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Battle of Stoke Field

The Battle of Stoke Field took place in England on 16 June, 1487. It is often considered the last battle of the Wars of the Roses, since it was to be the last engagement in which a Lancastrian king faced an army of Yorkist supporters, under the pretender Lambert Simnel.

The pretender

Henry VII of England now held the throne for the House of Lancaster, and had tried to gain the acceptance of the Yorkist faction by his marriage to their heiress, Elizabeth of York, but his hold on power was not entirely secure.

The best surviving male claimant of the York dynasty was the queen's first cousin, Edward, Earl of Warwick (son of George, Duke of Clarence). This boy was kept confined in the Tower of London.

An impostor named Lambert Simnel came to the attention of John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. Lincoln, although apparently reconciled with the Tudor king, himself had a claim on the throne; moreover, the last Plantagenet, Richard III of England, had named him as the royal heir. Although he probably had no doubt about Simnel's true identity, Lincoln saw an opportunity for revenge and reparation.

Lincoln fled the English Court on 19 March 1487 and went to the Court of Mechelen (Malines) and his Aunt, Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy. Margaret provided financial and military support in the form of 1500 German mercenaries, under the veteran commander, Martin Schwartz. Lincoln was joined by a number of rebel English Lords at Mechelen, in particular Richard III's loyal supporter, Lord Lovell, Sir Richard Harleston, the former Governor of Jersey and Thomas David, a Captain of the English garrison at Calais.

The Yorkist rebellion

The Yorkist fleet set sail and arrived in Dublin on 4 May 1487. With the help of Sir Thomas Fitzgerald, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Lincoln recruited 4,500 Irish mercenaries, mostly Kern: lightly armoured but highly mobile infantry.

With the support of the Irish nobility and clergy, Lincoln had the pretender Lambert Simnel crowned "King Edward VI" in Dublin on the 24 May 1487. Although a Parliament was called for the new "King", Lincoln had no intention of remaining in Dublin and instead packed up the army and Simnel and set sail for north Lancashire.

On landing on the 4 June 1487, Lincoln was joined by a number of the local gentry led by Sir Thomas Broughton. In a series of forced marches, the Yorkist army, now numbering some 8,000 men, covered over 200 miles in 5 days. On the night of 10 June, at Bramham Moor, outside Tadcaster, Lovell led 2,000 men on a night attack against 400 Lancastrians, led by Lord Clifford. The result was an overwhelming Yorkist victory.

Lincoln then outmanoeuvered King Henry's northern army, under the command of Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland by ordering a force under John, Lord Scrope to mount a diversionary attack on Bootham Bar, York, on 12 June. Lord Scrope withdrew northwards, taking Northumberland's army with him.

Lincoln and the main army continued southwards. Outside Doncaster, Lincoln encountered Lancastrian cavalry under Lord Scales. There followed 3 days of skirmishing through Sherwood Forest. Lincoln forced Scales back to Nottingham. However, the fighting had slowed down the Yorkist advance sufficiently to allow King Henry to receive substantial reinforcements, under the command of Lord Strange on arriving at Nottingham on 14 June.

On 15 June, King Henry began moving north east toward Newark after receiving news that Lincoln had crossed the Trent. Around 9 in the morning of the 16 June, King Henry's forward troops encountered the Yorkist army ensembled in a single block, on a brow of a hill, surrounded on 3 sides by the Trent at the village of East Stoke.

In an unusual military manoeuvre, the Yorkists surrendered the high ground by immediately going on to the attack. The battle was bitterly contested for over 3 hours, but eventually, the lack of body armour on the Irish troops meant that they were cut down in increasing numbers.

Unable to retreat, the German and Swiss mercenaries fought it out. All of the Yorkist commanders: Lincoln, Fitzgerald, Broughton, and Schwartz, fell fighting. Only Lord Lovell escaped and died hidden in a secret room at his house. Simnel was captured, but was pardoned by Henry in a gesture of clemency which did his reputation no harm. Henry realised that Simnel was merely a puppet for the leading Yorkists.

References

  • Bennett, M.J. (1987) Lambert Simnel and the Battle of Stoke, Stroud : Sutton, ISBN 0-86299-334-2
  • Mackie, J.D. [1952] (1994) The earlier Tudors: 1485-1558, Oxford history of England 7, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-285292-2, pp. 73–75

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