Ashwellthorpe soldier’s will a significant link to Battle of Bosworth

The discovery of a Norfolk soldier's will has linked him to one of the defining moments in English history.

Archivists at the Norfolk Record Office have identified Thomas Longe, of Ashwellthorpe, near Wymondham who made his will on August 16, 1485.

The will gives historians the first positive identification of a soldier involved in the penultimate battle of the War of the Roses – the Battle of Bosworth.

The will was made before Mr Longe left Norfolk to join the army of Richard III in Nottingham. Norfolk Record Office staff suspect that Mr Longe fought at Bosworth as a follower of Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey and Lord of Ashwellthorpe and his father, John Howard, the Duke of Norfolk.

After hearing that Henry, Earl of Richmond (who became Henry VII after the battle), had landed in Wales, Richard III instructed the Howards to join him at Nottingham in order to move with the royal army to Leicester and on to Battle of Bosworth, one of the bloodiest battles to take place on British soil.

The fact that Mr Longe's will was made verbally by him in front of witnesses rather than written down at the time suggests he was a man in a hurry and with the thought of possible impending death on his mind.

Derrick Murphy, leader of Norfolk County Council and chairman of the Records Committee, said: 'Formal accounts of medieval campaigns seldom identify the rank and file, but concentrate on the great men who led armies. The ordinary soldier is usually just one of many anonymous combatants, lost among the chroniclers' estimates of the size of the fighting forces – in the Wars of the Roses and in a host of other conflicts.

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'It is therefore hugely important – and a particular thrill – when an archival document, such as the will of Thomas Longe, comes to light, enabling us to know a little more about a common soldier from a Norfolk village who played his part in one of the pivotal episodes of English history.'

Norfolk county archivist, Dr John Alban, said: 'Apart from several Lancastrian foot soldiers about whom we know because Henry VII made them Yeomen of the Guard, there has been no record of any soldiers below the gentry class at the battle until now. This simple document therefore takes on quite a significance.'

Historians are confident that Mr Longe's participation in the battle was as an ordinary soldier, as only notable people who took part are named in the history archives. Given that his will was made in January, historians are almost certain Mr Longe died in the battle.

Richard Knox, curator at Leicestershire County Council's Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre, said: 'Finding a name of one of the usually anonymous and long forgotten soldiers at Bosworth is a very important discovery. Although lists of soldiers chosen from the towns and villages of England survive from some other Wars of the Roses battles, we have none for Bosworth, only lists of lords, knights and gentlemen who took part in the battle.

'We are always interested to hear more about the people who fought at Bosworth, both rich and poor, as it helps to bring home the fact that these were real people that fought and died 526 years ago.'