21st August is a solemn day for supporters of King Richard III. The final day before the fateful Battle of Bosworth.
He will have known the battle was imminent. His scouts and spies will have tracked the movements of Henry Tudor’s army through the English Midlands to Merevale and the plain of Redemore. After mustering in the town of Leicester, the King will have led his own forces out towards the pretender’s advance, aiming to cut off his route towards the capital.
Matthew Wansford, of course, being ‘keen to serve and so full of youthful foolishness’, follows his King to Leicester, catching up with the royal army at its camp on the evening of the 21st. And there, using the silver boar badge that King Richard gave him in thanks for his service and the excuse of a letter sent by his new master in London, Matt finds his way into the King’s presence.
To the boy’s surprise, Richard dismisses his gentlemen, and Matt is left alone with his King.
“He stood before me, his hand out-thrust.
I fumbled in my pouch for Master Ashley’s letter. As I drew it out, a sudden pang of guilt griped at me. How dare I, a mere apprentice, lie and cheat my way into the presence of my King?
I dropped to my knees, passing the small square of parchment to him with my head lowered.
He murmured his thanks and moved away to the table. The tiny crack of the wax seal breaking reached my ears, then the crackle of unfolding parchment.
A short silence. Then,
‘But this is to Master Kendall. Why are you wasting my time, boy?’
His voice was sharp.
I hung my head still, waiting for his rebuke. Why had I been so stupid?
But then came his familiar bark of a laugh.
‘And just asking that you be found a job here.’ Relief washed through me at his change of tone. ‘Away from any danger, of course.’
My cheeks burned again and my fists curled into balls. Despite my earlier self-reproach, I leapt to my feet, ready to protest.
The King was leaning back against the table, watching me levelly, a half-smile on his lips.
‘Nay, boy, do not be so quick to anger. Your master asks John to find you a job wherever you may be useful to me – as you are so keen to serve and so full of youthful foolishness. But, for himself, Master Ashley asks that you be kept from harm as he has many uses for you.’
I was not so used to his gentle mocking ways as I had once been and I jibbed at the words.
‘Do not heed him, Your Grace. I want to serve you in the battle – I know it is coming.’
‘Yes, it’s coming. Tomorrow – did you know that?’
I swallowed, but found my throat dry. I had seen the camp, the soldiers, the weapons, but had no idea the battle would be so soon.
The King, however, appeared untroubled.
‘Aye. Tudor and his forces are just a few miles from here, at Merevale my scouts tell me. Tomorrow we shall meet face to face with our armies at our backs.’”