1487: 16 June - Stoke Field

The early years of Henry VII’s reign were by no means carefree; his dynasty was beset by enemies in Britain and at the court of Burgundy; in the spring of 1487 a serious insurrection was launched from Ireland. An impostor called Lambert Simnel made out to be Clarence’s son, Edward Earl of Warwick (who at the time was actually a prisoner in the Tower), was sponsored by an Oxford priest and supported by the Earl of Lincoln, whom Richard had made his heir, and the ardent Yorkist Lord Lovel. Simnel was crowned King of England in Dublin on 24 May 1487, and on 4 June the boy ‘king’, accompanied by Lincoln and Lovel, landed near Furness in Lancashire and advanced through Yorkshire at the head of 1,500 German mercenaries (kindly supplied by his ‘aunt’ Margaret, Dowager Duchess of Burgundy). As they marched the rebels gathered reinforcements, although not nearly as many as Lincoln had hoped for. Henry was at Kenilworth, but calling up nearby levies he set off at once for Nottingham. By the time he arrived there (14 June) the rebels were at Southwell, some twelve miles to the north-east. According to the contemporary account of a herald, Henry moved to Radcliffe on 15 June while the rebel army crossed the Trent by the ford below Fiskerton and took up a position on an open escarpment some 1,500 yards south of East Stoke. Here the King met them on the morning of the 16th as he was marching towards Newark. The rebels held the advantage in numbers (perhaps 9,000 to Henry’s 6,000) but, apart from the German mercenaries, their soldiers were not well armed or trained. The royalists advanced to the attack in three well-spaced out divisions, the van being commanded by Lord Oxford. This division, being somewhat isolated, was severely punished and only saved from complete disaster by the arrival of the King’s main battle. As the royalist divisions closed up the rebels were first held and then pushed back off the ridge. The fight lasted for more than three hours and was fiercely contested, the rebel army being well buttressed by the German contingent. Their commander, Martin Schwartz, and Lincoln were killed in battle; Lovel escaped by swimming the Trent and was never seen alive again and Simnel was captured and put to work in the royal kitchens. The rebel soldiery were slaughtered by the thousand in a gully at the foot of the ridge and in the marshy riverain fields. They had, however, inflicted very heavy casualties on Henry’s army - possibly as many as 2,000 men, most of whom were from the vanguard. By his victory at Stoke Henry secured the safety of the Tudor dynasty.

1485: 22 August - Bosworth

Edward IV died in 1483. His son was only twelve years old and so Edward designated his brother Richard as protector. He had many enemies both at home and abroad, and on 7 August 1485 Henry Tudor landed near Milford Haven with about 2,000 French mercenaries and a handful of Lancastrian lords and knights. Gathering reinforcements as he advanced through Wales, Henry then marched via Shrewsbury, Stafford and Atherstone. Richard was at Nottingham, and moved from there to Leicester on 19 August, and by 21 August the two armies were in striking distance of each other two or three miles south of Market Bosworth. Richard’s army (without the Stanley brothers) was not much short of 8,000 men, while Henry had only about 5,000. However, the loyalty of the Stanleys to Richard was very suspect, and during the battle both of them opted for Henry, bringing with them perhaps a total of 4,000 men.

The battle was fought on and around Ambion Hill, close to Sutton Cheney, and lasted for only two hours. Richard gained the best position, but failed to take advantage of it by attacking Henry’s van under Lord Oxford while it was still deploying. In the event Oxford was allowed time to launch his attack and the Duke of Norfolk, commanding Richard’s forward battle, was soon killed. For the first hour, the fighting was evenly matched, but the battle was lost for Richard through treachery. Both the Stanley's deserted his cause, but even more damaging was the failure of the Earl of Northumberland to bring the rearguard into action when he saw which way the Stanley's were moving. The battle ended with the death of Richard, for his followers had no stomach for continuing the fight after their king had been slain.

1471: 4 May - Tewksbury

On the Easter Sunday that saw Warwick’s defeat and death at Barnet, Queen Margaret, with her young son, landed at Weymouth and was soon joined by many Lancastrian leaders and the remnants of their fighting men. The Duke of Somerset took command of the assembled army and, realizing the impossibility of fighting without further reinforcements of men and materials, decided to move towards Wales and join forces with Jasper Tudor, collecting military stores from Bristol on the way. Edward was at Windsor for the feast of St. George and as soon as he learned of Somerset’s intention he set out on 24 April for the West Country. There followed an exciting chase with the Queen’s army trying to get across the Severn and Edward desperately anxious to bring her to battle. A little time was wasted in Bristol, Gloucester closed its gates to her and on arrival at Tewkesbury on the 3rd of May the Lancastrians were too tired and too hard pressed to cross the Severn. Somerset wisely decided, for he had the choice of ground, to stand and fight rather than risk a lengthy crossing with weary troops. He had about 6,000 men, which was rather more than Edward could put against him, and the Yorkists were in no better shape after their grueling march than their opponents. The next morning Edward opened the battle with a fairly heavy artillery bombardment, which induced Somerset to lead an attack on the junction of the Yorkist left and centre battles. The situation could have been dangerous for Edward had Somerset’s centre under Lord Wenlock supported him. As it was, fighting alone and attacked on two sides, Somerset’s men were driven back and the King advanced his battle to the attack. The Lancastrians, demoralized by the debacle on their right, offered little resistance to Edward and soon the whole line broke. The slaughter during the retreat was heavy; perhaps 2,000 men perished in the battle and on the banks of the Severn. Queen Margaret made good her escape, but her son was killed and Somerset was taken from the sanctuary of the abbey and executed.