War of the Roses: Battle of Stoke Field

Henry VII of England
Henry VII. Public Domain

Battle of Stoke Field: Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Stoke Field was fought on June 16, 1487, and was the last engagement of the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485).

Armies & Commanders

House of Lancaster

House of York/Tudor

  • John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln
  • 8,000 men

Battle of Stoke Field - Background:

Though Henry VII was crowned King of England in 1485, his and the Lancastrian hold on power remained somewhat tenuous as several Yorkist factions continued plot ways to regain the throne.

The strongest male claimant from the Yorkist dynasty was the twelve-year old Edward, Earl of Warwick. Captured by Henry, Edward was kept confined at the Tower of London. Around this time, a priest named Richard Simmons (or Roger Simons) discovered a young boy named Lambert Simnel who bore a strong resemblance to Richard, Duke of York, son of King Edward IV, and the younger of the vanished Princes in the Tower.

Battle of Stoke Field - Training an Impostor:

Educating the boy in courtly manners, Simmons intended to present Simnel as Richard with the goal of having him crowned king. Moving forward, he soon changed his plans after hearing rumors that Edward had died during his imprisonment in the Tower. Spreading rumors that young Warwick had actually escaped from London, he planned to present Simnel as Edward. In doing so, he garnered support from several Yorkists including John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln.

Though Lincoln had reconciled with Henry, he had a claim to the throne and had been designated the royal heir by Richard III before his death.

Battle of Stoke Field - The Plan Evolves:

Lincoln most likely knew that Simnel was an imposter, but the boy provided an opportunity to unseat Henry and exact revenge.

Leaving the English court on March 19, 1487, Lincoln traveled to Mechelen where he met with his aunt, Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy. Supporting Lincoln's plan, Margaret provided financial backing as well as around 1,500 German mercenaries led by the veteran commander Martin Schwartz. Joined by a number of Richard III's former supporters, including Lord Lovell, Lincoln sailed for Ireland with his troops.

There he met Simmons who had earlier traveled to Ireland with Simnel. Presenting the boy to the Lord Deputy of Ireland, the Earl of Kildare, they were able to secure his backing as Yorkist sentiment in Ireland was strong. To bolster support, Simnel was crowned King Edward VI at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin on May 24, 1487. Working with Sir Thomas Fitzgerald, Lincoln was able to recruit around 4,500 lightly armed Irish mercenaries for his army. Aware of Lincoln's activities and that Simnel was being advanced as Edward, Henry had the young boy taken from the Tower and publicly shown around London.

Battle of Stoke Field - The Yorkist Army Forms:

Crossing to England, Lincoln's forces landed at Furness, Lancashire on June 4. Met by several nobles led by Sir Thomas Broughton, the Yorkist army swelled to around 8,000 men.

Marching hard, Lincoln covered 200 miles in fives days, with Lovell defeating a small royal force at Branham Moor on June 10. After largely evading Henry's northern army led by the Earl of Northumberland, Lincoln reached Doncaster. Here Lancastrian cavalry under Lord Scales fought a three-day delaying action through Sherwood Forest. Assembling his army at Kenilworth, Henry began moving against the rebels.

Battle of Stoke Field - Battle is Joined:

Learning that Lincoln had crossed the Trent, Henry began moving east towards Newark on June 15. Crossing the river, Lincoln encamped for the night on high ground near Stoke in a position that had the river on three sides. Early on June 16, the vanguard of Henry's army, led by the Earl of Oxford, arrived on the battlefield to find Lincoln's army forming on the heights.

In position by 9:00 AM, Oxford elected to open fire with his archers rather than wait for Henry to arrive with the rest of the army.

Showering the Yorkists with arrows, Oxford's archers began to inflict heavy casualties on Lincoln's lightly armored men. Faced with the choice of abandoning the high ground or continuing to lose men to the archers, Lincoln ordered his troops to charge forward with the goal of crushing Oxford before Henry reached the field. Striking Oxford's lines, the Yorkists had some early success but the tide began to turn as the better armor and weapons of the Lancastrians began to tell. Fighting for three hours, the battle was decided by a counterattack launched by Oxford.

Shattering the Yorkist lines, many of Lincoln's men fled with only Schwartz's mercenaries fighting until the end. In the fighting, Lincoln, Fitzgerald, Broughton, and Schwartz were killed while Lovell fled across the river and was never seen again.

Battle of Stoke Field - Aftermath:

The Battle of Stoke Field cost Henry around 3,000 killed and wounded while the Yorkists lost around 4,000. In addition, many surviving English and Irish Yorkist troops were captured and hung. Other captured Yorkists were given clemency and escaped with fines and attainders against their property. Among those captured after the battle was Simnel. Recognizing that the boy was a pawn in the Yorkist scheme, Henry pardoned Simnel and gave him a job in the royal kitchens. The Battle of Stoke Field effectively ended the Wars of the Roses securing Henry's throne and the new Tudor dynasty.

Selected Sources

 

 

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Hickman, Kennedy. "War of the Roses: Battle of Stoke Field." ThoughtCo, Dec. 23, 2016, thoughtco.com/battle-of-stoke-field-2360759. Hickman, Kennedy. (2016, December 23). War of the Roses: Battle of Stoke Field. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/battle-of-stoke-field-2360759 Hickman, Kennedy. "War of the Roses: Battle of Stoke Field." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/battle-of-stoke-field-2360759 (accessed November 17, 2017).