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|St16 William Stanley
was the son of Thomas Stanley St17
and Jean Goushill Go17
Born: about 1430
Died: 16 Feb 1495, executed
Married: 1st Joan, daughter of John de Beaumont, 1st Viscount Beaumont, and Elizabeth Phelip
2nd Elizabeth Hopton (d 22.06.1498, dau of Thomas Hopton of Hopton)
|The following account William Stanley actions at Bosworth Field by McArthur portrays the times as William saw them but fails to take into account that William's brother-in-law, Sir John Savage
of Clifton b c 1422, d 22.11.1495, was commanding Tudor's left wing at Bosworth Field, while William Stanley was held in reserve by Richard, which raises
a question of family loyalty for William. It seems likely that Savage and the Stanley brothers had come to a common opinion about Richard III's claim to the throne and the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower,
that was much like that of Shakespeare's and concluded that he was a usurper.
Furthermore, William Stanley does not seem to have had the slightest knowledge of the present day doubts about Edward IV's legitimacy, i. e. of how Edward was born about 11 months after Richard, 3rd Duke of York, had gone off on a longer military campaign and left his wife, Cecily Neville alone in Rouen, France, for several months. For if Richard of York took any note of this peculiar circumstance, he chose not to complain about it and accepted Edward as his son. In truth, Edward was not a Plantagenet at all and not entitled to become King of England, while his three younger half brothers were. Had this been generally known before Richard's untimely death in the Battle of Wakefield in Dec. 1460 early on in the Wars of Roses, history would have taken an entirely different course. But we can only surmise at whether the Yorkist movement would have collapsed due to some Yorkists supporting Edward and others one of the real heirs or proceeded on to Towton in much the same way fighting for a different King or holding to Edward. The following discussion of William Stanley's loyalty to the House of York would have to be understood in a different light and he would most certainly have supported the true Yorkist heir, as many others would have. The article does much to iilluminate the thinking of the times and the leading nobles' ideas of loyalty. William Stanley's downfall for waivering on whether to help put down the pretender, Perkin Warbeck, or not, simply would not have happened. What other trials of conscience might have arisen instead, is more a question of fantasy than history.
We see that in the end, over the 163 years following the assasination of Humphrey de Bohun, 4th Earl of Hereford, Earl of Essex, Constable of England b c 1276, k 16 Mar 1321/2,, the mighty House of Plantagenet was reduced to the questionable claim of the tenuous Beaufort line, that had been legitimized under express exclusion of rights to succession. The Tudor claim based mainly on Elizabeth's descent from Edward IV was simply false, but gave Tudor the power to hunt down and execute the last pretenders with legitimate claims. Yet the Tudors had little luck with their tenuous claim and ultimately "daughtered out" to the Stewarts.
|William Stanley had issue by Joan Beaumont:
St15-1 William Stanley (son & heir)
St14 Jane Stanley
and by Elizabeth Hopton
St15-3 Sir John Stanley of Weever (a c1450)
St15-4 James Stanley, Archdeacon of Carlisle
St15-5 Margaret Stanley
St15-6 Elizabeth Stanley
St15-7 Catherine Stanley
William Stanley - A Yorkist
by Richard A. McArthurSir William Stanley is the bete noir of the Stanleys to the Ricardian. He led, or at least commanded, the troops who attacked Richard as the latter came close to Tudor at Bosworth. Without this intervention, the Battle of Bosworth may well have had a different ending. This deed of William Stanley’s is often viewed, not only by Ricardians, as the climax of a life of treachery, coat-turning, trimming and time-serving. Desmond Seward, one of the more assertive anti-Richard historians, says of Sir William that he “…was even more treacherous than his brother and had a long record of changing sides.”1 But an examination of William’s life and actions, from Blore Heath to his death, will refute that opinion. William Stanley, all his public life from 1459 to 1485, was a Yorkist, fighting only for York when he came to the field. Perhaps his tragedy, and Richard’s, was that the two didn’t agree, in 1485, on what the House of York was. William Stanley was the younger brother of Thomas. However, since we don’t know their birthdates, we do not know how much younger William was. Seward suggests the two were twins2, but he doesn’t say where he got the idea. As a younger son, William had a longer row to hoe than Thomas had. William made good progress, becoming what some thought was the richest commoner in England, Lord Chamberlain of England, and holder of many rich properties.3
|William’s first recorded participation in the War of the Roses is at
Blore Heath, 1459, on the Yorkist side.4 This contrasts rather sharply
with his brother Thomas’ action, which consisted of standing apart.
When Edward IV gained control of England, William was appointed Chamberlain of Chester, a position kept right up to 1495.5 In 1465, King Edward granted William the Castle and Lordship of Skipton,and other lands in Craven which were taken from the Cliffords, who had been on the Lancastrian side.6 In September 1469 he was appointed Steward of Denbigh, in North Wales, for life.7
In 1465 he married Joan, daughter of the first Viscount Beaumont, and widow of John, Lord Lovel.8 For a time then he was stepfather to Francis Lovel. One wonders whether this might have caused some bitter personal reflections to Francis from 1485 to 1487. But, conceivably, it may never have been remembered except passingly.
When Warwick favored the Lancastrian side, and restored Henry VI to the throne, he did so without William Stanley’s aid. Indeed, Lancastrians, during the Re-adeption, ransacked William’s residence at Nant.9 Apparently, William had not even given such formal adherence to Henry as would defuse Lancastrian anger, otherwise the Lancastrians would almost certainly have refrained from such a step.
When Edward IV returned in 1471, William came to him as fast as reasonably possible. Edward’s landing in England is dated as March 13-15, 1471,10 and between then and March 29, 1471, when he penned Warwick in at Coventry,11 Edward had been at other locations. It was at Nottingham that Sir William Stanley joined Edward, bringing 300 men with him.12
|William, Lord Hastings, brought 3,000 men with him to Edward’s service
at that time, from Hastings’ Midland holdings.13 William Stanley’s holdings
were not so extensive or rich, and were mostly in North Wales. A 300 man
contribution by him must have come as a result of much recruiting work
on his part. Clearly William spared neither his body nor his energy in
serving Edward IV.
There is no direct reference to William at Barnet, but for his service to Edward at Tewkesbury, the king made William a Knight Banneret.14 A Knight Banneret was “a knight made in the field, by the ceremony of cutting off the point of his standard, and making it, as it were, a banner. Knights so made are accounted so honorable that they are allowed to display their arms in the royal army, as barons do, and may bear arms with supporter. A degree of honor next after a baron’s, when conferred by the king.”15
Clearly this was a signal honor, not to be given to one the king would have suspected of time-serving. The entire record of William Stanley during the House of York’s most troubled times was that of loyalty and service to York, no hesitations noted, no flirting with Warwick or Lancaster recorded.
Between 1471 and 1483, William Stanley thrived, retaining the positions and holdings he had received earlier in his career. There seems no indication that he played an independent part in any friction between his brother Thomas and Richard of Gloucester. Presumably, any part he played was ancillary. He is not noted as having any animosity to Richard at this time. In short, William was a loyal server to York, well treated by Edward IV and assumedly in good standing with Richard, Duke of Gloucester.
William was probably caught off-balance by Edward IV’s death, as was everybody else. There is no indication that he was in London at any time in the Spring of 1483. It has been surmised that William’s potential to lead troops against the Protector and subsequent King - may have been one reason for Richard’s supposed leniency to Thomas.16 William certainly made no recorded objection to Richard’s assumption of the throne. Perhaps he had no objection, or felt isolated in any discontent he felt with developments.
|William was not in any way lessened between Richard III’s coronation
and Buckingham’s rebellion. During the rebellion, William raised troops,
no one has ever suggested they were to fight Richard.
Both Thomas and William profited by Buckingham’s fall. In November 1483, he was appointed Chief Justice of North Wales.17 Richard also gave William the Castle and Lordship of Holt on the Dee, and a moiety of Bromfield, Yale and four other Marcher lordships, three whole manors, and a moiety of seventeen others including Wrexham and Ruabon.18 A moiety is the half of anything, so William was receiving a substantial share of these properties.
The Bromfield estate apparently was obtained by an exchange of Thornhill, and cash, to the King.20 The combination of Bromfield and Yale is regarded as “one of the largest lordships in North Wales, valued at over 700 pounds a year.”21
As Margaret Beaufort spun her conspiratorial web against Richard after Buckingham’s death, William Stanley changed his course. He now became hostile to a Yorkist King. By the spring of 1485, he favored the deposition of Richard III, and the kingship of Henry Tudor.
Why would a man who for 26 years had been loyal to the House of York, through good times and bad, thick and thin, switch to the Lancastrian side? Whenever York called, he had come. Why the change in 1485?
|Most probably he saw himself as still adhering to York, but considered
York incarnate not in Richard III, but in Elizabeth, daughter of Edward
IV. We have no contemporary statements from William in 1483. Like so many
else in England, he abided the faits accompli of the spring and early summer.
There is no reason to think that he genuinely accepted the story of the
precontract and its inevitable corollary, the illegitimacy of Edward IV’s
and Elizabeth Woodville’s children.
Sometime in 1483, probably shortly before the outbreak of Buckingham’s Rebellion, Edward IV’s sons disappeared from public view. Apparently, they were not seen privately by anyone who told others of them. The inference of their deaths arose, rumors of their murder spread, and were not contradicted, or disproven.
By 1485, Stanley and others must have thought Edward’s sons dead. As they had been in the custody of Richard III’s servants and supporters when they were last seen, and presumably could not have been reached by others, the conclusion seemed inescapable that Richard III had them murdered.
William Stanley, as did many others, drew that conclusion. There is no evidence to support the theory that Richard III gave him any assurance that this was untrue.
|What could William and Richard have done? It would be almost unthinkable
for anyone to go to the King and ask about his nephews. William Stanley
would not be one to do that. Richard and he were simply not that close.
Nor could the king volunteer any ignorance he might have been under. The
simple lack of communication must have worked against Richard as effectively
as any Tudor rumor-mongering.
William must have looked on Richard III as a murderer, and been the more confirmed in his disbelief of the bastardy of Edward IV’s children. Believing that Edward and Elizabeth Woodville’s children were legitimate, and that the sons were dead, William looked to Elizabeth of York, the oldest daughter of Edward and Elizabeth Woodville, as the lawful holder of the throne of England.
At Rennes, France, in December 1483, Henry Tudor promised to marry Elizabeth of York.23 A marriage between the surviving female claimant of one house and the sole male claimant of another house was an obvious way of reconciling conflicting claims and uniting rivals. William Stanley was pro-Yorkist, but there is nothing on record to indicate that he was a hater of Lancaster or Tudor. The uniting of Lancaster and York by a marriage between Henry and Elizabeth would not repel him. So, well before Henry Tudor’s return to England, William had probably decided to fight against Richard III.
|Did it never occur to William, or others, that Richard might have had
more incentive to keep Edward IV’s sons alive, and at least semi-visible,
precisely to avoid such a union? As long as one, or both boys lived and
were known to live, a plausible uniting of Lancaster (Tudor) and York was
unlikely. After all, either a Tudor in England under a Yorkist King would
be in danger; or a Yorkist heir under a Tudor king would be in danger.
In either situation, the resurgence of the subject house’s claims would
be a possibility, only to be prevented by arrest and execution. The English
nobility, gentry, and other commons would not overthrow Richard simply
to bring more instability. Only the deaths of Edward IV’s sons could leave
the path clear to such a uniting. Richard would have known that. But no
one seems to have seen that, and given Richard the benefit of the doubt.24
Richard III’s extensive preparations to repel Tudor’s invasion necessarily relied on local magnates and notables. In Wales, that included the Stanleys. In January 1485, Richard issued a warrant to the county of Chester, ordering obedience to Thomas Lord Stanley, Thomas’ son Lord Strange, and William Stanley in preparation to resist the rebels.25
When Tudor landed, William was a bit too open in his intent to fight Richard. He used his authority from Richard to raise troops, ostensibly to fight for Richard, when in reality, it was to fight against Richard.
But a problem arose, on or about August 15, 1485, about a week after Tudor landed, George, Lord Strange, Thomas Stanley’s son, was caught while trying to flee the entourage of Richard III. Questioned, Strange said William was plotting to join Henry Tudor. Richard reacted by declaring William a traitor.26
|Meanwhile, William was carrying out his part in the Tudor dynasty’s
making. His behavior was of great benefit to Tudor even before Bosworth.
On August 16th or 17th, 1485, he met Henry Tudor at Stafford.27 On August
20th or 21st, both Lord Stanley and Sir William Stanley met Tudor at Atherstone28.
Not much is known of what was said, but obviously Henry was not frightened
into discontinuing his invasion. William is also stated to have arranged
Henry’s welcome at Lichfield.29
On August 22, 1485, there could be no mystery as to William’s intent. Richard knew William would come in against him if he could. Only two things could constrain William: Thomas or the battle’s developments.
There is no point in discussing the many versions of how the Battle of Bosworth was fought. We can be almost certain that William did not intervene until Richard himself moved to attack Henry Tudor personally. Any version that the Stanleys were already active in the battle and then William’s troops went to Tudor’s aid is almost impossible. Fifteenth Century troops in England simply could not disengage from an active fight with one body of enemy troops and then go elsewhere on the same field to fight a different group of enemies. To be at all plausible, any version of William’s participation must assume that he was out of the fight until Richard placed himself in a position for William to get at Richard directly. William intervened, Henry won, Richard lost. Henry went on to marry Elizabeth of York, and William could consider himself to have placed Edward’s living heir on the throne. William didn’t do at all poorly after Henry’s rise. He was made Lord Chamberlain and Knight of the Garter30. He did have to yield Skipton to the Cliffords; and he seems to have had a problem with the heritability of Bromfield and Yale, in that William may not have been able to leave or will it to his descendants31 and his ambition to become Earl of Chester was frustrated32. But on the whole, he seems to have prospered.
|He served Henry VII well at first. While he seems not to have been at
Stoke in 1487, in 1489, he served with the Earl of Surrey in suppressing
the disorders of that year. It may be worth pointing out that those disorders
had resulted in the killing by a mob of Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland.33
But after 1491 when, the Perkin Warbeck conspiracy became active, William Stanley joined it. This is, as one examines William’s life, astonishing. Why would he endanger, but actually throw away, all he had gained? Why take initiative, as he had not done before, in plotting to overthrow an occupant of the throne?
Vergil speculates that William felt his rewards did not merit his deserts.34 Bennett refers to the failure to obtain the Earldom of Chester.35 These possible reasons cannot be entirely ruled out. But they do seem disproportionate to the risk run, which, predictably, materialized.
Remember, William had always been a Yorkist. Almost certainly his actions in 1485 resulted from his certainty that the proper Yorkist throne holder was Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV, because of the presumed-deaths of her brothers, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York. To the Tudors, absent their connection with Elizabeth, he probably felt no loyalty whatever. And, even with Henry Tudor’s marriage to Elizabeth, the Tudor dynasty would not retain William’s loyalty if a son of Edward IV still lived.
|There had been no official pronouncement of the deaths of Edward IV’s
sons by Henry Tudor. No one had been cited as their murderer(s). This must
have struck William as a bit odd.
And then, in 1491, a young man appeared in foreign courts, claiming to be the second of Edward IV’s sons, Richard, Duke of York. His appearance, literally reminded men of Edward IV, he was apparently of the right age. It was not long before some in England accepted his claim and conspired to overthrow Henry VII.
Eventually in 1493, William Stanley either joined them, or indicated that he might join them. Oddly, the details remain obscure. One story represents William as assuring one Sir Robert Clifford that on Clifford’s signal, Stanley would assist Warbeck with all his resources.36 But this is not what Vergil, the Tudor dynasty’s most prominent “official” historian says. Vergil does not actually state what the charged acts were. He reports that some said that William Stanley, in speaking to Robert Clifford, said that “if he were sure that the man was Edward’s son he would never take up arms against him”.37
This is repeated by Bacon, who further says that William attempted to defeat the charges at trial by holding to the conditional nature of the conversation, and that the judges ruled that to allow such conditionals as “if” to qualify (lessen) words of treason would “allow every man…express his malice, and blanch his danger”. The court considered that the words “…he would not bear arms against King Edward’s son” a direct denial of Tudor’s title.38
|It does seem that William Stanley had sent Clifford abroad to communicate
with Warbeck39. In and of itself, that would be treason. But the additional
embellishment of agreeing to rise against Henry VII on a signal from Clifford
hardly jibes with the attempt at trial, as narrated by Bacon, to base a
defense on “if”. Nor does it accord with Vergil’s reticence on the specific
On balance, it seems that William had at least taken the initiative in contacting Warbeck, and that he had, perhaps tentatively, stated he would join him. For this, he paid with his life. On February 16, 1495 he was executed.40
William Stanley served the House of York - as he conceived it to be - all his life. That he may have been wrong in his conception of that House in 1485, and in 1493-95, should not change our awareness of that. The judgment of so many against William, that he was at one with Thomas in treachery, turncoating, and betrayal, is mistaken. He may not be owed much honor, but he does not deserve dishonor.
A note by the author of this page: As William never had to account for turning against Richard III we can only surmise as to what grievances against the latter might have made him do so. Richard like all Kings made many an enemy and answered dearly for it, so we can be certain William would not have been at a loss to argue justification of his deeds. Some would understand, others would say the King can do no wrong. Even today there are those who believe a President should not be prosecuted. God, save us from evil leaders! For they are too many and mighty.
Rotuli Parliamentorum, Vols. 348, 369, 582
Arthurson, Ian, The Perkin Warbeck Conspiracy, 1491-1499 Alan Sutton,
Archbold, W.A.J., “Sir William Stanley and Perkin Warbeck”, English
Historical Review, Vol. XIV, pp.529-534, 1899.
1 Seward, Desmond, Richard III, England’s Black Legend, Franklin Watts
Publishing, New York, 1984, pg.185.
©This article appeared in the November 2000 issue of the Medelai Gazette
and is copyrighted to the Foundation.
It cannot be reproduceed without the written consent of the Foundation.