House Tully called Lord Frey the “Late Lord Frey” because, during Robert’s Rebellion, he delayed arriving with troops until the outcome was clear. As far as I know, however, Ralph Neville was not known for failing to provide military support. For that aspect of Lord Frey’s reputation, George RR Martin may have taken a cue from the fence-sitting Thomas Stanley.
This post is continued from Historical Basis of Lord Frey.
The fourth husband of Margaret Beaufort (Henry VIII’s grandmother), Stanley was notorious for his political opportunism and tendency to withhold support until the victor was clear.
Stanley first displayed this trait in 1459 when the Yorkists were attacking Henry VI. According to parliament, Stanley deliberately ignored a royal summons to bring his forces to fight against the Yorks at Blore Heath. The Lords accused him of being only a mile away with his forces and secretly sending men over to fight on the Yorkist side. Sneaky, sneaky.
Ten years later, when Warwick attempted to overthrow Edward IV, Warwick expected Stanley’s support. After all, Stanley was married to Warwick’s sister. Warwick even sent Stanley a cannon, in advance, to thank him. But, when Warwick’s ally, Margaret of Anjou was late to a decisive battle, Stanley held back his forces until she arrived – and all was lost.
Stanley was a supposedly loyal servant of Richard III, despite being married to Richard’s enemy’s mother.
During the fateful summer of 1485, Stanley persuaded Richard to let him leave court and return to his home in the North. Richard, however, kept Stanley’s son as a hostage to ensure his good behavior. Upon hearing Henry Tudor was invading Wales, Richard ordered Stanley to raise troops and join Richard immediately.
Stanley stalled, claiming “sweating sickness.”
When Richard III and Henry Tudor’s armies finally met at Bosworth field, Stanley kept his army on the sidelines – joining forces with neither Richard nor Henry – until it was clear who would win the battle.
Frustrated at Stanley for not joining forces, Richard threatened to execute the Stanley son he’d taken hostage. To this, Stanley coolly replied, “Sire, I have other sons.” This line reminded me of when Catelyn Stark threatened to kill Lord Frey’s wife (to free her son) and he coldly said, “I’ll find another.”
Fence-sitting and siding with the victor made Stanley very rich – the victorious kings rewarded him. After the Battle of Bosworth Field, when Henry Tudor defeated Richard III, Henry showed his gratitude to his “right dearly beloved father”—Stanley was Henry VII’s stepfather—by making Stanley an earl. Later, Henry made Stanley godfather to his heir.
However, amazingly, even that wasn’t enough to buy Stanley’s loyalty to his own stepson. Only two years later, it looked like Stanley might betray Henry for the pretender Lambert Simnel. (And, Stanley’s fence-sitting brother, often his partner-in-crime, did unwisely side against Henry eight years later.)
Stanley was a political realist, survivalist, and opportunist. In an era that valued loyalty, he waited to truly commit until the last possible minute. This wasn’t necessarily just to survive. After all, he could just not provide any support. Rather, once it was clear who would ultimately win, he did give military support so he could win favor with the victor. This is opportunism and not survivalism.
In fairness to Stanley, many nobles flipped-flopped allegiances during the unstable Wars of the Roses. After all, many nobles were the little people caught in more powerful men’s ambitions. As Lord Frey so aptly puts it, “Stark, Tully, Lannister, Baratheon… Give me one good reason why I should waste a single thought on any of you.”
However, before I defend Stanley too much, I should mention some historians think Stanley killed the Princes in the Tower, the two boys who went missing in Richard III’s reign. Appointed Constable of England in 1483, Stanley controlled all access to and from the Tower of London when they went missing. Stanley, as stepfather to Henry VII, who could not be king if the true heirs lived, had means, motive, and opportunity.
Season 1, Episode 9; Season 3, Episodes 9 and 10
Read More, Learn More
The Stanleys, Lords Stanley, and Earls of Derby, 1385-1672: The Origins, wealth and power of a landowning family by Barry Coward
By Jamie Adair