Friday, August 09, 2013

Question from Orla - Sir William Stanley and the Earldom of Chester

Hello, I was wondering if anyone had more information about Sir William Stanley and his unsuccessful bid to become Earl of Chester. I've recently read War of the Roses by Trevor Royle and he fleetingly mentions Stanley dissatisfaction with Henry VII. The earldom of Chester though was a title used for an heir apparent, and was used for Prince Arthur in 1489, so how long was Stanley petitioning for it? And was he trying to receive another title when Arthur received Chester?


Foose said...

According to Hall's Chronicle, Stanley coveted the earldom of Chester and the desire to possess it prompted his defection to the cause of Perkin Warbeck:

"This syr William, although he were in great fauoure with 'the kyng, & had in great and high estimacion, more remebring the benefite done to the kyng, then the rewardes
and gratuitees of his liberalite receaued, thinking that the vessel of oyle, (according to the Gospel) would ouerflowe the brymmes, & as some saye, desiryng to be erle of Chestre & therof denyed, began to grudge & disdeyne the kyng his high frend

Francis Bacon wrote up the incident in his History of King Henry VII, saying:

"Now for the motive of [Stanley's] falling-off from the king ... for which service [Bacon briefly describes how Stanley helped bring off the victory at Bosworth for Henry] the king gave him great gifts, made him his counsellor and chamberlain; and, somewhat contrary to his nature, had winked at the great spoils of Bosworth-field, which came almost wholly to this man's hands ... Yet, nevertheless blown up with the conceit of his merit, he did not think he received good measure from the king... And his ambition was so exorbitant and unbounded, as he became suitor to the king for the earldom of Chester; which ever being a kind of appendage to the principality of Wales, using to go to the king's son, his suit did not only end in a denial but in a distaste ..."

Foose said...

So the question is, why did Stanley fix on Chester?

Tim Thornton, in his Cheshire and the Tudor State 1480-1560, notes that "Support for Hall['s account] comes from the late fifteenth-century decoration of the shrine of St. Winifred at Holywell. Among the badges displayed there is Sir William's garter encircling the wolf's head, symbol of the earldom of Chester, implying that Sir William saw himself as the proper claimant to the title. The grant of the earldom of Derby to Thomas Stanley had, after all, alienated a title which was central to the heritage of the royal family and especially the Lancastrian dynasty; perhaps in this context the grant of the earldom of Chester was not totally inconceivable." Bacon calls Stanley's rescue of the king at Bosworth as a "benefit of Christ," so you can see where Stanley's conceit originated.

Ok, but still why Chester?

Genealogy is the answer. Ranulph de Blondeville was more or less the last non-royal earl of Chester, back in the 13th century (his nephew John the Scot inherited Chester, but died childless); Ranulph left about six sisters who carried the claim with them into various families. One of them, Mabel of Chester, married William d'Aubigny, earl of Arundel; their daughter Isabel married a Fitzalan. The mother of Thomas and William Stanley, Joan Goushill, was the granddaughter of the Fitzalan earl of Arundel executed in 1397.

Yes, there were probably quite a number of other people with claims of similar worth, but this never stops an aspiring Tudor climber on the make. People were always making claims to properties and titles as heirs to their remote ancestors. Clearly Stanley felt that his chances were good, since the king was the deciding factor and he had saved his life and given him his throne. Also, he probably counted on the fact that he already owned extensive lands in Chester, the family having been rewarded with grants and substantial influence in the region as a result of their support for Henry IV in the Welsh wars.

Thornton notes, "The 1480s saw Cheshire politics heavily influenced by the Stanley family. Sir William Stanley was developing a strong position in the Dee Valley lordships and, as chamberlain of the county, occupied a commanding position in Cheshire's administration." Essentially, Stanley was already the "big man" in Cheshire, and being earl would have merely confirmed his existing position and satisfied his desire to be something more than a younger brother. But Henry denied his claim and Stanley then turned traitor.

Foose said...

Regarding your query as to how long Stanley had been seeking the earldom of Chester, there's no source that gives a definite answer. The implication is that it must have been between 1485 and 1489, when the earldom was finally bestowed on Prince Arthur.

I suspect Stanley began agitating for the earldom almost immediately after Bosworth, when his brother was created Earl of Derby, and pressed his suit continuously to the bitter end in 1489. Hall says he fell into a "melancholy" after he was refused, which suggests Stanley had invested a lot of effort, both material and emotional, to secure it.

Regarding the question of whether he sought any other title, I found some sources that said he was disgruntled not to have received a peerage for his help at Bosworth, but the only specific peerage ever mentioned is Chester. Chester is where his wealth and political power were concentrated, its royal associations would showcase his favor with the king, its possession would confirm his noble ancestry, make him equal with his brother and consolidate the Stanleys as kingmakers. Most of all, he had obviously come to think of Chester as his own by right - an emotional claim that overcame his prudence.