The Stoke Campaign
The Battle of Bosworth (Leicestershire, 1485) had placed Henry Tudor on the throne as Henry VII, the first of the Tudor dynasty. This battle is popularly seen as the last great battle of the Wars of the Roses, but at the time there was no such certainty over the future. Henry’s position was far from secure and so he placed Edward, Earl of Warwick, the logical Yorkist contender, in the Tower. However the Yorkist faction, led by the Earl of Lincoln and Lord Lovell, mounted an invasion from Ireland in 1487 in the name of Edward V, actually a young impostor called Lambert Simnel. The rebel force landed near Barrow in Furness in Cumbria on the 4th June. They crossed the Pennines and attempted to enter York but were rebuffed. They continued south along the Great North Road heading for Newark and the crossing of the river Trent.
In response to the threat Henry had marched north from Kenilworth, via Coventry and Leicester, collecting together a substantial army. As at Bosworth its effective commander was the highly experienced soldier the Earl of Oxford. The royal forces had reached Loughborough by the 8th June and were at Nottingham by the 13th. To rapidly move a large army, with its cumbersome artillery and baggage train, and especially across major rivers, both commanders would be most likely to use the major road network. From Nottingham the royal army was well placed to intercept the rebel force as it moved south, for Nottingham controlled one major crossing of the Trent and it was just 16 miles to Newark where the Great North Road crossed the river.
As the army approached Newark some at least of the rebel forces were active across Nottinghamshire, in part probably collecting supplies but also possibly intentionally keeping the royal army guessing as to which way the army would march next. It has been argued that the rebel army actually marched via Southwell and crossed the Trent at the small village of Fiskerton, where a ford was passable at least in the summer months and where in more recent centuries there was a ferry. This suggestion is however based purely on local tradition, for it has no basis for such an interpretation in the contemporary accounts of the campaign and the battle. Indeed Molinet’s chronicle is very specific that the rebel army crossed the Trent at Newark on the 15th June, marching south west from the town along the south bank of the Trent to East Stoke, clearly using the Foss Way, another major road. This has the appearance of a well planned tactical move by the Earl of Lincoln to bring the royal army to battle on a carefully chosen site which offered considerable advantages to a smaller army.
As soon as he was aware of the direction of the rebel advance Henry responded, marching on the south side of the river for just over three miles to the north east of Nottingham towards Newark. That night, the 15th June, the royal army quartered at Radcliffe, just 8 miles from the rebel position camp at East Stoke. Though none would know this for some years, the forthcoming battle was to prove the last major engagement of the Wars of the Roses.
- Bennett, Mathew. Lambert Simnel and the Battle of Stoke, 1993.