The REAL Final Battle of the War of the Roses … Almost

Contrary to popular belief, the Wars of the Roses wasn’t over when the Plantagenet king, Richard III of England, died at the Battle of Bosworth Field and the reign of King Henry VII began. The last pitched engagement of that war was not until two years later, on 16 June 1487, at the Battle of Stoke Field. Even after that battle, there were a few Yorkist claimants running loose, and the Tudor throne was precarious as long as any of sons of John de la Pole, 2nd Duke of Suffolk and Elizabeth of York, (elder sister of King Richard III) were alive. 


The Battle of Stoke Field was led by John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, the nephew of Edward IV of England and Richard III of England. After the death of Richard’s heir, Edward of Middleham, Lincoln was treated as the next in line to the throne, a stand-by heir in case Richard did not produce one again before he died. In fairness, Richard’s heir should have been Edward, Earl of Warwick, the only son of Richard’s elder brother, George, Duke of Clarence. However, Warwick was believed to be a simpleton or handicapped in some way, and was continuously passed over. To keep him from being used by others to make a play for the crown, Warwick was kept in perpetual imprisonment in the Tower of London.


Lincoln was, understandably, very loyal to Uncle Richard, and it is in his family papers, known as the Lincoln Roll, that we find evidence he supported Uncle Richard doing away Lincoln’s first cousins, the Princes in the Tower. As David Durose wrote:

Edward V’s medallion reads Edward first-born son of King Edward and Elizabeth “In iunie tute sine liberis decessit” In June [the word iunie may have been “young”] safely without issue deceased in childhood … Richard, Duke of York’s medallion reads Richard second son of King Edward and Elizabeth “Etiam decessit sine liberis” Also deceased without issue … The representation of Edward V in the roll shows none of the decoration of the other kings and queens and the text does not refer to him as king. It is shown as though Richard III had succeeded Edward IV directly because Edward IV had no heirs still alive … it is the use of the word tute – safely that gives the implication of complicity on the part of Lincoln. He viewed the existence of the Princes as a threat and because of the closeness of Lincoln and Richard III it is reasonable to assume Richard felt the same way.

Although Lincoln was a threat to Henry VII, the king allowed the earl to live, retain his lands, and to swear fealty to the new Tudor monarch. Lincoln, though, could not let go of the notion that HE should be king or forgive Henry VII for Richard’s death.


On 19 March 1487, Lincoln left the English court and went to his aunt, Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy, where they hatched a plot around a young man named Lambert Simnel, who looked remarkably like the imprisoned Earl of Warwick. With Simnel/Warwick as a figurehead, they would lead an army against Henry VII. Once victorious, it would be an easy matter to “discover” Simnel was NOT Warwick, and for Lincoln to take the crown instead. For that end:

Margaret provided financial and military support in the form of 2000 German and Swiss mercenaries, under the commander Martin Schwartz. Lincoln was joined by a number of rebel English Lords … Richard III’s loyal supporter, Lord Lovell, Sir Richard Harleston, the former governor of Jersey and Thomas David, a captain of the English garrison at Calais. The Yorkists decided to sail to Ireland … to gather more supporters … [they] arrived in Dublin on 4 May 1487. With the help of Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare and his brother Thomas FitzGerald of Laccagh, Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Lincoln recruited 4,500 Irish mercenaries, mostly kerns, lightly armoured but highly mobile infantry.

Lincoln and his supporters crowned Simnel “King Edward VI” on 24 May 1487, then sailed to Lancashire.


By the first week of June, the Yorkist army had swelled to nearly 8,000 men, and Lincoln began his march toward London. Henry VII and Lincoln’s cousin, Queen Elizabeth of York, had recently been blessed with their first son, Arthur, Prince of Wales, on 20 September 1486. One can only assume that Lincoln intended the 10 month old Arthur to meet the same fate as Edward IV’s sons.

Edward Woodville, Lord Scales, loyal to Henry VII, threw his small cavalry in the path of the Yorkists. Lincoln was able to push Scales and his men back to Nottingham, but Scales had delayed Lincoln’s march by three days. Those three days gave Henry time to gather troops and head north to meet Lincoln’s army. The king, along with forces under the command of Lord Strange and reinforcements from Henry’s principle Welsh ally, Rhys ap Thomas, met up with Scales’s cavalry at Nottingham on 14 June. Needless to say, the king’s loving uncle, Jasper Tudor, was along to help lead the troops. Additionally, the man that Henry had trusted to command his army at the Battle of Bosworth, John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, was once again in charge of the campaign.  

stoke field

Lincoln’s mercenaries were armed with the latest technology, but on 16 June they discovered how inadequate such weapons were against the traditional Welsh longbow. Not only did Lincoln’s troops die peppered with so many arrows that, in the words of Jean Molinet, they looked “like hedgehogs”, Lincoln, Fitzgerald, Broughton, and Schwartz were all slaughtered as well. A few prominent rebels, including Simnel himself, Richard Symonds, and John Payne, Bishop of Meath, were captured.

Henry, upon discovering poor Simnel was rather dim and clearly a pawn, pardoned the young man and gave him a job in the royal kitchens. Simnel did well there, and was eventually able to become one of the royal falconers. Symonds was imprisoned, not executed, and Bishop Payne was not only pardoned, he eventually regained Henry’s favor. Henry also pardoned the Irish nobels in the rebellion, because he needed them to hold Ireland.

Inasmuch as Lincoln’s father, John de la Pole, had remained loyal to the king, Lincoln’s younger brothers were allowed to live. Edmund de la Pole was even allowed to become the 3rd Duke of Suffolk when his father died in 1492. However, Edmund rebelled in 1501, ending any Tudor tolerance that might have still existed. The fourth brother, William, throne into the Tower of London in 1502, where he remained for 37 years, until his death in 1539. Edmund was recaptured in 1506 after a happy (for the Tudors) accident, and beheaded in 1513, after which the youngest brother, Richard de la Pole officially became the new Yorkist contender until his death during the Battle of Pavia on 24 February 1525.

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