RTLANC-09N Four Billmen, The Retinue of Rhys Ap Thomas – Battle of Bosworth Field
Rhys ap Thomas had declined to support Buckingham’s earlier uprising. In the aftermath, when Richard appointed officers to replace those who had joined the revolt, he made Rhys ap Thomas his principal lieutenant in south west Wales and granted him an annuity for life of 40 marks. Rhys was required to send his son Gruffydd ap Rhys ap Thomas to the King’s court at Nottingham as a hostage, but he excused himself from this obligation by claiming that nothing could bind him to his duty more strongly than his conscience. He is supposed to have taken an oath that “Whoever ill-affected to the state, shall dare to land in those parts of Wales where I have any employment under your majesty, must resolve with himself to make his entrance and irruption over my belly.”
On 1 August 1485, Henry set sail from Harfleur in France. With fair winds, he landed at Mill Bay near Dale on the north side of Milford Haven, close to his birthplace in Pembroke Castle, with a force of English exiles and French mercenaries. At this point, Rhys should have engaged him. However, Rhys instead joined Henry. Folklore has it that the Bishop of St. David’s offered to absolve him from his previous oath to Richard. The Bishop also suggested that Rhys fulfil the strict letter of his vow by lying down and letting Henry step over him. This undignified procedure might have weakened Rhys’s authority over his men, so instead, Rhys is said to have stood under the Mullock Bridge about 2 miles (3.2 km) north of Dale while Henry marched over it.
Henry’s and Rhys’s forces marched separately through Wales, with Rhys recruiting 500 men as he proceeded. They rejoined at Welshpool before crossing into England. Rhys’s Welsh force was described as being large enough to have “annihilated” the rest of Henry’s army. On 22 August, they met Richard’s army near Market Bosworth. In the resulting Battle of Bosworth, Richard launched an attack led by John Howard, 1st Duke of Norfolk. According to a contemporary ballad, Rhys’s men halted the assault. “Norfolk’s line began to break under pressure from Rhys ap Thomas’s men” and the Duke was killed by an arrow shot. Hoping to turn the tide and win the battle rapidly by killing his rival, Richard and his companion knights charged directly at Henry. The king was unhorsed and surrounded. The poet Guto’r Glyn implies that Rhys himself was responsible for killing Richard, possibly with a poll axe. Referring to Richard’s emblem of a boar, the poet writes that Rhys “killed the boar, shaved his head” (“Lladd y baedd, eilliodd ei ben”). However, this may only mean that one of Rhys’s Welsh halberdiers killed the king, since the Burgundian chronicler Jean Molinet, says that a Welshman, one of Rhys’ men suspected to be Wyllyam Gardynyr, struck the death-blow with a halberd. Guto’r Glyn himself says that Rhys was “like the stars of a shield with the spear in their midst on a great steed” (“A Syr Rys mal s?r aesaw, Â’r gwayw’n eu mysg ar gnyw mawr”). He was knighted on the field of battle.