Call me a coward but in real life I will do almost anything to avoid conflict and confrontation. So why is it that I am regularly drawn to photograph these historic battle re-enactments, you might ask? A good question, one that I occasionally ask myself!
The answer of course is very simple. These are wonderful events to photograph, the sight and sound of men and women marching into battle, the sound and smell of the gunfire, the beauty of the horses, the vibrant colours of the uniforms, the clanking of the armour, the sound of metal on metal as the army’s engage in hand to hand combat – wonderful!
So it was I found myself at Bosworth Battlefield in Leicestershire for the anniversary battle re-enactment, one of my favourite events of the year. The Battle of Bosworth on 22nd August 1485 is where Richard III lost not only the battle but also his life. His Yorkist army was defeated by the Lancastrians led by Henry Tudor (Henry VII) and this defeat effectively ended the wars of the roses. Henry was the first of the Tudors and he ruled until his death in 1509, after which he was succeeded by his second son, Henry VIII.
Of course there was much more to see at Bosworth than just the re-enactment battle itself, although that was the main set-piece event. A full timetable of events took place throughout the day including a re-enactment of the Battle of Tewkesbury in the morning.
There was also a display of mounted skills at arms with riders, both men and women, pitting their skills against a variety of targets while on horseback.
A first for Bosworth and for me too was a display entitled “Battle of the Nations”. This comprised a number of skirmishes, in a makeshift arena, in which two or more heavily armoured men armed with swords and shields fought each other in a carefully controlled but brutal battle to put their opponent on the floor.
The fighting was fast and furious in a gladiator style, the fighters laden down with all their heavy armour including heavily constructed helmets and visors.
I can only imagine how incredibly hot and physically draining it must have been to take part in this type of battle but it certainly made for some entertaining action for the many spectators around the Bosworth main arena.
Another popular attraction is the jousting tournament. This spectacular and occasionally dangerous pastime much loved by the knights of old is one of the highlights of the afternoon programme. The aim of the riders is to break your own lance on the shield of your opponent and points are scored for the accuracy of the hits and the amount of damage to your lance.
This year’s tournament ended in quite a spectacular but unexpected fashion when, on the very last pass of the day, the safety fence between the horses appeared to blow over as seen below. To the best of my knowledge, both horses and riders thankfully escaped without injury but I’m sure the event organisers will want to review what happened before next year’s event.
There were also some impressive birds of prey demonstrations throughout the day but I will save those photos for a separate post. The main event was the anniversary battle re-enactment itself with Richard III leading his Yorkist army into battle for the last time against the Lancastrians led by Henry Tudor.
A minute’s silence preceded the battle as always to remember all those who fought and died in the Wars of the Roses. Then the battle commenced and once more it didn’t disappoint.
As mentioned earlier, for photographers like myself, these events have everything you could wish for – colour, action, movement, drama, scale, atmosphere, sometimes a little humour but always a real feeling of witnessing something rather special right in front of you.
Attempting to capture all these elements in still pictures is the challenge of course and it is not without difficulties. These battles are often unpredictable and the number of spectators dictates that you have to pick the spot where you are going to stand well in advance and stay they for the duration of the battle, come what may.
The problem comes when you find yourself in the wrong place, because the battle moved to the other end of the arena, or it passed you by quickly and left you looking only at the backs of everyone involved. This is a familiar scenario for me as this very thing happened to me only recently at Kelmarsh earlier this year during the Wars of the Roses battle. if you find yourself in the wrong place there’s very little you can do except hope that they come back to you!
Once again I had a brilliant day at Bosworth, credit must go to all the organisers and all the re-enactment groups who took part in the event for making it a day to remember.
Hopefully my photos managed to capture some of the drama and colour of the day, I know I’m reasonably happy with them. I realise these photos may not be “real life” enough for some people’s eyes but maybe that’s one of the big attractions to me of photographing this type of event – a little bit of escape from “real life”.
Remember, whatever your chosen subject, enjoy your photography!