Thomas, 1st Earl of Derby, 1460-1504

A brief biography is given by A.W.Moore in Manx Note Book vol 11 p101/2.
However this brief account does not really do justice to an adroit key player in the volatile political situation of the civil war known as the Wars of the Roses. Following the unexpected death of Edward IV in 1483 Richard of Gloucester effectively seized power and Sir Thomas became one of his prominent supporters. His first wife had died some 10 years before and in 1482 he had married Margaret Beaufort - effectively a marriage of convenience for both as she brought status to Sir Thomas whilst he provided some security in a volatile world. Whilst he supported Richard she was conspiring with Buckingham to have her son, Henry of Richmond by her first marriage to Edmund Tudor, return to England and challenge Richard. Richard became aware of the conspiracy and had Buckingham executed and Lady Stanley taken a prisoner. Thomas's loyalty however prevented his wife from attainment and in fact he was rewarded with estates confiscated from Thomas Grey. In 1485 Richard sensed further trouble from the Tudor camp and posted various trusted men to watch the coast for an invasion fleet. Sir Thomas after helping sign a three year truce with the Scots to forestal any alliance between them and the Tudors requested permission in July to return home - Richard granted this but required that his son, George Strange, be sent to court, then at Nottingham, in his stead. In early August Henry landed at Milford Haven upon which news Richard ordered Thomas Stanley to come to Nottingham with his army. As before the Stanley judgement as to the winning side caused Thomas to delay, feigning sickness. Thomas's younger brother William secretly met Henry and committed his own men; William arranged for Thomas to met his stepson Henry at which meeting Thomas explained his stratagem whereby he would appear to fall back before Henry's advance only to throw in his army at the last moment. On the 22nd August the decisive battle was fought at Bosworth field; Richard was at this time suspicious of Thomas Stanley but his hostage son George had convinced Richard that Thomas was still loyal. Thomas Stanley's forces remained on the edge and upon Richard's threat that he would execute George unless Thomas declare for him, replied that he had other sons and would not respond to blackmail. Henry Percy would also appear to have played a similar role to Lord Stanley - nominally in charge of the rearguard he kept his troops out of the fray. When the battle appeared to move in Henry's way Lord Stanley made a flank attack on Richard's troops and claimed after the battle that this last-minute intervention had turned the battle.

With Henry's victory Lord Stanley whose wife was now Queen Mother had high expectations at court. Henry rewarded him by creating him (and heirs male of his body issuing for ever) Earl of Derby on 27th October 1485 - the title was not new but had lapsed to the Crown in the 13C when the Ferrers family conspired against Henry III. (The first Earl of Derby was Robert de Ferrers, to whom King Stephen gave the earldom as a reward for his valour at the battle of the Standard. The peerage was extinguished with the deprivation of the 5th Earl of Ferrers and Derby in 1297 for complicity with Simon de Montfort. Henry, Earl of Lancaster, whose daughter Blanche married John of Gaunt, was created Earl of Derby II by Edward III. Through Blanche the earldom went to John of Gaunt's son Henry, and was merged in the higher dignity of the crown when he became King.)

For several years after Bosworth there was still dissent within England - Earl Thomas's brother William seems to have conspired with Perkin Warbeck, an impostor masquerading as Richard the younger of the two Princes in the Tower. Not even Earl Stanley could prevent William's attainment and execution for treason.

Earl Thomas was busy with his duties both at court and in his own vast estates. It does not appear that he every visited the Island.

A fuller life is available in Espinasse's Lancashire Worthies.

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Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2001