Stanley, Sir William

(d. 1495)
   By his timely intervention during the Battle of BOSWORTH FIELD in 1485, Sir William Stanley ensured the overthrow of RICHARD III and the accession to the English throne of HENRY VII and the house of TUDOR. In September 1459, Stanley eschewed the careful neutrality of his elder brother Thomas STANLEY, Lord Stanley, and declared himself an open partisan of the house of YORK by fighting with Richard NEVILLE, earl of Salisbury, against the Lancastrian forces at the Battle of BLORE HEATH. Although attainted by the COVENTRY PARLIAMENT in late 1459, Stanley survived, perhaps by fleeing abroad, to fight for EDWARD IV at the Battle of TOWTON in March 1461. Well rewarded with lands and offices, especially in the Stanleydominated counties of Chester and Lancashire, Stanley won further favor after the Battle of HEXHAM in 1464, receiving the lands of the late Lancastrian nobleman, John CLIFFORD, Lord Clifford.
   Upon Edward IV’s return from exile in the spring of 1471, Stanley was among the first gentlemen to rally to the Yorkist cause, joining Edward at Nottingham with 300 men (see Edward IV, Restoration of). In the autumn of 1483, after the suppression of BUCKINGHAM’S REBELLION, Richard III sought to win Stanley’s support by granting him numerous lands and offices in WALES, including some formerly held by Henry STAFFORD, the late duke of Buckingham. Despite these rewards, Stanley disappointed the king in August 1485 by failing to contest the entry into England of Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond. On 17 August, Stanley met with Richmond in Stafford, but did not join forces with the earl, even though Stanley had already been proclaimed a traitor by the king on the strength of a confession extracted from Stanley’s nephew, Lord Strange. At Bosworth Field, the Stanleys took up a position between the royal and rebel armies, leaving both sides unclear as to their intentions. Perhaps fearing for his life should Richard win, Sir William Stanley led his troops into battle when the king charged unexpectedly into Richmond’s lines. By blunting the royal charge and killing Richard, Stanley’s attack ensured Richmond’s victory. Now enthroned as Henry VII, Richmond rewarded Stanley with appointment as lord chamberlain and confirmation of Richard III’s Welsh land grants. However, in late 1494, Henry arrested Stanley on suspicion of involvement in Perkin WARBECK’s attempt to seize the throne by claiming to be one of the sons of Edward IV. Tried and convicted of treason, Stanley was beheaded at the TOWER OF LONDON in February 1495.
   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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