Hornby Castle – The Price of Power?

King Richard III lost his crown and his life at the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22nd August 1485. He was the last English king to die on the battlefield and the last Plantagenet king. Treachery has long been cried as Richard was not supported by men he legitimately expected to fight for him. Foremost amongst this shadowy clique was Thomas, Lord Stanley, a name guaranteed to bring boos and hisses from any Ricardian.

The reason for Lord Stanley’s betrayal of his king is not hard to fathom; he was step-father to Henry Tudor and so had a right to expect a great deal of power in compensation for his actions, or rather, lack of action.

Yet there is more to this story. Stretching back over two decades lies a dispute in which Richard, as Duke of Gloucester and then as king, took sides. I suspect that perhaps even more than becoming step-father to a king, this matter may have played on Lord Stanley’s mind as he watched from the sidelines as the two armies prepared to fight to the death for the crown of England. No doubt he also enjoyed being courted by both parties.

The dispute in question was between the Stanley family and the Harrington family. Both were gentry families in the north west, with the Stanley’s increasing their wealth and influence under Thomas’s grandfather, Sir John, and father, Sir Thomas, the first Baron Stanley. By the mid 15th century they owned great swathes of north west England and held many offices of power in the region. During the Wars of the Roses, Lord Stanley developed a reputation for staying out of battles until the result was clear and then joining, usually by sending his younger brother Sir William’s forces into the fray, on the winning side,  thus reaping the rewards of seeming to decide the battle. He fought variously for Lancaster and York and just as often failed to arrive at battles. Thus the Stanley’s position had been won carefully, by ensuring that whether York or Lancaster might prevail, the Stanleys always stood to gain. For these reasons Lord Stanley is often seen as a fickle, conniving, self-serving man. If one were to seek to give him the benefit of the doubt, we may allow that he headed a family on the cusp of real greatness after several generations of hard work. One wrong move at this time could cost the entire family everything that they had. Perhaps he did not feel willing or able to take that risk.

The Harrington family are perhaps the very antithesis of the Stanleys. James Harrington was a friend and supporter of Richard as Lord of the North. His grandfather had carried Henry V’s banner at the battle of Agincourt where Richard’s own grandfather had been slain. The two men were soaked in the chivalric memories of English glory on French soil. Throughout the Wars of the Roses, the Harringtons fought for York and never wavered. Not once. Sir James is one of the candidates for having carried Richard’s banner at Bosworth, a fitting repeat of Agincourt as the king led a charge of his cavalry across the shuddering field. Certainly, Sir James died at the king’s side that day.

The beginnings of the Stanley feud with the Harringtons was the Battle of Wakefield on 30th December 1460. Not because they fought on opposing sides; Stanley managed to miss this battle. Richard’s father, the Duke of York and brother Edmund, Earl of Rutland were killed at the battle when the Yorkist army was destroyed. Also killed was James’s father Thomas and James’s eldest brother John. Initial reports stated that Thomas died in the fighting and John of his wounds shortly after the battle. This meant that Thomas Harrington’s possessions passed on his death to John and on John’s death to his heirs. Anne and Elizabeth Harrington were about four and five years old and the law stated that the inheritance would pass to whoever they married.

James Harrington and his brother Robert argued that John had in fact died before Thomas, making James the rightful heir. Lord Stanley immediately set about making the two girls his wards and marrying them to his son and nephew. The jewel in the Harrington family crown was Hornby Castle. A stunning property, it sat above the valley of the River Lune, firmly in Stanley country. Obtaining it would allow them to join territories together and thoroughly dominate the area.

Hornby Castle

Edward IV, measuring Stanley’s might, feared upsetting him and granted him control of the Harrington girls and therefore possession of Hornby. James Harrington, who had been amongst those who captured Henry VI in 1465 and delivered him to Edward, must have felt somewhat betrayed after his loyal service. Anyway, he and his brother refused to surrender their nieces or the castle and dug their heels in behind the mighty walls of Hornby.

When the Earl of Warwick rebelled and Henry VI was temporarily reinstated as king, Stanley seized the opportunity to try and drive the Harringtons out for good. He brought up a giant cannon named ‘Mile Ende’ from Bristol with the intention of blasting the troublesome Harringtons out of Hornby. Not a shot was fired however, and it is intriguing to find a warrant issued by Richard on 26th March 1470, signed ‘at Hornby’. The seventeen year old Duke had chosen his side, and it was the loyal Harringtons that he backed, perhaps perceiving an injustice they suffered at his brother’s hands that their service did not merit, in contrast to Stanley. In Richard, the north found ‘good lordship’ to check the advance of Stanley power. Lord Stanley found himself blocked by the king’s own brother.

In 1483, when Richard became king, evidence suggests that he intended to re-open the issue of ownership of Hornby, no doubt to the joy of the loyal Sir James, but to the dismay and disgust of Lord Stanley, whose son and daughter in law now lived at the castle. Add to this the appointments of Richard Ratcliffe, the new king’s friend and uncle of Robert Harrington’s wife, as king’s deputy in the West Marches and Sherriff of Westmorland, Robert’s brother-in-law John Pilkington as Steward of Rochdale and Richard III’s chamberlain and another Harrington family member, John Huddlestone, as Warden of the West Marches, Sheriff of Cumberland and Steward of Penrith and we see Stanley influence being strangled in the region.

No doubt this restriction of Lord Stanley’s expansionism was intentional on Richard’s part, but as Thomas Stanley surveyed Bosworth Field, this must have been playing on his mind. Should he maintain upon the throne the man who was seeking to destroy him, or replace him with a step-son full of gratitude with power to dispense accordingly? Richard III had appointed Stanley Steward of his Household and made him a Knight of the Garter, perhaps not entirely able to escape his brother’s recognition of Stanley as a necessary evil given the huge force of armed men that he was able to call upon. But was this enough to compensate Stanley for the dismantling of his north western empire, or did he see an opportunity for more? Henry VII made him Earl of Derby, a title his family still hold today. Measured dispassionately, it was a good decision that has made the family in a way Thomas’s father and grandfather could only have dreamed of. The Harringtons, for all of their unswerving loyalty, were wiped out, destroyed, along with the House of York they had fought alongside for so long.

I cannot help but wonder whether in this respect, Lord Stanley’s betrayal of his king at Bosworth was foreseeable and even understandable. Hornby Castle, he must have mused, was finally his. The mighty Richard had stood against him, but Stanley had won in the end.

Was Richard the architect of his own demise? He failed to play the game of thrones well and his commitment to loyalty and chivalric values left him open to opportunism and betrayal, even making them appealing to some.

Then again, I am a card carrying Ricardian, so boo, hiss!

Matthew Lewis is the author of a brief biography of Richard III, A Glimpse of King Richard III along with a brief overview of the Wars of the Roses, A Glimpse of the Wars of the Roses.

Matt’s has two novels available too; Loyalty, the story of King Richard III’s life, and Honour, which follows Francis, Lord Lovell in the aftermath of Bosworth.

Matt can also be found on Twitter @mattlewisauthor.

7 thoughts on “Hornby Castle – The Price of Power?

  1. This is a good piece of writing, why am I not surprised by the antics of the Stanley family. What do you think would have happened re Hornby if the battle went Richards way ?

    1. Thank you for the kind comment.

      There is a small amount of evidence that Richard intended to look again at the ownership of Hornby during his reign. Having fought for the Harrington’s rights throughout Edward IV’s reign he must have wanted the opportunity to correct the injustice he perceived. I suspect Lord Stanley feared that this was precisely what was going to happen as part of a wider campaign to loosen his stranglehold on the north west, and I doubt that he was going to accept that willingly. It would, I’m sure, be on his mind as he watched Richard’s retinue thunder across the battlefield at Tudor’s entourage. I’m not sure what Stanley might have done had Richard been successful. He would have had an awful lot of explaining to do and his failure to join battle for Richard in itself may have cost him Hornby and much more. Richard was not a man to tolerate betrayal lightly. Add all of this together, and Stanley probably saw little choice in the end. I just wonder whether that was a failure on Richard’s part as much as Stanley’s. Did he back Stanley too far into a corner?

      Matt

  2. This is of especial interest to me as I have based my novel By Loyalty Bound on the story of what happened between the Stanleys, the Harringtons and Richard III. But I’ve also taken it a step further and asked if a relationship could have begun in 1470 between Richard and Anne Harrington.

  3. Since you mentioned the phrase “game of thrones”, I can’t help but wonder if you’re a fan of George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”? The book series’ many parallels with real life history, especially from the period of the so-called Wars of the Roses, have been noted by many, but I’m surprised that nobody seems to have noticed the similarity between the dispute over Hornby and the fictional dispute over the Hornwood lands in Martin’s saga and the Boltons’ ruthlessness in trying to acquire it, as well as general similarity between Thomas Stanley’s tacts and Roose Bolton’s betrayal of his king and his tactics of getting his rivals for the power in the North killed.

    1. Hi. I am a huge fan of GRR Martin’s books. The parallels are part of what make it so believable I think. Some characters are composites of many real people, sometimes several characters reflect aspects of one real person and even places have their parallels too.

      You are correct that the Stanley’s desire for dominance in the north is in line with the Boltons. I think it is part of the genius of the series that it mirrors real events so well.

  4. I think that yes, Richard failed to play his game of throne but only because he was too loyal and he stood for justice, and, again, I can’t avoid blaming Edward IV for leaving to his brother an impossible situation. In order to hope for Stanley’s support, Richard should have been like Edward but I have the sensation that, even though still loyal to him, after Edward’s death, Richard realised how wrong he had acted against the Harrington and chose justice and loyalty More than naif, Richard was too correct even knowing that his choice could have resulted in a total destruction in the end. How can we blame him for this? If from one side I feel anger and sadness for what happened in Bosworth, on the other side I am so proud of Richard and this is the reason I admire and fight for King Richard and I am sure this is your reason too. LML Matt and best wishes for everything…

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