Sir James Harrington and the battle of Bosworth

Today (22nd August) is the anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth.  In case you don’t know it was the battle at which King Richard III was defeated by Henry Tudor.  I’m not going to go into all the complex details of the reasons for this battle as it would probably take me years.  If you are interested you can take a look at:

There is information there about the recent rediscovery of the actual site of the battle which is a short distance from the visitor centre.  It was here, in September 2009, that a small gilded silver boar badge was discovered which was almost certainly worn by a knight in Richard’s retinue – one of those brave men who accompanied him in his fatal charge to defeat Henry Tudor.

A reproduction of the silver gilt badge found on the site of the battlefield at Bosworth

One of those men was Sir James Harrington and the badge may have been his. His father Sir Thomas Harrington and his eldest brother John had both died at the battle of Wakefield in 1460, fighting for the Yorkist cause.   Tragic though that was it was timings of their deaths that caused a huge problem for the remaining Harrington family.  Because Thomas died at the battle and John died from his wounds later the Harrington estates, which included the strategically placed Hornby Castle in north Lancashire passed from father to son and then to John’s heirs.  John Harrington’s heirs were his two young daughters – Anne and Elizabeth – who were aged around four and five years old at this time.  As they were not old enough to inherit they were taken into the care of the king, Edward IV, and their wardship was given to Sir Thomas Stanley who was quick to arrange marriages for them with one of his sons and a nephew.  What this meant was that Hornby Castle now belonged to the Stanleys and the Harrington family were virtually dispossessed.

But James Harrington and his younger brother Robert refused to give up the castle.  Thomas Stanley was infuriated and brought up a cannon to persuade them otherwise.  At this time, Richard was duke of Gloucester and aged around seventeen years old.  He could see the unfairness of what had happened and, after failing to persuade his brother, the king, that the arrangements should be changed he rode to Hornby to help the Harringtons defend it against Stanley.  This was the beginning of the emnity between Richard and Thomas Stanley which resulted in Stanley deserting him for the cause of his stepson, Henry Tudor, at Bosworth.

In 1465, James Harrington was one of the men who captured Henry VI who had been hiding out in Lancashire.  He was delivered to Edward IV who kept him captive in the Tower of London.  I think that James Harrington may have hoped that this act of loyalty would make Edward look more favourably at his claim to Hornby, but although James was rewarded the castle was not returned to him.

Later, after the defeat of the earl of Warwick, both James and Robert Harrington were later taken into Richard’s household and were amongst the select group of his personal retainers.  They would have both worn a small silver gilt boar badge to show their status and their loyalty to Richard.

When he became king, Richard  expressed his intention of re-opening the debate about the ownership of Hornby Castle.  He was still determined that it should be returned to James Harrington.  Of course, the idea infuriated Thomas Stanley.  His son Edward was married to Anne Harrington and was living at Hornby and was not prepared to hand it back.

So, on the morning of the 22nd August, 1485, when Richard rode into battle with the Harrington brothers at his side, Thomas Stanley decided to fight against them.  Richard was killed.  James Harrington escaped with his life and fled, possibly losing his badge in the mud of Bosworth Field to be found over 500 years later.

Some of you may already know that I’ve written a novel about this story.  It’s provisionally titled By Loyalty Bound and is still awaiting publication.  I hope that I can share this story with you soon.  Not only does it suggest that Richard’s support of the Harrington family was a factor in the Stanleys’ decision not to fight for him at Bosworth, it also introduces the intriguing idea that Anne Harrington could have been the mother of his children John and Katherine.



13 thoughts on “Sir James Harrington and the battle of Bosworth

  1. Hello

    I am descended from Agnes Harrington and Alexander Radcliffe. Greatly looking forward to your book. I will be taking a course on The Wars of the Roses at Christ Church, Oxford July 7-12. Any chance your book may be at Blackwell’s?

    1. I don’t know if Blackwell’s will be stocking the book, but it’s worth going in to ask them. Or you could try Waterstones. Enjoy the course. The Wars of the Roses are fascinating to study.

      1. Thank you. I will try both or in London before returning to New York.

      2. It will be available in the US as well so you should be able to order from at some point.

  2. Christine Sexton (nee Harrington) June 8, 2013 — 10:51 am

    As a Harrington born and bred I am interested in anything connected to them, having tried to trace back and only got as far as the 1600s. I did not know they were with Richard when he was killed. Fascinating stuff!

    1. Hi. I am a Harrington living in the US. Traced my family name back to Thomas Harrington (born in the Virginia colonies 1625) May be the son of Edward Harrington(?) who arrived August 1st, 1643. Curious if you have any information on my English cousins from about that timeframe and older. Thank you in advance for any information about the Harrington family.
      Robert Harrington

  3. Yes, the epitaphs do have a ring of Shakespeare about them. I think he may have written them, but I don’t think William Stanley was Shakespeare – although he was a playwright the dates don’t fit. William Shakespeare’s patron was Ferdinando Stanley and I think he wrote his version of Richard III partly to emphasise Ferdinando’s valid claim as the heir to Elizabeth I – which is why he has Thomas Stanley crowning the Tudor king; very symbolic.

  4. Looking forward to reading this book.Thomas Stanley is an ancestor of mine ,through the 5th Earl of Derby, Ferdinando Stanley.I can’t help liking Thomas ,he’s a survivor . I think there is a lot of literary Mileage to be had with the Stanley family in general.I particularly like the connection the family had with the Elizabethan Theatre ,was the 6th Earl the “other W.S”?

    1. Thanks Julie. By Loyalty Bound is due for publication in May 2013. As for the Stanleys and Shakespeare – that idea forms the basis of the novel I’m working on at the moment!

      1. This is great news .Btw my children went to Hornby High School,the younger one just before it closed .Such a beautiful location for a school it was a pity it ended. I have read the Epitaphs on two Stanley monuments 1@Tong Church ,Shropshire and 2@ Chelsea Old Church ,London and compared the second with Sonnet 55.I love the lines from Tong .”Aske who lies here but do not weepe ,He is not dead ,he doth but sleepe”. If William Stanley was Shakespeare it might explain why Richard 111 is written as an evil monster. “Revenge”?…best served cold.

  5. I’d love to read your novel based on this story, Elizabeth. You know, I’ve read several novels re-telling the story of Richard III and I’m always looking for new ones. Fingers crossed for publication!

  6. Looking forward to reading it, Elizabeth

  7. Fascinating story, Elizabeth. Even though I’m Lancashire born and bred, I’m a Yorkist supporter! Had no idea about the Harringtons’ connection with Richard (or with Stanley – boo, hiss!). Look forward to hearing more about your novel. I can’t get enough of stories about Richard and the Wars of the Roses.

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