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  • 'Lots of people remember their history lessons from school

  • 'as dates and battles, kings and queens, facts and figures.

  • 'But the story of our past is open to interpretation

  • 'and much of British history is a carefully edited

  • 'and even deceitful version of events.'

  • You might think that history is just a record of what happened.

  • Actually, it's not like that at all.

  • As soon as you do a little digging,

  • you discover that it's more like a tapestry of different stories,

  • woven together by whoever was in power at the time.

  • In this series,

  • I'm going to debunk some of the biggest fibs in British history.

  • In the 17th century,

  • politicians and artists helped turn a foreign invasion

  • into the triumphal tale of Britain's glorious revolution.

  • Hello. Woohoo!

  • 'In the 19th century, a British government coup in India...'

  • GUNSHOT

  • '..was rebranded by the Victorians

  • 'as the civilising triumph of the Empire.

  • 'And in this episode,

  • 'I'll find out how the story of the Wars of the Roses was invented

  • 'by the Tudors to justify their power.

  • 'And then immortalised by the greatest storyteller of them all.

  • 'Shakespeare presented this

  • 'as the darkest chapter in the nation's history.'

  • Now is the winter of our discontent.

  • Two rival dynasties, the House of Lancaster and the House of York,

  • were locked in battle for the crown of England.

  • This was the real-life Game of Thrones.

  • Brothers fought against brothers.

  • Anointed kings were deposed.

  • And innocent children were murdered.

  • Never before had the country experienced

  • such treachery and bloodshed.

  • In 1485, a wicked king, Richard III, was slain.

  • And Henry Tudor took the throne.

  • Henry's victory would herald the ending of the Middle Ages

  • and the founding of the great Tudor dynasty.

  • It was to be England's salvation.

  • Or so the story goes.

  • With history, the line between fact and fiction often gets blurred.

  • In 1455, the village of Stubbins, in Lancashire,

  • was the scene of a legendary battle

  • in the Wars of the Roses.

  • The fighting began with volleys of arrows, but then, to their horror,

  • both sides realised that they'd run out of ammunition.

  • In desperation, the Lancastrians grabbed some makeshift weapons -

  • they happened to have a supply of their local delicacy,

  • black puddings from Bury.

  • And with these, they pelted the Yorkists.

  • But, as luck would have it,

  • the Yorkists had their own supply of missiles -

  • Yorkshire puddings.

  • With which they bombarded the Lancastrians.

  • Now, most disappointingly,

  • this 15th century food fight never really happened.

  • It's a local legend that was conjured up as long ago as 1983.

  • But what the Battle of Stubbins Bridge does tell us is that,

  • although the dates and the details might be hazy,

  • the Wars of the Roses are still alive and well

  • in what you might call our national memory.

  • What you think you know about the Wars of the Roses though

  • and what really happened

  • are two quite different things.

  • According to the history books,

  • the Wars of the Roses is the story of the fatal rivalry

  • between the House of Lancaster and the House of York,

  • between the red rose and the white.

  • But the saga of a country divided by 30 years of bloody wars

  • and deadly hate was largely invented by the Tudors,

  • then spun into the dynasty's foundation myth

  • by the greatest storyteller of all, William Shakespeare.

  • And there is a firm basis for this tale

  • of devastating national conflict.

  • On a single day in 1461, the bloodshed was only too real.

  • In the middle of a snowstorm, on the 29th of March, in Towton, Yorkshire,

  • the Lancastrian and Yorkist forces clashed head-to-head.

  • The result was utter carnage.

  • The Lancastrians started out the day pretty well,

  • but then the tide began to turn against them.

  • They were chased by the Yorkists down this steep and icy slope,

  • the blizzard was still blowing,

  • and that little river at the bottom was flooded,

  • so they couldn't get any further.

  • This meant that the Yorkists came down the hill

  • and started massacring them.

  • So many men died that their blood stained the snow red.

  • This became known as the Bloody Meadow.

  • A century later,

  • William Shakespeare would depict the battle as a medieval Armageddon,

  • where fathers slaughtered their own sons

  • and sons murdered their own fathers.

  • Towton had come to symbolise a country torn apart by war.

  • The scale of the killing was so great that there's been nothing else

  • quite as bad in the whole of our history.

  • On the first day of the Battle of the Somme, in July 1916,

  • 19,000 British soldiers were killed.

  • But here at Towton, contemporary reports talk about 28,000 dead.

  • That's 1% of the entire population killed on a single day.

  • 20 years ago, Bradford University's archaeology department

  • revealed the true barbarity of the fighting

  • when they uncovered the remains of 43 men killed at Towton.

  • George, we've got five skulls of people here on the table.

  • How was this gentleman finished off here?

  • It's kind of square.

  • That is with a horseman's hammer.

  • But this particular skull has another sign of extreme violence

  • inflicted with a pole axe.

  • The head was forced down into the spine,

  • so the skull has actually shown signs of splitting.

  • This sort of desecration of the body,

  • that's actually robbing them of life in the next life.

  • You are disfiguring them and they can't be resurrected.

  • This battle is truly horrendously brutal,

  • but is it the norm for the Wars of the Roses?

  • No. It was exceptional. Certainly, in the enormous number

  • of people who fought and died at Towton.

  • I think people might have the impression that they were just

  • fighting for decade after decade after decade,

  • but within this period, how many battles actually were there?

  • Well, there were skirmishes but, in terms of real battles,

  • around about eight.

  • The feud between the Houses of Lancaster and York did fester for

  • three decades, but the idea that this was a period utterly ravaged

  • by all-out war, well, that's just historical fiction.

  • Yes, Towton was a truly brutal battle, but it was also unique.

  • The other battles in the Wars of the Roses

  • had much lower death tolls.

  • And the idea that the country was totally consumed by war is wrong.

  • Some historians argue that,

  • out of the 32 years of the Wars of the Roses,

  • the fighting only lasted for a total of 13 weeks.

  • That would mean that there were months, years, even a whole decade,

  • when England was at peace.

  • The reason we talk of this era

  • as the Wars of the Roses isn't an accident.

  • It's the story told by the winning side,

  • the history the Tudors wanted us to remember.

  • It began with their account of the battle

  • that brought the war to an end -

  • the Battle of Bosworth.

  • The Lancastrian Henry Tudor

  • emerged as a victorious hero

  • who had ended 30 years of bloodshed.

  • He'd saved the nation

  • from a villainous tyrant -

  • the Yorkist King Richard III.

  • 'The Tudors made sure Bosworth would be remembered as the ultimate clash

  • 'between the forces of good and evil.

  • 'Helped along by William Shakespeare,

  • 'who relished their juicy tale,

  • 'the battle has been so mythologized

  • 'that it's hard to sort fact from fiction.'

  • Historians used to think that the Battle of Bosworth took place

  • about two miles away, over there, up on top of the hill,

  • but over the last ten years,

  • all sorts of interesting finds have been emerging from the fields

  • immediately here.

  • That's things like parts of 15th-century swords

  • and badges

  • and about 40 of these fantastically deadly-looking cannonballs.

  • The battle must have taken place here.

  • Now, despite this confusion about its location, a myth, a legend

  • has grown up about exactly what happened that day.

  • It's one of our great national stories

  • and it goes something like this.

  • 'King Richard III goes into battle wearing a crown,

  • 'symbol of what's at stake that day.'

  • Richard declares, "This day I will die as King or I will win."

  • And even his enemies admit that he fights courageously.

  • 'Richard gets within a sword's length of Henry Tudor,

  • 'but the enemy forces overwhelm him.

  • 'In desperation, he cries out,

  • '"My horse, my horse, my kingdom for a horse!"'

  • And then he's killed with a blow to the head

  • and he loses his crown.

  • 'After Henry's victory,

  • 'Richard's crown is discovered in a hawthorn bush.

  • 'And Henry is crowned with it on the battlefield.'

  • Now, how much of this really happened?

  • It's impossible to say.

  • But the reason that this is the story we know

  • is because it's the one Henry wanted us to remember.

  • Henry wanted to make everyone aware of his decisive victory

  • on the battlefield, but that was the easy part.

  • In a nation divided,

  • Henry's enemies still believed that he was a usurper,

  • who had stolen the crown from the anointed King Richard III.

  • Henry needed to legitimise his new reign,

  • so when his first parliament met a few months after Bosworth,

  • he made sure that it was his version of events that was recorded.

  • One telling detail that Henry had written

  • into the records of Parliament

  • was that his reign had begun on the 21st of August 1485.

  • Now, this is a bit odd because the Battle of Bosworth

  • wasn't until the 22nd of August 1485.

  • Was this a slip of the quill?

  • No, it was deliberate.

  • Henry was claiming that he'd already been king, even before the battle,

  • so he wasn't a usurper stealing the crown,

  • he was just taking what was rightfully his.

  • He cunningly realised that his success didn't just lie

  • in victory on the battlefield, it also lay in the way that the

  • history of the Wars of the Roses would be written.

  • Henry's next move was equally cunning.

  • On the 18th of January 1486, Henry VII married Elizabeth of York,

  • daughter of Edward IV.

  • Henry would present his match as the start of a glorious new chapter

  • in the nation's history.

  • Henry realised that picking the right wife was important

  • but that telling the right story about the marriage was even more so.

  • The story that he wanted to tell was that this was one of the

  • most important marriages in history.

  • Here he was, a Lancastrian, marrying Elizabeth, a Yorkist,

  • they were going to heal the nation.

  • They had once been bitter rivals

  • but now, they were loving bedfellows.

  • But his cunning storytelling had another advantage too.

  • It glossed over the very inconvenient fact that

  • an awful lot of people thought

  • that he had no right to the throne at all.

  • Henry hoped that his marriage to Elizabeth

  • would be seen as a fresh start.

  • It would also divert attention away from his less than royal lineage.

  • This is a genealogical roll, showing the kings of England,

  • going right back into the mists of time.

  • It goes back as far as Brutus,

  • the mythical king 1,000 years before the Romans.

  • You can't even see Brutus because he's still rolled up,

  • we couldn't fit the whole thing onto the table.

  • And as you come down this end, towards me,

  • you move forwards into the period of the Wars of the Roses.

  • These circles contain pictures of all the different kings,

  • most of them called Edward.

  • This one's called Rex Ted,

  • which pleases me.

  • As we get down here, we have some Henrys.

  • Henry VI.

  • Here is another Edward.

  • Here is Richard III and then,

  • the main red line peters out.

  • Where is the next king, Henry VII?

  • Well, he's been squished in at the side

  • as the husband of Elizabeth of York.

  • So, where has he popped up from?

  • This black line tells us.

  • It goes back to Henry's grandmother, Catherine,

  • who was a proper Queen of England,

  • but her second husband, Henry's grandfather,

  • was this chap, Owen Tudor,

  • a servitor in camera,

  • that means a chamber servant.