Henry Tudor seized the throne of England at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, becoming King Henry VII more by conquest than by having a good claim to the throne.  Fortunately for him, the Wars of the Roses had wrought such carnage in the upper ranks of the English nobility that there wasn’t really anyone else with a better claim! The only real threat to his claim was the young Earl of Warwick, who Henry quickly had thrown into the Tower of London, where he spent the rest of his life.

The next year or so saw a lot of unrest, with a few remaining Yorkist nobles trying to stir up rebellion.  These tended to be very short-lived affairs, as they lacked a figurehead to rally to and Henry showed great skill at undermining the resolution of the Rebels.  His basic approach seems to have been to decide who the ringleader was and then offer everyone else a pardon. Captured ringleaders, such as Sir Humphrey Stafford, were hung, drawn and quartered. In spite of his uncertain claim to kingship, Henry certainly knew how a king should act!

Unknown to Henry, however, a sinister plot was underway. A priest called Richard Simons was grooming Lambert Simnel, the son of an Oxford carpenter, to impersonate the Earl of Warwick. I like to think that this grooming included lots of instruction on taking the ‘advice’ of his betters and not discussing the merits of the dovetail joint at social occasions.

When Simnel was revealed to Yorkist supporters in Ireland he was accepted as the Earl, and proclaimed both an Irish Prince and heir to the English throne.  The Yorkists now had a figurehead to rally opposition to Tudor rule! They assembled their army in Ireland and then made their move to challenge Henry. After a short and unremarkable campaign the Royal army blundered into the Rebels who stood waiting for them on a low ridge near Stoke.

The Armies

The 6000 strong Royal army seems to have been entirely English in origin, consisting of the usual mix of bills and bows with a smattering of mounted Knights and Currours. The bills, bows and Currours would have worn a variety of armour, ranging from padded jacks (apparently fairly effective at stopping an arrow, at least at long range) to partial plate armour, while the knight would be wearing full plate with some having armoured horses too.

The Rebel army that assembled in Ireland for the attempt to put Simnel on the throne of England was small and varied. The core of the force was formed by 1500-2000 Swiss and German mercenaries under Martin Schwartz. These were battle-hardened veterans armed with pikes, halbards and handguns, the weapons that were dominating European warfare at this time. This force was supported by a larger number of Irish infantry, brave and experienced at fighting but lacking in armour, making them vulnerable to archery – not a good thing when fighting the English! The followers of various Yorkist nobles provided further troops, some sailing with the army from Ireland, while others joined once it reached England.

The bulk of the 9000 strong Yorkist army is said to have been poorly equipped, but I suspect that the presence of renegade members of the Calais garrison would have given a useful boost to the English infantry. This is represented by upgrading one of the Bill units to Veteran and giving the front rank troops heavier armour.


The Rebels deploy on a long low ridge, facing the advancing Royal army. You could place a small village on the table edge to the Rebel left and a wood to their extreme right. This would serve the dual purpose of both making the game look better an also provide natural limits to the spread of the fighting – so much better than just running into the edge of the table!

The Royalist army is on the march and starts the battle with only the Advanced Guard on the table. The rest of the army arrives during the course of the game.

Orders of Battle

I have designed the OOB's and scenario rules for use with Vis Bellica, a great set of rules that works really well for this era.  

Yorkist Pretender Army

Defending hill

Sub General (Lincoln)

  • 1 x Knights [Veteran OO Knights, Lance (Shield)]
  • 1 x Currours [Average OO HC, Lance]

Leader 1 (Lovell)

  • 3 x Longbows [Levy OO MI, Longbow]
  • 1 x Bills [Veteran OO EHI/HI, Bill]
  • 1 x Bills [Average OO HI, Bill]

Leader 2 (Thomas Geraldine)

  • 4 x Bonnachts [Average OO MI, Light Spear, half Shielded]
  • 1 x Kerns [Average SO LI, Light Spear, half Shielded]

Leader 3 (Martin Schwartz)

  • 2 x Pikes [Veteran CO HI, Pike]
  • 1 x Handgunners [Average SO LI, Handgun]


1. Simnel can be represented by a separate figure. He can join any unit and give it bonuses like any Leader, but he does not get Command Dice.

2. The Irish seem to have been rather hot-headed in this battle. To represent this, the first time an Irish unit fails a morale test the failure is ignored and the whole brigade switches to Attack orders instead.

3.  Defeat conditions:  Loss of half of units or death of Lovell or Simnel

Tudor Army

Sub General (Henry VII.)

Arrives on roll of 4, 5 or 6 at the start of a turn

  • 1 x Knights [Veteran Knights, Lance (Shield)]
  • 2 x Bills [Average HI, Bill]
  • 2 x Longbows [Average HI, Longbow]

Leader 1 (Oxford)

Deploys on table as normal and must have Attack orders, at least until Henry arrives!

  • 1 x Knights [Veteran Knights, Lance (Shield)]
  • 1 x Bills [Average HI, Bill]
  • 2 x Longbows [Average HI, Longbow]

Leader 2 (Stanley)

Arrives on roll of 4, 5 or 6 at start of any turn after Henry has arrived.

  • 1 x Bills [Average HI, Bill]
  • 1 x Longbows [Average HI, Longbow]


1. Battles arrive as described below the Leader's name.

2. Defeat conditions: Loss of half of units or death of Henry.


Historical Outcome

On sighting the Rebel army facing him, despite being heavily outnumbered, Oxford decided that there was only one option open to him – ATTACK!  I can’t help thinking that he would have made a great wargamer!

As he advanced his archers started to shoot at the Rebel line, causing the Irish (who suffered particularly badly due to their lack of armour) to launch a furious charge down the hill, followed by the rest of the Rebels. 

Oxford’s force reeled back under the impact of this charge and began to give ground. Fortunately for them, Henry now arrived on the scene with the Main Battle and was able to first stabilise the line and then start driving back the Rebels. Under this pressure, it was not long before the weaker elements of the Rebel army gave way, leaving those with more resolve (such as Martin Schwartz and his mercenaries) at the mercy of the victorious King Henry.

All of the main Rebel leaders were either killed or went missing during or immediately following the battle. Simnel survived, and does not seem to have been punished for his part in the rebellion, being taken into service as a kitchen boy!

Written by John Hills