Battle of Stoke, 16 June 1487

The battle of Stoke (16 June 1487) was the last battle of the Wars of the Roses and saw Henry VII defeat the pretender Lambert Simnel and his allies.

After the battle of Bosworth (22 August 1485) a few die-hard Yorkists refused to accept that their cause was dead. Their big problem was the lack of a suitable heir. There were two main candidates. Edward Plantagenet, earl of Warwick, was the son of Edward IV and Richard III's brother George, duke of Clarence, but his father had been attainted and executed for treason, and the young earl may have had some sort of health problems. He had briefly been acknowledged by Richard III as his heir, but had quickly been replaced by John de la Pole, earl of Lincoln. Lincoln was the son of Edward and Richard's sister Elizabeth.

Battles of the Wars of the Roses
Battles of the
Wars of the Roses

After the battle of Bosworth Henry had quickly secured control of Warwick, and he had attempted to win Lincoln over. Lincoln had sworn an oath of loyalty to Henry and had served on the Royal council. Neither man was thus available to lead any rebellions against Henry.

The first such rebellion took place in 1486 and was led by Lord Lovell and Humphrey Stafford, two of Richard's supporters who had escaped from Bosworth and taken sanctuary at Colchester. Early in 1486 they escaped from sanctuary and attempted to raise revolts in Yorkshire and Worcester. Both of these revolts were quickly suppressed. Lovell escaped into Scotland and then to Flanders, while Stafford was captured and executed. Many of their supporters had seen the earl of Warwick as a possible alternative to Henry and rumours soon began to spread that the young earl had been murdered.

One man who attempted to take advantage of this rumour was Richard Simonds, an Oxford priest. He had found Lambert Simnel, an attractive and intelligence youth of humble origins, and had originally hoped to pass him off as one of Edward IV's two murdered sons. Now he decided that the earl of Warwick was more credible alternative. He decided to take Simnel to Ireland, where the House of York had been popular ever since Richard, duke of York, was there in the late 1440s. Gerald FitzGerald, earl of Kildare and Lord Deputy of Ireland, decided to support Simnel.

Support for the pretender also came from Margaret of York, the sister of Edward IV and now the widow of Charles the Bold of Burgundy. She had a secure base in Flanders, plenty of money, and was determined to overthrow Henry. She found an unexpected ally in the earl of Lincoln. He was present at Henry's council on 2 February 1487, but soon after this he fled to Flanders to join Margaret, who was his aunt.

Margaret had already decided to support Lambert Simnel, and so in late April Lincoln, with Lord Lovell and 2,000 German troops under Martin Schwartz set off for Ireland. They reached Dublin on 5 May, and on 24 May Simnel was crowned as King Edward VI. Reinforced by a contingent of Irish troops under Thomas FitzGerald the rebels sailed for England, landing on the Furness peninsula on 4 June.

Despite their rather confused agenda the rebels did find some supporters, chiefly amongst Richard III's old northern affinity. Sir Thomas Broughton raised some troops in the north-west, while the main rebel army crossed the Pennines into Wensleydale and moved down the valley to Masham. On 8 June Lincoln met with Lords Scrope of Bolton and Scrope of Masham. The Scropes then moved to York, while Lincoln led his army south.

Henry soon learnt of the invasion, and by 11 June his army was at Loughborough. He then moved to Nottingham, and was still there on 14 June when Lord Strange arrived at the head of the Stanley contingent. Henry was also waiting until it was clear where the rebels were heading. When it became that they were heading south, Henry advanced north-east from Nottingham towards Newark.

The battle was fought close to the village of East Stoke, south-west of Newark on the east bank of the River Trent. If Polydore Virgil is correct Henry actually reached Newark then moved back south-west to intercept the rebels, whose activities were being watched. Lincoln was already ready for battle, and camped close to Stoke on the night before the battle.

At the start of the battle Henry's army was formed up into three lines, perhaps suggesting that he had run into Lincoln's men rather sooner than expected - normally Medieval armies marched in a column - vanguard, main body and rearguard - but fought in a line, with the vanguard on the right and the rearguard on the left. At Stoke Henry's vanguard, under John de Vere, earl of Oxford, did all of the fighting. This might suggest an encounter battle, in which Oxford was forced to attack the rebels without support, but it is also possible that this was a deliberate plan on Henry's part. Oxford had performed the same role at Bosworth, and Polydore Virgil says that the vanguard was the largest and strongest of Henry's three battles.

The battle is said to have lasted for three hours. The rebels appear to have been outnumbered, but their German troops fought well and were the equal to their English opponents. The Irish troops are reported to have fought with great bravery, but to have suffered unusually heavy casualties because of their lack of armour. Eventually Oxford's men launched an attack that broke the rebel line. The rebels attempted to flee across the Trent, and many were killed while attempted to get down a narrow gully leading to the river. Lincoln was amongst the dead, as was Thomas Fitzgerald, Lord Broughton and Martine Schwartz. Lord Lovell disappears from the historical record after the battle and was probably killed, although there is a tradition that suggests he escaped and lived in hiding for some time afterwards. Simnel was captured, but was pardoned by Henry, on the grounds that he was innocent of any part in the plot. He was given a job in the Royal kitchens and later became a falconer.

In the aftermath of the battle of Stoke many of Richard's former supporters in the north came to ask for pardons. Henry carried out a progress through Yorkshire and Durham, and accepted most of these submissions. Lords Scrope of Bolton and Scrope of Masham were imprisoned for some time, and after their release were forbidden to travel north of the Trent. By the end of this progress Henry had dismantled most of Richard's old affinity, and the rest of his reign would be comparatively peaceful. The Yorkists would find another pretender in Perkin Warbeck, but he never posed the same threat and was captured after a botched invasion of Cornwall in 1497.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J. (15 September 2000), Battle of Stoke, 16 June 1487,

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