Sir Edward Stanley Jr (1562-1632), his biography

Helen Moorwood 2013

Sir Edward Stanley Jr’s importance lies in his having received two Verse Epitaphs for his family tomb from his ‘friend’ William Shakespeare in c.1601-3. Like his father Sir Thomas, Sir Edward Jr’s first-ever biography appeared in a shorter version by HM, published in Synesis-Magazin 2/2011 in German under the title Die Shakespeare-Stanley-Epitaphe in Tong, Shropshire, with an introduction ‘Wer war Shakespeare?’ by Wilfried Augustin, the editor. This appears on this website under Publications, followed by the English version: Who was Shakespeare? Shakespeare’s Stanley Epitaphs in Tong Shropshire. In the meantime the book with the same title has appeared, in which Sir Edward Jr’s somewhat longer biography is in ‘Chapter XXIX. Conclusion’. A slightly modified version of this longer version follows here. Few references are given in this narrative. I am afraid that for these, the only possibility at the moment is to refer to the book, where Sir Thomas and Sir Edward appear on virtually every page (c.450 of them!), with full references all the way. To understand more readily his place in the family of Stanley, Earls of Derby, and identify more easily various other people mentioned below, the reader might find it useful to have at their side printed-out copies of Stanley Family Tree 2. STANLEYS contemporary with Sir Thomas (b. c.1534) & Sir Edward (d. 1632) and Stanley Family Tree 7. Sir Edward Stanley + MANNERS, VERNON, PERCY, FORTESCUE.


Childhood in the 1560s

Fatherless youth in the 1570s

Marriage and the 1580s

The turbulent 1590s

Disasters in the early 1600s

Knighthood in 1603 and great changes in his life

Life goes on at Eynsham after 1604, but quietly

1613-1626 and a new life via his daughters

1626-1632, the last years

Childhood in the 1560s

Edward’s parents were Sir Thomas Stanley, second son of Edward Stanley, 3rd Earl of Derby, and Lady Margaret née Vernon, elder daughter of Sir George Vernon of Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, the ‘King of the Peak’. Edward was born in mid-late 1562, one presumes in Lancashire or maybe on the Isle of Man, where his father was Governor 1562-66 and took out a 99-year lease on Winwick Rectory in 1563, using this as his Lancashire base. His only brother Henry died as an infant. Edward thus grew up as an only child, almost certainly with the Rectory as his main home. Given that his grandfather Earl Edward and his Stanley first cousins, the four sons of his uncle Henry, Lord Strange, lived not too far away at the palatial Lathom House, it seems likely that his parents took him to visit them for shorter or longer periods and that the young cousins spent more than a little time together. Cousins Edward and Ferdinando were a few years older than Edward, and William was just one year older, with the last son, cousin Francis born during the following years. ‘Our’ Edward would have known them all as young children in Lancashire.

It is not known how often his father visited the Isle of Man or whether his mother ever accompanied him, but the family was obviously committed to the North West for the whole of Edward’s childhood. We know from his later frequent return visits that he must have regarded Lathom as a second home. One might wonder today whether young Edward himself wondered at the time why his parents produced no more brothers or sisters for him. Perhaps four years with his father spending much time on the Isle of Man was one reason? Perhaps this was one reason for his father deciding to vacate this post? After a break from public office for a year, in 1568-9 Sir Thomas was MP for Liverpool, which must have involved one or more trips to Parliament in London. He was certainly still living in the North West in 1569 when he served as a Commissioner of Muster for Lancashire along with his father Earl Edward and ‘cousins’ William Stanley, 3rd Lord Monteagle and Sir George Stanley of Cross Hall, Lathom. One might thus also assume that young Edward grew up knowing these ‘uncles’, and that he was used to having an absentee father. The latter was soon to be become a permanent state, caused rather dramatically.


Fatherless youth in the 1570s

In May 1570 when Edward was in his eighth year his father Sir Thomas and uncle Sir Edward Sr, along with their friend Sir Thomas Gerard, were involved in a plan to free Mary, Queen of Scots from Chatsworth House. This was revealed to the authorities and by the end of the year Gerard and the two Stanley brothers were sent to the Tower of London. Sir Edward Sr was released but Sir Thomas was kept in for interrogation under torture and detained for two to four years. During this period his father, Earl Edward, young Edward’s namesake grandfather, died at Lathom, but neither of the younger brothers attended the magnificent funeral in December 1572. Presumably grandson Edward was also absent. We have no idea where Edward and his mother spent the time during Sir Thomas’s imprisonment.

When Sir Thomas was released, and certainly by 1575, his parents moved to Tong Castle, his mother’s inheritance, where his father died in December 1576. Young Edward must have felt that he had hardly known his father. It is a matter of pure conjecture how he much he was affected by and reacted to the absence of his father in the Tower of London, the knowledge of his torture and the subsequent financial problems in raising money for the huge fine for release. This conjecture also applies to his mother. Rather than staying in Winwick or Tong Castle on her own with son Edward or with her Stanley in-laws at Lathom, it is easy to imagine that Lady Margaret sought solace with her relatives, with the most obvious comforter being her sister Dorothy Manners at Haddon Hall, with her young and growing family.

Nothing is known about young Edward’s education up to this point. He might have been tutored privately at home with other local children, or sent to the family of one of his numerous first cousins from either side of the family at Lathom House or Haddon Hall, to be tutored privately with them. Hints that the latter might well have been the case come from some later events in his life.

All we know is that Edward was left fatherless, aged fourteen, with no siblings, but destined to own large estates as the only son and heir. As we have seen from his father’s biography, soon after Edward was born in 1562, many Derby manors and lands in the counties of Chester, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire and Devon had been granted to his father Sir Thomas by his grandfather Edward, 3rd Earl of Derby, to stay in the family via Sir Thomas’s wife and their son. In the event of Edward dying without male heirs, they would return to the Earl of Derby. One imagines that, even at this tender age, Edward knew that he would be expected to marry as soon as possible and produce a son to keep this inheritance in his own family. 

His mother had married again within a year or two of Sir Thomas’s death, certainly by 1576, her new husband being William Mather, Esquire, about whom nothing is known. Mather was a rather frequent name in both Lancashire and Derbyshire at the time. Very few records have survived for the following years. Maybe Edward stayed alone with his mother and stepfather at Tong, with the companionship of local children? Or maybe he spent time with his Stanley cousins of about the same age, with his two uncles, Earl Henry and Sir Edward Sr, providing the senior figures? Ferdinando and William both attended St John’s, Oxford University, having matriculated in 1572, but no evidence has emerged to indicate that Edward accompanied them. He also had his Manners cousins at Haddon Hall, which had been inherited by his aunt Dorothy when his mother had inherited Tong Castle. They had several children including (later Sir) George (b. 1569) and Grace (birth date unknown), who was to play a large role in Edward’s life after 1601. It has not been discovered whether, as a teenager, Edward visited any of these or any of the properties in his inheritance.

If he visited his Stanley cousins at Lathom House in the period 1579-1581/2 he might well have been aware of troupes of players in Lancashire. It was at this time that young William Shakeshafte/ Shakespeare was in the Hoghton household, moving to the Heskeths at Rufford in 1581 for a short time and soon afterwards to Derby’s Players, with Edward’s uncle Earl Henry as their patron, soon to be renamed Strange’s Players when cousin Ferdinando took over the patronage. It might well have been during this period that Edward first met young William Shakespeare.


Marriage and the 1580s

In about 1581 Edward married. Neither the place nor the exact date is known. His bride was Lucy Percy, second daughter of Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland, who had been executed at York in 1572 for his role in the Northern Uprising of 1569 when Edward’s father Sir Thomas was in the Tower. Given their contemporaneous imprisonment, it is difficult not to imagine that both families saw this union of their children as somehow logical and desirable. Lucy’s mother was Anne née Somerset, daughter of Henry, 2nd Earl of Worcester. They were devout Catholics. Anne, during the imprisonment of her husband, had gone into exile with her youngest daughter Mary to join other English Catholics in the Low Countries, later received a pension from Philip II of Spain, wrote a treatise in defence of her husband and died at a convent at Namur in 1596. Earl Thomas was much later (1895) beatified by the Catholic Church as the martyr Blessed Thomas Percy. Lucy’s youngest sister Mary (1570-1643) later became a nun and was the founder of the Benedictine Dames in Brussels.

Lucy and the other two older Percy sisters had not accompanied their mother into exile. After a traumatic period during their childhood after the execution of their father and flight of their mother, they were brought up at Petworth House in Sussex by their uncle Henry, 8th Earl of Northumberland, who had inherited the title after the execution of his brother in 1572. Lucy thus grew up with her cousin Henry Percy, the future 9th Earl of Northumberland, who was later known as the ‘Wizard Earl’ because of his interest in scientific and alchemical experiments. Lucy’s elder sister Elizabeth married Richard Woodroffe of Woolley, son of Sir Francis; and younger sister Joan married Lord Henry Seymour, younger son of Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset and Anne Stanhope. Joan’s father-in-law (d. 1560) was the brother of Jane Seymour, King Henry VIII’s third wife and mother of Edward VI. Edward Stanley thus acquired more royal connections through his bride.

In the summer of 1582 Edward and Lucy were living at Eynsham Abbey, where they were visited by his uncle Sir Edward Sr, who lived with them for a while. They all went together at the end of August to Preston Guild. Presumably their first port of call in Lancashire was Winwick, where Edward had retained the lease of the Rectory taken out for 99 years by his father Sir Thomas in 1563. Edward and Lucy had just one son Thomas, named after both grandfathers, who died as an infant at Winwick, where he was buried. (We know this from the MIs on the Stanley tombs in Tong and Walthamstow.) It is not known where Thomas came in the order of their children, only that he was the only son amongst seven daughters. If he was their first child, then the death and burial might well have been during their stay in Winwick en route to or from Preston Guild in August-September 1582, where Edward was registered along with his two uncles, Earl Henry and Sir Edward Sr. Also there were his cousins Ferdinando (Lord Strange), William and Francis (the last was to die the following year, buried at Ormskirk alongside his father and grandfather in September 1583). The following paragraph on Preston Guild is included in Edward’s biography because attendance there was obviously firmly in his diary for 1582 and again in 1602.

Preston Guild took place every twenty years (it has done ever since 1542, and still does), and was a highlight in the business and social life of the town, a manufacturing centre, which had become the de facto administrative county town of Lancashire because Lancaster lay so far to the north. All citizens and anyone who wished to conduct trade there (‘In-burgesses and Out-burgesses’) were obliged to attend the Guild Merchant and register. All the local gentry also registered, with the Earl of Derby at their head, to re-affirm their prestigious position in the county community. On registration all family relationships were given, including underage sons who would reach maturity before the next Guild. And so we have a rather complete and invaluable picture of (the males in) many local families. Also present in 1582 as an ‘In-burgess’ was ‘John Shakeshafte, Glover’, with many of his family. On a balance of probabilities, the scales come down heavily in favour of him being one and the same as John Shakespeare, glover of Stratford, who had also attended the previous Preston Guild in 1562 along with his father, also John Shakeshafte, Glover. If this assumption is correct, then we have a composite picture of the Shakeshafte family based on Preston, with their offshoot Shakespeare branch in Warwickshire and John in Stratford. Given that Preston Guild was noted for its social events, including dramatic performances by strolling players, this presents one occasion when everyone involved in the ‘Shakespeare in Lancashire’ story, including Edward Stanley Jr, might well have renewed acquaintance with William Shakespeare/ Shakeshafte, actor in Strange’s Men and budding poet and dramatist.

It is worth repeating here that 1579-82 is the period when (following the ‘Lancastrian Shakespeare’ theory) young William Shakespeare/ Shakeshafte was with the Hoghtons and Heskeths, and is presumed to have joined Derby’s Players around 1581/2, turning into Strange’s Men when Ferdinando took over the patronage of the company which was to present Shakespeare’s early successes in London a decade later. There could have been several occasions when Edward might have seen the budding actor and dramatist in action. I have a fond picture in my imagination of Strange’s Men performing at Preston Guild in front of a mixed audience of Stanleys and other local gentry, together with the whole Shakeshafte clan. Immediately afterwards William must have passed through Stratford (with Strange’s Men?) to impregnate Anne Hathaway. News of her pregnancy took some time to reach him on tour, which forced him to return for a ‘shotgun wedding’. Flight of fantasy over.

Edward and Lucy were to have seven daughters when their main residence was Tong Castle during the 1580s and 1590s (the last one Venetia born on 19 December, 1600), although they might also have spent time at Eynsham, where we have fleeting glimpses of visits by members of his family. Cousin William Stanley was in the church at Eynsham in 1584 protesting about rights to seats in the manorial pew against the son of Sir Thomas Peniston, who had bought half the manor from widow Lady Margaret. The Vicar of Eynsham at this time was William Emmot from Colne in Lancashire, an Oxford man and known more widely as ‘one of the superior types of Elizabethan clergy; he was resident, taught children and bequeathed Bibles and other books to neighbouring clergy and pupils’. Whether Emmott’s Lancashire origin was a mere co-incidence, or connected with Stanley patronage is not known. Edward presumably knew him and perhaps considered him as a future tutor for his daughters, but Emmott retired from Eynsham in 1585. Cousin William was presumably en route to or from Lancashire. According to the reputable Victoria County History of the County of Oxford (‘Eynsham Manor’) ‘he was still in Eynsham in 1586’. It is impossible to believe that William stayed for two years in Eynsham and one must assume this was a return visit. It seems most likely that it was one and the same, as there were no other Williams in the immediate family. This also means that the dates of his early extensive travels require a rewrite. These travels in themselves do not affect cousin Edward’s biography, but it is easy to suppose that around the time of this visit to Eynsham in 1586 he called in on Edward (wherever he was living at the time) to give his report.

In brief, members of Edward’s family seem to have valued their association with Eynsham, but more as a stopover point than as a (semi-)permanent residence. ‘William Camden recorded in his book Britannia (1586) that the “Abby….. now is turned into a private dwelling house and acknowledgeth the Earl of Derby thereof.” The Earl seems to have kept servants permanently there, and presumably adapted the abbot’s lodgings for his own use.’ Among the Stanley tenants and servants were the ancestors (from Preston, Lancashire) of the seventeenth-century Oxford historian Anthony (à) Wood. So reports a local historian (Lilian Wright), researching for many years the history of the Stanley period of ownership of Eynsham. The earl in 1586 was Henry, 4th Earl, which reflects the knowledge of locals that, although the widow of his brother Sir Thomas now owned (half of) the manor, it was in tail-male to the earldom. The implication is that son Edward was not there very often and certainly not at the time of Camden’s visit. However, the local historian also reports:

‘John Aubrey, writing in 1647 (sixty years later) said that he had been told by inhabitants of Cumnor that, within their remembrance there was still “a worlde of painted Glasse, Stones, Coates of Armes, etc. There were curious buildings, excellent carved wainscot and wainscot ceilings guilded: a curious Chapelle”. He also adds as a footnote to his account of Venetia Stanley a further description of Eynsham Abbey: “At the west end of the church here were two towers as at Wells or Westminster Abbey, which were standing till about 1656. The rooms of the abbey were richly wainscoted, both sides and roof!” (J. Aubrey, Brief Lives, 1647).’ (Lilian Wright, Eynsham Record, No. 2, 1985.)

All this seems to indicate that, for the hundred years during which the Stanleys owned the abbey lands, they often lived in Eynsham and maintained at least some of the abbey buildings. This is further confirmed by another report:

‘When they did a large excavation at the [Eynsham] Abbey site in the 90s they found a layer in one of the cess pits corresponding to the time of the Stanleys here which contained bones of swans and other rather superior foods indicating much more sophisticated living at that time.’ (Lilian Wright, personal communication, August 2012.)

In October of 1586 Edward must have been interested to hear about a namesake Mr Edward Stanley fighting in the Anglo-Spanish War in the English contingent under the Earl of Leicester. He scaled the walls and captured the town of Zutphen almost single-handed, for which feat he was knighted on the spot by the Earl of Leicester, who left an eye-witness account. He has frequently been confused with uncle Sir Edward Sr, but this one seems to have been from Elford, Staffordshire, so a namesake cousin of a rather distant degree, one of the Stanley-Ardernes, who may have been the Sir Edward Stanley killed in Ireland in 1597. Another Stanley ‘cousin’ fighting in the war in the Spanish Netherlands was Sir William Stanley of Hooton, who had been taught at Lathom, along with Edward’s father Sir Thomas and his brothers, by Dr Henry Standish, ‘a passionate Catholic preacher’. His father Sir Rowland Stanley had been knighted by Queen Mary on the same day as Sir Thomas, Edward’s father. This Sir William Stanley went down immediately in history as ‘The Traitor’ after capturing the town of Deventer and then surrendering it to the Spanish in January 1587. His continuing Catholicism, among other factors, had led to his dissatisfaction with the English cause. He spent the rest of his life in exile in Spain and Spanish Flanders, where it is more than likely that he was aware of Edward’s Percy in-laws - Lucy’s mother Anne remained active there as a rather outspoken nun until her death in 1596. Sir William became the de facto civilian leader of the English Catholic Exiles until his death in 1630, while Cardinal William Allen (from Lancashire) was the spiritual leader until his death in 1594.

Edward and Lucy’s only son Thomas might well have been born and died during this later period and not immediately after the marriage as suggested above, but that would have required at least one visit back to Winwick, where we know infant Thomas was buried (from the MIs at Tong and Walthamstow). There were certainly several visits to Winwick during the late 1580s, when Edward regularly turned up at Lathom House and members of his family visited Winwick several times. Uncle Sir Edward Sr was in Winwick on 29 June 1586 writing a letter, but Edward Jr was not necessarily also in residence. Records of visitors to Henry, 4th Earl of Derby have only survived from 1587-90 (Derby Household Books), and in each case Edward was there on his own. He might have left Lucy and the girls back in Tong, or taken them as far as Winwick, but during the years in question his wife and children did not visit Uncle Earl Henry at Lathom. It would not have been easy transporting a whole bevy of little girls around. Uncle Henry was absent from Lathom for a while at the beginning of 1587 when he was on the ‘jury’ at the ‘trial’ of Mary Queen of Scots at Fotheringay and later in the year when he went on a diplomatic mission to the Spanish Netherlands in an attempt to avert the threatened invasion of England by the Spanish. We all know that he was unsuccessful and the outcome was the arrival and defeat of the Spanish Armada the following year. Earl Henry returned to great scenes of jubilation in Lancashire and Cheshire. Maybe he stayed with nephew Edward in Tong on his frequent journeys to and from his missions? It would certainly have been a convenient stopping off place en route to Fotheringay as well as London.


The turbulent 1590s

On one of Edward’s visits to Lathom from Winwick in August 1590 he arrived on the same day as his cousin Ferdinando and another Stanley, all of whom stayed overnight. The precise record in the Derby Household Books is for Monday of the week of ‘the xxii of Auguste’, with the visitors recorded as ‘Mr Stanley of Winwicke came & Mr Edwarde Stanley, my L. Strandges came also; Tvesdaye the[y] went awayes.’  Brian S. Roberts (a Stanley Family researcher) is of the opinion that ‘Mr Edwarde Stanley’ was ‘our’ Edward of Winwick and Tong, and that ‘Mr Stanley of Winwicke’ was most plausibly Gerard Stanley, an illegitimate son of Sir Thomasand therefore (Sir) Edward Jr’s half-brother. Gerard Stanley married Elizabeth (surname unknown) and had four children, and appears in records in Harleston in Staffordshire (among other places), along with Sir Edward (after his knighthood in 1603). Harleston/ Hurleston appears in several other scattered Stanley documents, although sometimes apparently in Cheshire and Shropshire. If further research were to sort out all the Harleston and Hurleston references and make this Stanley relationship more certain, then father Sir Thomas’s biography would need to be modified. It already includes this putative illegitimate son, although rather tentatively. This would at least fill in one detail during his ‘lost years’, perhaps as a young knight before his marriage in 1558 or during the period leading up to his incarceration in 1570. The two half-brothers certainly met at Lathom House in 1590, which implies an acceptance of Gerard Stanley as a member of the family.  

Edward and Lucy may or may not have been directly involved in various dramatic events in Lancashire in the early 1590s, which involved Edward’s immediate relatives, but they must have heard much about them. 1593 saw the return of cousin William from the last of his travels, the latest one (in the light of current research) for up to three years in Russia, almost immediately to disappear off as Governor of the Isle of Man. Soon afterwards came the death of his father Earl Henry in September 1593, with the succession by brother Ferdinando as 5th Earl of Derby, at the same time as the ‘Hesketh Plot’. Richard Hesketh of Aughton, a brother of Alexander Hoghton’s widow (hosts of William Shakeshafte in 1581), brought a letter to Lathom from Cardinal William Allen (of Lancashire origin), the head of the English Catholic Church in Exile, offering support for Ferdinando as Elizabeth’s successor on the throne of England. Although always very aware of this right, acquired from the descent from Henry VII of his mother Margaret Clifford, he was also cognizant of the extreme danger that this presented for his own life. Ferdinando took Hesketh with him to London (which resulted in the latter’s execution) and established his own innocence in this plan. This did not prevent his subsequent poisoning in April 1594, a story that has been told many times. He left widow Countess Alice née Spencer of Althorp and three daughters, but no son. It also left without their patron the former Strange’s Players/Men, the company which performed Shakespeare’s early successes in London in the early 1590s. This became Derby’s Players during Ferdinando’s brief tenure as Earl and for a short time afterwards (under the patronage of widow Countess Alice?), but then re-amalgamated as the Lord Chamberlain’s Players under Lord Hunsdon.  

Cousin William was now 6th Earl of Derby and Edward automatically became next in line of succession to the earldom. These were now the only two surviving legitimate Stanley grandsons of Edward, 3rd Earl. William soon fulfilled a family obligation to attempt to produce a son and heir by marrying Elizabeth de Vere, eldest daughter of Edward, 17th Earl of Oxford. Interestingly, she had previously been offered as a bride to Henry, 3rd Earl of Southampton, the dedicatee of Shakespeare’s two recently published poems Venus and Adonis in 1593 and The Rape of Lucrece in 1594. He had turned this offer down and paid £5000 as a fine. The Stanley-de Vere wedding was on 26 January 1595 at Greenwich Palace in the presence of Queen Elizabeth. This is a strong contender for the wedding which was celebrated with the first performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. One presumes that Edward and Lucy made every effort to attend, and although full of ‘ifs’, this would have been another occasion for a Shakespeare-Stanley meeting. As it turned out, William and Elizabeth’s first child born at the end of this year was a daughter, who died at birth.

Before continuing with Edward’s biography via the albeit sparse documentation discovered so far, it seems appropriate to pause here for a reflection on various missing events between c.1587 and c.1595. First and foremost is the apparent lack of births to Edward and Lucy during this period. The ages of their first four daughters at death are given on the MI at Tong, which provides the approximate birthdates of Arabella in 1582, Marie 1584, Alice 1586 and Priscilla 1587. This last date coincides with the beginning of the Derby Household Books records, which see Edward visiting Lathom without Lucy on several occasions until 1590. As suggested above, the reason for this might have been quite innocent, with Lucy just staying at home with the daughters, wherever their home was during these years. Maybe it was considered too inconvenient to transport four little girls round the country? And yet cousin Ferdinando’s wife Lady Alice visited Lathom with their three little daughters at this time (Anne, b. 1580, Frances, b. 1583, Elizabeth, b. 1588), when they might well have been living somewhere else. Surely this would have been an incentive for Edward and Lucy to allow their daughters to spend time with their half-cousins?

Then we have the fact that Edward and Lucy’s three youngest daughters survived whatever pestilence struck Lucy and the four oldest ones in early-mid 1601. It is almost as if there were two separate families here, albeit with the same parents. We know that the seventh and last daughter Venetia was born on 19 December 1600 (her later husband Sir Kenelm Digby provided this information). By extrapolation, and assuming a normal pattern of pregnancy, this would place the births of the preceding daughters as Frances in c.1597/8/9 and Petronella in c.1595/6/7.  If these estimates are correct, then we are left with the gap between 1587 and 1595. If the date of birth of c.1595/6/7 for their fifth daughter Petronella is correct, then the rather long gap between the first four and the last three daughters must somehow be taken into account. Had Edward and Lucy had marital problems during the previous decade, which had led to their separation? Or had Lucy had several miscarriages, which were never recorded? There are hints in their future son-in-law Sir Kenelm Digby’s Memoirs that Edward was ‘too negligent a husband’ and that he ‘formerly’ lived in an ‘unhappy state’, although it is not clear which period ‘formerly’ referred to. This could in any case only have been from hearsay via others and long after the time in question, but the hint is there. To this we can add Sir Kenelm’s account that it was only after Lucy’s death that Edward realized what a treasure he had lost, consoled mainly by the blossoming of Venetia as a ‘phoenix’ rising from Lucy’s ashes.

 We also have the story at the end of this period of his cousin William, as given above. He had returned from his travels to find himself losing in rapid succession his father Henry in 1593 and his brother Ferdinando in early 1594, which left him, totally unexpectedly, as heir presumptive to the Earldom of Derby. This had needed to be established by a higher authority, however, because widow Countess Alice was claiming everything, including the earldom and all the estates, for her three daughters, as well as establishing her daughter Anne’s inheritance via Ferdinando as one of the heiresses presumptive to Queen Elizabeth’s throne. The long drawn out legal battle between Countess Alice and Earl William has been told many times, with the information that her brother-in-law in a letter to Alice on one occasion called William a ‘nidicock’, almost as if it was her opinion too. There was certainly no love lost between them.  However, not too long after Ferdinando’s death, brother William was indeed confirmed as the 6th Earl of Derby and in 1596 Alice’s eldest daughter Anne was confirmed as ‘heiress presumptive’ to the throne, which at least put William one or several steps down this ladder. He now had his title as Earl, but still needed to fight to regain as many as possible of the hereditary lands to allow him to maintain a style of life commensurate to his position. He also needed to produce an heir, and we have seen above that he married as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, as also mentioned above, cousin Edward, after Ferdinando’s death without a son and heir, was the next legitimate male in line of succession to the earldom, and he had no son and heir either. Could it have been that Edward and Lucy had had several years of separation, and that the need for a son and heir brought them together again? This would certainly explain the long gap between births, Lucy’s non-appearance at Lathom and also, perhaps, their non-appearance in mother Lady Margaret’s will in 1596.        

At the end of August 1596 Edward’s mother Lady Margaret expressed her dying wishes, recorded by her second husband William Mather in her will, leaving several bequests to retainers and friends. She requested, with the consent of her husband, to be buried in the Stanley vault at Tong next to her first husband Sir Thomas, which duly happened. However, it is interesting that she mentioned no property and did not even mention son Edward. She did not need to make provision for the lands from the settlement of 1562/3, because on her death all these Derby lands would come to him automatically. She had presumably already settled many property matters beforehand with her second husband (who survived until 1607). And yet it is strange that she made no mention of her only daughter-in-law Lucy, and left no bequests to any of her granddaughters.

Somehow, during or after probate, some of her lands did come to Edward, including Marple and Wybersley (Cheshire/Staffordshire). These were presumably other properties in Margaret’s inheritance from her father back in 1565, along with Tong Castle. Other lands were reported by Erdeswick in c.1596 as owned by Edward, lands whose history is not yet accounted for: he was ‘now Lord of Harlaston’ (this place again), and says of Cubleston ‘Edward Stanley is now owner thereof’, and of West Bromwich, ‘now one of the Stanleys hath the seat of his house there.’ West Bromwich is interesting not least because this was near Park Hall in Aston, the seat of the Ardens of Warwickshire, who, according to the ‘conventional biography’ of William Shakespeare, was the family of Mary Arden, William’s mother. This turns out to be a false assumption, and is yet one more muddle that needs to be sorted out before Edward Stanley’s and William Shakespeare’s biographies come as close as possible to the historical truth. Also living in the vicinity in North Warwickshire in 1599 were John Shakespeare’s ‘cousins’, who had moved there from Lancashire after the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

On 17 October, 1596 Countess Anne Percy, Lucy’s mother, died of smallpox in a convent near Namur in the Spanish Netherlands. She had made an attempt a few years previously to call her daughter Joan, Lucy’s sister, to visit her in Flanders, but this apparently did not take place. There is no record of Lucy’s involvement in any way with her mother’s predicament during the whole of her period in exile. One can only presume, however, that Edward and Lucy were deeply affected by both losing their mothers within a few months. Might this have been one more reason for bringing them back together? Or at least bringing them closer together in their sorrow.

They were now the sole owners of their Stanley-Vernon-Percy inheritances, with their main seats at Tong Castle and Eynsham Abbey, and the lease on the Rectory at Winwick. It must have been a time for taking stock of their possessions and making a few decisions about their plans for the next few years, including planning for the future of their daughters. In 1596 they already had daughters Arabella aged about 14, Marie about 12, Alice about 10 and Priscilla about 8, so all of these were rapidly approaching an age when future marriage prospects must have been being considered. Despite the speculation of a longish separation, it is fact that they must have lived together during the last few years of the 1590s, when their last three daughters were born.

Edward was meanwhile very much involved throughout the second half of the 1590s with his cousin William’s legal battle against his sister-in-law Countess Alice. On her side was the fact that her eldest daughter Anne was confirmed as ‘heiress presumptive’ to Elizabeth’s throne in 1596, which thus, according to Countess Alice, entitled to all her father’s Derby lands. Brother-in-law William, now 6th Earl, was equally strongly of the opinion that as many Derby lands as possible should stay with the earldom. Edward must have felt torn between these two positions. On the one hand, with four daughters of his own, he must have felt empathy with widow Alice and her three daughters. On the other hand, his own daughters’ Derby inheritance, should he have no son, were completely dependent on the tail-male reversion to the earldom on his own death. The future of both William’s and Edward’s Derby inheritances, and indeed the future of the earldom, seemed to depend on both, or at least one of them, producing a son. This might even have been the main motivation for Edward and Lucy continuing (or resuming) their attempt to produce this elusive son.

Cousin William was having no luck in this area. Indeed, his marriage went through a rocky period. In the words of his recent biographer: ‘The early years of the marriage were stormy, particularly during the stressful period of the lawsuit, marked by rumours of Elizabeth’s infidelity with both Essex and Ralegh, Elizabeth’s alarming bouts of sickness, much bitter quarrelling, and periods of separation.’ (Daugherty, ODNB) We know with hindsight that, although William and Elizabeth were subsequently reconciled and lived in harmony, they did not produce a son, James, until 1607, and Edward and Lucy never produced another son. Back in the late 1590s, of course, they could not yet predict this and must have lived in constant hope. It must have been a rather frustrating period in many respects. William, certainly, was deeply affected by his financial situation after 1594, which ‘would all but consume him for the next five years and not reach final settlement until 1610’. This was not helped by knowing that sister-in-law Alice’s family regarded him as a ‘nidicock’. It is not known whether or not this judgment was extended to include cousin Edward, who seems to have taken William’s side. In any case William’s fortunes must have been of considerable interest for Edward, given that he was his heir to the earldom. ‘Earl William might be one of the least ambitious of all the Earls of Derby, but he thought it both requisite and urgent to restore his family’s prestige and political power. In 1598 he recovered the Earl’s traditional seat on the Chester Ecclesiastical Commission, and five years later King James appointed him Knight of the Bath and, more importantly for William, Chamberlain of Chester, the post which his father and grandfather had valued so highly. To regain the Lieutenancy, however, was a bigger triumph still, and to retain the office for the rest of his life, as he did, fully re-established Stanley dominance.’ (ODNB) Were William to suffer an untimely early death, one potential heir to these positions would be first cousin Edward.

Many financial transactions from these years have survived, but it is still difficult to obtain a clear picture, particularly from Edward’s end. William sold lands to Edward on 12 March 1597 in Cheshire (Acton, Hurleston, Dorfold, Overmarsh) and Oxfordshire (Shifford), along with other lands to others. Whether this was a genuine sale or a legal manœuvre to deprive Alice from acquiring these lands is difficult to judge. In 1597 Edward ‘demised his lands in Stackpole, Pembrokeshire to William Ingleby’. These lands had previously appeared in a transaction with his mother Lady Margaret and stepfather William Mather. There is no evidence that any of them ever visited south Wales, and this must have been a property that Edward was quite happy to have administered by someone else until he decided what to do with it. In 1600 it was confirmed that Derby lands in Thirsk and Malzeard (Yorkshire) were in reversion to William, 6th Earl of Derby after the death of Sir Edward Stanley Sr, William and Edward’s only surviving uncle, who was to live until 1604.

After all the family tragedies in the mid-1590s, and despite the continuing financial struggles, life at the end of the decade must have seemed rather rosier for the family, particular in the literary field. Edward received the dedication in 1597 of The Famous History of Chinon in England from budding writer Christopher Middleton (just finished his studies at Cambridge) and in 1600 the dedication of the poem Faunus and Melliflora from another budding writer John Weever (from the Preston area and a fellow student with Middleton). Maybe hoped for patronage from Edward was connected with his cousin William writing plays in London at the time? Edward was certainly affluent enough to be a patron. The full dedication from Weever reads ‘To the right valorous and excellent accomplisht Gentleman, Maister Edward Stanley of Winwicke Esquire, all fortunes, suitable to the ancient woorth of the Stanleys’. In 1599 Weever had published his Epigrammes, with poems dedicated to all and sundry in the circle associated with ‘Shakespeare in Lancashire’, including a sonnet to Shakespeare and an obituary poem in memory of Ferdinando. He had not included Edward, so maybe the dedication of Faunus and Melliflora was by way of compensation? It is interesting that he calls him ‘of Winwick’ with no mention of Tong or Eynsham, but then his property in Winwick was presumably better known to someone from Lancashire than a property in Shropshire or Oxfordshire.

At the same time as Edward was receiving dedications from poets, cousin William was reported by a ‘Jesuit spy’ George Fenner, in a letter written on 30 June 1599, that he was ‘busye in penning comedyes for the common players’. He ‘is also reported as financing one of London’s two children’s drama companies, the Paul’s boys, and for roughly the period 1599-1601, his playing company, Derby’s Men, was active, and very successfully so, at the Boar’s Head, just outside London’. The company played multiple times at court in 1600 and 1601 and ‘my Lord Darby hath put up the playes of the children in Pawles to his great paines and charge.’ (Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare’s London, 1996) His recent biographer points to some interesting associations: ‘In 1599 he financed the revival of the Children of Paul’s company, in apparent partnership with John Marston and others, and one of more of this troupe’s extant unattributed plays could be his. As Thomas Middleton and the earl’s friend William Percy (younger brother of the ninth earl of Northumberland, another friend) also wrote for the Paul’s boys at this time. Derby would necessarily have worked in association with them.’ (Daugherty, ODNB, 2004) William Percy and his brother Henry, 9th Earl of Northumberland had, of course, been Lucy’s childhood companions, brought up together at Petworth in Sussex. One might assume that Edward Stanley was well informed of these activities.


Disasters in the early 1600s

On 19 December 1600 Edward and Lucy’s seventh daughter Venetia was born, so one might assume they stayed quietly at home in Tong for Christmas. This turned out to be the calm before the storm of 1601. Various dramatic events involving their relatives were unfolding in London. On 5 or 6 February, 1601 Sir Charles Percy, Lucy’s first cousin, paid forty shillings for a specially commissioned performance of Shakespeare’s Richard II, on the eve of the Essex insurrection. Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, was intricately related to Edward and Lucy Stanley via many routes. Just one main example here: Dorothy Devereux, sister of Robert, 2nd Earl, was married to Henry Percy, 9th Earl of Northumberland, the ‘Wizard Earl’, a first cousin of Lucy’s, with whom she had grown up. Dorothy’s sister Penelope Rich née Devereux is a candidate for the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. This might be nonsense, but it presents an attractive additional Shakespeare-Devereux-Percy-Stanley link. Sir Charles Percy and Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex were executed on Tower Hill on 25 February 1601. ‘Ironically, Derby was one of the peers who served on the court during the 1601 Essex trial but then took Essex’s place three months later, on 23 April, as knight of the Garter (invested on 26 May).’ (ODNB) ‘Derby’ was, of course, William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby, Edward’s cousin.

Within a few months Lucy and their four eldest daughters travelled to Walthamstow, a few miles north-east, and just an hour on horseback or by coach, from the centre of London. Presumably they travelled from Tong, with a stopover at Walthamstow on the way. Whether or not Edward and the three younger daughters were also with them is not known, but it is hardly likely that Lucy abandoned her baby daughter, other than perhaps to the charge of a wet-nurse. One can only guess at the reason for this expedition. To visit friends or relatives? To attend some events in London? To assess the marriage market for their four eldest daughters? Whatever the reasons and circumstances, disaster struck when Lucy and the four eldest daughters died in or near Walthamstow. Given that they all seem to have died at the same time, one can only suppose that it was from the plague or some other virulent disease. That Edward was heartbroken and felt that his life was about to change dramatically is not only to be suspected, but also on record in the later memoirs of his son-in-law. They were all buried there and soon received a tomb with effigies of Lucy and the four daughters and a memorial inscription. The (more or less the same) MI on the tomb at Tong gives

18 Arabella  16 Marie  15 Alice  13 Priscilla

One presumes that these were their ages at death. In any case this left Edward a grieving widower with three young daughters.

Petronella  Francis and Venesie are yet living

Quite naturally, this tragic loss of his wife and four daughters at one fell swoop proved to be a turning point for Edward. There are several indications that he commissioned the tomb in St Mary’s, Walthamstow before the tomb in St Bartholomew’s, Tong for his parents. The latter was a two-tier tomb, with his parents’ effigies on the upper tier, leaving space for an effigy of himself on the lower tier. He also very thoughtfully arranged for enough space for two verse epitaphs to be included at the head and foot as well as a memorial inscription along the side – almost the same as the MI at Walthamstow. This may or may not indicate that he had already received the Verse Epitaphs from Shakespeare.  His parents’ effigies are in marble and were presumably placed there on completion of the tomb. His own effigy is in alabaster and, following the customs of the time, was put in storage until it should be erected after his own death. His effigy depicts him as a circa forty-year-old, which on its own dates the tomb to around 1601-3. No portrait has survived (nor of his parents), so this is the only pictorial record. He was a handsome man, which one might have assumed from the later renowned beauty of his daughter Venetia. He was also rather tall, 1.85 m (6’ 1”).

His future son-in-law Sir Kenelm Digby later reported that after the death of his wife Edward was ‘melancholic’ and was resolved to live rather withdrawn from the world. For a time he lived alone at home with his three daughters. The implication is that Edward kept them in his own care, presumably at Tong Castle, for some time after Lucy’s death and as long as Venetia was still in swaddling clothes, which in Tudor times would be until about eight or nine months. Then, ‘as soon as she had attained to such strength as that her remove might be without danger, he sent her to a kinsman of his, whose wife being a grave and virtuous lady, had given him assurance that no care of diligence should be wanting on her part to cultivate those natural endowments which did already shine through her tender age.’ It is anyone’s guess whether this was within a year after Venetia’s birth or within the next couple of years, but cannot have been later than 1603.

Meanwhile, wherever his daughters were at the time, Edward made it again to Preston Guild in August 1602, along with cousin William and uncle Sir Edward Sr. These were the only surviving males in the immediate family. Presumably he used Winwick as his base and it might have been at this time that he, with others, commissioned a bell for Winwick church bearing several initials. ‘One of our bells is thought to date from somewhere about the year 1600; it bears the initials which have been taken to stand for Peter Legh, Thomas Gerard, Edward Eccleston, Edward Stanley, Thomas Stanley and John Rider.’

Amongst topics of conversation between the three Stanleys at Preston Guild must have been William’s career in London as a playwright and the latest state of his long drawn out wranglings with his sister-in-law Countess Alice about which lands each was entitled to. The situation had been complicated two years previously when she had married Thomas Egerton from Cheshire, 1st Viscount Brackley, (later) Lord Ellesmere and Elizabeth’s Lord Chancellor. This very year (1602) her daughter Frances married his son John Egerton, 2nd Viscount Brackley. This marital alliance with the Lord Chancellor put Alice in an even stronger position to pursue her claims and, indeed, all was to drag on for several more years until a final agreement was reached. Egerton had in 1598 re-established his base in the North West with the purchase of the Old Hall at Tatton Park in Cheshire and in 1601 had bought Harefield House in Middlesex for Alice, where she set up her own little ‘court’, entertaining Queen Elizabeth in 1602 and garnering many dedications from poets. These had already been flowing in for a decade, and were to continue. Edmund Spenser claimed kinship with Countess Alice, although the exact connection has never been discovered. (There is a a long-standing tradition in Hurstwood near Burnley in Lancashire that the ‘Spencer House’ there was his home for some time.) The kinship was claimed in his dedication to her of his poem Teares of the Muses in 1591. He obviously knew her and her family well enough to include them in a poem in 1594, Colin Clouts come home again, under allegorical names: ‘Amyntas’ is Ferdinando, recently died; ‘Amarillis’ is his mourning widow Alice; and ‘Aetion’ is Ferdinando’s brother William. He also groups together ‘Amarillis’, ‘Phyllis’ and ‘Charillis’, the three daughters of Sir John Spencer (died 1586); in 1594 Alice’s sister Anne was the widow of William Stanley, 3rd Lord Monteagle (died 1581), a kinsman of Ferdinando; and Elizabeth was still married to George Carey, 2nd Lord Hunsdon (died 1603), patron of ‘the Lord Chamberlain’s Men’, which took over ‘Strange’s Men’ and performed Shakespeare’s plays. Elsewhere in the same poem he names Samuel Daniel openly and it is generally agreed that ‘the shepheard of the Ocean’ is Sir Walter Raleigh, ‘Astrofell’ is Sir Philip Sidney and ‘Cynthia’ Queen Elizabeth. Although none of this belongs directly in Edward Stanley’s biography, it is difficult to believe that all these publications and family connections did not affect him in some way. One direct result around this time was his receiving the two Verse Epitaphs from Shakespeare for his parents’ and his own tomb in Tong.

Meanwhile cousin William had re-established himself in the North West, where he was now spending most of his time. His marriage had now entered a happier phase, and he was again more hopeful of producing a male heir. He had also consolidated the traditional roles of the Earls of Derby in many positions in Lancashire and Cheshire, and the following year (1603-4) was to serve as Lord Mayor of Liverpool. He had also constructed a theatre at Prescot, near Knowsley, the first purpose built indoor theatre in Lancashire and, indeed, in the whole of England. He had also had contact with Dr John Dee, whom he had been instrumental in appointing as Warden of Manchester College in 1595, in a building owned by William (today Chetham’s Library). Dr Dee was one of the most noted scholars of the day, who had spent many years in Poland, Bohemia and Prague, acquiring a reputation in science and alchemy. He had also acquired a more notorious reputation as a necromancer by his association with Edward Kelly, a companion in Prague, who had performed a locally famous necromancing act in the churchyard of Walton-le-Dale near Preston. Dr Dee’s son Arthur was born in Manchester during his father’s period as Warden, and his own story as a physician to the Tsar of Russia (where he healed his foot) was later to be muddled with his father’s story, and even more muddled during the next century when convolutedly introduced into the story and ballad of Sir William Stanley’s extensive and adventurous travels of 1582-92/3. Again, these events do not strictly belong to Edward’s biography, but with his frequent meetings with cousin William, he must have been very aware of all the people mentioned. 

William and the two Edwards Sr and Jr presumably also exchanged any news they had of their various Stanley ‘cousins’ serving the Spanish King and the several brothers or cousins of their gentry neighbours who were Catholic priests in exile. (One of the most famous, largely because he left his autobiography, was John Gerard, younger brother of Sir Thomas Gerard Jr, who was soon to be knighted along with Sir Edward Jr by King James as soon as he came to the throne of England.) Presumably they talked about the ageing Elizabeth and speculated about her successor, particularly relevant to the family because just eight years earlier their niece Anne had been confirmed as an ‘heiress presumptive’. Presumably they also exchanged their latest news of William’s half-sisters Ursula and Dorothy, which brought Sir John Salusbury of Lleweni into the conversation. He had married Ursula in 1586, and so was William’s brother-in-law. Amidst their whole brood of children (eleven in all) they had named their nth child in 1599 Ferdinando, after Ursula’s dead half-brother. Sir John (knighted by Elizabeth in 1601) had received several dedications from poets in the 1590s and was himself a dabbler. His friend Robert Chester had published some adulatory poems to Sir John (June 1601) in Love’s Martyr, a series of ‘poetical essays’, including contributions by Jonson, Chapman and Marston, and a poem beginning ‘Let the bird of loudest lay’ (usually known as The Phoenix and the Turtle), with the author’s name printed as William Shake-speare. There are compelling arguments for this having been composed on the occasion of the marriage of Sir John to Ursula back in 1586.

One imagines that Shake-speare/Shakeshafte would have entered their conversations more than once, because of William, 6th Earl’s active participation in the theatre and Shakespeare’s recent string of great successes in London. (This would almost certainly have been the case if the ‘Shakespeare in Lancashire’ theory is based on historical fact, and young William had spent time with the Hoghtons and Heskeths, several of whom were also present at Preston Guild in 1602.) Might it have been on one of these occasions that William or Sir Edward Stanley Sr jokingly suggested to Edward Jr that next time he bumped into Shakespeare in London, he should ask him to write an epitaph for the Stanley ‘tomb in the making’ in Tong? A hypothetical and speculative question to which there will, alas, never be an answer.


Knighthood in 1603 and great changes in his life

One might presume that two major events of 1603 – his knighthood by James I at his coronation and his sale of Tong Castle – were not unconnected with the decision to place his young daughters in a household which would provide a more suitable environment for them than just the company of their father and his household servants. Another property of Edward’s, Eynsham Abbey, Oxfordshire was much closer to Salden in Mursely, Buckinghamshire, which was where he placed his daughters. The ‘grave and virtuous lady’ whose family Edward’s daughters joined was his first cousin Grace Fortescue née Manners, daughter of his aunt Dorothy and uncle John of Haddon Hall, his mother Lady Margaret’s sister. She had married (Sir) Francis Fortescue of Salden in 1589 and by 1601-3 they already had several of the final quota of twelve or thirteen children. Three more, one suspects, would have been easily accommodated! In 1603 Sir Francis was dubbed a Knight of the Bath on the occasion of James’s coronation, at the same time as Sir Edward. Maybe this was when the offer came to take in the three motherless little Stanley girls? Sir Francis, following on from his father Sir John Fortescue, held many public posts, as MP for Buckingham and later (1608) High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire, the year when he succeeded to the estates of his father. The latter had also held many high positions, including Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for several years until his death. Sir Francis was apparently a committed Catholic all his life and in 1618 appeared on a recusancy list for Oxfordshire. It was in this household that many of the events of the next few years of relevance to Sir Edward were to unfold.

The most complete lists of Sir Francis and Grace Fortescue’s children include (although not always given in the same order): Mary, John, Robert, Gilbert, William, Adrian, Francis, Roger, Frances, Dorothy, Catherine, one unnamed son and one unnamed daughter, who presumably died at birth. This comes to 13. On their tomb in Mursley church are small effigies of 6 sons and 4 daughters, some holding skulls. As the tomb was erected by their surviving children, one might presume that the number on the tomb is correct. The brief biographies, or at least a few details, appear in local history publications and on websites of at least (Sir) John, the son and heir, Mary (who married John Talbot, 10th Earl of Shrewsbury, thus bringing Chatsworth in Derbyshire into the family picture again), Francis and William. None of them appears in Sir Kenelm’s Memoirs, which is slightly surprising, because he obviously knew them all during his own childhood and they played such an important role in Venetia’s upbringing. Edward must have stayed in close touch with the family because John Fortescue, Esquire was named by him as one of the executors of his will in 1632. John was later (1636) created 1st Baronet Fortescue of Nova Scotia, a reflection of King Charles’s enthusiasm for the new trading-links with North America. Among the friends of the Fortescues were the Digbys at Gathurst in Bedfordshire. Kenelm Digby reports that the two families came together quite often with the children. There is no reference to how often Sir Edward visited them. One interesting point is that a Fortescue relative was very much involved with the Blackfriars Gatehouse in London, which William Shakespeare was to purchase in 1613, along with two others, for use as an indoors winter theatre. This was a labyrinthine building known as a hiding place for Catholics. It seems that much is still waiting to be learnt about the history and circumstances surrounding this purchase, which would no doubt be of interest to those currently planning a reconstruction next to The New Globe in Southwark.

In 1603, as already mentioned, Edward was in London for King James’s coronation, where he was made a Knight of the Bath at Greenwich on Sunday, 24 July 1603. There is no record as to why he was knighted, but one potential reason immediately presents itself. Another who had been knighted in York by James on his progress from Scotland to London was Sir Thomas Gerard Jr, for the troubles his father had borne in the cause of his mother. We will remember that Sir Thomas Gerard Sr and Sir Thomas Stanley had been the Lancashire leaders in the plan in 1570 to free Mary, Queen of Scots from Chatsworth, and both had been imprisoned and inquisitioned in the Tower. As Sir Thomas Gerard Jr was obviously knighted in recognition of his father’s participation, it is logical to assume that the same reason provided Sir Edward Stanley Jr’s knighthood. Another in this trio in 1570 had been Sir Edward Sr, who was released before the other two and, until his death at Lathom in 1604, was the Senior Member of the Family, holding the fort back in Lancashire on several occasions. He might therefore have been in Lancashire during the time of the coronation, the festivities for which in any case were postponed until 1604 because of an outbreak of the plague. Later that year Sir Edward Sr died and was buried in ‘my lord’s chapel’ at Ormskirk on 4 September 1604. Whether Sir Edward Jr was able to see his dear uncle again and be with him at his death or attend his funeral remains, alas, unrecorded.

Another who played a role in the coronation procession was William Shakespeare. We know that the King’s Men, of which he was a member, joined in, wearing the red cloth granted to them for their livery. This seems to be one obvious occasion when he might have thought about penning the epitaphs for Sir Edward, perhaps later when having a merry drink together, with Sir Edward receiving commiserations on the loss of his wife and four children all at once and now the death of his only remaining uncle. Sir Edward would also have commiserated on Shakespeare’s loss of his son Hamnet in 1596 and his father in 1601, if he not already commiserated on a previous occasion.


Life goes on at Eynsham after 1604, but quietly

By 1604 Sir Edward had definitely sold Tong Castle and retired to Eynsham Abbey. One can only speculate on the reasons for Sir Edward’s move. One already suggested is because it was considerably closer to Salden, where his three daughters were growing up. At the same time as selling Tong to Sir Thomas Harris, he had also sold Harlaston to Sir Edward Brabazon and the manor of West Bromwich to his ‘cousin’ Sir Richard Sheldon. He certainly did not need the money, so it presumably had something to do with wishing to pare down his ownership of property and responsibilities. The Tong sale apparently still left a few dangling ends, because in 1607-9 the king stepped in to authorise the alienation of the manor to Sir Thomas Harris. The dates of 1613 and 1623 have also occurred in various accounts until the new ownership of Tong Castle and Manor was well and truly settled.

Meanwhile in 1606 Edward sold Marple and Wybersley and in 1608 sold the property in Stackpole, Pembrokeshire to Roger Lort, who had been a tenant and the agent there. This saw the end of Sir Edward’s Stackpole story, which had also involved his stepfather William Mather. It was presumably connected to the death of Mather in 1607, which saw the end of another period of Sir Edward’s life. He had now divested himself of many of his possessions and withdrew himself to Eynsham Abbey.

Little has been discovered about his life at Eynsham other than via the biography of daughter Venetia, some of which will be recounted below. Maybe he returned to Lancashire on occasion to visit his cousin William and family? Maybe he travelled to London for some periods and saw Shakespeare’s latest plays? Maybe Eynsham was a stopping off point for relatives and friends en route from London to Lancashire or Derbyshire? One might assume that he was aware of various events that involved his family and friends. One had been the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, in which Sir Everard Digby, a friend of the Fortescues, was tragically involved and which his ‘cousin’ Lord Monteagle was instrumental in revealing to the authorities.

One hint of a possible visit back to Lancashire in 1611 comes from the inscription of ‘Edw: Stanley 1611’ as the latest owner of a copy of Thomas North’s English translation of Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, a book generally accepted as the source of many details in Shakespeare’s Greek and Roman plays. In the copy owned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust the previous owners had signed their names (in reverse order) as William, Alice, Ferdinando and Henry, 4th Earl of Derby, who had received it in 1579, the year of its publication, from William Chaderton, Bishop of Chester. If the last named owner in 1611, Edward Stanley, was indeed William’s cousin, which seems to be the most logical explanation, then the book had stayed within the family for two generations, spanning exactly the time of William Shakespeare’s career. Into this one can read what one will.


1613-1626 and a new life via his daughters

Several events during the following years happened as a result of his visit to London in February 1613, summoned to court to attend the wedding celebrations of Princess Elizabeth to Frederick V of the Palatinate, his main seat in Heidelberg, later King of Bohemia. Frederick and Elizabeth were to go down in history as The Winter King and Queen after the disastrous defeat of their troops at the Battle of the White Mountain outside Prague in November 1620 at the beginning of the Thirty Years War. They escaped to The Hague, where in 1626 James, son and heir of Sir Edward’s cousin William, 6th Earl, arrived to marry Charlotte de la Trémouille, a French Huguenot related to the French royal family. These were among several Stanleys travelling up and down the country, and it may well be that some of them stopped off at Eynsham to stay with Sir Edward. It must certainly have seemed a convenient place to stay, as Tong Castle had previously been, on the (normally four to six day) journey from London to Lancashire. It was well known to James that, because Sir Edward had no son and heir, Eynsham would revert to the earldom after Sir Edward’s death, and therefore to James after his father William’s death. It would certainly be ironically appropriate if Charlotte did stay at Eynsham with Sir Edward in 1626, because thirty years later she would in fact inherit it herself, as the widow of Earl James, executed after the Civil War.

Apart from possibly receiving these and other visitors, Sir Edward seems to have lived this period of his life at least partly through his two married daughters. Frances was the first to marry. In about 1612/13, aged (estimated) about seventeen or eighteen, she married (Sir) John Fortescue (Bt) (1592-1656), son and heir of her ‘guardians’ at Salden. They soon had a family, providing several grandchildren for Sir Edward. The first was John in 1614, followed by at least Edward, Frances and Grace. There was obviously continuing contact, because John Fortescue was later appointed one of the executors of Sir Edward’s will.

The story of his daughter Venetia, a noted beauty, has been told many times, most notoriously by John Aubrey in the 1640s and most movingly by her husband, childhood sweetheart Sir Kenelm Digby in his Memoirs, who was heartbroken when she died in 1633. In about 1612/13 Sir Edward brought his daughter Venetia from Salden back to his own home at Eynsham. From the memoir we know that she had had some ‘tutors’ while at Salden, as well as ‘loving care’. Did she really ‘exceed all others of her age’? Was Venetia intellectually precocious? She seems to have been, at least in Sir Kenelm’s eyes and memory.

Whatever problems Edward and Lucy might have had during their marriage, she seems to have become ever more saintly in death – at least in his memory of her. We know that he never married again and we have at least one reason, in the eulogy to Lucy, whether from Sir Kenelm’s pen alone, or repeating words that he had heard from Sir Edward. Did Sir Edward really become more and more ‘melancholic’? Or was bringing Venetia back to his home a sign that he wanted to participate more in society for her sake? Did he really see Venetia as a phœnix rising from the ashes of her mother?

Surprisingly, Sir Kenelm never mentions sisters Petronella or Frances, neither during the childhood scenes nor later. This is rather surprising, not least because (as mentioned above) John Fortescue and Frances Stanley married about this time, which might have affected Sir Edward’s decision to take Venetia with him to London for the royal wedding, to give her a first glimpse of the ‘marriage market’. At this point we turn to Sir Kenelm’s account, for a flavour of his somewhat abstruse language, peppered with classical pseudonyms.

. . . when the marriage of the King of Morea’s daughter with one of the greatest princes of Achaya, invited all men of eminence to the court, to contribute their particular joys to the great and public solemnities. Wherefore Nearchus being desirous to give his daughter the content of seeing the magnificent entertainments that are usual at such times, and also being glad to let the world now see that fame was nothing too lavish in setting out her perfections, took this occasion to bring her to Corinth the metropolitan city, where her beauty and discretion did soon draw the eyes admiration: so that in this the example of her was singular, that whereas the beauty of other fair ladies used to grace and adorn public feasts and assemblies, hers did so far exceed all others as well in action as in  excellence, that it drew to her not only the affections, but also the thoughts of all persons, so that all things else that were provided with greatest splendour and curiosity, passed by unregarded and neglected.

From this we understand that Sir Edward (Nearchus) took Venetia with him to London (Corinth) to experience the ‘magnificent entertainments’ to be expected at such a lavish wedding of a princess, daughter of James, King of England (Morea) and Frederick (one of the princes of Achaya). One presumes that Edward had himself participated in many previous ‘magnificent entertainments’ at court, perhaps/presumably at least the wedding at Elizabeth’s court at Greenwich of his cousin William Stanley in 1595. And he must have known about his cousins-in-law the two Countesses of Derby (Alice, widow of Ferdinando and Elizabeth, wife of William) frequently performing in masques at court during the early years of James’s reign, whether he attended any or not.

Venetia obviously attracted a great deal of attention because of her beauty and personality. We should remember, however, that in February 1613 she was only twelve, and at the same time bear in mind that fourteen was considered at the time a suitable age for marriage. As a result of the success of her visit to court Sir Edward installed her in her own establishment at Eynsham, in a house on the estate, where she continued to attract a remarkable amount of attention. According to Aubrey, one of the gallants who courted her was Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset. (Or was it his brother? Identifications of both of them have appeared as Venetia’s admirer.) In any case this identification of ‘Ursatius’ in Sir Kenelm’s account has often been considered to be historically unsubstantiated. Whether he was Venetia’s admirer or not, at that time Richard, 3rd Earl of Dorset was married to Lady Anne Clifford, only daughter and heiress of George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, and therefore another Stanley first cousin. (Earl George’s half-sister Margaret Clifford was the wife of Henry Stanley, 4th Earl of Derby and therefore Sir Edward Jr’s aunt.) But Venetia later found true happiness with Sir Kenelm Digby, son of old family friend Sir Everard Digby, one who, as mentioned above, had unfortunately become involved in the Gunpowder Plot and been executed for his role. Sir Kenelm had disappeared off on various adventures abroad for many years and Venetia assumed he was dead. When he turned up again their childhood friendship was renewed and despite some opposition from their parents (Venetia’s father ‘Nearchus’ and Kenelm’s mother ‘Arete’), they married secretly in c.1625 and had a blissfully happy marriage in London. We have no idea how aware Sir Edward was of his daughter’s indiscretions and subsequent secret marriage, but he certainly discovered about the latter when Venetia arrived at his house pregnant with Kenelm’s child.

Their first son Kenelm was born at Eynsham on 6 October, 1625, a somewhat troublesome and premature birth after Venetia had fallen from a horse. Sir Kenelm’s account of this leaves no doubt that she had gone to Eynsham to ‘her father’s house in the country’ for the later more visible pregnancy in order to keep this secret, along with their marriage. Although Venetia had planned to return to London to give birth, in fact it perforce took place at Eynsham. As soon as Sir Kenelm heard the news he hurried to Eynsham, and as soon as Venetia was strong enough, took his wife and baby back to London.

The only other record of Sir Edward at Eynsham during this period had been when he appeared as the owner of the Park on a map of 1615 and in 1617 presented ‘Thomas Longe to the living’, i.e. as minister of the church. 1617 was also the year when daughter Petronella appeared in a court suit concerning Winwick. With her on the contesting side were the Earl of Worcester and her sister Frances Fortescue and husband John. Opposing were ‘Ryder, Bishop of Killake and Josiah Herne’. Might this ‘Bishop Ryder’ have been the ‘John Rider’ whose initials appeared on the bell at Winwick around 1600? It certainly might. John Ryder (1562-1632) (of Carrington, Cheshire, now in Greater Manchester) had published in 1589 the first Latin-English dictionary in which the English ‘langue’ took precedence. He was appointed to the living of Winwick by William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby. He was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth and later Dean of St Patrick’s, Dublin and Anglican Bishop of Killaloe, Co. Clare. Hopefully an explanation of this court case and exploration into the implications will emerge in the future from some elusive source. For the moment it happily provides at least the information that sisters Petronella and Frances were still in contact and apparently conducting business on behalf of their father. The previous year William Shakespeare had died and was buried at Stratford on 26th April 1616. One can only presume that Sir Edward mourned the passing of his old friend, who had written the Verse Epitaphs for his tomb.


1626-1632, the last years

On 27 June 1626Sir Edward appointed Charles Herle, M.A. as Rector of Winwick. (VCH of Lancashire, 4, Winwick.) This seems a little odd, if the previous Rector had been appointed by the King and the one before that by cousin Earl William. Yet again, it is difficult to explain this. Did it require Sir Edward’s actual presence in Winwick? (In this case he must still have been active and travelling up and down the country.) Or might it have happened by proxy? But in this case, why not allow Cousin William to take over the Advowson? Presumably the lease for 99 years taken out in 1563 by his father Sir Thomas was still valid. However, this is the last mention of Sir Edward in Winwick.

In 1627 Elizabeth née de Vere, Earl William’s wife, died at Lathom. One might imagine Sir Edward commiserating with him at the earliest possible opportunity, as one ageing widower to another, but no record of any visits either way has survived. Soon after this William retired to his house in Watergate, Chester to enjoy a pleasant life full of music and theatricals, having handed over all responsibilities to son James, Lord Strange.

The MIs in Walthamstow and Tong and the Verse Epitaphs in Tong were already recorded on paper during Sir Edward’s lifetime, in c.1626 (or perhaps earlier) by John Weever, who had dedicated his long poem Faunus and Melliflora to him in 1600. He did not include any attribution to Shakespeare’s authorship, obviously did not visit either monument himself, and got the two MIs and tombs very muddled up. They might also have been recorded on paper again within Sir Edward’s lifetime, this time attributing the verses to Shakespeare, by someone whose MS ended up in Warwick Castle and has been dated as c.1630. The Verse Epitaphs were certainly attributed to Shakespeare several more times within the next generation. One who recorded them was (Sir) William Dugdale (another historian with Lancashire origins), who left a record of the Stanley tomb in Tong in 1632, mentioning only Sir Thomas, so before Sir Edward’s effigy was placed there. He was later to visit it again in September 1663 as Norroy King of Arms during his Visitation of Shropshire, when he made a detailed record, including complete transcriptions of the MI and the Verse Epitaphs, this time attributing them to Shakespeare. The following year he sent his subordinate herald Francis Sandford to Tong to make a drawing of the tomb.

Sir Edward seems to have been cared for in his final years at Eynsham by his unmarried daughter Petronella. Presumably they both survived unscathed from the great fire at Eynsham in 1629. No other direct news of him at Eynsham has survived, but only of events in his immediate and extended family. Cousin William had finally produced two sons, James in 1607 (whom we met above) and Robert in 1610, both of whom were married and still alive at Sir Edward’s death in 1632, so the succession of the Earldom of Derby seemed secure, which must have pleased Sir Edward. Sadly Robert, who had married twice, died along with both children, not too long after Sir Edward. The only Stanley great-grandson of Earl Edward at the time of Sir Edward’s death was therefore James, Lord Strange. Sir Edward’s daughter Frances and John Fortescue completed their family of grandchildren, with the eldest, John Jr, aged sixteen when his grandfather died, and his younger brother Edward there to carry on his grandfather’s name. Venetia and Kenelm had two more sons within Sir Edward’s lifetime: John on 29 December, 1627 and Everard on 12 January, 1630, who sadly died in his cradle. One wonders – why was there no Edward Digby named after his maternal grandfather?

One old family friend and relative, Sir Rowland Stanley, had survived until 1612, aged 96, the oldest knight in England. He was the last of the original senior Stanley branch at Hooton in the Wirral. Cousin William, 6th Earl was to survive until 1642, aged eighty-one. Perhaps it was just as well that he and Sir Edward did not emulate Sir Rowland’s longevity and live until the Civil Wars, when so many of their descendants and in-laws would fight for the Royalist side and suffer accordingly.

Sir Edward wrote his will on 10 June 1632 at Eynsham, leaving everything to Petronella. One assumes he had already settled a third of his property on each of his other two married daughters. He died there on 18 June, in his seventieth year, and was buried in St Leonard’s church by Petronella, with a memorial plaque. For whatever reason, she did not organise the removal of his effigy from its storage place to Eynsham, but had it placed on the tomb of his parents in Tong. As this was where he was already commemorated in an MI and there was a tier waiting for it, this in itself seems logical, but it might well also have been his wish, previously expressed to Petronella. One of his executors was his son-in-law John Fortescue and his other son-in-law Sir Kenelm Digby assisted in the administration of his will in London in December of that year. All the lands received by his father in the settlement shortly after his birth, including Eynsham, went back by reversion to the Earl of Derby.

And so ended this rather short-lived male branch of the Stanleys of Tong and Eynsham. But Sir Edward’s name lives on as the recipient of the only Verse Epitaphs by Shakespeare still to be seen today apart from the Bard’s own on his gravestone in Stratford church.


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