Sir William Stanley

STANLEY, Sir WILLIAM (d. 1495), lord chamberlain to Henry VII, was the second son of Thomas Stanley, first lord Stanley, by Joan, daughter of Sir Robert Goushill of Hoveringham, Nottinghamshire, and his wife, Elizabeth Fitzalan, dowager duchess of Norfolk. Thomas Stanley, first Earl of Derby [q. v.], was his elder brother. Stanley was born after 1435, and made his first known public appearance while still a squire in 1459 as a Yorkist partisan, taking part in ‘the distressing of King Henry’s true liege people at Bloreheath,’ where two of his brothers-in-law, Sir William Troutbeck and Sir Richard Molyneux [q. v.] of Sefton, fell on the opposite side. In the ensuing parliament Stanley was attainted with other Yorkists (Rot. Parl. v. 348, 369). As he did not fall into the hands of the government, we may perhaps assume that he escaped abroad, like the rest, after the rout of Ludford. The accession of Edward IV brought him his reward; the office of chamberlain of Chester was at once conferred upon him, and he apparently retained it until his death (Ormerod, i. 60). At York, after the battle of Hexham in 1464, the king made him a further grant under the great seal, and in November 1465 bestowed upon him the castle and lordship of Skipton and other lands in Craven forfeited by Lord Clifford, who fell on the Lancastrian side at Towton (Rot. Parl. v. 530, 582). When Edward returned from his temporary exile in 1471, Stanley joined him with three hundred men at Nottingham (Warkworth, p. 14, but cf. Arrival of Edward IV, p. 7). He was subsequently steward of the Prince of Wales’s household (Ramsay, ii. 482). Richard III did his best to retain Stanley’s support; he gave him Buckingham’s forfeited office of justiciar of North Wales (the ‘Croyland Continuator’ says chamberlain) and a great landed position there by the grant of the castle and lordship of ‘Lione otherwise called the Holte,’ i.e. Holt Castle on the Dee, with a moiety of Bromfield, Yale, and four other marcher lordships, three whole manors, and a moiety of seventeen others, among them Wrexham and Ruabon (Rot. Parl. vi. 316). He seems also to have had an interest in the lordship of Chirk, whose castle he repaired (Leland, Itinerary, v. 36; Gairdner, p. 402). These lands, which comprised a great part of what is now East Denbighshire, he claimed in the next reign to have obtained by exchange for others of ‘great value.’ This vagueness and the obvious motive for such a statement render it rather doubtful, but he may possibly have surrendered Skipton in return for these Welsh grants. Henry VII, as soon as he gained the throne, certainly restored Skipton to Lord Clifford, ‘the shepherd lord.’ At Ridley, a few miles north, under the shadow of the Peckforton Hills, Stanley built himself ‘the fairest gentleman’s house in al Chestreshyre’ (Leland, v. 81, vol. vii. pt. i. p. 43). From here one September he wrote to his ‘cousin’ Piers Warburton of Arley, excusing himself from a promise to kill a buck in his park, ‘beyng so besy with olde Dyk I can have no layf thereunto’ (Ormerod, ii. 301). He did not hesitate to betray ‘olde Dyk’ when the time came. Early in August 1485 Henry of Richmond crossed a corner of North Wales unmolested, and at Stafford Stanley, who had three thousand ‘red coats’ with his livery of the hart’s head not far away, came to an understanding with the invader. Henry had a further interview with him and his brother, Lord Stanley, at Atherstone two days before the decisive battle of Bosworth (Polydore Vergil, p. 224; Gairdner, p. 414). Though already denounced to Richard by his nephew, Lord Strange, and proclaimed a traitor at Coventry and elsewhere, Stanley would not unite his force with Richmond’s, and on 22 Aug. pitched his camp on Hanging Hill, between Bosworth and Shenton, some distance from both the main bodies (Hutton, App. p. 245; cf. Hall, p. 414). Yet he can hardly have hoped to recover Richard’s favour had the day gone against Henry, and it was when the king’s desperate charge seemed to make this likely that Stanley brought his three thousand men into action and so decided the battle (ib. pp. 418–19). If his real object was to place Henry more clearly and deeply in his debt, it was certainly attained. He became lord chamberlain and knight of the Garter, and was confirmed in possession of his Welsh estates.

Sir William Stanley
Sir William Stanley

Stanley’s fall ten years after came no doubt as a surprise to most people, but Henry long before entertained suspicions of the man who had in turn betrayed Lancaster and York (Brewer, Letters and Papers, iii. 490). It is a curious coincidence, if no more, that the informer who denounced him at the end of 1494 as an accomplice of Perkin Warbeck should have been Sir Robert Clifford, uncle of the young lord whose property at Skipton he had for a time usurped (Dugdale, i. 342). How deeply he involved himself with Warbeck we do not know; he must surely have done more than declare that ‘if he knew certainly that the young man [Warbeck] was the undoubted heir of King Edward IV, he would never fight or bear armour against him.’ On 6 Feb. 1495 he was ‘found guilty of treason by a quest of divers knights and worshipful gentlemen,’ and on the 16th beheaded on Tower Hill (Cott. MS. Vitellius, A. xvi. 152–3; Fabyan, p. 685; Polydore Vergil; Hall, p. 469; Busch, p. 95). The more cruel part of an execution for treason was dispensed with. Henry defrayed the cost of his burial at Sion (Excerpta Historica, pp. 101–2). It was afterwards believed that forty thousand marks in ready money, plate, and jewels were found in Holt Castle, and Bacon, in his ‘Life of Henry VII,’ estimates Stanley’s income at three thousand a year.

Stanley was at least twice married. In 1465 he married Joan, daughter of the first Viscount Beaumont, and widow of John, lord Lovel (Rot. Parl. v. 582; Complete Peerage, v. 165). He subsequently (after 1470) married Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Hopton of Hopton, Shropshire, who had already survived two husbands, Sir Roger Corbet of Moreton-Corbet, Shropshire, and John Tiptoft, earl of Worcester [q. v.] (ib. vii. 402). The pedigrees following Sir Peter Leycester are in error respecting his marriage (cf. Baines, Hist. of Lancashire, iv. 10; Ormerod, i. 442). Stanley left three children—a son and two daughters. The son, Sir William Stanley, married Joan, heiress of the Masseys of Tatton in Cheshire, and died in or about 1498; one daughter, Joan, married Sir John Warburton of Arley, and the other, Catherine, Thomas Cocat of Holt.

A three-quarter-length portrait of Stanley in richly ornamented armour is preserved at Wentworth House, Yorkshire, and was engraved in Baines’s ‘Lancashire’ (iv. 19). He is represented with a thinnish face and short beard.

[See Rot. Parl.; Hall and Fabyan’s Chronicles, ed. Ellis; Polydore Vergil, Warkworth’s Chronicle and Arrival of Edward IV (Camden Soc.); Bentley’s Excerpta Historica, 1831; Stanley Papers (Chetham Soc. vol. xxix.); Ormerod’s Hist. of Cheshire, 1876; Dugdale’s Baronage; Complete Peerage by G. E. C[okayne]; Gairdner’s Richard III; Ramsay’s Lancaster and York; Busch’s England under the Tudors, Engl. tr.; other authorities in the text. Stanley is one of the heroes of the contemporary ‘Song of Lady Bessy’ (Elizabeth of York) written by a Stanley retainer, Humphrey Brereton, and edited by Halliwell for the Percy Society in 1847.]

Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 54
Stanley, William (d.1495) by James Tait

Image Credits

Coat of Arms of Sir William Stanley By Rs-nourse , CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia.

Sir William Stanley, painting in Wentworth House, Engraving by H Robinson. Fisher’s Drawing Room Scrap Book, 1837. Via Wikipedia.

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