Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Stoke – the last battle

In recounting how Lady Margaret had wept at her son’s coronation, Fisher makes it clear that she did so from foreboding rather than joy. Many people in the north and in Wales, who had done very well under Richard, disliked the new regime. So did the English-speaking Irish of the Pale, traditionally loyal to the House of York. In the Low Countries the late King’s sister, Margaret of York – ‘mine old lady of Burgundy’ – was ready to welcome any of his former supporters who were in need of a refuge or who required a base from which to launch an invasion of England.

During April 1486 Sir Humphrey Stafford tried to raise his native Worcestershire against Henry VII while Lord Lovell, once King Richard’s Lord Chamberlain (‘Lovell our Dog’), attempted a rebellion in the North Riding. However, their candidate for the throne, the Earl of Warwick – Clarence’s son – was a prisoner in the hands of Margaret Beaufort, and they failed to win any significant support. Sir Humphrey Stafford was dragged out of sanctuary and beheaded, though Lovell got away.

On 19 May Lady Oxford wrote to her husband’s old ally, John Paston, in his capacity as Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk.

I am credibly informed that Francis, late Lord Lovell is now of late resorted to the Isle of Ely to the intent, by all likelihood, to get him shipping and passage in your coasts, or else to resort again to sanctuary if he may. I therefore heartily desire . . . that ye in all goodly haste endeavour yourself that such watch or other means be used and had in the ports and creeks . . . to the taking of the same late Lord Lovell. And what pleasure ye may do to the King’s Grace in this matter I am sure is not to you unknown.

The Countess had good reason to dislike Yorkists, but despite all her precautions Lovell succeeded in escaping to Burgundy.

Early in the spring of 1487 a priest brought an Oxford organ-builder’s son called Lambert Simnel to Dublin, pretending that the boy was the Earl of Warwick. Lambert was immediately hailed as king by the Irish Chancellor, Sir Thomas FitzGerald of Lackagh, a brother of the Earl of Kildare who was the most powerful man in Ireland. The FitzGeralds quickly contacted the Yorkist dissidents who had taken refuge in Flanders. Their leaders were Lord Lovell and John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln, whom Richard III had recognized as his heir presumptive. The Yorkists and the FitzGeralds agreed that they should invade England together as soon as possible. They were warmly encouraged by Margaret of York who, according to Vergil, ‘pursued Henry [VII] with insatiable hatred and with fiery wrath never desisted from every scheme which might harm him’. She gave them money and troops.

On Whit Sunday 1487 (24 May) Lambert, after having been recognized formally as its sovereign by the Irish Parliament, was crowned and anointed as ‘King Edward VI’ by the Archbishop of Dublin in Christchurch Cathedral. No proper crown was available so a diadem was borrowed from a statue of the Virgin. Another important Irish prelate, the Dominican Bishop of Meath, preached the coronation sermon.

Always on the alert, despite conflicting information from his many spies, Henry VII had already begun to suspect that a Yorkist invasion was imminent. His first concern was for the safety of the Queen and his mother. ‘We pray you that, giving your attendance upon our said dearest wife and lady mother, ye come with them to us’, he wrote urgently to the Queen’s chamberlain, the Earl of Ormonde.7 On 13 May the King summoned Lord Oxford to Kenilworth Castle, to discuss how they should prepare for the looming campaign.

By that time Lord Lovell and the Earl of Lincoln had landed at Dublin with a band of Yorkist diehards. They were accompanied by 2,000 Swiss and German mercenaries under the renowned Colonel Martin Schwarz (once an Augsburg cobbler), who had been hired by ‘mine old lady of Burgundy’. Reinforced by the FitzGeralds, they sailed across to Lancashire, landing on the Furness peninsula, not far from Lancaster, on 4 June.

The Yorkist strategy seems to have been to march as far south as possible after crossing the Pennines before giving battle. Although the citizens of York failed to respond to a letter sent to them from Masham by ‘Edward VI’, and beat off an attempt to occupy their city by the two Lord Scropes, the Earl of Lincoln was surprisingly confident. Probably he was counting not only on the excellent quality of his troops but on the intervention of secret allies as at Bosworth once the two armies were engaged. Nothing else can explain his extraordinary optimism. Vergil was convinced that Lincoln (who may have planted Lambert Simnel on the Irish) was planning to seize the throne for himself as soon as Henry VII had been defeated. But Lambert was far too unconvincing a pretender to win much support, and no more than a score of knights and squires joined the Yorkists. Moreover, as a commander Lincoln was scarcely in the same league as the Earl of Oxford.

Christopher Urswick brought King Henry the news that the Yorkist expedition had landed in Lancashire. Although no overall figures are available, it is clear that the King had sufficient support from his magnates to be able to assemble an impressively large army. Vergil names more than sixty gentlemen of substance who served in it, and afterwards an unprecedented number of knights were created. It included 6,000 men provided by the Stanleys alone, the King’s stepfather sending every retainer and well-wisher he could muster under his son, Lord Strange. Among the other peers who rallied to the King was William Hastings’ son Edward, who had been restored to his father’s barony and estates. Archbishop Morton, accompanied by his nephew, the Bishop of Worcester, brought a substantial force of retainers and of tenants from his wide estates. So did the Courtenay Bishop of Winchester.

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishops of Worcester and Winchester were the first prelates to bring troops to a battle during the Wars of the Roses. However, it will be remembered that Dr Morton was no stranger to battlefields and might even be described as a veteran campaigner. He had been present at the second St Albans and Towton, had been besieged in the grim Northumbrian sieges of the 1460s, had been taken prisoner at Tewkesbury, and had been amid the collapse of the Duke of Buckingham’s disastrous rebellion four years before. Although nearly seventy by now, John Morton was leaving nothing to chance – he did not underestimate the danger from the Yorkists. He rode with his troops as far as Loughborough in Leicestershire before handing over command to his nephew, Robert. They were going to fight in the front ranks, in Lord Oxford’s contingent.

As Professor Ross stresses, the battle about to take place could have gone either way. Treachery might have lost it for Henry VII just as treachery had lost Bosworth for Richard III. Obviously the King suspected some sort of plot. There can be no other explanation for his ordering Oxford to place the Marquess of Dorset under arrest before he could join the royal army.

Despite being outnumbered, Lord Lincoln, the enemy commander, was only too eager to give battle. At 9 a.m. on 16 June the Yorkists, about 9,000 strong, engaged the royal army which was in three columns drawn up in echelon (one behind the other) outside the village of Stoke, a few miles from Newark. Schwarz’s landsknechts were obviously professionals to their fingertips, while Lincoln’s followers and the Irish gentlemen were well armed. However, the barefooted, saffron-shirted Irish kern who formed the bulk of their force were a different matter, being without any form of armour and equipped merely with axes, long knives and javelins.

The Earl of Oxford commanded the King’s vanguard or front column, which alone engaged the enemy. Clearly Lincoln’s men fought with great courage, but the unarmoured Irish suffered appalling casualties, one report saying that 4,000 of them were killed. Eventually Oxford won the day with a final determined charge. Schwarz’s men fought to the death by the side of their colonel. Among the many other casualties were Lincoln and Sir Thomas FitzGerald. Lord Lovell – King Richard’s old friend – was last seen swimming his horse across the River Trent.

The Yorkist diehards would never again dare to challenge the Tudors in armed confrontation, and they went underground. Yet their cause was far from dead. Nor had Henry’s victory been a foregone conclusion. Northern noblemen had joined the rebellion, such as the two Lord Scropes, while the Bishop of St Asaph, Dr Richard Redmayne, was suspected of involvement. Significantly, when a mistaken rumour that Henry had been defeated reached London, riots broke out in favour of the Earl of Warwick. A City chronicler tells of ‘false Englishmen . . . which untrue persons said that the king was lost and the field was lost’. Yorkists emerged from their sanctuaries to attack royal officials, shouting that Warwick was King. If the Earl had been old enough and of the same calibre as his uncles, he could have escaped from the Tower of London, and there might easily have been another Yorkist restoration.

Henry Tudor and the Navy

Henry Tudor landing in Wales. After defeating Warwick and regaining the throne Edward began rebuilding the royal fleet by constructing ships and gathering a new cadre of experienced ship's masters. In the 1460s, he had built the first English royal caravel, the Edward, and, after 1471, he constructed fleets to support his invasions of France (1475) and SCOTLAND (early 1480s). 

Although still meant to carry land troops to fight battles at sea, caravels were smaller, faster vessels than Henry V's high, bulky carracks, and they foreshadowed the quick, agile vessels with which Elizabethan England later defied the might of Spain. Despite these achievements, Edward still desired a small, inexpensive navy, and he maintained his fleet largely to protect trade and intercept invaders, a task that RICHARD III's flotilla of watching vessels failed to accomplish in August 1485 when Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond, set sail for WALES. 

After defeating and killing Richard at the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD, Richmond, now HENRY VII, continued the naval policy of Edward IV, building new ships and establishing a naval base at Southampton. However, he still indented for vessels when he took an army to defend BRITTANY in 1492, and he, like his predecessor, lacked the naval strength to intercept the invasion forces of such Yorkist pretenders as Lambert SIMNEL and Perkin WARBECK, who both had to be defeated in land battles after their arrival in England.

The small navy that Henry VIII inherited from his father had only two sizeable ships, the carracks Regent and Sovereign.

Naval matters were able to open the royal purse. Henry VII began the build up at sea that would characterise the Tudor time. At a cost of £14.000 he let build the Great Harry, England's first warship in the sense that it was the first ship to be built solely for the purpose of fighting at sea. Great Harry was followed by more ships and Henry VII had soon created a respectable navy, earning him the name "the Grandfather of the Royal Navy". Henry's days also saw the first English explorers. Henry turned down an offer from Christopher Columbus's brother Bartholomeus to finance a journey westwards. Later John Cabot won the Kings ear and explored Newfoundland, thus becoming the first European to set his foot on the American mainland.

Henry VII
By late summer 1483, Richard III's usurpation of the English Crown and the growing belief that he had murdered his nephews made Richmond a more attractive candidate for the throne (see USURPATION OF 1483). While Richmond's mother plotted with Queen Elizabeth WOODVILLE to put the earl on the throne and marry him to ELIZABETH OF YORK, daughter of Edward IV, Henry STAFFORD, duke of Buckingham, deserted Richard and hatched his own plot. In the autumn, the two conspiracies merged into BUCKINGHAM'S REBELLION, an unsuccessful uprising that Richmond himself supported with an abortive descent on the English coast. Although Richard's soldiers tried to draw the earl ashore by posing as friends, Richmond learned of Buckingham's failure and returned safely to Brittany. In 1484, as a growing body of English exiles collected around him, Richmond fled into France, foiling a plot by Pierre Landais to turn him over to Richard's agents.
With French assistance, Richmond and his uncle landed in Wales in August 1485. Leading a force of over 2,000 French and Scottish mercenaries and some 600 English supporters, Richmond crossed Wales and entered England, collecting support along the way from both old Lancastrians and disaffected Yorkists. However, his army was still smaller than the king's when he met Richard in battle near the village of Market Bosworth on 22 August. Defeated by disloyalty in his ranks and by the intervention on Richmond's side of Sir William STANLEY, brother of Thomas STANLEY, Lord Stanley (Richmond's stepfather), Richard was killed on the field, and Richmond was proclaimed king as Henry VII. 

As heir of Lancaster, Henry sought to symbolically end the WARS OF THE ROSES by marrying Elizabeth, the heiress of York, in January 1486. Nonetheless, Henry spent much of his reign combating Yorkist attempts to regain the throne. In June 1487, he defeated the partisans of Lambert SIMNEL at the Battle of STOKE. Simnel claimed to be Edward PLANTAGENET, earl of Warwick, the nephew of Edward IV and the last Yorkist claimant in the direct male line. A prisoner in the TOWER OF LONDON since 1485, Warwick was executed in 1499 after being implicated in an escape plot with Perkin WARBECK, another Yorkist pretender who had troubled Henry throughout the 1490s by claiming to be Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, the younger son of Edward IV, who had probably died in the Tower with his brother EDWARD V in 1483. Despite these and other Yorkist threats to his dynasty, Henry VII, at his death on 21 April 1509, peacefully passed a stable and strengthened Crown to his son Henry VIII.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Anne, Duchess of Brittany (25 January 1477 – 9 January 1514), also known as Anna of Brittany (French: Anne de Bretagne; Breton: Anna Vreizh), was a Breton ruler, who was to become queen to two successive French kings. She was born in Nantes, Brittany, and was the daughter of Francis II, Duke of Brittany and Margaret of Foix. Her maternal grandparents were Queen Eleanor of Navarre and Gaston IV, Count of Foix. Upon her father's death, she became sovereign Duchess of Brittany, Countess of Nantes, Montfort and Richmont and Viscountess of Limoges. In her time, she was the richest European woman.

Brittany being an attractive prize, Anne had no shortage of suitors. She was officially promised in marriage to Edward, Prince of Wales, son of Edward IV of England in 1483; however, the boy disappeared, and was presumed dead, soon after the death of Edward IV.

As a potential ally with naval resources, and, after 1471, as the place of exile for Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond, the last royal claimant of the house of LANCASTER, the French Duchy of Brittany played an important role in the WARS OF THE ROSES.

Although FRANCIS II, duke of Brittany from 1458 to 1488, held his title of the king of FRANCE, the duchy in the fifteenth century was an independent state, with its own administrative and ecclesiastical structure and its own legislative and judicial bodies. Breton dukes had achieved political autonomy by playing off the French against the English during the HUNDRED YEARS WAR. Breton independence served English interests, for a French Brittany threatened English security. Lying across the Channel from England, the Breton peninsula had a long coastline, and the duchy was strong in ships and experienced seamen; in French hands, Brittany was a potential base for invading England. Alternatively, England could employ an autonomous Brittany to trouble France in the same way France encouraged SCOTLAND to threaten England, while the Breton fleet was a useful addition to any anti-French alliance.

To maintain Breton independence from France, Francis sought to establish close relations with England and BURGUNDY without unnecessarily alienating the French. Thus, in the early 1460s, Francis, following his own inclinations and the lead of LOUIS XI, provided assistance to Lancastrian exiles within his borders, such as Jasper TUDOR, earl of Pembroke. However, in 1465, Francis took Brittany into the League of the Public Weal, a coalition of French princes led by CHARLES of Burgundy that forced Louis to concede privileges and territories. By 1468, growing threats of French invasion and a thriving trade with England persuaded Francis to conclude formal treaties of commerce and alliance with EDWARD IV. In 1471, Channel storms drove Pembroke and his nephew Richmond, the last Lancastrian claimant of consequence, onto the Breton coast. This literal windfall provided Francis with the means for pressuring Edward IV, now secure on his throne, into maintaining English support for Brittany.

In 1472, Edward sent English ARCHERS under Anthony WOODVILLE, Earl Rivers, to help the Bretons repel a French invasion; in 1480, Edward betrothed his son, to Francis’s only child, Anne. In 1483, after RICHARD III destabilized English politics by usurping his nephew’s throne, Richmond, who was kept in increasingly rigorous confinement, became a serious threat to the house of YORK. Because Richard was too insecure to materially assist Brittany, Francis provided Richmond with men and ships and allowed him to join BUCKINGHAM’S REBELLION in October 1483. After the failure of that uprising, a band of English exiles formed around Richmond in Brittany, and the pro-English faction at the Breton court, led by Pierre LANDAIS, the treasurer, used the duke’s illness to secretly negotiate with Richard for Richmond’s surrender. Warned of the plot by Bishop John MORTON, Richmond and his followers fled into France, from where they launched a successful invasion of England in 1485.

Francis II died in 1488 in the midst of a French invasion that only ended in 1491 with the conclusion of a marriage treaty between Duchess Anne and CHARLES VIII. Because the settlement laid out terms for Brittany’s incorporation into France, Henry VII led an English army to Anne’s assistance in 1492. However, the invasion ended in the Treaty of Etaples, whereby Henry acquiesced in the takeover of Brittany in return for a French pension and an agreement to expel Perkin WARBECK and other Yorkist pretenders from France. Although the Breton Estates (a legislative assembly) did not formally vote for perpetual union with France until 1532, the duchy was effectively under French control after 1491.

Further Reading: Davies,C. S. L.,“The Wars of the Roses in European Context” in A. J. Pollard, ed., The Wars of the Roses (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995), pp. 162–185; Galliou, Patrick, and Michael Jones, The Bretons (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991); Jones, Michael, The Creation of Brittany:A Late Medieval State (London: Hambledon, 1988).