The Battle of Stoke Field, fought on 16th June 1487, was the last major battle of the Wars of the Roses. It is often overshadowed by the Battle of Bosworth, but in terms of battlefield strength, this was big, estimated to be 15000 Lancastrian 8000-10000 Yorkist soldiers by some commentators.
Lambert Simnel and the Yorkist Mercenaries
The Yorkists had installed Lambert Simnel as a ‘pretender’ to the throne. The boy was said by the Yorkist leaders to be Edward, Earl of Warwick, the son of George Duke of Clarence. It was a strange claim for the rebels to make. The real Earl of Warwick was held as a prisoner in the Tower of London. It was easy to produce him and for the Tudor regime to make it clear in London that the claimant was a false one.
Yorkists in Ireland, 1487
London was not where the Yorkists intended to set out from. The Earl of Lincoln, who was the heir to Richard III in the absence of the ‘Princes in the Tower’. The Earl of Warwick was barred from inheritance by the terms of his fathers attainder. Lincoln, along with other senior Yorkists such as Viscount Francis Lovell, hatched a different plan.
They had funding for a reasonably large mercenary force. Some 2000 hand gunners from Switzerland were hired thanks to funding from Burgundy. Burgundy was willing to fund the expedition as Margaret of York was Dowager Duchess of Burgundy at this time and a hugely influential person.
The house of York had retained much support in Ireland throughout the Wars of the Roses. Though there were areas that were equally as loyal to the Lancastrian, or Tudor, lines, there was enough support in key locations for the Earl of Lincoln to decide that the best method of invading England was from Ireland.
The party sailed to Ireland and Lambert Simnel was crowned King of England in St. Patrick’s in Dublin. Supportive Irish nobles were encouraged to array their forces for the Yorkist invasion of England. They had political reasons for doing so, those who had supported the house of York at critical times during the conflicts stood to lose through continued Tudor rule in England which would almost inevitably translate to their dominance in large parts of Ireland.
Invasion of England, 1487
A force of Swiss professional soldiers under Martin Schwartz, Irish levies, and Yorkist exiles and what remained of their retinues sailed from Ireland to Piel Island, off the coast of Cumbria.
From here the plan was for the Yorkists to march south via areas that had been staunch supporters of Richard III as both King and through his role in the Council of the North. This march was hindered along the way. As it approached the City of York the Flower of Craven took to the field of combat once more and harassed the Yorkist force as it made its way through the northern Dales.
…until they came near to the foresaid town or village of Stoke, where they were met by the king’s army, and there fought a fight that was bitter and sharp for as long it lasted, on the foresaid 16 June. The victory of this fell to the king, God be praised; even though in a cunning manner men set between the battlefield and many of the king’s subjects who were coming towards his grace, showing them the king had lost the field and fled; through which cunning contrivance and rumour many men faithful to the king turned back again, and some men in fear went into sanctuary, and wanted there until better news was brought to them.
Chronicle of London
At York the commanders found that the City was unwilling to commit itself to their cause. Though some additional men were joining the army as it marched, so too were preparations being made by the Tudor regime to tackle the army and any uprisings that may be planned to coincide with the invasion.
The two forces eventually met at East Stoke, Nottinghamshire.
Battle of Stoke Field
Much of the Yorkist army was Irish, and they wore little armour; they suffered huge losses to the archers. It is estimated that half of the Yorkist force was killed in the battle, including the Earl of Lincoln.
Lambert Simnel was found and taken into custody. King Henry VII took pity on the boy, who was clearly being used, and gave him a job in the King’s service.
Though there were further revolts and plots, this marked the end of large-scale warfare.
“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”. Polydor Virgil
SchoolsHistory – The Battle of Stoke Field. One of my other sites covers the battle of Stoke Field in much more detail. It contains source material and a more detailed narrative of the events leading up to the clash in Nottinghamshire.
Self Guided Battlefield Trail – From Nottinghamshire County Council (pdf)
Historic England Battlefield Report