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A STRANGE TALE–THE STORY OF LORD STRANGE

Most Ricardians and non-Ricardians alike have heard the story of Lord Strange, son of Thomas Stanley. Strange was held as a surety by Richard for the behaviour of his father, and when his life was threatened, Thomas was supposed to have flippantly said, “I have other sons.” It is also claimed Richard ordered Strange’s death while on the field at Bosworth…but this never happened, of course, and Strange lived to see another day.
As usual, with anything pertaining to Richard III, there is a whole parcel of myth, legend, and downright sloppy research blurring the details of actual events. More than one non-fiction book has implied that Strange was a boy, even a child, and myth-making has continued on into the present, with one recent, rabid article writer seemingly confusing Strange’s story with that of the infant son of the traitor Rhys Ap Thomas (who was NEVER in Richard’s possession; he had asked for the child as a surety, but when Ap Thomas begged for leniency because his son was so young, Richard relented, and the boy stayed safely at home.)
So what do we know about the real Lord Strange? George Stanley was the eldest son of Thomas Stanley, and was born from his first marriage to Eleanor, sister of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, so he was related maternally to both Anne Neville and Richard III. His date of birth was around 1460 (also some sources state 1450, which may be the more accurate of the two dates, given his mother’s age) , so he was definitely a grown man at the time of Bosworth—25 at least and very possibly older than Richard himself! (So much for the ‘innocent little hostage child!)
He became a knight of the Bath under Edward IV, and held several posts during Richard’s tenure, including being Constable of Pontefract castle, the most powerful and imposing fortress in the north of England.
He was married to Joan le Strange, who was of Woodville lineage, and it was from her he received his title of Lord Strange, held in the right of his wife. Together they had a total of seven children, two of which were born in 1485 or earlier.
After his survival at Bosworth, he went on to serve his step-brother Henry Tudor, and fought for him at Stoke Field. He was invested in the Order of the Garter and became a privy counsellor.
He predeceased his father Thomas, dying in December 1503 (a few sources say 1497) after at banquet at Derby House. Rumours say that he was poisoned but nothing seems to survive about who would have committed such a heinous crime. His burial place is in St James Garlickhythe in London (which is likely also the last resting place of Richard III’s illegitimate daughter, Katherine.)

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23 thoughts on “A STRANGE TALE–THE STORY OF LORD STRANGE

  1. giaconda on said:

    I always think the alleged reply by Thomas Stanley about having more sons was a dig at Richard and the recent loss of his only legitimate son. Actually Thomas lost 6 children at young ages and only had 2 more sons, Edward and James who lived to adulthood so he had experienced his share of loss and probably placed great hope in George for the future of his considerable holdings. If this account is true then Richard could have had little doubt about which side Stanley was likely to take on the field. He had pretty much nailed his colours to Tudor’s mast by refusing to obey his king’s direct command. Added to Northumberland’s inactivity at Bosworth it does suggest that Richard was only too aware of his exposed position which makes the ‘all or nothing’ charge seem perfectly reasonable. He could sit it out and wait for Northumberland to either block his escape route or attack his rear and for Stanley’s troops to openly join with Tudor or he could try and neutralise the threat and re-assert his own authority once and for all. The other argument about Lord Strange is, of course, that he was a traitor to Richard as well as his hostage and had admitted to plotting against him. At this distance we will never know whether he was forced to admit this under coercion or whether it was all true and Richard was well within his rights to accuse him of open treachery. What is most significant though was the failure to carry out the summary execution. Was Richard losing his grip on his men sufficiently for them to refuse to obey a direct order? Was the order never actually given and another facet in the later Tudor propaganda to paint Richard as a tyrant king or were those given the task of carrying it out already fairly certain that Richard was fighting a lost cause and held back because they knew which way the wind was blowing? Morale in the royal camp couldn’t have been very high, given the circumstances of Northumberland’s refusal to join the battle, Stanley’s forces drawn up between the two sides and circulating news of the note about the king being already ‘bought and sold’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • bloodofcherries on said:

      I recently attended a talk by Richard Knox from the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre where he made a pretty convincing case for Northumberland being effectively boxed in between the Stanleys and the infamous marsh.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Jasmine on said:

    Isn’t there a modern view that Northumberland didn’t ‘refuse’ to move, but had been ordered to stand fast and guard the route to London?

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    • giaconda on said:

      I’d be interested to hear more about this theory Jasmine. It is usually presented that Northumberland was late and hadn’t mustered troops when he was ordered to, giving the outbreak of the sweating sickness as an excuse. I would be open to new interpretations of his actions. It could be feasible that if his troops arrived late and were still tired from thee march that Richard intended to use them as reinforcements later in the engagement to give them time to rest and organise themselves for battle though I do think it would have been risky to put himself in the front line and charge with his centre without first using all his available resources as Tudor was only get near the road to London if he’d already won the battle.

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    • What was there to guard if Richard lost the battle, as he did? Or, who would he have to guard it from, if Richard had won the battle?

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      • Jasmine on said:

        One assumes enemy troops making a bolt for London. Whoever could take control of London could control all the important elements of State.

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      • Henry’s forces weren’t so numerous that he could just send some of them to go on a march to London instead of using them for such an important battle. Ditto for Richard, especially if he was aware of the treachery of the Stanleys. What would have been the point of Henry’s forces marching on London, if he had been killed or captured (and then, naturally, executed) at Bosworth? And in any case, even if nothing happened to Henry, a one day delay at most would not have been so huge that Richard’s forces couldn’t have hoped to catch up or overtake those supposed troops assigned to march on London, which would have been much smaller in numbers, as the bulk of the forces, one assumes, would have been deployed the in battle.

        I just don’t see the logic in that supposed plan, or why Richard would have botched the battle by depriving himself of a number of men. It never happened in any of the previous big battles in the Wars of the Roses, Towton, Barnet, Tewksbury – they threw all in, knowing how important the battles were, and nobody ever kept a reserve just to block someone else a path to London, or sent them on a march to London while the battle was being fought. It doesn’t make sense, as it was the outcome of these battles that decided who would be in power – and therefore also hold London and important elements of the State. It’s not like the Londoners were ever going to bar their gates to Henry if Henry scored a decisive victory and Richard were killed in battle, which was always a possibility. and which did happen. Surely it only makes sense to first deal with the most important matter in hand and leave the other considerations for later?

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  3. mairemartello on said:

    Of course, here again, we see Richard can’t win an argument. If he executed Lord Strange, he was a mean bastard and a tyrant. If he backed off executing Lord Strange, it was because he was losing the support of his nobles because he was a mean bastard and a tyrant. Possibly all that happened, if it happened at all, is that his friends said: Let’s do this later, Richard. We have a bigger battle to fight this morning. The King could be impulsive, sometimes.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. The First Battle of St. Albans was very small, it was more like a skirmish!!!
    The Battle of Towton was an all out grudgematch that claims 25,ooo+ souls.
    What if Bosworth is as long as Towton but is less bloody, what if more lives
    were lost by Tudor than has entered the accounts? What if its all a confusing
    muddle of a cover story meant to underplay how closely fought it was all day!
    What if we cannot trust to any degree the Tudor era accounts or chronicles.
    Period. Flat out. Each small truth or half-truth is surrounded by a pack of lies,
    each with a very weak bodyguard around them! Propaganda is Propaganda.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “timetravelingbunny” up above is correct.

    What if the Battle of Bosworth is
    a day long meat-grinder confrontation where Tudor feeds troops & knights
    into Richard’s positions, and then as things restructure in late afternoon we
    see Henry Tydder up on Crown Hill talking to T.Stanley, hence the charge…
    Having archers along the London rode with a cover makes more sense than
    sending infantry down it towards the capitol.

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  6. viscountessw on said:

    I am reminded of another ‘myth’, from the reign of Richard II this time. In 1385, Richard’s half-brother, Sir John Holland, killed Ralph Stafford, son and heir of the Earl of Stafford. It was in the heat of the moment, when they happened to pass each other in the dark after an earlier violent disagreement between their squires. Not that I’m excusing Holland’s action. But the thing is, Stafford is always referred to as ‘young Stafford’, and ‘ a boyhood companion’ of Richard II, then aged 18. Hmmm. Stafford was 30 and Holland was 33, which makes Stafford more likely to be Holland’s boyhood companion than Richard’s. The story is always coloured to make Holland seem even worse than he actually was. Which was bad enough anyway at times.

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  7. When we went to the re-interment week, it was said (and I can’t remember by whom, but it was a battle ‘expert’ ) that it could be that Northumberland was genuinely unable to move because of the marsh. I agree that Thomas Stanley was having a nasty dig at Richard’s lose heir when he said he had other sons. But I do wonder whether, if he was vacillating (and tbh he was in a pretty tricky position, caught between his king and his wife’s son), Richard threatening his son might have actually pushed him into Tudor’s arms. Perhaps he thought ‘Richard can go to hell, why should I support him if he threatens my son?’ or he might also have suspected Richard was too merciful to actually kill his son, taking advantage of his fair dealing.

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  8. mairemartello on said:

    I, personally, think that Stanley couldn’t have cared less about Lord Strange. Why should he? He actually DID have other sons. And maybe Strange was a disappointing son. So I don’t think it was necessarily a dig at the King. If it was, what a catty bunch of girly-men on the eve of battle!

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  9. giaconda on said:

    Henry didn’t rush to London after Bosworth though – it was two weeks before he made it into the capital. I don’t think I do buy the idea of Northumberland guarding the London road with so many troops during the crucial first phase of the fighting. If he was so boxed in that he was effectively useless to Richard it begs the question as to why Richard choose the Redemore plain at all if he was even 50% sure that Northumberland would turn up with his troops as he was an experienced military commander and must have been aware of how to distribute his forces effectively. If he had been sure of Northumberland’s loyalty it might have been better to send his troops to the rear of Stanley’s forces to either stop them retreating or attack their rear if they sided with Tudor. There are many unanswered questions about the way Bosworth played out but I certainly so think that Richard had every cause to sleep poorly prior to the engagement because he had been bought and sold. Do we know the original source for the Lord Strange story?

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  10. Pat Armstrong on said:

    If Richard had threatened to have Strange killed if Thomas Stanley had turned traitor, then Richard could not have done the deed until Stanley had proved himself a traitor. At what point would that have been? In the meantime, Richard would have been embroiled in the battle, so he would have had to leave the hostage with someone else who would have been responsible for killing the hostage when the time came. As Richard did not return from the battle field and Stanley did, it would not have been wise to kill Strange, so if the hostage-keeper had any she sense, he would not have killed Strange when it became evident that Stanley was a traitor, even if the hostage-keeper was loyal to Richard.
    History proved that Stanley was a treacherous villain and I believe he really didn’t care about his son

    Liked by 1 person

    • hoodedman1 on said:

      I think the thing about Richard calling for Strange’s death is most likely ‘folkloric’…the old ‘narrow escape’ tale. Stanley’s words about having other sons may be folkloric too, as they appear elsewhere about other historical figures, although he would have known the score from the start regarding his son, especially if Strange did indeed try to sneak out of Nottingham castle as was rumoured.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. If I remember correctly there was a situation after one of the earlier battles of the WOTR (2nd St Albans?) where Lancastrian forces managed to break through and march on London, doing damages on the way. Securing the road to the capital wasn’t such an absurd idea after that precedent. Actually, Richard and Northumberland had been collaborating on the Scottish border defence for quite a while, so Richard would have had a good idea of what Northumberland was capable of as a commander, and what he was not. Putting him in a position where he did not get in the way might have been the sensible thing to do as Percy had obviously not inherited his hot-spurred relative’s warlike talents (at least I do not remember his military talent being mentioned anywhere).
    As for the Strange episode, complete with Stanley’s insubordination, I think the very fact that this episode would of necessity have taken place before Richard began his charge ought to discredit the whole story. Richard was too experienced a commander to maneuvre himself knowingly into a position where someone who had openly declared against him could easily fall upon him from behind. The whole charge would make sense only if Richard could still gamble on Stanley doing nothing to stop him, which he could not if a) Lord Strange was already dead and b) Stanley had not declared himself a traitor by refusing orders and thereby had a vested interest in Richard not surviving the battle to deal out a traotor’s punishment afterwards. As Richard was neither stupid nor suicidal, in both cases he would have looked for a safer way to attack Tudor than to dangle himself as bait before Stanley’s nose, or at the very least would have let the other “battles” (wings of his troop’s deployment) put themselves between Stanley and his line of attack.
    Just my two cents, of course.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Correction: if Stanley had declared himself a traitor.

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    • The Battle of Bosworth was hardly a similar situation to Second Battle of St. Albans, which was fought (at a place some 30 km from London) specifically to stop the Lancastrians from taking London, with Warwick as the leader of the Yorkist forces. It was not a battle where Edward was directly facing the Lanciastrians in battle where he could take or kill Henry VI and his son, while Warwick or someone else was barring the road to London and doing nothing to join in the battle, which would be the parallel to this proposed scenario. It wouldn’t have made any sense to assign a big chunk of your forces to guard the road to London (at a place some 140 km away) while a decisive battle is being fought where the life of the king was at stake, as well as the life of his rival, the pretender to the throne with no heirs to take up the mantle, who was hardly going to be sending a part of his forces to march on London and hope to get ahead so fast that the Yorkists could not catch up (never mind that this would be far from sure – at Tewksbury, the Yorkists under Edward IV had caught up with the Lancastrians through an incredibly intense forced march, in spite of having been way behind them) while he was fighting the decisive battle that could win him the crown but also end his quest for the crown and take his life, at which point there would have been no point in his forces marching on London anyway.

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    • It wasn’t Thomas Stanley who fought for Tudor though, was it, it was William, who had already been declared a traitor. Jones even thinks that Thomas Stanley wasn’t even at the battle. He certainly didn’t fight. For anyone 😦

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      • What is the original source for Stanley’s alleged answer to Richard? It’s possible – and indeed, quite probable – that both Stanley’s answer and Richard’s order to execute Strange are just fiction/folklore. (But what a great piece of fiction/folklore the former is! And it has, no doubt, inspired George R.R. Martin for the character of Walder Frey and a crucial moment in his ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ saga. The book version of that moment and Frey’s line is even more similar to the story about Stanley than the TV version.)

        Just looking at the undeniable facts: that Thomas Stanley did not participate in the battle (and even William Stanley only made a move when it had become clear that the situation was such that either Henry or Richard would not survive, and that he had the opportunity to decide the outcome), and Strange survived; the Occam’s Razor conclusion and most likely version of events (although definitely not the most dramatic one) would be that Stanley never said any such thing, and Richard never gave the order to execute Strange.

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      • That was the brothers’ track record, all the way back to Blore Heath.

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  12. Racking my memory- as far as I remember Thomas Stanley had excused himself pleading a case of sweating sickness well before the battle started. Richard had a messenger go to him and tell him to get moving and bring his troops, or else (Strange would be executed). Stanley sends back messenger with the supposed reply and stays away from battlefield. The only Stanley on the battlefield would be William who was a known traitor already.
    If that really was the true scenario, neither an order to harm Strange nor the way Richard started his charge obviously relying on the Stanley troops not moving in before he could finish off Tudor would make any sense at all.
    What I guess is that the whole story was invented by a Thomas Stanley who wanted to gloss over the fact that he had once more spent the better part of a battle sitting on the fence. I understand Tudor was not happy about how close the Stanleys had allowed Richard to get to him, nor, probably, was Lady Stanley (Beaufort). What better way to appease them than claiming one had been ready to sacrifice the child of one’s body in order to avoid fighting for Richard.
    In any case, Richard was,in contrast to others named in this thread, not known for taking his wrath against one member of a family out on their relatives, widows, or children. Unless Strange, too, was actively involved in treason against Richard there would have been no reason why he should suffer for his father’s treachery.
    In any case I would have liked to read the report of a fly on the wall during the first meeting of Stanley and Strange after the latter learned how much his Dad claimed to have cared about him…

    Liked by 1 person

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