I talk to military historian Mike Ingram. I contacted mile and he said:

"The Crowland Chronicler says that Richard's chaplains were not ready to celebrate mass. So that suggests Chaplains were there. Another source, a manuscript written around 1554 by Lord Morley cites a report by Sir Ralph Bigod (called Bygoff in the text) that said the royal chaplains were unable to perform mass before the battle because of a lack of organisation. I, therefore, believe that Richard walked into a trap. The only reason Mass was not said was because they did not have time."

Mike went on to say that the manuscript was the "Account of Miracles Performed by the Holy Eucharist", which Henry Parker, Lord Morley presented to Queen Mary I in 1554.

In his book The Wars of the Roses, John Ashdown-Hill writes that Bigod (Bygoff), according to Morley, "sayd that Kyng Richard callyd in the morning for to have had mass sayd before hym, but when his chapeleyne had one thing ready, evermore & they wanted another, when they had wyne they lacked breade, And ever one thing was myssing." So that shows that the chaplain was actually there but that things were very disorganised. As Ashdown-Hill points out, it wasn't exactly hard to celebrate a low mass, to get bread and wine ready, and "any experienced priest would easily have been able to get everything ready in less than half an hour" and mass would have only required 30 minutes or so. Ashdown-Hill believes that the information given in the sources suggests that either Richard III had risen earlier than expected or that his servants had overslept. However, he believes that none of this would have been a serious problem and that mass would have been celebrated before breakfast and that the chaplains would have blessed the army before the battle.

What do Tudor Society members think?

Nathen Amin is the author of The House of Beaufort: The Bastard Line that Captured the Crown, York Pubs and Tudor Wales. He also runs the Henry Tudor Society Facebook page.

Mike Ingram is a military historian and is the author of The Battle of Northampton 1460 and Battle Story: Bosworth 1485.

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