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.