by Frank E Earp
Unless you have been living on another planet for the last three years, then you could not have failed to have noticed the World wide media attention given to what began in September 2012 as a small archaeological ‘dig’ at a Council car park in Leicester and ended in Leicester Cathedral on the 26th March 2015 with the re internment of the remains of a King of England. Having read so far, you might be saying to yourself, – “Oh no! Not another of those articles on Richard III”. – but this is not the case. This is the as yet untold next chapter in the story and takes place in Nottinghamshire not Leicestershire. But before I begin I must first ‘set the scene’.
Burial place of a King: The car park in question, in the aptly named Greyfriars district of the City of Leicester, was part of the former site of ‘The Priory of the Grey Friars’. The Priory, reputedly founded in 1255 by the legendary Simon de Montford, Earl of Leicester, was the home of a group of Franciscan Friars, regularly referred to as Grey Friars in reference to the colour of their cloths. Unlike other monastic orders those known as Friars did not exclude themselves from everyday society by living in a secluded community. Their home and work was amongst the local population on who’s charity they relied for support. It is for this reason that the nave of their church would have been open to public and use rather like a parish church. After the Dissolution, in 1536, the Priory like so many others, was ‘sold off’ to the highest bider and might have disappeared into the mists of history leaving only its name to the area in which it stood. However, a memory of events which happened in the little Priory church in 1485, persisted. Grey Friars Priory church was reputed to be the final resting place of Richard III after his death at the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22nd Aug. 1485.
Looking for Richard: To prove the historical accuracy of this legend, in August 2012, members of ‘The Richard III Society’ initiated the ‘Looking for Richard’ project. Working in partnership with Leicester City Council, the University of Leicester Archaeological Services began an archaeological excavation on the Greyfriars site. In one of those rare events, on the first day of the ‘dig’ the skeletal remains of a body was found buried beneath what would have been the floor of the Priory church. Over the following days the remains were carefully exhumed. There then followed months of extensive anthropological and genetic testing, the remains. The discovery caused a World wide sensation and the media waited with bated breath for the results of the tests. Finally on the 4th February 2013, the University announced to the press that the remains were indeed those of Richard III, the last king of England to in leading his troops battle.
From Car Park to Cathedral: The discovery of Richard’s remains has been heralded as one of the greatest archaeological events of the age, but the question arose; ‘What do you do with the body of one of the most famous kings in the history of Britain?’ The answer of-course was to give Richard a burial fit for a monarch. But where should that final resting place be? The most obvious answer might have been Westminster Abbey along-side the graves of other British royalty. However this was quickly ruled-out. Richard III or more correctly Richard Plantagenet was before his ascension to the throne Richard Duke of York. The City of York was the ancestral home and power-base of the Plantagenet family. It is little wonder then that York Minster put in its own bid to be the depository for Richard’s remains. Following months of debate between York and Leicester it was finally decided that Richard’s remains would be reinterred in Leicester Cathedral just ‘a stones throw away’ from his first burial site. It has been said that reinterment of King Richard III was ‘an event of great national and international significance’ and when it finally took place on the 26th March 2015 it was indeed a carefully orchestrated ceremony akin to a ‘State Funeral’ deserved of a monarch.
A place in history: From the moment the identity of the ‘Skeleton in the Car Park’, – a term coined by the media, – was positively identified as that of Richard III, it was clear that all those involved in the Looking for Richard Project had earned themselves a unique place in history. When the Cities of York and Leicester contested over claims for the King’s body, they were not just arguing over his final resting place, but their share in that place in history and the lucrative tourist trade it would bring.
Visitors Centre: Over the three years from discovery to burial, every aspect of the life and death of King Richard III has been microscopically examined. History has always given Richard a bad press portraying him as a deformed evil king responsible for the murder of ‘The Princes in the Tower. – his own young nephews. New research has proven much of this to be character assassination on the part of later Tudor writers and has all-but vindicated his role in the murder. The forensic sciences involved in the identification the skeleton was truly breath taking. As a part of this process, a reconstruction of the skull produced a model of Richard’s head with a striking resemblance to contemporary accounts and later portraits. All of this information has been brought together in a neat and tidy package and the model head now forms part of the exhibition in Leicester’s new Richard III Visitors Centre. Together with Richard’s tomb in the Cathedral the Visitors Centre now forms a large part of Leicester’s tourist industry.
Not the end of the story: History however, is never ‘neat and tidy’. Although thanks to forensic science, now told in graphic detail, the exhibition only reveals Richard’s story to the point of his death at the Battle of Bosworth Field and ignominious burial in Greyfriars Church. But for Richard’s contemporaries, this was not the end of things. Richard’s life and death is also the story of the Wars of the Roses. Despite claims to the contrary the Battle of Bosworth Field was not “….the last significant battle of the Wars of the Rose”. The saga of The Princes in the Tower did not end with Richards death. In the next part(s) of this article I will be telling the story of where and how The Wars of the Roses really ended and how this heralded in the start of one of Britain’s greatest dynasties, the Tudors.
The life and death of King Richard III is wholly set against the back-drop of a period or chapter in English history known as ‘The Wars of the Roses’. Although Richard’s part in this epic struggle ended, – at least for him, – with his death on the battlefield of Bosworth, for Richard’s successor to the throne, Henry VII, (Henry Tudor), events set in motion by Richard’s actions had yet to happen and as I tell this part of the story were a long way in the future.
The Wars of the Rose: The Wars of the Roses is the name given to a protracted period of English Civil War brought about by claim and counter claim to the Throne, by two branches or houses of the dynastic Plantagenet family. Throughout the conflict each of the rival factions and their supporters became known and referred to by the of their power base; York, – the Yorkist. Lancaster, – the Lancastrians. The roses element of the name for the conflict is derived from the supposed heraldic device or badge of the two rival factions; the White Rose, – York and the Red Rose Lancaster.
Edward III: Both sides in the conflict claimed their right to the ‘Throne’ through their descent from the 7 sons of King Edward III, 1312-1377. As an aside, the story of Edward III succession to the ‘Throne’ is yet another part of English history played out in part, in Nottingham and will be the subject of another article. In 1337 Edward laid claim to the French Throne the rejection of which sparked what became known as ‘The One Hundred Year War’. England’s repeated campaigns against both France and Scotland plunged the Nation into a prolonged period of both political and financial turmoil.
Richard II: Edward III’s eldest son, also Edward, known as the Black Prince, died in 1376 and the line of succession passed to his grandson who was crowned Richard II after Edward’s death 1377.
Henry IV, first Lancastrian King: Richard II, died without issue in 1399 and was succeeded by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke of the House of Lancaster.
Henry V: Following Henry IV’s death at the age of 45 or 46 in 1413 the Crown passed to his son Henry V who’s short reign was brought to an end by his premature death from dysentery in 1422.
Henry VI: At the time of his death Henry’s son, (yet another Henry), was only 9 months old and as King Henry VI, holds the record as being the youngest successor to the English Throne. For the first twenty years of his reign the Country was governed by his various uncles and others. Throughout his life Henry VI suffered from ill health and his ineffectual rule meant that his realm was controlled by powerful nobles each with their own private army. Not least of these was Henry’s French wife Margaret of Anjou and his uncle, Richard Duke of York. In 1453 Henry suffered a complete mental breakdown. His incapacity left a power vacuum which Richard ceased the opportunity to fill when the powerful Richard Neveille, Earl of Warwick, made him ‘Protector of England’. Although Richard was persuaded by Margaret not to take the crown, he was in all but name, King of England. Loyalty in the Country was now divided into two separate factions, the Yorkist under Richard and the Lancastrians under Margaret.
Civil War: In 1455 Henry recovered his health and Margaret set about re-establishing her own and her husband’s authority. Richard was forced to take-up arms in self-defence resulting in Civil War. Fighting between the Yorkist and the Lancasterians broke-out all almost immediately and for the next five year the pendulum of war swung back and forth between the two factions. In the winter of 1460, Lancastrian nobles began to gather their armies in the north of England. In a counter move Richard moved his forces north in an effort to contain them. In the resulting battle, – near the Yorkshire town of Wakefield, – Richard and his second son Edmund were both killed. Having defeated Richard’s army the Lancastrians began a march south towards London. By February 1461, the Lancastrians had reached St. Albans where they defeated the Yorkist forces under the Warwick. However, Richard’s eldest son Edward, – who had taken the title Duke of York after Wakefield, – having already defeated a Lancastrian army at Mortimer’s Cross, had stolen Margaret’s march on London. The young Duke of York’s arrival in the Capitol was well greeted and in March 1461 he was proclaimed King Edward IV. Together with the remains of Warwick’s forces, the new King pursued Margaret’s army back north and defeated the Lancastrians in a bloody battle at Towton. For the Yorkist the battle was a complete victory and Henry, Margaret and their son were force to flee for their lives to Scotland.
For a time fighting between the Yorkist and Lancastrians ended, but an internal dispute within the Yorkist faction exploded into open conflict. In 1469, feeling increasingly rejected and isolated in the new king’s court, Edward’s former friend and ally Warwick, and his younger brother George Duke of Clarence rose in open rebellion. Edward was taken prisoner after the Battle of Edgecote near Banbury but by 1470 he had regained control. Warwick and George fled to France where they allied themselves to their former Lancastrian enemies Henry and Margaret.
In September 1470 the combined forces of Warwick, George and Margeret returned to England where they successfully deposed Edward and restored Henry to the Throne. The following year having regained the loyalty of his rant brother George and secured Burgundian aid, Edward decisively defeated Warwick at the Battle of Barnet. Margaret attempted to come to the aid of Warwick and landed with her forces at Weymouth the day after Barnet. Realising that she was to late Margaret attempted to flee to the safety but was intercepted at Tewkesbury by Edward. In the resulting battle her army was crushed and her only son, Henry’s heir, was killed. Henry was imprisoned in the Tower of London where on 21st May 1471, at the age of 49 he was murdered probably as a direct order from Edward.
Edward IV and Nottingham Castle: With all opposition gone Edward’s Crown was secured. It is at this point that Nottingham or rather Nottingham Castle enters the story. For a long time the mighty fortress that was Nottingham Castle had existed as a mere royal residence and its true military value had been ignored. However, Edward recognised the strategic importance of the Castle and ordered the immediate strengthening of its defences and the building of a new strong tower and royal apartments. It was from Nottingham Castle that news was announced to the people of England that second half of the reign of Edward IV had begun.
Under the reign of Edward IV, Nottingham Castle had once again returned to being one of the greatest military strongholds in the land. The Castle had first been brought to Edward’s attention in 1469, shortly before the ill-fated Battle of Edgecote. The war against the Lancastrians was over, but he now faced the rebellion of his younger brother George and the Earl Warwick. Edward’s army was not strong enough to face the rebels alone and it was at Nottingham Castle that he garrisoned his troops to awaited reinforcements under the Earl of Pembroke.
Pembroke’s army, on its way to Nottingham, was intercepted near Banbury and defeated at the ensuing battle of Edgecote. For Edward, there followed a short period of captivity, but he had dispersed his forces in Nottingham and elsewhere saving them from destruction. After his return to power in 1471 he began to strengthen and re-fortify Nottingham Castle. Although Edward initially forgave his brother George for his part in the rebellion, relationship between the siblings was never quite reconciled. Following a dispute over Edward’s paternity and rights to the Throne, George, Duke of Clarence, was executed for treason in 1478.
For the remainder of Edward’s reign something of piece and stability settled over the land and with its royal connections Nottingham would have enjoyed a new degree of prosperity. King Edward IV died in 1483 naming in his will his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester as Protector of the realm until his son and heir 12 year old Edward or his brother 9 year old Richard, Duke of Shrewsbury, were old enough to rule independently.
Princes in the Tower: Almost before Edward’s body was cold, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, – the second Yorkist to be Protector of England, – lodged his young ‘charges’ in the Tower of London for their own protection. For this reason, the two young boys have been forever referred to as ‘The Princes in the Tower’. Although officially King Edward V, Prince Edward never made it to his Coronation as both he and his brother mysteriously disappeared.
Richard III: Edward V’s Coronation was set to take place on 22nd June 1483, but even as plans were being made for the ceremony, his father’s marriage to his mother Elizabeth Woodville, was declared invalid. This claim, – endorsed by an assembly of lords and commoners on the 25th June 1483, – made Edward and his brother illegitimate and his right of succession invalid. Richard Duke of Gloucester was crowned King Richard III the following day. Within months of his Coronation, Richard III faced a challenge from his own kith and kin who were supporters of Edward IV. The revolt was soon put-down.
When it came in August 1485, the next challenge to Richard’s authority was to lead to his death at Bosworth. Despite political plots and machinations, murders and years of open warfare, the House of York had not rid itself from the challenge to the Throne of England by the rival House of Lancaster. Through the efforts and support of Jasper Tudor, the Lancastrians had found their last remaining claimant to the English Throne in the person of Jasper’s young nephew, Henry Tudor. Henry’s claim to the Throne came in the main through his mother Margaret Beauford and her family. The Beaufords trace their line from John O’ Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster the fourth son of Edward III.
The road to Bosworth: With a small escort of Scottish and French soldiers, the exiled Henry Tudor landed in Wales close to the Tudor’s ancestral home of Pembroke Castle. Henry knew that his only chance was to deliver a swift and decisive blow against Richards ‘field army’. Richard, having received news of Henry’s invasion, had gather his forces in the Midlands with large contingents of troops garrisoned at Leicester and Nottingham. With support from the Welsh, Henry marched into England gathering an army of around 5,000 men along the way. The race was now on to defeat Richard, who was with his forces at Leicester, before he could receive reinforcements from Nottingham.
Traditionally, Henry’s Lancastrian rebel army met Richard’s Yorkist royal army at Ambion Hill, close to the small Leicestershire town of Market Bosworth. Richard, who had divided his army into three groups or ‘battles’ is said to have been in personnel command of the troops on the summit of the hill. It is from here that he watched Henry’s forces arriving from the south and deploying in the little valley bellow. A betting man at the time would have felt safe to have his life savings and his shirt on the King’s victory. However, as sometimes happens, the odds-on favourite falls before the finishing post. In an effort to bring the battle to a swift conclusion, Richard took the military gamble of leading his personnel body guard of mounted knights in a charge aimed directly at Henry. When picturing Richard’s final moments, the romantics among us will for ever hear the words put into his mouth by Shakespeare: “A horse, a horse! My Kingdom for a horse.” In reality, Richard’s death like the battle was bloody and brutal.
Again tradition or perhaps Tudor propaganda, tells that Richard wore a gold circlet around his helmet symbolic of the Crown of England. Whilst surveying the scene of victory one of Henry’s supporters, Sir Reginald Bray, found the gold circlet under or in a Hawthorne Bush. He immediately carried it away to Lord Stanley who placed it on Henry’s head, declaring him to be Henry VII King of England.
The Battle of Bosworth Field marked the start of a new era in English History and the reign of the Tudor dynasty. It did not however mark the end of the civil strife caused by the Wars of the Roses. Although he had won a complete military victory over the Yorkist at Bosworth, Henry knew that his new realm was still a divide country. Unless he gained the loyalty of former Yorkist supporters he faced rebellion and the crown, so dearly won at Bosworth might be lost. One of Henry’s first acts as the new king was to pardon all of the Yorkist nobles. In an effort to truly unite the two factions which divided the nation, in May 1486, Henry married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV. Henry knew that as the sister of The Princes in the Tower, any future children Elizabeth might have, would be legitimate heirs to the Throne. Through the marriage, Henry had not only legitimized his own line of succession but deprived the Yorkist of a rallying point for any future rebellion. As a symbol of the union of the two great houses Henry combined the white rose of York with the red rose of Lancaster thus creating the emblem which became known as the Tudor Rose. In one ‘fell-swoop’ Henry had both literally and symbolically united the country. Henry must have now felt secure, however, he had overlooked one thing inherited from Richard III, ‘The Princes in the Tower.’ The true fate of the two sons of Edward IV had not been proven and there were those among the Yorkist who believed or at least hopped that Elizabeth’s brothers had escaped their prison.
By the time Henry VII came to the Throne in 1485, England had suffered years of Civil War which had divided the Nation, both nobles and commoners, into two opposing factions. Henry knew that the people were tired of the conflict and any Yorkist rebellion against his authority would not gain popular support without a figure-head as a railing point. In making Elizabeth of York his Queen and uniting the Houses of Lancaster and York in to one family, the Tudors, he had deprived the Yorkist cause of their last legitimate claim to the Throne. However, whilst the fate of Elizabeth’s brothers, The Princes in the Tower, remained in doubt, however slight, the union of the Nation was not complete.
There must have been rumours a-plenty about the fate of the boys circulating both at court and amongst the common people. What seems strange to me is the fact that the King himself does not seem to know the answer to the mystery. If they had indeed been murdered, why did he not act quickly to end the speculation and produce the bodies of the Princes? Could it be that their was a genuine reason for suspecting that they were still alive?
Another ‘Prince’ in the Tower: Henry had inherited from Richard III not only the legacy of The Princes in the Tower but also the problem of what to do with a third potential Yorkist claimant to the Throne, their cousin Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick. Edward was the 12 year old son of George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence, the young brother of Edward IV and Richard III. Following his fathers execution for treason in 1478, the then 3 year old Edward had been legally removed from the line of succession. Under the reign of his uncle Richard III, Edward was made a ‘royal ward’ and along with another of Richard’s nephews, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, he was housed in the castle at Sheriff Hutton in Yorkshire. Henry might have thought that he had solved the problem when the day after Bosworth, whilst still lodging in Leicester, he had the then 10 year old Edward arrested and removed to the Tower of London. However, this was not the case. Early in the year 1487, a young Oxford priest Richard Symonds began a rumour that Edward, Earl of Warwick and rightful King of England, had escaped captivity and was in his care. Henry must have known that in reality this was a call to arms, a signal that the Yorkist had found their railing point.
Symonds took his young charge to Ireland, a Yorkist stronghold. Here his claim was greeted with credulity and immediately gained the support of the Earl of Kildare, the Archbishop of Dublin and the Lord Chancellor. Messages appealing for help were sent to Edward’s aunt, Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy and to other prominent Yorkist like Sir Thomas Broughton and the Earl of Lincoln.
Lambert Simnel: If he was not the real Edward Earl of Warwick, who was the young boy Symonds had taken to Ireland? Symonds, like many priest of his time, ran a small school. He had apparently noticed that one of his pupils, Lambert Simnel, a boy of about 10 years old, bore a striking resemblance to the two sons of Edward IV. Contemporary accounts of Simnel say that he was both handsome and intelligent. At first, Symonds intended to ‘pass -off’ the boy as the youngest of the two Princes in the Tower, Richard Duke of York. On reflection and considering the strong likelihood that Richard was indeed dead, Symonds decided to present him as Richard’s cousin Edward Earl of Warwick. To this ends, Symonds educated Simnel in courtly ways and provided him with something of the real Edward’s life history. It is however very unlikely that this was all Symonds idea and it is clear that it was all part of an elaborate Yorkist plot, the chief architect of which was probably Lincoln himself.
Henry’s response: For his part, Henry moved swiftly to counter the growing threat posed by the impostor. On the 2nd February 1487 he had the widow of Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville imprisoned in a convent in Bermondsey. The ‘real’ Edward, Earl of Warwick was brought out of the Tower and publicly paraded through the streets. Lincoln was amongst the Yorkist leaders who were summoned to witness the event. Knowing their close family relationship, Henry probably hoped that he would publicly acknowledge the real Warwick and thus weaken the Yorkist cause.
Rebellion begins: Although he is said to have spoken to Edward in person, instead of supporting the King, Lincoln immediately fled to Flanders where he met with Lord Lovell, the leader of and unsuccessful Yorkist rebellion in 1486. In Flanders, Lincoln showed his true elegance by endorsed the claim that the boy in Ireland with Symonds was the real Earl of Warwick. He further endorsed the idea in a letter to the Duchess of Burgundy in which he claimed to have helped her nephew escape the Tower and to have personally given him into the care of Symonds. Having no reason to doubt the word of his cousin and one who knew her nephew personally, Margaret responded by despatching to their aid an army of 2,000 German, (some Swiss and Flemish) mercenaries under the command of Colonel Martin Schwartz. These men were all professional soldiers were equipped with all the latest armour and technology including handguns and must have been a great boost to the Yorkist moral. Together with Schwartz’s command and their own personnel retinue, Lincoln and Lovell sail for Ireland where they landed on 23rd May 1487.
Whether or not Kildare and the other Irish nobles actually believed Simnel to be the Earl of Warwick is debatable, but on 24th May Simnel was crowned Edward V, King of England. Plans for the invasion were now put in motion. Whilst Lincoln had been in Flanders, Kildare had been busy gathering his own army. Under the command of his younger brother Thomas FitzGerald of Laccagh, he had raised a force of around 4,000 Irish levies, – poorly armed and equipped soldiers. It was a combined force of English, Irish and Germans, between 7,000 an 8,000 strong which landed at Furness on the Lancashire coast on 4th June. The rebel army moved through Lancashire unopposed and crossed the Pennines into Yorkshire heading for York. It was their leader’s intention to swell their ranks by gathering new recruits from the very heartland of the House of York. The response to the invasion was not the expected one. The City of York refused to open its gates and stubbornly held-out for the King. It must have been a bitter disappointment for Lincoln and the other commanders as they were forced to turn their army south towards Nottinghamshire. Although they did not know it, they were now on the road to East Stoke and one of the bloodiest battles ever to be fought on English soil.
The real Edward never escaped from captivity in the Tower of London. He was executed for treason by Henry VII on the 21st November 1499.
The road to Stoke Field: In terms of actual foot soldiers, Lincoln’s rebel army (Yorkist) did not get the new recruits it expected or needed. However, it was joined by over 40 Yorkist nobles and armoured knights each bringing their personal retinues. To Lincoln and the other commanders and perhaps to the newly crowned Edward VI, (Lambert Simnel), this must have have inspired a growing confidence and added some sense legitimacy to their cause.
Henry VII had not been idle. From the moment the rebel army had landed, his forces had been gathering, ready to engage it at the first possible chance. That chance came as the rebel forces neared the Nottinghamshire town of Ollerton. A royalist force of around 6,000 men under the command of Sir Edward Woodville came out of Doncaster to intercept them. However, finding that he was greatly outnumbered, – the rebel army was by now around 9,000 strong, – Woodvile began to make a tactical retreat ahead of them. For the next 3 days there followed a ‘cat and mouse’ pursuit through the heart of Sherwood Forest. Some accounts say that when the news was heard in Nottingham that the rebels were drawing closer, the town was evacuated.
Somewhere near the village of Farnsfield the rebel army turned off of the Nottingham road and made towards Newark. It seems likely that this was a deliberate attempt by the Earl of Lincoln, to reach the relative security of his own lands and holdings in Lincolnshire and perhaps even Lincoln Castle.
The King moves to Nottingham: At this time Henry was at Kenilworth Castle, but calling on some local levies, he set off at once for Nottingham. In military terms it would seem that Woodvile’s tactical retreat was a delaying action rather than any unwillingness to engage the enemy. The King reached Nottingham on the 14th June where he was joined by his uncle Jasper Tudor and a large contingent of ‘longbowmen’ from his native Wales. The presence of these expert archers was to be one of the decisive factors in the battle that was to follow.
Battle of Stoke Field: On his arrival, the King learnt that the rebel forces had reached Southwell. One account says that by the next day, 15th June, he had already moved part of his army to Ratcliffe. As was the custom at this time, Henry had divided his army in groups know as ‘battles’ each having its own commander. As at Bosworth two years earlier, the overall command of the army fell to John de Vere, the Earl of Oxford.
Early the next morning, 16th June, Henry received the news that the rebels had crossed the Trent via the ford at Fiskerton and were now making their way up the steep, narrow sunken road leading to the village of East Stoke. Oxford immediately took the vanguard of the army, – including the Welsh longbowmen, – and marched along the Fosse Way the 8 miles which separated the two armies. He arrived at East Stoke at around 9 a.m. and found that Lincoln had already taken up a defensive position with his army in a single block along the brow of Rampire Hill with his right flank on the high point known as Burrand Furlong. It was at this point that strange lights in the sky were interpreted as ill-portents by Lancastrian soldiers, which led to some desertions. However, Oxford and other nobles were quick to restored morale and his men were soon in “good array and in fair battle.”
Stoke Field: The battle opened with the Welsh firing volley after volley of arrows in to the packed ranks of the rebel forces. The rapid and accurate fire of these expert archers had a devastating effect on Lincoln’s men, especially the poorly protected Irish levies. Lincoln had no choice but to abandon the high ground and launch a direct assault against the royalist. Oxford’s men were among the finest of Henry’s army and received the charge in good order. Although Henry’s army in total, out numbered Lincoln’s, on this narrow front Oxford’s vanguard took the full weight of the rebel attack. By this time, Henry had come up behind Oxford with the rest of his forces. Rather than engage the enemy directly, Henry chose to constantly supply Oxford with fresh troops as his front line became depleted. In this war of attrition there could be only one winner and slowly at first, Lincoln’s rebels began to retreat back up the hill. With their backs exposed the air again became filled with Welsh arrows and the ordered retreat became a rout.
Bloody Gutter: The German and Swiss mercenaries chose to make a last stand. One eye-witness account says that by the end of the battle they were “filled with arrows like hedgehogs”. Pushed from the front by the enemy and surrounded by the Trent on three sides, Lincoln’s routed army had no choice but to retreat back down the sunken road they had come up earlier that morning. Caught in the confined space, the result was slaughter. It is said that the lane ran with the blood of the rebels and the waters of the Trent turned red. From that day to this, the sunken road has been known as Bloody Gutter, (Red Gutter, Red Lane). Those rebels who made-it to the river bank were cut down and many more drowned in the Trent in their attempt to swim across.
Henry’s War Crime: The massacre of he rebel forces did not end after the fighting. In an act that today would be considered a ‘war crime’, captured English and Irish soldiers were mercilessly hanged. Surviving German and Swiss mercenaries were deprived of their pay and allowed to go free.
End of the Wars of the Roses: Stoke Field was to be the last time that the armies of the House of York and the House of Lancaster faced each other on the field of battle and therefore, the last battle in the Wars of the Roses. It was a greater contest than Bosworth and ranks as one of the most bloodiest battles fought on English soil. After 3 hours of fighting, the slaughter produced an ‘estimated’ 7,000 dead, around 5,000 of which were Yorkist. Perhaps the most noted of the Yorkist dead, – including John de le Pole Earl of Lincoln, – were given a half-decent burial in St Oswald’s churchyard. As for the rest, given the fact that the battle took place in the height of summer, it was a priority to dispose of the bodies as quickly as possible and their remains lie in mass grave pits in and around the churchyard. The only testimony to the dead of Stoke Field is a stone which now leans against the south wall of the churchyard.
Unlike Richard III, Henry VII did not lead his troops into battle that summer’s day in 1487. That morning’s work had been done in the King’s name, by men like the Earl of Oxford and Jasper Tudor. When he arrived on the scene shortly after the fighting had ended, Henry was expecting to find that his main protagonist, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, had been taken prisoner. He had planned to interrogate Lincoln as to the depth of the Yorkist conspiracy against him elsewhere in the Country. He was however, disappointed and angered to learn that along with his captains, Sir Thomas Broughton, Col. Martin Schwartz, Thomas FitzGerald and many other Yorkist gentry, Lincoln had died fighting.
In the weeks that followed the Battle of Stoke Field the King set about healing the wounds of civil war. He launched a series of enquiries into the rebellion and although a few of the implicated Yorkist nobles and gentry were found guilty and executed for treason, most received punitive fines. For their part, the Irish lords, like FitzGerald’s father, the Earl of Kildare, were pardoned as Henry could see the value of keeping them onside for the protection of his kingdom. Richard Symonds, – the supposed guardian of Edward VI, (Lambert Simnel), – was sentenced to ‘life in a bishop’s prison’. John Payne, Bishop of Meath, who had preached the sermon at Simnel’s, coronation was pardoned and eventually restored to royal favour.
Mystery: Mystery surrounds the fate of Lord Francis Lovell, Lincoln’s second in command. Eye witnesses claim that the last time Lovell was seen alive he was escaping the slaughter by swimming his horse across the Trent. At the court held after the battle, it was decided that in the absence of any firm evidence or a body, he must have fled the country. There is some suggestion that he reached Scotland where he was granted sanctuary. One ‘school of thought’ has it that the body which lies beneath an alabaster sepulchral slab in All Hallows Church, Gedling, is that of Lord Francis Lovell. It has been suggested that after swimming the river to Fiskerton, Lovell attempted to reach Stoke Bardolph (Castle) the ancestral home of Jane Bardolph, his mother. Lovell either died in his attempt or having gained his destination died later of his wounds. Either-way, his body was secretly buried to prevent it suffering the indignation of being ‘hung, drawn and quartered, – the fate of a traitor.
A popular Tudor story started by Francis Bacon tells how Lord Lovell having escaped the field of battle, fled to his family home Minster Lovell Hall in Oxfordshire. Here, supported by a faithful servant, he hide for many years in a secret vault or chamber beneath the house. One day the servant stopped visiting with supplies of food and water. Having been sealed in to prevent discovery, Lovell died of starvation. A discovery in 1708 is claimed to have confirmed this story. Workmen carrying out repairs to the Hall came upon the vault and having broken in were met by a strange sight. Seated at a table littered with books and writing material was the skeleton of man and at his feet the skeleton of a dog. The apparition lasted but a few seconds, for as fresh air entered the room, man, dog books and all, crumbled to dust.
Lanbert Simnel: What of the fate of the young pretender, Lambert Simnel? Henry recognised the fact that the young boy had been a mere pawn in the Yorkist plot and if the battle had gone the Yorkist way, Lincoln would have been the real power behind the Throne. Certainly given Simnels age, as Edward VI, he would have been deemed to young to rule alone and as victor of Stoke Field, Lincoln would have ceased the role of Lord Protector. In a remarkable act of clemency Henry pardoned Simnel and even took the boy into service in the royal kitchens as a ‘spit turner’. Simnel worked hard and soon achieved the prestigious job of ‘Royal Falconer’, a role he continued in until his death in 1534.
Royal Standard: The site of perhaps one of the most important events that took place after the battle, is now marked by a much warn stone, lost and neglected in the undergrowth. Sometime after his arrival on the ‘field,’ Henry rode-out along Rampire Hill to Burham Furlong where Lincoln had fix his strong point. Here, in an act of ‘Sovereignty’ he raised the Royal Standard. This was considered so significant that later, to prevent the site from being lost, a thorn bush was planted on the spot.
The Burrand Bush: Curiously, the bush became known as The Burrand Bush, a name which makes no reference to the purpose to which it was supposedly planted. Thorn bushes, White Thorn and Black Thorn, have for thousands of years held a sacred connection to Sovereignty and it is not surprising to find a bush of this kind being used to mark such a site. What I find interesting is the fact that a thorn bush twice plays a role in Henry VII life at a time when his rightful kingship is challenged. We do not know how-long the original bush lasted or if, as it died and decayed, it was replaced by another, but what is certain is that the bush was eventually replaced by a succession of stone markers know as The Burrand Stone. Again it is curious that the stone bares an inscription which seems to first commemorate the bush rather than the raising of the standard; ‘Here Stood The Burrand Bush Planted On The Spot Were Henry VII Placed His Standard After The Battle Of Stoke June 16th 1487′.
By raising his standard on the height known as Burrand Furlong, Henry both signalled his victory in the last great battle of the Wars of the Roses and confirmed the fact that his was the one and only King. The start of the age of the Tudors had begun.
Last word: Although it has been rather long and full of dates and history, I hope that the reader has enjoyed this article. One of my reasons for writing it has been to heigh-light the fact that, although it does not have the body of a king to show for it, Nottinghamshire played as important a part in the Wars of the Roses as did Leicestershire. Whilst Bosworth has a ‘battle-field trail’ and purpose built ‘Heritage Centre’ for visitors to enjoy, East Stoke is little known. Apart from some long out-dated information boards in the church and the two neglected stones mentioned above, it has nothing to tell of the part it played in history. Since the discovery of Richard III’s remains the Bosworth Heritage Centre has seen an increase of 40% in visitor numbers. The overall effect of the World wide ‘King in the Car Par’ phenomena has injected over £59 million into the local economy and produced hundreds of jobs.