The Battle of Stoke Field is considered to be the final battle of the Wars of the Roses. It took place between the army of King Henry VII and diehard Yorkists in 1487. The rebels were defeated in a pitched battle. Following this there were threats to Henry’s new Tudor dynasty but not in the form of battle or war.
In context: Where does the Battle of Stoke Field fit in with the wider conflict of the Wars of the Roses?
Richard III had been killed two years earlier at the Battle of Bosworth. With Henry, Earl of Richmond, being crowned straight away and marrying Elizabeth of York, rival claims may appear implausible. That wasn’t the case though. While Henry had gained much support from disaffected Yorkists, some still harboured hopes of alternative candidates gaining the crown. With the whereabouts or fate of the Princes in the Tower being assumed or guessed at, there was little certainty as to anybody’s legitimacy. This lent itself to the use of imposters. One such imposter was Lambert Simnel who it was claimed was Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick, the son of the Duke of Clarence. The Earl of Lincoln presented Simnel as Edward. The young boy was whisked to Dublin where there were a number of exiled Yorkist loyalists and promptly proclaimed to be king and crowned. Lincoln intended this to act as a beacon for all those disaffected by the Tudor usurpation.
Preparations for the Battle of Stoke Field
Richard III had been very popular in the North of England. The Earl of Lincoln had taken on Richard’s roles in the region following Richard’s accession. Lincoln knew that there would be sympathy for a rebellion in large parts of Yorkshire. Simnel, as a passed off member of the House of York, with Lincoln vouching for him, would draw a large following.
In Dublin the Yorkist rebels assembled an army. Some 1000 heavily armoured mercenaries from Germany were hired under the command of Colonel, Martin Schwartz. The Irish, particularly around Dublin in the area known as the Pale, had been governed by Richard, Duke of York. It was an area in which his leadership had gained the Yorkists a lot of respect. 4500 Irish joined the Yorkist cause.
On 4th June 1487 the Yorkist force landed in Lancashire. They had initial successes in skirmishes in Lancashire and began to march south.
The Battle of Stoke Field
The two sides met at East Stoke, Nottinghamshire, on 16th June 1487. The Yorkists were commanded by the Earl of Lincoln and Lord Lovell. The Royal army was commanded by the Earl of Oxford, Jasper Tudor the Duke of Bedford and King Henry VII.
The Royal army placed the Earl of Oxford as the vanguard, as he had been at Bosworth. Jasper Tudor commanded the reserve and Henry VII and his command were behind these. Oxford ordered the archers of the Royal army to loose on the Yorkist lines. As many of the irish soldiers had little armour this proved quite devastating. It forced the yorkists to assault Oxford’s line.
The Yorkist army outnumbered the Royal vanguard led by Oxford. In a situation not dissimilar to that at Bosworth the outcome of this first clash lay in the balance. Here though, the Royal army had not only the better trained forces but substantially more of them: 15000 to the Yorkists 8000. After around 3 hours of fighting the Yorkist line gave way.
The Royalists were able to chase down many of the rebel army and killed around 4000 of them either in battle or as they fled. Around 1000 of the Royal army had been killed.
These numbers of dead are very high. Few battles on English soil have numbered this many dead. Of the battles of the Wars of the Roses only the Battle of Towton stands out as having significantly more: and that battle stands out against any battle fought on English soil.
Sources about the Battle of Stoke Field
This is credited by English Heritage to an anonymous herald. There is no date given on the English Heritage use of it but it says that it’s a herald from Henry’s army on the day.
And from thence, on the Friday, the King, understanding that his enemies and rebels drew towards
Newark ward, passing by Southwell and the far side of the Trent, the king with his host
removed thitherwards, and lodged that night beside a village called Ratcliff [i.e. Radcliffe],
nine miles out of Newark. That evening there was a great scry, which caused many cowards
to flee; but the earl of Oxford and all the nobles in the foreward with him, were soon in a
good array and in a fair battle, and so was the King and all the very men that there were. And
in this scry I heard of no man of worship that fled but rascals.
Polidor Virgil write of Stoke Field. His account, in Anglia Historie, was written c1512
The Earl of Lincoln meanwhile had entered Yorkshire with the other rebels, proceeding slowly and
offering no harm to the local inhabitants, for he hoped some of the people would rally to his
side. But when he saw his following was small he resolved none the less to try the fortunes of
war, recalling that two years earlier Henry with a small number of soldiers had conquered the
great army of King Richard: and although both the Germans and the Irish in the force
announced they had come to restore the boy Edward, recently crowned in Ireland, to the
kingdom, the Earl (who, as we have shown, was the son of Edward [IV’s] sister) planned to
seize the throne himself in the event of victory. Thus placing his trust in the fortunes of war,
the Earl began to make his way out of Yorkshire towards the town called Newark, situated on
the bank of the River Trent, so that, having augmented his troops there, he could march
directly on the King. But before he came to this place, King Henry (on the evening of the day
preceding the battle) set off to meet the enemy and came to Newark. He did not tarry there
for long but marched three miles beyond the town and there encamped for the night. The
Earl, having learnt of the King’s approach, was by no means alarmed but continued on his
chosen way, until the same day he came to a village near the camp of his enemy, a place they
call Stoke, where he pitched camp. The following day the King, having formed his whole
force into three columns, marched to the village of Stoke, halted before the Earl’s camp and,
on the level ground there, offered battle. Accepting the chance, the Earl led forward his
troops and, at a given signal, gave battle. Both sides fought with the bitterest energy. Those
rugged men of the mountains, the Germans, so practised in warfare, were in the forefront of
the battle and yielded little to the English in valour; while Martin Schwarz their leader was
not inferior to many in his courage and resolution. On the other hand the Irish, though they
fought most spiritedly, were nevertheless (in the tradition of their country) unprotected by
body armour and, more than the other troops engaged, suffered heavy casualties, their
slaughter striking no little terror into the other combatants. For some time the struggle was
fought with no advantage to either side, but at last the first line of the King’s army (which was
alone committed to the fray and sustained the struggle) charged the enemy with such vigour
that it at once crushed those of the hostile leaders who were still resisting. Thereupon the
remaining enemy troops turned to flight, and while fleeing were either captured or killed.
Indeed it was only then, when the battle was over, that it was fully apparent how rash had
been the spirit inspiring the enemy soldiers: for of their leaders John Earl of Lincoln, Francis
Lord Lovell, Thomas Broughton, the most bold Martin Schwarz and the Irish captain Thomas
English Heritage Battlefield Report: Stoke Field 1487
© English Heritage 1995 4
Geraldine were slain in that place, which they took alive in fighting [sic]. Lambert the false
boy king was indeed captured, with his mentor Richard [Simons]: but each was granted his
life – the innocent lad because he was himself too young to have committed any offence, the
tutor because he was a priest. Lambert is still alive to this very day, having been promoted
trainer of the King’s hawks; before that for some time he was a turnspit and did other menial
jobs in the royal kitchen
Battle of Stoke Field: Links
Battles in the Wars of the Roses
First Battle of St. Albans – Battle of Blore Heath – Battle of Ludford Bridge – Battle of Northampton – Battle of Wakefield – Battle of Mortimer’s Cross – Second Battle of St. Albans Battle of Ferrybridge – Battle of Towton – Battle of Hedgeley Moor – Battle of Hexham – Battle of Edgecote Moor – Battle of Losecote Field – Battle of Barnet – Battle of Tewkesbury – Battle of Bosworth – Battle of Stoke Field
Documents, Maps and Evidence
People and periods
British History – The Wars of the Roses – The Plantagenets – The Tudors – King Henry IV – King Henry V – King Henry VI – King Edward IV – King Edward V – King Richard III – King Henry VII – Margaret of Anjou