Was William Stanley Misunderstood?

Coat of Arms of Sir William Stanley

I have enjoyed reading the books of Richard Unwin about Richard III from the point of view of Laurence the Armourer and was intrigued by his theory that William Stanley was not a traitor, or at least not in the way we might think.

Think about the battle – William Stanley and his men are off to one side, watching the proceedings. He has already been declared a traitor by Richard, so he obviously must be hoping for a victory for Henry or he can look forward to a nasty end. Presumably, Richard’s loyal household knights also know this and are expecting him to turn traitor to his king by supporting Henry.

Then Richard does his dramatic and courageous charge – Stanley sees him and his men getting right into the enemy’s midst and killing many of them. He might or might not have been close enough to see John Cheney, Henry’s giant bodyguard, unhorsed by Richard but he must have seen Henry’s standard fall when Richard killed his standard bearer, William Brandon. Put yourself in his shoes. We know the Stanleys were notorious for changing sides when it suited them. Wouldn’t this be the perfect time to charge in on Richard’s side in the hope of avoiding being executed after the battle? But Richard’s men would have thought that he was coming in on Henry’s side, because of his already being attainted for treason and this could have caused the two forces to fight amongst themselves. We know this could happen, as it had done at Barnet when the Star banner of Oxford was mistaken for the Sun in Splendour banner of Edward in the fog.

It sounds plausible to me. What do you think?

Coat of Arms of Sir William Stanley

“Coat of arms of Sir William Stanley, KG” by Rs-nourse – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coat_of_arms_of_Sir_William_Stanley,_KG.png#/media/File:Coat_of_arms_of_Sir_William_Stanley,_KG.png


  1. Traitor is traitor, nothing else, whenever he became a traitor and whatever he had to do for save his life full of treachery. And he ended as a traitor, and very well…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes, I’m not excusing his behaviour at all – it just seemed as if (if he thought Tudor was finished) he might have feigned being on Richard’s side. In any case, he was a nasty piece of work!


  2. No, sorry, it’s not. He knew the Stanleys had nothing to gain if Richard won, while they could hope to gain from Henry’s win, and that was the right moment to step in against Richard both because Henry was in danger of being killed, and because Richard’s force with which he was attacking Henry was so small and could be easily surrounded and killed off by the more numerous Stanley force.

    And there were pretty obviously no misunderstandings, since no fighting occurred between Stanley’s and Henry’s men.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. William Stanley as well as the other traitors: Thomas Stanley and earl of Northumberland were the feudal vassals of King of England. So they were obliged to give him their support and help. And to die for him if necessary. The contemporary people thought about it similarly. Earl of Northumberland was lynched for his treachery. William Stanley as the notorious traitor was executed by the man whom he offered Richard,s crown. Only Thomas Stanley saved his life of a traitor. I know…there was the end of English chivalry. To-day however a chivalry is over but something like nobility of soul, loyalty, keep our promises would be cool…I miss it:))


    2. “No, sorry, it’s not. He knew the Stanleys had nothing to gain if Richard won, while they could hope to gain from Henry’s win”

      How we can name it? I name it a scurvy trick. Stanleys made their honour an article of trade.


      1. Not so sure about Northumberland. It may be that he was taken by surprise by Richard’s sudden charge, and by the time he was able to react, it was all over. Henry did have him arrested, at least briefly, which doesn’t sound much like he came in on the Tudor side. He may have been lynched because he was already disliked, and the collection of taxes was the last straw.
        Or possibly the Northerners hated him because he lurked in the rear, like a coward. Which doesn’t seem quite fair. Wasn’t he where he was because Richard put him there?


      2. @halfwit36: Well, Richard didn’t lead his charge at the start of the battle, it was after it had been going on for some time, Norfolk’s vanguard was losing to Oxford’s vanguard and Norfolk had been killed, and Northumberland’s rear hadn’t joined the battle at all. There are two theories about his (non)participation, one is that he chose to do avoid fighting and wait to see who wins, and the other that he couldn’t join because of the marshy ground.

        Liked by 1 person

    3. Yes, it was just a thought. The misunderstanding thing need not have been an issue, if Richard’s men had thought he was acting for Tudor (whether he was or wasn’t) the result would have been the same – they would have ended up fighting Richard’s men.


  3. Also, I don’t believe that he was facing certain execution if Richard won – if Stanley had joined the battle on his side eventually, would Richard have had an excuse to execute him as a traitor? He could have always pretended he was just waiting for the right moment (even if nobody really believed him). But, the Stanleys certainly had no new privileges and lands to look forward to if Richard won, unlike if Henry won, so it was obvious which side they preferred to help.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. May be shortly, may be a little longer. It was no problem for a feudal knight. It had to be no problem for him – a knight had the feudal duties. Of course there were many events in this period in Europe when such people did not performer duties. But they were suitable named.


    1. “He may not be owed much honor, but he does not deserve dishonor.”

      Ok, let,s leave the matter of his honour and get talked about his sense. It,s interesting why he as Yorkist preferred to make King of England the fiance of young girl, princess of York then the experienced, mature man, the brother of late king, full-blooded Yorkist. The more so as that fiance had no claims to the English throne. Opposition: Elizabeth of York – King Richard III was ridiculous, the more so as there were rumours about their marriage. If Sir William so eagerly belived in rumours about the princes murdered by Richard he could with simile willing belive that Elizabeth became Queen of England thanks her uncle. But he did not it. Because by me he preferred to support a man who was step-son of his brother. That,s all.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Croyland Chronicle and other relations, but in first – Richard,s public denying of this rumours


      2. @Kalina, Well, the fact that he had publicly denied those rumors in very strong terms in March 1485 works against that argument, doesn’t it? Why would William Stanley or anyone think that Richard was going to marry Elizabeth, when he made it clear he would not?

        What I find harder to understand, @David, is 1) why would anyone really be that naive to think that Elizabeth of York would be the one to have power if Henry Tudor conducted a successful invasion, killed Richard and married her, or that this would be a “Yorkist” rule by any means? No, I don’t believe for a second that anyone was that naive to believe that. If Elizabeth of York was the rightful heiress, why not start a rebellion to put HER on the throne? No, nobody at the time even entertained the idea that a woman could rule on her own. Did they think that she would be ruling jointly with Henry? I don’t believe that, either. Plain and simple, unless they were that naive to think otherwise, they were putting Henry Tudor on the throne. And would they really be that naive to think Henry wouldn’t go on to see all her Yorkist male relatives as rivals and potential enemies, and go on to execute or imprison any he could get his hands on?
        and 2) if William Stanley was so convinced both of Edward’s sons were dead, how come he was ready to believe, just a few years later, that Richard of Shrewsbury was alive?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Philippa Gregory needed to make the ancient rumors more viable in order to sell more of her fiction books! Her story-arcs are extremely tidy in light of how her fiction works became condensed into THE WHITE QUEEN ten episode television series. She cleverly counterpoints events as did the scriptwriters who adapted her three books. If anything, Richard III was slowly weighing his options as a widower and not rushing into things. I heartily discount these rumors. On the whole, I’d rather believe he was drinking more top shelf wine at the end of his life, given the results of the tests done at the Uni of Leicester!


  4. 1a) They didn’t expect that Elizabeth would rule, but they might expect that she would have some influence. Nobody knew that no-one, even his mother, had much influence on Henry.
    1b) “would they really be that naive to think Henry wouldn’t go on to see all her Yorkist male relatives as rivals and potential enemies, and go on to execute or imprison any he could get his hands on?” That’s not naivety, simply inability to predict the future.
    2) Excellent point!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. @timetravellingbunny

    Croyland Chronicle:

    The king, accordingly, followed their advice a little before Easter, in presence of the mayor and citizens of London, in the great hall of the Hospital of Saint John, by making the said denial in a loud and distinct voice; more, however, as many supposed, to suit the wishes of those who advised him to that effect, than in conformity with his own.

    If the chronicler and “many” supposed that Richard did “denial” against his wishes, William S. could be among them:)) After his victory Richard could return to earlier plans:))

    It is a joke of course. I do not agree with the article recommended by David too

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think it was more Richard’s past clashes with the Stanleys re Hornby Castle and the Harringtons and his general policies which they may have thought would curtail their power.


  7. As far as “friendly fire’ infamously goes, Stanley’s attack after King Richard’s vespers hour cavalry charge seems to have also cut down some of Henry Tudor’s men in an attempt to get closer to Richard. If anything he came close to dispatching Richard and then Henry within minutes of each other. I think his timing got him beheaded.

    Had he not moved, he might have “soft-soaped” a victorious King Richard, but his manner of indiscriminate movement set off Henry Tudor’s infamous paranoia. Incidentally, the final confrontation might have been much closer to Dadlington, because of the way the bodies of the dead were taken to St. James Church.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Another theory is that Stanley may never have intended to go to Henry’s aid – he was just unable to control his Welsh troops.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Below I quote the post of “King Richard III” on Facebook. This is something about a honor:

    Today, 25 August, in 1485, execution by beheading of William Catesby in Leicester, at the age of about 35. He was the son of Sir William Catesby of Ashby St Ledgers and Philippa Bishopston.
    Catesby was captured at the battle of Bosworth for his support to Richard III.

    Just before his execution he made his last will and wrote:
    Henry VII, leaving its fulfilment entirely to his wife, ‘to whom, I have ever been true of my body.’ He wished his wife to restore all the land he had wrongfully purchased, and to divide the rest of his property among their children. ‘I doubt not, the king will be good and gracious lord to them; for he is called a full gracious prince, and I never offended him by my good and free will, for God I take to my judge I have ever loved him.’ And even more remarkable he wrote : ‘My lords Stanley, Strange, and all that blood, help and pray for my soul, for ye have not for my body as I trusted in you.

    “I doubt not, the king will be good and gracious lord to them; for he is called a full gracious prince, and I never offended him by my good and free will, for God I take to my judge I have ever loved him”
    O, my Lord, what a man who loves his family can do else except to sacrifice his honor…


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