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16 June 1487
Battle of Stoke Field
River Trent, near Newark
As much as he tried, Francis Lovell could not sleep. For the morale of the troops, he should project optimism about the upcoming battle, even though the king’s armies were superior in numbers and discipline. His gut twisted at the thought of facing them.
In the predawn hour, Francis slipped out of his tent, passing the priests who were setting up the crosses, bread, and wine for the mass before the men went into battle. Battle. Now, he would fight for Edward V, who was untested in battle, unlike his uncle, the late King Richard III. Francis wondered how different things would have been if Edward had been sixteen in 1483 instead of twelve when his father, Edward IV, died. Would Richard and his wife and son be alive today?
The morning mist hung heavy on the grass, but the sky was cloudless and the sun would soon burn off the dew. He circled around the other generals’ tents to Edward’s. As he approached, the guard drew to attention, and only relaxed upon recognition.
Francis entered Edward’s tent to awaken him, only to discover his sovereign sitting at the edge of his bed, face drawn and pale. At that moment, he looked so like his uncle on the fatal morning nearly two years earlier. Francis knelt on one knee and parted his lips to speak. His mouth had lost all moisture, and all he could manage was a hoarse, “Your Grace.”
Edward stood. “It is with God, and surely we have Him on our side.” He placed his hand on Francis’s shoulder. “Rise, we must be ready to defeat that Welsh milksop!”
Surprised Edward should use his uncle’s name for Tudor, Francis slapped his hand over his mouth to hold back the laugh that threatened to erupt from his lips. He then saw an impish grin reach Edward’s eyes. Both laughed.
After Low Mass, Edward pulled Francis aside at the tent’s entry. He reached into his pouch and retrieved a parchment roll that carried his seal. He handed it to Francis. “Swear you will deliver this to my mother in the event I do not survive this battle.”
Francis placed his hand over his heart. “I swear, if it is within my power.”
By nine, Edward’s forces had amassed on the crest of Burham Hill across the Upper Fosse. The sun beat down on bowman and knight alike; but those in armor suffered most from the trapped heat. Francis wiped the sweat from his eyes and peered across the grassy stretch at Oxford’s army—Henry’s vanguard. In addition to Francis, Lincoln, Schwartz, and the Irish generals stood with Edward. Eight horses were held to the side for an escape to Newark, should the battle go against them. Edward tensed in his saddle and it spread to his destrier. The warhorse sidestepped, tossing his head high. Francis reached for the steed’s rein. “Patience, your grace. We wait for their attack and then we defend.” He circled in front of Edward.
“Where are the Royalist forces?” Edward asked.
Francis scanned the field. “Oxford’s army is the only one in view. If we attack now, we will have more men.”
“Henry’s forces cannot be far behind,” Lincoln said, “and then we will be outmanned and lose the advantage.”
“Before we make a move, we should find out how far away they are. Our scouts should be returning shortly.” Fitzgerald drew up to Lincoln and scanned the grassy slope towards the River Trent.
Francis guided his destrier a few feet towards the river.
Lincoln followed. “Any sign of our scouts?”
Francis shook his head. “I expected them to have returned by now. I pray they have not been captured.”
Lincoln turned his steed towards the rise. “We must decide now.”
“Someone comes.” Before Francis could identify the livery, the man ducked into a copse and disappeared from view.
Fitzgerald met up with him. “Friend or foe?”
“I could not see his colors.”
They waited for the man to reappear, scanning to the right and left of the copse for any movement.
As they watched, a man emerged from behind the trees, making straight for the rebel commanders. Francis and Fitzgerald rode down the hill and quickly met up with the scout. “Where are Henry’s armies—did you see them?” Fitzgerald asked.
Panting, the scout nodded. “I reckon they are eight miles south. It could take them more than an hour before they join with Oxford.”
With speed, Francis and Fitzgerald rejoined the commanders and relayed the intelligence. “If we attack now, before Henry can join with Oxford, we outman Oxford by two thousand,” Francis said.
Lincoln frowned. “We lose the defensive advantage by attacking.”
“If we do not attack now,” Francis said, “Oxford will be content to sit there and wait for Tudor. Then they will have the advantage.” He turned to Fitzgerald. “Will your archers be able to shoot and advance at the same time? We need their cover.”
Francis glanced at each commander, and when all nodded in agreement, he donned his helmet and faced Edward. “Give the command to attack, your Grace.”
At Edward’s signal, the rebels marched against Oxford. At first, it appeared the rebels had the advantage, catching Oxford still deploying his troops across the Upper Fosse. The rebels had organized themselves so their best-protected men—the gunners and crossbowmen—were surrounded by pikemen. The archers walked behind them. The rebels had planned to hold their fire until they got in range of Oxford’s troops, but before their archers could let loose their shafts, the sky blackened with the enemies’ arrows.
The mercenaries charged down the grassy hill at the Oxford host. The ground shook from the force of thousands of troops pounding towards victory or defeat. Fitzgerald shouted orders and the bowmen set their crossbows to fire. Some bolts found their marks, but most missed. The gunners managed to shoot a couple of rounds before the bolts felled them.
Lincoln drove his army down towards the mercenaries. Fitzgerald and Schwartz sent runners to their men to get them to hold their ground. To Francis’s dismay, the mercenaries fell back and were trapped between opposing armies. He turned toward Edward, but he was not where Francis last saw him a few moments ago. Just then, Edward rushed past him heading towards Lincoln’s army, who were now engaged in the most heated part of the battle.
Francis flipped down his visor and charged to where he had last seen Edward. He scanned the field and spotted Edward in the midst of Oxford’s army, horse and youth fighting fiercely. Before he could get near Edward, Oxford’s men pulled Edward to the ground and he disappeared under the swell of soldiers.
Fearing the worst, Francis spurred his destrier to the center. A bowman loomed before him. His horse reared, fighting as fiercely as any warrior. Francis swung his broadsword at the enemy. The destrier bucked and kicked his rear legs high, throwing him into a thicket. He slammed into a stout oak, a bolt of pain shot down his spine, and his vision momentarily clouded over. When his sight cleared, the most he could see was a slit of blue sky. He could hear the enemy moving away from where he lay. When he tried to move, he found the armor restricted his right arm. He prayed he would be able to get out of his harness.
When the sounds of battle died, he brought his left hand up to the helmet’s visor and flipped it open. He froze when he heard a soft neigh, but saw it was his destrier. Argent came up to him and stood so Francis could grab the stirrup and pull himself upright. Except for the pain across his back where he had connected with the tree, he could move, although with some difficulty. A cursory scan showed he was surrounded by trees, bushes, and grasses with no one near.
Francis removed his helmet and crept to the edge of the copse. He was a distance from where the victors—his enemies—were milling around and marching his friends and allies to their deaths. Sweet Jesus! Where was Edward? Francis had seen him go down, but had he been captured or killed? He blamed himself. He was supposed to have kept Edward safe. He would never forgive himself. He sent up a silent prayer Edward was alive. If he survived, Francis vowed to return to this spot and search through the dead.
The field was strewn with the dead and dying. Ravens circled overhead. Edward’s colors were not visible. If he searched now, he would undoubtedly be captured and executed. But he had to find out. He made a more measured scan of the field this time, and a plan formed in his mind. He crept as close as he could to where Henry’s troops were executing the rebels. Even from this distance, he saw the blood soaked ground with the liveries of the fallen strewn about. Edward was not among them, dead or alive.
Still hidden from Henry’s troops, he crept back to where he left Argent and led him away from the battlefield toward a bend in the river. Cries of the wounded and dying faded as he neared the river, muffled by the turbid water flowing past. The land fell away at the bank where Francis found a cove where he could hide.
He slipped into the cove, using the reeds and bushes for cover. He turned and saw a small knot of Henry’s troops sweeping the battlefield on foot. He did not know how long he had, but he had to get out of his armor. The sweat from the heat mixed with fear stung his eyes and trickled down his back. He could not let them capture him. He had to devise a ruse—something to make them think he was dead.
He remembered the hay-men the farmers constructed to scare the crows from the fields. Inspired by this sudden thought, surely sent from heaven itself, Francis realized he might be able to build one that would support his armor.
He tore the gauntlets off his hands and tried to undo the leather knots holding the armor on his right arm. His left hand shook with fatigue and was too clumsy to work the ties. He slipped the dagger from its sheath and slashed at them, sending up a prayer of thanks he was not wearing the full armor, which would have made it impossible to remove it without a squire. He now had sufficient mobility in his right arm to remove the rest, although it was not until he cut the ties connecting the breast plate to the back plate he regained full range of movement—albeit painful. Next he removed the padded jacket and leggings, and stuffed them with reeds, making a crude hay-man. Finally, he slashed strips of linen from the bottom of his surcoat and tied the armor to the hay-man with it.
The enemy had drawn closer, but they came upon some hapless camp followers, giving Francis time to put his plan into effect. He had to make it look like he had drowned. While the soldiers were occupied with the camp followers, he stripped off the rest of his clothes and hid them in the reeds. Then he guided his warhorse into the river and set the armored simulacrum on the saddle. He swam to the far side of the bank so Argent would block the enemy from seeing him.
A shout went up in the direction of the riverbank, “Hoy! Kill him.”
The arrows flew at Argent, piercing the armored hay-man. The horse screamed when he was hit, and made a valiant but unsuccessful attempt to rear, but could not. Francis cut the linen holding the armor and pulled it into the water. He swallowed a lung full of air and dove. The water was thick with mud, making it impossible to see. He struck for what he hoped was the riverbank.
* * *
August 27, 2006
Richard placed his drink on the coffee table and pulled his wife close. Sarah melted into his chest and rested her head against his shoulder.
“That was no vacation,” she said. “I’m still wound up from what happened.”
“Shall I pour you a drink?”
He straightened at the anger in her voice. “Sarah, I thought it would help you to relax. What’s wrong?”
She turned and slipped her hand in his. “I’m sorry, you’ve adapted to these times so well, I forget about the gaps in your knowledge.” She tucked back into his body. “Alcohol is poison to a developing fetus. It can result in behavioral problems, severe mental retardation, and other birth defects.”
“Everyone drank ale five hundred years ago, at every meal and in between.” He knit his brow. “I don’t remember there being an abundance of fools, no more than today.”
“I guess an occasional drink wouldn’t hurt, but I really don’t want one.”
“I’d like to name the baby Michael if it’s a boy.” He caressed her abdomen.
“Me too! Without him, you and your son would not be alive today. I want to honor his memory, and I can’t think of a better way. But if it’s a girl…I know…we could name her Michelle.”
He tilted her chin and leaned in to kiss her. She snuggled against his chest and then, just as he parted his lips and sought hers, she turned away.
“Edward,” she said, “how long have you been standing in the doorway?”
“I, uh…” He shuffled closer to them.
Richard turned his head to his son, now behind the couch. “You heard, didn’t you?”
“Yes, Papa.” His eleven-year-old stared at his feet.
Sarah reached over and brushed the boy’s arm. “Can you keep a secret, Edward? We plan to tell everyone in about a month, if all goes well.”
Edward’s eyes darted first to Sarah and then to his father. “What do you mean? Is there something wrong?”
“Come,” Richard said, “sit with us.”
He and Sarah scooted apart, making room on the sofa. He remembered the times Anne had conceived, only to miscarry. He saw the toll it had taken, and reluctantly suggested they take the precautions available, but she insisted they keep trying to have more children. Her health had declined by the time he had been crowned King of England, and yet she persisted.
Edward sat between them.
Richard thought Anne had hidden her miscarriages from Edward, but now he wasn’t so sure. “Your Mama and I tried to have more children after you were born. She was with child more than once. She miscarried all but you.”
Sarah put her arm around Edward. “Don’t look so glum. I’m in excellent health, gave birth to two healthy girls, and as far as I know, never miscarried. But until we’re absolutely sure, we want you to keep this a secret—promise you won’t tell anyone, not even your sisters.”
* * *
Richard had agreed with Sarah about not returning to the fifteenth century for anyone else after they saved Edward. Still, the thought of his dearest friend, Francis Lovell possibly dying of starvation, trapped in the underground vault, was suffocating. There were nights when Richard would lie awake, his mind unwilling to let go, to forget. He tried to rationalize there was nothing he could do. But that wasn’t true, not with the device beckoning him to look.
He clicked on a bookmark and linked to an article about Francis, reading it as he’d done countless times before. Two years after Bosworth Francis Lovell supported the uprising at Stoke Henry VII put down on June 16, 1487, making Francis a fugitive. He was last seen fording the Trent. Here the story fractured. Some sources said he drowned, and others said he escaped to Flanders or maybe Scotland. But the most persistent tale was Francis returned to his estates and hid in a vault and remained there until his death from starvation. Richard shuddered at the thought. It was not a death he would have wished on an enemy. Francis was his best friend.
In 1708, a group of workers broke into an underground chamber at Minster Lovell and found a fully dressed skeleton moldering by a table with papers strewn about. The skeleton soon crumbled to dust, as did the papers, before anyone had been able to examine them.
Assuming the story wasn’t apocryphal, the skeleton could have been anyone. The papers were probably Francis’s.
“I think we should go to bed,” Sarah said, jolting his attention away from the article. He hadn’t heard her enter the study. She came around the desk and stood behind him, placing her hands on his shoulders, and leaned in so her cheek touched his. “What’re you reading?”
“It’s about Francis Lovell.”
“Are you sure there’s no way other than returning to the past to determine if the story is true or a myth?” She pressed her palms into his shoulders. “Do you really think he could have gotten trapped there?”
“I don’t know, Sarah. He was a big man. I can’t imagine him not being able to open a door he himself closed. But I must find out.”