The Battle of Stoke Field as told in the Great Chronicle of London
We have very few descriptions of the Battle of Stoke Field, considered to be the last major battle of the Wars of the Roses. A new edition of the Great Chronicle of London has just been published, which offers an account of the clash that took place on 16 June 1487.
We do not know who wrote the Great Chronicle of London, but it was most surely the work of a London citizen that seems to have been involved with the local government. The chronicle mostly focuses on events in London between the years 1189 and 1512, but does note some national and international news. This includes an account of the Battle of Stoke Field.
The account is fairly short - about a couple of paragraphs long - beginning by explaining that the Lancastrian rebellion against King Henry VII was instigated by John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, and Margaret of Burgundy, the sister of Richard III. No mention is made of Lambert Simnel, the boy who was purported to be Richard III’s nephew and used to gain followers for the rebellion. An army was raised, including a force of Burgundians led by “a fierce and strong soldier named Martin Schwartz.”
The rebel army landed in England, and began a march through the country:
...until they came near to the foresaid town or village of Stoke, where they were met by the king’s army, and there fought a fight that was bitter and sharp for as long it lasted, on the foresaid 16 June. The victory of this fell to the king, God be praised; even though in a cunning manner men set between the battlefield and many of the king’s subjects who were coming towards his grace, showing them the king had lost the field and fled; through which cunning contrivance and rumour many men faithful to the king turned back again, and some men in fear went into sanctuary, and wanted there until better news was brought to them.
The chronicler then offers an interesting exchange between the Burgundian army commander and the Earl of Lincoln.
This battle was fought all the more bitterly because the foresaid Martin Schwartz was tricked; for when he undertook this journey he was promised by the earl of Lincoln and cheered by the thought that after their leading a great proportion of the country would support the said earl. But when he had made inroads and seen no such support, he realized he was deceived, at which he said to the ear, “Sir, now I see well that you have deceived yourself and also me. But, that notwithstanding, I shall perform all the promises I made to my Lady the Duchess,’ exhorting the earl to do the same.
The text then notes that the rebels continued their march with “much courage,” but that Schwartz, the Earl of Lincoln and many of their men were slain on the battlefield. The account concludes by explaining that news of the battle was sent to the mayor of London, who ordered that celebratory masses be given in most of the churches in the city.
The Great Chronicle of London does not offer much in terms of specifics about the battle itself, but it is interesting in that it offers a fairly sympathetic account of the Lancastrians, noting the courage of their forces, while the army under King Henry are shown to be the ones who flee during the battle.
This translation can be found in Henry VII’s London in the Great Chronicle, edited by Julia Boffey and published by Medieval Institute Publications as part of their TEAMS Documents of Practice Series. Click here to learn more about this book.
To read more about the battle, please see Alexander Brondarbit,’s article “The final clash of the Wars of the Roses: The Battle of Stoke Field,” in issue IX:3 of Medieval Warfare. Click here for more details about this issue.