The Tudor historians successfully cast the Battle of Bosworth as the definitive conflict between a usurper and the legitimate heir. But was there more (or less) at play at Bosworth?
David Hipshon purports that the real reason William and Thomas Stanley betrayed Richard III was to settle a twenty year land dispute with their neighbors, the Harringtons. Siting previously unstudied records of the duchy of Lancaster that document the ongoing feud between these two families, the Harringtons – staunchly Yorkist, and the Stanleys – staunchly opportunist, Hipshon redefines the defection of William Stanley at a decisive moment in the battle and suggests that his action had more to do with a local land dispute than any true support of Henry Tudor.
The death of the Harrington patriarch and his heir at the Battle of Wakefield in 1460 left a vaccuum into which the Stanleys attempted to step. Edward IV, working to solidify his position, supported the Stanleys. Richard seems to have taken the side of the Harringtons and after 1469 began to give their cause real support. In 1473 Edward IV forced a settlement which gave Castle Hornby to the Stanleys and property and rights compensation to the Harringtons. But by 1483, the Stanleys had not kept their end of the bargain to compensate the Harringtons. When Richard came to power he began to support and promote the leading gentry and cut the Stanleys out.
At the Battle of Bosworth the Stanleys saw flashing by, with Richard, a number of Harringtons and their kin. It was an opportunity too good to pass up. The Stanleys exacted their revenge on both the Harringtons and Richard. After the battle Henry Tudor did award them the Harrington estates.
But in the end, the Stanleys traded one master – Richard, who attempted to balance their power – for another master – Henry Tudor, who proceeded to dismantle their power. Neither the Stanleys nor the Harringtons were real winners.
Dr David Hipshon teaches at St. James Independent School in Twickenham. His new book Richard III and the Death of Chivalry is published by The History Press. To read Dr. Hipshon’s complete article click here.
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