Sir William Stanley


Sir William Stanley
(1548 - 1630)

Sir William Stanley - English soldier and traitor

Sir William Stanley was the eldest son of Sir Rowland Stanley (d. 1612) of Hooton, Cheshire, a member of the famous family of that name.

As a volunteer under the duke of Alva he gained his earliest military experiences in the service of Spain; then about 1570 he joined the English forces in Ireland, where he remained for fifteen years, being knighted by Sir William Drury in 1579.

He was very prominent in the guerrilla warfare against the Irish rebels; he was made sheriff of Cork, and he acted as deputy for Sir John Norris, the president of Munster, where by 300 executions he terrified the inhabitants "that a man now may travel the whole country and none to molest him." Having, says William Camden," singulari fide et fortitudine in Hibernico bello moruerat," he returned to England in October 1585, undoubtedly annoyed that his services had not been more generously rewarded. In December of this year, however, he crossed to the Netherlands with the English forces, but almost as soon as he reached his destination he was sent to Ireland to collect recruits, of whom he enlisted about 1400.

Although a strong Roman Catholic, Stanley had hitherto served Elizabeth loyally, but lingering in London on his return from his Irish errand, he seems to have entered into the schemes of the Jesuits against the queen, and he was probably aware of Anthony Babington's plot. But the time for more active and personal treachery had not yet arrived, and with his Irish levies he reached Holland in August 1586, fought gallantly at Zutphen and helped Sir William Pelham to seize Deventer. In spite of some remonstrances, Stanley was made governor of this town, being given extended powers by Leicester, and his opportunity had now come.

In January 1587 he surrendered Deventer to the Spaniards, and while most of his men entered the Spanish service, he travelled to Madrid to discuss the projected invasion of England, his idea being to make Ireland the base for this undertaking. These and subsequent plans were ruined by the defeat of the Armada, but he made several journeys to Spain, and did not abandon the hope that England might be invaded.

In the intervals between his travels he fought under the Spanish flag in the Netherlands and in France. Later he became governor of Mechlin, and he died at Ghent on the 3rd of March 1630.

His descendant, William Stanley, was created a baronet in 1661, the male line of the family becoming extinct when Sir John Stanley-Errington, the 12th baronet, died in 1893.