The Battle of Stoke Field was fought on 16th June 1487 between King Henry VII’s troops and rebels who hoped to restore the Yorkist monarchy that had been overthrown at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.
The rebels were led by John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, and Francis, Viscount Lovell. Lincoln had a claim to the throne as being the closest living relation (a nephew) of the late King Richard III. However, there was another claimant in the form of Edward, Earl of Warwick, who was a younger nephew of King Richard. Henry was well aware of this, and had had Warwick imprisoned in the Tower of London.
A rumour spread to the effect that Warwick had escaped from the Tower and made his way to Ireland. An 11-year-old boy named Lambert Simnel, who was reckoned to bear a close resemblance to the 10-year-old Earl of Warwick, was tutored in how to behave like a royal prince and people were soon persuaded into believing that he was the real heir to the throne. Simnel was taken to Dublin and “crowned” as King Edward VI.
An army led by the Earl of Lincoln and Viscount Lovell landed in Lancashire and began to gain support. Its numbers were swelled by Swiss and German mercenaries who had been sent by Richard III’s sister, the dowager Duchess of Burgundy.
Henry’s first move was to try to dispel the rumour about “King Edward VI” by parading the real Earl of Warwick through the streets of London, but this did not shake the conviction of the rebels that they had the real Earl on their side.
Battle was joined at East Stoke, near Newark-on-Trent to the north-east of Nottingham. This Stoke is not to be confused with Stoke-on-Trent which is more than 50 miles to the west.
The rebel army, about 8,000 strong, had taken a defendable position on a ridge with the River Trent protecting their rear. However, Lincoln was aware that his best bet was to strike early at Henry’s vanguard before the king’s much larger force arrived from the south. He therefore abandoned his superior position in order to carry out an attack.
At first the tactic appeared to work, but the vanguard put up enough resistance to allow Henry’s main force to catch up and join the battle, so the Yorkists’ initial advantage was soon outweighed. The protection offered by the river now proved to be an obstacle to retreat, with the result that more than 4,000 rebels were killed, including Lincoln.
Lovell escaped from the battle, but Lambert Simnel was captured. King Henry realised that the boy could not be held accountable for what had been done in his name, so instead of having him executed or imprisoned he gave him a job in the royal kitchens. He later became a falconer and died of natural causes more than 45 years later.
Henry had not seen the last attempt by the Yorkist faction to unseat him. Another “pretender” appeared in 1490 in the shape of Perkin Warbeck, who claimed to be one of the “princes in the Tower”. He made several forays into England in the hope of raising armies to challenge the King, but was eventually captured and hanged in 1499.
© John Welford