Biography: Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby

Quartered_arms_of_Sir_Thomas_Stanley,_1st_Earl_of_Derby,_KG(Born 1435- Died July 29, 1504). Son of Thomas Stanley, 1st Baron Stanley and Joan Goushill. Married to Lady Eleanor Neville and Lady Margaret Beaufort. Father of George Stanley, 9th Baron Strange, Sir Edward Stanley, James Stanley, Bishop of Ely.  Thomas Stanley was a wealthy landowner who was able to find favor with successive kings during the Wars of the Roses, until his death in 1504.

Thomas Stanley was born around 1435 and he was the eldest son of Thomas Stanley, 1st Baron Stanley and his wife Joan Goushill. The Stanleys supported Henry Bolingbroke and the Lancastrian cause until the reign of Henry VI. Stanley was a squire for King Henry VI in 1454, but then the king fell mentally ill. In 1455, the Wars of the Roses broke out between the Duke of York and the Duke of Somerset. Somerset was killed at the first battle of St. Albans, which should have ended the conflict, but it only embroiled it. In the late 1450’s, Stanley decided to marry Eleanor Neville, the sister of Richard Neville Earl of Warwick, aligning himself with the Yorkist cause. In 1459, after a lull in the fighting, Margaret of Anjou marched against the Yorkist army, which included Warwick, Stanley’s brother in law. At the Battle of Blore Heath in August 1459, Margaret of Anjou ordered Stanley to raise an army to stop Warwick, but Stanley refused to fight; Stanley’s brother William was firmly on the Yorkist side and he was attainted.

In 1460, Stanley saw that the Yorkist cause was coming into power and so he decided to side with York and his cause. Stanley fought alongside his brother in law Warwick against the Lancastrian army. Edward placed Stanley in charge of maintaining the peace in north-west England, which he did. After the death of his father in 1459, Stanley inherited his father’s titles, including those of Baron Stanley and “King of Mann” as well as his extensive lands and offices in Cheshire and Lancashire. Stanley was the last person to call himself “King of Mann” as his successors would style themselves as “Lord of Mann”.

When Warwick decided to revolt against the king between 1469 and 1471, Stanley was torn on who to support, his king or his brother in law. In 1470, when Warwick fled to France to join the Lancastrian cause, Stanley made his choice and decided to go to Manchester to seek aid and support. When Warwick made his way back to England, Stanley joined forces with him to restore Henry VI to the throne. Edward came back in 1471 and Warwick was killed. Stanley was forgiven for his disloyalty and right after Edward was restored to the throne, Stanley was appointed steward of the king’s household and thereafter became a regular member of the royal council. Stanley’s wife Eleanor Neville died around this time, cutting his ties with the Warwicks and the Nevilles.

Stanley was looking for another wife and in 1472, he married Lady Margaret Beaufort, dowager Countess of Richmond and the mother of Henry Tudor. In 1475, Stanley led an expedition to France and in 1482, he helped Richard Duke of Gloucester in Scotland, playing a large role in capturing Berwick upon Tweed.

On April 9, 1483, Edward IV died, leaving his son Edward V king, Stanley was among those who sought to maintain a balance of power between the young king’s uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who was now Lord Protector, and his maternal family, the Woodvilles. When the Duke of Gloucester attacked this group at a council meeting in June 1483, Stanley was wounded and imprisoned but was not executed like Hastings. That month, Parliament declared Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York illegitimate on the grounds that their father Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was invalid , by way of a prior pre-contract of marriage with Eleanor Butler. The Duke of Gloucester was therefore declared king Richard III and it was confirmed through the act of Parliament called Titulus Regius.

Richard III decided not to isolate Stanley so he let Stanley to keep his position at court and allowed Margaret Beaufort to carry Queen Anne’s train at her coronation. Shortly afterward, Margaret’s properties and titles were given to Stanley and she was placed under house arrest instead of being executed for treason for aiding her son to overthrow Richard III. After the failed Buckingham rebellion in 1483, Stanley was given more forfeited properties and he was made Lord High Constable of England. Margaret was one of the conspirators in this plot and the one who arranged the marriage between her son Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York. Stanley, in 1485, asked to leave court to go to his estates in Lancashire. Richard III , being very suspicious, agreed that he could if Stanley would allow his son George Stanley Lord Strange to stay at court. In reality, Lord Strange was a hostage.

The Stanleys were in constant communication with Henry Tudor and they were helping him with his landing in Wales and his invasion into England. Richard, hearing about this plan, ordered Stanley to raise an army and join him without delay. Stanley decided to fake an illness. Richard knew that Stanley had switched sides and the morning of the Battle of Bosworth Field, Richard said that he would kill Lord Strange if Stanley didn’t side with him. Stanley and his brother William decided to sit on the sidelines. Stanley did not fight, but it was his brother William who decided to intervene on Henry Tudor’s behalf, which helped Henry win the crown. Even though Stanley did not participate in the fighting, it is said that he is the one who placed the crown on Henry’s head after the battle was won. Henry VII was grateful to Thomas Stanley and made him the 1st Earl of Derby. William Stanley would foolishly side with Perkin Warbeck and would be executed for treason in 1495.

Stanley died at Lathom, Lancashire on July 29, 1504, and was buried in the family chapel in Burscough Priory, near Ormskirk in Lancashire. His son Lord Strange would die shortly afterward so the earldom of Derby was passed onto Stanley’s grandson Thomas Stanley, 2nd Earl of Derby.

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