An Irish Invasion of England: Battle of Stoke Field, 1457

owedtojoy

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************** Error correction: This battle was in 1487 *************************

English strategic concerns about Ireland have been largely to do with naval matters, and defence of the Atlantic sea lanes. But at certain times, there have been real invasion concerns, too. The two deposed Stuarts Charles I and James II raised Irish armies with a view to invading the "mainland" in the 17th century. In the days of Philip II of Spain, and of Napoleon, a foreign invasion through Ireland was also a major fear, requiring British military forces in Ireland to be massively increased.

But few invasions of England based from Ireland have actually happened. However, one did happen 530 years ago, leading to the last pitched battle in the conflict known as the Wars of the Roses, a conflict that had broken into open warfare in 1455, and been on and temporarily off since.

Prequel

The Wars of the Roses were complex, and the name was only applied in later years - one side, known as the Lancastrians, never in fact used a Red Rose as a symbol, though their opponents, known as Yorkists, did use a White Rose as one of their many symbols. The Wars arose through the mental incapacity of the Lancastrian King Henry VI, son of the victor at Agincourt. This led to rival Lords striving to control his Government, eventually leading to a powerful relative (Richard of York) claiming the crown for himself in 1458.

Richard of York was soon slain, but his son emerged as a resourceful politician and doughty general to successfully depose Henry and assume the crown as King Edward IV in 1461. Edward reigned until 1483 (with an interruption for 6 months, when a Lancastrian rebellion forced him to flee to the continent in 1470). Edward left only a son of 12 to assume the crown, but Edward V never had a coronation. He suffered usurpation by his uncle Richard of Gloucester, who was crowned as Richard III. Richard ended up being killed by Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. In turn, Henry VII became King and founded a new dynasty.

Richard III "The King in the Car Park" is now one of England's most famous medieval monarchs since the discovery of his body in Leicester (2012), but his reign was short, and never garnered the stability and legitimacy of his older brother's.

(Edward V was one of the "Princes in the Tower" who disappeared and was never seen again, probably murdered, with his usurping uncle as prime suspect. However, the Tudors recognised him as a true King, when Henry VIII's son Edward as crowned as Edward VI)

Prelude to Invasion:

It may seem that Ireland was peripheral to the Wars of the Roses, but that was not quite true. In fact, the Celtic Countries played important roles as refuges or bolt-holes in times of defeat, and for recruitment and organisation when claimants were strong enough. Wales was generally Lancastrian, and of course was central to the Tudors. Scotland, especially in the 1450s and 1460s, also provided refuges and support for the Lancastrian cause.

The most important overseas base for the Yorkists was Calais, the last English possession in France, which linked in with their support in London and the south-west. But next to Calais in importance was Ireland, or rather the English Lordship of Ireland, the Pale and the royally-chartered towns. Richard of York owned lands in Ireland, and had been Lieutenant of Ireland in the early 1450s. The powerful Fitzgeralds of Kildare, the most important Anglo-Norman family, were steadfast Yorkist allies.

Richard fled to Ireland after a major defeat in 1459, and later sailed to Waterford to confer with leaders from Calais, his son Edward and their ally Richard Earl of Warwick, known as the "Kingmaker". Warwick and Edward invaded England from Calais, and their capture of London, and the then-King Henry VI, in 1460 enabled Richard to return from Ireland in state to claim "his" crown openly.

After Richard III's overthrow in 1485, and the taking of Calais by Henry's loyal forces, Ireland emerged as the natural place where the refugee Yorkists might turn to gather their forces in an attempt to re-take the crown of England.

A King of England is crowned in Dublin

On May 4th 1487, a fleet brought a Yorkist claimant to the English crown to Dublin, and on May 24th, he was crowned in Christchurch Cathedral as King Edward VI of England, thus indirectly recognising Edward V who had been denied legitimacy as a bastard by Richard III.

We know now that "Edward VI" was really one Lambert Simnel. Simnel claimed to be Edward, nephew of both Edward IV and Richard III, and the true Yorkist King. Simnel had been introduced to the Yorkists by a mentor, Richard Symonds, and he had been taken up by the main surviving Yorkists the Earl of Lincoln, and Margaret, Duchess of Burgundy.

They must have known that Simnel was an impostor, but must also have gauged that the new Tudor regime must be attacked before it gained strength. Henry VI had invaded England in 1485 with a small army of French and Scottish mercenaries, and perhaps they judged that most English lords will wait and see who was victorious, just as many had in 1485. The crown of England had become a prize for the strongest nobleman who could press home a plausible claim.

The "coronation" can be seen as a public Act of Faith in "Edward's" legitimacy, as the real Edward was a prisoner of Henry Tudor. To crown and anoint an impostor was a mortal sin in an age that believed in hell-fire.

Another supporter of Simnel was Francis, Lord Lovell, who had been a supporter and close friend of Richard III. They were welcomed by the Fitzgeralds. The Yorkists had brought over 1,000 German mercenaries with them, heavily armoured infantry, under their Colonel, Martin Schwartz. They now proceeded to recruit Irish soldiers to join them. Leader of the Irish soldiery was Thomas Fitzgerald of Lackagh, Co Kildare, brother of Garret Mor "The Great Earl".

Irish Soldiery

The 4,500 or so Irish who joined up were "kerns" (Gaelic ceithern, a group of soldiers) - lightly armed and mobile troops, suitable for the ambuscades and raiding that made up the Irish mode of warfare. They were not armoured but probably dressed in jerkins of leather or quilted linen, stuffed with rough flax ("tow"), a primitive kevlar. They has leggings underneath. They were armed with knives and spears, or possibly poleaxes, or halberds (long handled axes).


Irish soldiers from late 16th century, probably kerns.

Most Irish armies of the period included "gallowglasses", soldiers who wore heavy chain-mail or plate armour, and carried swords and battleaxes. These do not seem to have been recruited, possibly because the German mercenaries supplied the need for heavy infantry.

The English had sometimes used kerns in France, ones brought there by the Irish Anglo-Norman lords, and used them mostly for raiding. We have no mention of them in the great pitched battles from Crecy to Agincourt or Verneuil. Most of the battles of the Wars of the Roses were fought on foot, since archery and primitive gunpowder weapons were lethal to cavalry.

We can surmise that many of the kerns were Palesmen, from the households of the Fitzgeralds, but many were probably also Gaelic Irish from Wicklow, Laoghis, Westmeath and Cavan, eager to serve, and (perhaps) earn plunder in England. They would have had names like O'Toole, O'Byrne, O'Moore or O'Rourke.

But someone must have wondered if the Irish kern were not a little "under-armed" to fight English or Welsh heavy infantry man to man, or to stand up to punishing archery. Perhaps the Yorkists were optimistic that many more supporters would rally to their cause.

Knights, Men-at-Arms and Landsknechts

The English army fighting the invaders could be expected to be mostly men on foot - though horses were useful in getting to the battlefield and (even more so) for escaping from a defeat, cavalry were declining into a specialist role. Now the Knight in plate-armour fought on foot, with a wicked weapon like a poleaxe, or a shorter sabre-type sword, and no shield.

Around the heavy knights, men-at-arms of his household in lighter gear might kill anyone stunned or temporarily incapacitated by the knight.

The Germans were probably landsknechts, the German equivalent of the Swiss pikemen then were the reputation of being the best infantry in Europe. These would have borne long pikes of 10 feet or more in a disciplined formation, but interspersed with swordsmen brandishing a broadsword. There were reasonably well armoured though not as much as the English knights.


A knight, and a German landsknecht

It would be interesting to know how the Irish and Germans fought as a unit - if the Germans engaged the heavily armoured knights, perhaps the kerns could slip into the gaps in the enemy line using their weapons to wound through gaps in the armour. However, this detail has not come down to us.

The Yorkist army also depended on the archers who might rally to it in England - this was a serious deficiency.

The Invasion

Lincoln, the main Yorkist commander, did not delay in Ireland, but set sail and landed in Lancashire on 4th June. The Kings forces seemed to be caught unawares, and the Yorkists won the early skirmishes. However, eventually Henry did bring the Yorkist army to battle a mile from the banks of the river Trent, near the village of Stoke on 15th June.

(This is not the city of Stoke-on-Trent, but a village sometimes called East Stoke to distinguish it. The battle is also sometimes known as the Battle of Stoke Field. Stoke is a few miles south of Newark in Nottingham-shire, and also on the ancient Roman road called the Fosse Way that runs from the south-west to the north east across England.).

The Battle

The Tudor army was led by the very experienced John de Vere, Earl of Oxofrd, who had led Henry's army at Bosworth, and Henry's uncle, Jasper Tudor, now Duke of Bedford. Henry himself remained in the rear.



The Yorkist army had grown at this point to 8,000 men, but still the majority were Irish. However, the Tudor army was 15,000 strong, perhaps more than the Yorkists had expected the King to muster.

At about 9:00 the Yorkists were subjected to a punishing fusillade of arrows that must have been deadly to the lightly armoured Irish. English and Welsh longbowmen trained from youth with their favoured weapon, developing massive pectoral muscles and arms. An arrow fired from a longbow arrived at 100 miles per hour, and was deadly accurate from a trained archer at 100 yards, able to penetrate plate armour. At 300 yards the kerns' quilted jerkins may have been able to stand up to this, but if fired at a high angle, the arrows must have inflicted punishing casualties.

There is a parallel here with Culloden, where the artillery of the Hanoverian artillery forced the Highlanders into a mad charge. Something similar happened here, but it was probably ordered and better coordinated. No doubt the Irish charged with all the verve and frenzy of their Scottish cousins.

The charge was also effective as the Tudor van, outnumbered at his point, buckled under the force of the attack. But it soon rallied, and stood firm, led by Oxford. Jasper Tudor commanded the reserves and sent forward reinforcements as necessary, no doubt when exhausted and wounded men from the van straggled to the rear. Inevitably, the Tudor advantage in numbers started to tell.

At about noon, the Yorkist army broke and fled for the Trent, many getting trapped in the cutting called the Red Gutter. At least the lightly armed Irish may have escaped in numbers, but the slow-moving Germans and Swiss fought on longer. Lincoln, Fitzgerald and Schwartz were killed, while Lovell was never found. The days when a defeated enemy could expect to be spared had long gone in these savage wars, and they all probably died fighting.

The Battle of Stoke was as bloody as any in the Wars of the Roses, expect for the stand-out Battle of Towton in 1461, when it is now reckoned 28,000 were slain. The Yorkists lost all their leaders, and half their army (about 4,000 men), while the Tudors losses may have been over 1,000 The high ratio of slain in both armies suggests that, as in many ancient and medieval battles, most of the dead were killed while fleeing and defenceless. Cavalry probably led the pursuit and the exhausted footmen were easy prey.

To cross the Trent many of the kerns would have found their quilted jerkins too heavy and were probably forced to ditch them. The armoured knights and men-at-arms would have been in a worse position. Stranded in the enemy heartland, with a long and perilous journey back to Ireland ahead of them, the Irish survivors disappear from the pages of history. We can surmise that few ever saw their homes again.

Aftermath:

The brightest footnote to the Battle of Stoke is that Lambert Simnel was spared, and even given a job in the King's household, where he later became a falconer. The real Edward continued as a prisoner, and indeed died as one, being too dangerous ever to be released.

The Tudors had survived their first great crisis, and Henry VII had passed his first great test. The dynasty was secure. When another impostor appeared, a young man called Perkin Warbeck, claiming to be Richard, the younger of the "Princes in the Tower", he was to gain some support, but never enough to mount an invasion. He was eventually captured and executed in 1499.

It would be obtuse to talk about who “won” the Wars of the Roses. The Plantagenet dynasty, the longest lasting in English history, tore itself apart, and the descendants of Welsh outlaws were the ones strong enough at a vital moment to pick up the pieces. Although the Tudor claim to the throne was one of the most tenuous ever, survival conferred its own legitimacy. By marrying Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth, Henry claimed to have united both Houses, but that was Tudor propaganda, later amplified by dynastic historians, and later by Shakespeare.

In Ireland, Henry left the Fitzgeralds and the other Anglo-Norman Lords undisturbed. The lands of Thomas Fitzgerald were technically forfeit to the crown, but Henry was not a vengeful man at this stage of his career, when his regime was fresh. Fitzgerald's family did not suffer confiscation. Even the Bishop of Meath, who had crowned "Edward VI" was returned to royal favour.

After some of the Irish Lords showed sympathy to Perkin Warbeck, Sir Edward Poynings was dispatched to Ireland with an army to subdue the Irish gentry in 1594. Poynings was partially successful - he induced the Irish Parliament to subordinate its powers to the English Parliament. However, the Fitzgeralds were restored to favour, and their final fall from power was to await Henry VIII.

The Tudors under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were to conquer and subdue Ireland, breaking the power not only of those such as the Fitzgeralds but the Gaelic Lords as well. If (and it is a big If) Stoke had been won by the Yorkists, bolstered mostly by Irish soldiers, it might have made that outcome more remote.

PS This Battle of Stoke was the last pitched battle fought by an invading army on English soil. Edit: that is questionable, since Cromwell's victories at Preston and Worcester in the English Civil War were against invading Scots. Stoke is another example of an "out" group using the periphery to attack England.

Error correction: This battle was in 1487
 
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Breanainn

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If one can find it in either your local library or bookstore, "The Geraldines and Medieval Ireland: The Making of a Myth" deals extensively with the Kildare Fitzgeralds' involvement in this incident.
 

PO'Neill

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Good post, this featured on a recent history of the Plantagenet's. Lambert Simnel was only an child of about 10 years of age, been used of course by Richard Symonds and the rest as an excuse to challenge for the throne. So much so King Henry VI pardoned the child and with his ironic humour made him a servant as a cook allegedly.
 

GDPR

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I wouldn't say that was any kind of invasion of England. An Irish invasion of England wouldn't be for the purposes of putting anyone on the English throne, but to annex England, which really belongs to us Celts, into our Celtic Empire.
 

Dearghoul

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I wouldn't say that was any kind of invasion of England. An Irish invasion of England wouldn't be for the purposes of putting anyone on the English throne, but to annex England, which really belongs to us Celts, into our Celtic Empire.
You've got a Celtic empire?

Where do you keep that, a fishtank in your bedsit?

Please stay off history threads.
 

danger here

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Stuttgart '88 for me :)
 

GDPR

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You've got a Celtic empire?

Where do you keep that, a fishtank in your bedsit?

Please stay off history threads.
Dún do bhéal a bhodaigh shalaigh, if you had some fish to eat you wouldn't be the sad excuse for a man that you are.
 

GDPR

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Good post, this featured on a recent history of the Plantagenet's. Lambert Simnel was only an child of about 10 years of age, been used of course by Richard Symonds and the rest as an excuse to challenge for the throne. So much so King Henry VI pardoned the child and with his ironic humour made him a servant as a cook allegedly.

I believe the child was actually tortured and executed. The story of him serving food to the Irish lords is apocryphal.
 

Ardillaun

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When did artillery become commonplace in English battles? I would have expected them here, with the home team at least.

I was confused reading the OP until I realized there was a typo in the title that should be fixed. The battle was in 1487.
 
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owedtojoy

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When did artillery become commonplace in English battles? I would have expected them here, with the home team at least.

I was confused reading the OP until I realized there was a typo in the title that should be fixed. The battle was in 1487.
[Really sorry about typo]

p.ie crashed on me but I had the text saved.

However, I had to re-type the thread title, and p.ie does not allow editing of thread titles.

I will ask a mod.
 

Catalpast

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[Really sorry about typo]

p.ie crashed on me but I had the text saved.

However, I had to re-type the thread title, and p.ie does not allow editing of thread titles.

I will ask a mod.
Very interesting - but I am not so sure that so many of the rank and file were 'kerns'

- the Fitzgeralds were Anglo-Irish Lords

- and surely would have recruited from amongst their own 'the English of Ireland' first?
 

owedtojoy

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When did artillery become commonplace in English battles? I would have expected them here, with the home team at least.

I was confused reading the OP until I realized there was a typo in the title that should be fixed. The battle was in 1487.
A really, really good question because artillery was used in the Wars of the Roses, though it was not decisive in any of the battles.

Cannon were becoming commonplace in sieges, and on the battlefield, as well as at sea, but it was in battering castles, and in damaging ships that they were are first really effective.

Interestingly, hand-guns were starting to appear on the battlefield, possibly like this one:



Some 30 lead balls probably fired from cannon have been found at Bosworth, which was two years before Stoke. A 3cm composite ball of iron encased in lead has been found at the site of the Battle of Towton, which was 26 years before Stoke.

So it is probable that Stoke did see the fire and smoke of some gunfire. The Germans may have had some of the primitive handguns, though as yet no archaeological evidence has been found to confirm that.

In the last few years, battlefield archaeologists have done very thorough research on Bosworth and on the artefacts, possibly Stoke will receive the same treatment. http://www.armchairgeneral.com/the-guns-of-the-battle-of-bosworth-1485.htm

PS The first Irish battle in which guns were used was the Battle of Knockdoe (1504) in Co. Galway, between the Burkes and the Fitzgeralds. The annals say that a man was beaten to death with a handgun! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Knockdoe
 
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owedtojoy

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Very interesting - but I am not so sure that so many of the rank and file were 'kerns'

- the Fitzgeralds were Anglo-Irish Lords

- and surely would have recruited from amongst their own 'the English of Ireland' first?
The Fitzgeralds would have also employed kerns, as the Anglo-Norman adopted Gaelic styles in many aspects, not just military.

I am sure they hired those from within their households first. As they were employing mercenaries in a desperate venture, they would not have refused those from beyond the border of the Pale.

I am relying a bit on the Wikipedia author here, who specifically says kerns.
 

RasherHash

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Very interesting - but I am not so sure that so many of the rank and file were 'kerns'

- the Fitzgeralds were Anglo-Irish Lords

- and surely would have recruited from amongst their own 'the English of Ireland' first?

Desmond Seward is eloquent when he describes the Kerns in France:

The Prior and many of his men were killed. The kern had made a strong impression by their outlandish dress and their ferocity, riding back from raids with severed heads dangling from their bareback ponies. There were other Irishmen who, led by the Butler family, made a small but effective contribution to the Lancastrian war effort in France. The fourth earl of Ormonde-–Fra' Thomas was his bastard son-–had been on Clarence's chevauchee in 1412 and also took part in the siege of Rouen. Two more of his sons, Sir John and Sir James Butler (later the fifth Earl) were to be noted captains under Bedford and Old Talbot in the 1430s and 1440s. Besides a long-haired, moustachioed, saffron cloaked, barefooted 'tail' of javelin men and axe- and claymore-wielding gallowglasses, these Anglo-Irish chieftains would have brought more conventionally armed daoine uaisle (gentlemen) recruited from their relations.
 

Ardillaun

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I can't recall coming across 'kerns and gallowglasses' too often since first encountering them at school in Macbeth, and I never heard of this battle before either.
 
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RasherHash

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"lighter and lustier than [English soldiers] in travail and footmanship."

The dart was the weapon of choice for the kern, the bow never achieving popularity in the country. Kerns were of great use in the warfare that revolved around cattle raiding in Ireland at the time. Their role was to herd captured cattle away from the enemy territory and to support heavier troops such as the gallowglass. When confronted by English style regiments, the kern would follow enemy troops on their march route, firing on them with darts, javelins, and stones from slings.

Woodkerns
Native Irish displaced by the Anglo-Norman invasion, operated as bandits in the forests of Ireland where they were known as "wood kerns" or Cethern Coille.[7] They were such a threat to the new settlers that a law was passed in 1297 requiring lords of the woods to keep the roads clear of fallen and growing trees, to make it harder for wood kerns to launch their attacks


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kern_(soldier)
 

RasherHash

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Sir Niall O'Neill's portrait from 1680 by John Michael Wright is historically significant because it is the only surviving contemporary presentation of the traditional costume of an Irish chieftain. At his feet is the armour of a Japanese samurai as a symbol of victory over oppression of Catholics; next to him is a wolfhound as a symbol of Ireland. He carries a dart and a long scian (knife), his servant carries more darts. He wears conical hat typical of the chieftains of the middle-ages.
 


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