Stonor Letters and Papers

   The letters and papers of the Stonors, members of an established Oxfordshire GENTRY family, are one of the most important surviving family archives from the fifteenth century. The Stonor documents are particularly valuable because they provide a view of gentry life during the WARS OF THE ROSES that is in distinct contrast to the view offered by the PASTON LETTERS, the most famous surviving collection of fifteenth-century correspondence. Although the Stonor archive contains documents ranging in date from 1290 to 1483, the bulk of the material dates to the late fifteenth century and relates to Thomas Stonor (1424–1474) and to his son Sir William Stonor (1449–1494). Thomas married a natural daughter of HENRY VI’s chief minister, William de la POLE, duke of Suffolk, but this connection to the house of LANCASTER did not induce Thomas to support Henry. The elder Stonor avoided serious commitment to either side during the first two phases of the Wars of the Roses. After 1474,William Stonor improved the family’s financial position by engaging in the wool trade and by marrying a series of wealthy wives, including the widow of a prosperous LONDON merchant and the daughter of the late John NEVILLE, marquis of STONOR LETTERS AND PAPERS 259 Montagu, the younger brother of Richard NEVILLE, earl of Warwick.
   William also advanced through service to the house of YORK. He represented Oxfordshire in the PARLIAMENT of 1478, which acquiesced in EDWARD IV’s attainder of his brother George PLANTAGENET, duke of Clarence. Knighted during the 1478 celebrations surrounding the marriage of Edward’s younger son, Richard PLANTAGENET, duke of York, Stonor, by 1479, also held appointment as knight of the body, a privileged position of personal service to the monarch. Stonor also attached himself to Thomas GREY, marquis of Dorset, and to the WOODVILLE FAMILY interest. Sir William’s loyalty to EDWARD V led him to undertake the family’s one serious involvement in the civil wars. In October 1483, he joined BUCKINGHAM’S REBELLION against RICHARD III. Upon the collapse of the uprising, Sir William, who may have fled with Dorset to BRITTANY, lost his estates through ATTAINDER, although all were restored by HENRY VII in 1485.
   The Stonor archive, which includes over 300 letters, household accounts, wills, and other documents, owes its preservation either to being confiscated in 1483 (when the collection ends) or to being gathered as evidence for an inheritance dispute case in 1500. The documents shed little light on political or military affairs, but therein lies their importance. Unlike the Paston letters, which are full of the political turmoil that afflicted East Anglia during the period, the Stonor papers show how peaceful life was for the Midlands gentry, many of whom seem to have avoided involvement in the civil conflict. The Stonor documents support what most historians now believe—for many people the Wars of the Roses caused only minimal disruption of their lives.
   Further Reading: Carpenter, Christine, ed., Kingsford’s Stonor Letters and Papers, 1290-1483 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

Encyclopedia of the Wars of the Roses. . 2001.

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