The Battle of Stoke Field, 1487

by David Murray on 22 January 2010

in Battlefields, History, Nottinghamshire

Yesterday I dropped my wife off for an hour in Newark-upon-Trent to do whatever wives do when they “go into town”, and with camera in my pocket I drove five or six miles down the A46 in search of a memorial. What I came away with was quite a surprise.

Having lived in this area for only seven years, and for the early years I was away travelling on business for much of the time, I can’t claim to be an expert on its local history. I was aware of a battle having been fought to the south of Newark during the fifteenth century Wars of the Roses but knew little about it.

At first attempt I missed the church of St. Oswald, down a narrow lane toward the Trent in East Stoke, but eventually found it on my way back toward the main road. The church building here is very ancient in its origins, although substantially rebuilt in the 1700s.

What I originally came to find was a memorial plaque bearing an inscription “Blessed are the peacemakers” (words of Jesus from the Gospel of St. Matthew). I found it, and the photograph above of the church shows at its far left the top of the statue rising out of the bushes. More on that in a later article. The thing that caught me by surprise, however, was a large stone plaque against the wall of the church itself.

As I’ve said, the fact of a battle was not new to me. What struck me was the sheer scale of the event. As I now know from further reading, in the space of just over three hours on June 16th 1487, in what today is a peaceful backwater overlooking the valley of the meandering River Trent, a total of 48,000 men fought so intensely that they left 7,000 dead behind them.

The Earl of Lincoln was in command of the Yorkist troops, a mixture of English rebels and Irish recruits backed by a mercenary force of Germans led by Colonel Martin Schwartz and funded by the dowager Duchess of Burgundy. The Yorkist rebellion had seemingly been defeated at the much better known Battle of Bosworth Field two years earlier. This was a ‘last-ditch’ attempt to gain the crown, and if successful the Earl of Lincoln was expected to be in a position of considerable power. It was not to be.

Although King Henry VII was present, and nominally at the head of his army, the effective military leader on the Lancastrian side was the Earl of Oxford. At first it appeared that the smaller number of Yorkist troops were about to prevail, but Oxford maneuvered skillfully and the King kept his throne.

In a field close by there is said to be another memorial stone with the inscription: “Here stood the Burrand Bush planted on the spot where Henry VII placed his standard after the Battle of Stoke (June 16 1487)” I haven’t seen that yet, and can feel another bout of exploration coming on. Map. More on the Battle. English Heritage Battlefield Register.

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