Stanley, Thomas, Earl of Derby

(c. 1435–1504)
   A powerful nobleman in northwestern England, Thomas Stanley, second Lord Stanley, survived the WARS OF THE ROSES by not adhering strongly to any party and by repeatedly demonstrating a remarkable ability to switch sides at the most favorable moment. In 1459, Stanley raised a large force on the command of Queen MARGARET OF ANJOU but simultaneously gave a conditional promise of support to her Yorkist opponent Richard NEVILLE, earl of Salisbury, who was Stanley’s father-in-law. However, when Salisbury engaged the Lancastrians at the Battle of BLORE HEATH, Stanley, who was only a few miles away, kept his troops out of the fight. Although Stanley was accused of treason by the Lancastriancontrolled COVENTRY PARLIAMENT, the queen chose to overlook his dealings with Salisbury, and Stanley fought for HENRY VI at the Battle of NORTHAMPTON in 1460. Stanley’s Lancastrian allegiance fell away in 1461 when EDWARD IV won the throne and conferred upon him various lands and offices. In the spring of 1470, Stanley refused to assist the ultimately unsuccessful revolt launched by his brother-in-law, Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick, but when Warwick returned in October and drove Edward from the kingdom, Stanley supported the READEPTION government of Henry VI (see Edward IV, Overthrow of). When Edward returned in March 1471, Stanley remained carefully aloof and was rewarded by the victorious Yorkists with appointments as lord steward and royal councilor (see Edward IV, Restoration of). In 1475, Stanley accompanied Edward IV on his French campaign, and in 1482, Stanley held a command in the duke of Gloucester’s Scottish campaign.
   After the death of Edward IV, Gloucester, fearing that Stanley might oppose his bid for the throne, arrested Stanley at the infamous COUNCIL MEETING OF 13 JUNE 1483. However, by July, Stanley was free and sufficiently in favor to carry the mace at Gloucester’s coronation as RICHARD III (see Usurpation of 1483). Married to MARGARET BEAUFORT since 1472, Stanley carefully distanced himself from her involvement in plots on behalf of her son, Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond, in the autumn of 1483. After the failure of BUCKINGHAM’S REBELLION, Margaret was placed in her husband’s keeping and all her lands were transferred to his custody. Stanley retained Richard’s favor until the summer of 1485, when Stanley’s extended absence from COURT aroused the king’s suspicion. Refusing Richard’s summons to return, he sent his son Lord Strange, who found himself a prisoner under threat of death when Richmond landed in August in WALES and marched unimpeded through Stanley territory. Although he met with Richmond, and his brother Sir William STANLEY gave the earl active assistance, Stanley remained cautiously neutral at the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD on 22 August, ignoring both the pleas of Richmond and the orders of Richard. The battle was decided in Richmond’s favor by the intervention of Sir William Stanley. Lord Strange survived the battle when Richard’s order for his execution went unheeded. As stepfather to the new king,HENRY VII, Stanley was in high favor, being created earl of Derby in October 1485. He was also confirmed in all his offices and granted the estates 256 STANLEY, THOMAS, EARL OF DERBY of attainted Yorkists. Derby stood as godfather to Prince Arthur in 1486 and survived his brother’s execution for treason in 1495 by again remaining carefully neutral. He died in Lancashire in July 1504.
   Further Reading: Bagley, John J., The Earls of Derby, 1485-1985 (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1985); Coward, Barry, The Stanleys, Lords Stanley, and Earls of Derby, 1385-1672 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1983).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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