Sir Edward Stanley Sr (1535/40-1604), his biography

Helen Moorwood  2013

I published two articles in 2008 on Sir Edward Sr in Lancashire History Quarterly:

‘In search of Sir Edward Stanley Sr (c.1540-1604)’, Vol. 11, No. 3, Winter/Spring 2008, pp. 27-38.

‘In search of Sir Edward Stanley Sr (c.1540-1604) (part 2), Vol. 12, No. 1, Summer 2008, pp. 22-34.

At that time I was still genuinely in search of his ‘true’ biography and attempting to eliminate all the other Sir Edward Stanleys with whom he has been confused and rather hopelessly muddled in many previous accounts of the Stanley family. These muddles appeared not least in Shakespeare literature, where in any case no interest was shown in him, other than confusing him with his nephew Sir Edward Jr, for whom Shakespeare wrote the epitaphs in Tong. Happily, most of these other contemporary Sir Edward Stanleys have now been eliminated from ‘our’ Sir Edward Sr’s biography and several of them accounted for, to a certain extent, although there is still a long way to go. It is now possible to produce this first-ever realistic biography, even though there are still many gaps. The articles given above have been made redundant. Below is a slightly modified version of ‘Chapter XXI. Sir Edward Sr’s first-ever biography’ in my book Shakespeare’s Stanley Epitaphs in Tong, Shropshire.


Why does he matter?

Birth (c.1535-40) and early years

Young adulthood up to the 1560s

The 1570s

The 1580s

The 1590s

The end

 Why does he matter?

Obviously he was a minor figure in the history of the Tudor period, or someone before me would have turned their attention to him. The main reason for this lack of attention, it seems, is that he never held any public office. This was perhaps normal for a third son. The eldest son inherited all of the family wealth, property and titles (in this case the eldest son was Henry, 4th Earl of Derby, Lord of Man), the second son was appointed to some of the family public offices (in this case Sir Thomas Stanley of Winwick and Tong, Governor of the Isle of Man 1562-66, Mayor of Liverpool in 1568, etc.), but the third son, unless he showed exceptional ability in some area, stayed in the background, in the shadow of his father and two elder brothers.

So why is he important now? It might (have) become obvious to any reader of earlier chapters of the book mentioned above that Sir Edward Stanley Sr’s main importance was as the Senior Member in the immediate family of the Earls of Derby from the mid-1590s until his death in 1604, which is, of course, the cut off date for his immediate influence, if not that of his lingering importance for the family. Both his elder brothers were dead, Sir Thomas already in 1576 and Earl Henry in 1593. At this point he was the only surviving son of Edward, 3rd Earl of Derby. In this capacity alone, as senior head of the family, he deserves some belated attention. It seems almost certain that he was present at most of the important family events. He was so close to his namesake nephew Sir Edward Jr that he must have known about the Shakespeare epitaphs. One might even presume that he, too, had followed Shakespeare’s career and knew all about his ancestry in the Shakeshaftes of Preston. He was the only one of the family to attend Preston Guild in 1562, 1582 and 1602. Maybe, just maybe, his own biography might shed a little light on the biographies of his nearest and dearest?

Sir Edward Sr never married, but he had three surviving nephews, for whom, it seems, he frequently played the valued role of supportive uncle. One specific role he played regularly was ‘holding the fort’ back at Lathom when his brother Earl Henry was in London or on diplomatic missions abroad for Queen Elizabeth. Another role appeared after 1576 when his brother Sir Thomas Stanley died, leaving an only child, fourteen-year-old son and heir Edward Jr – Sir Edward Sr stepped into his brother’s family in the role of surrogate father figure. It seems that whenever there was a family crisis, Sir Edward Sr was always there, ready to step into the breach. He seemed to spend much of his time travelling round visiting his far flung relatives and thus played something like the role of a spider in the middle of the large Stanley web.

The most intriguing part of Sir Edward Stanley Sr’s biography for myself - and I presume a few others - is that all three Stanley nephews had strong associations with Shakespeare during the time when Sir Edward Sr was the virtual head of the Stanley/Earl of Derby family. I still find it strange that these three nephews were rather remote from Shakespeare biographies for so long, but so it was. To repeat ad nauseam, but as a reminder in the context of Sir Edward Sr’s biography, the three nephews and their Shakespeare connections were:


1) Ferdinando, Lord Strange, briefly 5th Earl of Derby 1593-4, was the patron of Strange’s Players/Men, in which Shakespeare certainly acted in London during the early 1590s, at the beginning of his rather spectacular rise to fame in London as a dramatist and poet. It becomes ever more obvious that Shakespeare might well have been a member of this company since much earlier, quite possibly in its predecessor Derby’s Men shortly after being named as William Shakeshafte in Alexander Hoghton’s will in August, 1581.
  2) William, 6th Earl of Derby 1594-1632, wrote plays and was involved with players in London at least from 1599-1602, at the time when Shakespeare was enjoying fame. Partly because they conveniently shared the same initials, William Stanley has even been proposed as an Alternative Shakespeare Authorship Candidate. This is nonsense, of course, but ever more connections between the two WSs are emerging. Just one example is that it has been proposed that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was first performed at William Stanley’s wedding in January 1595 in the presence of Queen Elizabeth.
  3) Sir Edward Jr, although not actively involved in the theatre, nevertheless received two Verse Epitaphs from Shakespeare (apparently c.1603), which are still there today on the Stanley tomb in Tong, Shropshire.


During the last few decades, these nephews have all come rather more to the forefront of Shakespeare Studies, and with them now comes their longest-living Stanley uncle.

During the decade of trauma for the immediate family, starting in 1593, he obviously stepped into the breach again as a deeply valued uncle. In September 1593 the first disaster struck with the ‘Hesketh Plot’, as a result of which Ferdinando, 5th Earl died the following year, almost certainly poisoned. Brother William took over as 6th Earl, but was confronted with the beginning of what was to turn out to be a long drawn out acrimonious legal fight with his sister-in-law Countess Alice, Ferdinando’s widow. The next disaster was with the third nephew Sir Edward Jr, when his wife and four daughters died in 1601 in Walthamstow, Essex, presumably of the plague or some other virulent disease. This part of the story has already been covered at length in the Epitaphs book and briefly in Sir Edward Jr’ biography. The important point here is that uncle Sir Edward Sr obviously stepped into the breach once more as pater familias.

There are so many other contemporary Edward Stanleys in Sir Edward Sr’s biography following that it seemed wise to use the convention adopted throughout the Epitaphs book to always call him this, in bold, with (Sir) in brackets until he was knighted in 1560. The same applies here to (Sir) Edward Jr.

Apologies if this is often repetitive of details in the biographies of his brother Sir Thomas and his nephew Sir Edward Jr. It does have the virtue of bringing together chronologically all detected so far about Sir Edward Sr, which did not always coincide with the dates and whereabouts of his brother and nephew. He was also the only one of these three to have served as a soldier, and been knighted for this reason. References for the quotes and sources of facts and documents that appear in the following narrative are all given under the appropriate date in ‘Chapter XXVIII. Time-line of Sir Thomas & Sir Edward Sr & Jr’ in the Epitaphs book. Stanley Family Tree 2. STANLEYS contemporary with Sir Thomas (b. c.1534) & Sir Edward (d. 1632) gives in easily accessible form all the Stanley relatives who appear in Sir Edward’s so far untold story. All dates attributed to members of the immediate family have been in consultation with Brian S. Roberts, a Stanley family researcher.


Birth (1535-40) and early years

(Sir) Edward Sr was born some time between 1535 and 1540, the third (surviving) son of Edward, 3rd Earl of Derby and his second wife Dorothy, second daughter of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. Earl Edward’s first wife Katherine Howard had died of the plague within a year of their marriage, but to cement the relationship between these two families, Earl Edward married Dorothy Howard, Katherine and Dorothy being aunt and niece. Dorothy was the mother of most of Earl Edward’s children, and certainly of the three surviving sons. There were also numerous daughters, therefore (Sir) Edward Sr’s sisters.

His eldest brother had been named in honour of Henry VIII, his second brother after both grandfathers who were titled - paternal Thomas Stanley, 2nd Earl of Derby and maternal Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. Edward was, of course, named after his father. There is no record of his birth or baptism, nor his age at death in 1604, so one can only calculate the date from other known dates. The most important date is that his elder brother Henry, the first (surviving) son, future 4th Earl of Derby, was born in 1531 (baptised 4 October). Numerous daughters were also born: Anne in 1531 and Isabel in 1533, followed by Jane in 1540, with Mary and Dorothy at unknown dates; also one further (surviving) son (Sir) Thomas and finally the third son (Sir) Edward Sr. The most realistic date of birth calculated before my articles in 2008 was c.1540. Since then, however, Brian S. Roberts has suggested an earlier date, based at least partly on The House of Stanley, an extremely interesting book by Peter Stanley, a result of lifelong research into the family, but one which unfortunately provides no references. Brian has been chasing the missing references and found many of the original documents. So, unless or until more relevant MSS emerge, Sir Edward Stanley Sr will now have a birthdate of beween1535 and 1540.

One assumes that (Sir) Edward was born at Lathom House, Lancashire, the main residence of his father. He certainly grew up in a large family, one hopes a happy family. Apart from his older brothers Henry, Lord Strange and Sir Thomas, he had five known sisters, the oldest being Anne (1531-1602) and Isabel (1533-1590), thus both older than Edward. Then came Jane (1540-1569) and Mary and Dorothy, one presumes in the late 1530s to 1540s and in any case before their mother Dorothy died. There are conflicting dates for her death reported by others, but some time shortly before 1547 seems the most logical, because this date is reported for Earl Edward’s third marriage to Margaret Barlow, daughter of Ellis Barlow of Barlow (Lancashire) and Anne Redish. (Sir) Edward was thus very young when he lost his mother. He presumably grieved for her and was happy when his father married again. His stepmother Margaret bore two little half-sisters for him, Margaret and Catherine. Margaret Sr died on 19 January 1559 and was buried on 24 February in Ormskirk Church. Earl Edward married a fourth and last time in 1561, Mary Cotton, daughter of Sir George Cotton of Cumbermere, Cheshire and Mary Onley. Earl Edward and Mary had no children. She survived him (d. 1580) and married again, Henry Grey, 6th Earl of Kent (1541-1615). 

Edward’s known sisters all survived to adulthood. Dorothy was the only one who remained unmarried, presumably spending most of her life at Lathom. Some of the marriages of the others provide interesting stories in themselves. Anne married first in 1649 Charles Stourton, 8th Baron Stourton (c.1520-1557) and second Sir John Arundel of Lamborn in Cornwall, with children from both marriages. These families remained devoutly Catholic, and it is interesting that the Stanley-Stourton connection was known about in the next century by Catholic-in-exile Father Henry More SJ, who also knew about the Shakespeare epitaphs in Tong (see ‘Appendix 8. Father Henry More SJ’ in the Epitaphs book). (In some reports Earl Edward is awarded another daughter Isabel, who married James Stanley. Brian S. Roberts is certain that Edward did not have a daughter named Isabel.) Jane (1540-1569) enjoyed only a short marriage from 1567 as the second wife of Edward Sutton, 4th Baron Dudley; she was buried on 4 September 1569 at Dudley, Worcestershire. During this short marriage she had two sons, Edward Sutton (born 17 September 1567), the later 5th Baron Dudley, and John (born 17 ?September/?November 1569), who later served briefly as MP for Staffordshire. The eagle-eyed reader will have detected an anomaly here in the dates: how could the second son have been born after his mother was already buried? Unfortunately, this problem is encountered all too often during historical research – so often a date is reported wrongly, and then repeated as fact without checking back to the original source. Whatever the true dates, one of these sons obviously remained close to his Stanley relatives, as Lord Dudley was a regular visitor at Lathom (in the Derby Household Books 1587-90) when Sir Edward Sr was there. Sister Mary married on 23 November 1566 Edward Stafford, 3rd Baron Stafford (1535-1603), who served as MP for Stafford and also kept ‘Lord Stafford’s Company of Players’. Edward’s younger half-sister Margaret married first John Jermyn of Ruthbrook, Suffolk and second Sir Nicholas Poyntz (c.1537-85) from the family of Sutton Poyntz, Dorset. These were thus the members of his immediate family and in-laws, wide-spread throughout the country, whose fortunes he presumably followed and whose families he visited during his later peripatetic years. He also had numerous Stanley ‘cousins’, who were later to achieve local fame and in some cases national fame or notoriety.

In summary, he grew up in a large household in an aristocratic family, with a father who was a ‘Magnate of the North’ and thus regularly in London for political and diplomatic duties and services. Earl Edward’s story obviously played the most important role in (Sir) Edward Sr’s early life. His mother Dorothy survived until c.1547, so at least he had this stability in his early years. After this his father married again twice. Earl Edward had been hereditary Earl of Derby since 1521, at the age of thirteen, when his father Thomas, 2nd Earl died. He had also been Lord of Man since the same date. Until he came of age he was under the wardship of Cardinal Wolsey. During (Sir) Edward Sr’s childhood his father was Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire (1552 onwards) and Lord High Steward of England in Mary’s reign.

One might therefore presume that (Sir) Edward Sr knew the history of his own family and followed all these events, and was thus well aware of the roles that his various Stanley ancestors had played in national history and which roles current Stanley relatives were still playing.

No records have been discovered about his education. There is no record of his having attended a school or university. Schools during his youth were few and far between, so one can only presume that he received his education from tutors at home. Certain confirmation of a school at Lathom (in bold below) comes from the following report, with an amusing dedication by Furnivall (also in bold).

Child Marriages, Divorces, and Ratifications, &c. in the Diocese of Chester, A.D. 1561-6.


1. Child- Marriages, Divorce, and Ratifications. 2. Trothplights. 3. Adulteries. 4. Affiliations. 5. Libels. 6. Wills. 7. Miscellaneous Matters. 8. Clandestine Marriages.


Entries from the Mayors’ Books, Chester, A. D. 1558-1600.







F. J. F.

This deponent sais, that the said William hath bene at Schole at Lathum, with one Doctour Standish, and with therle of Derby in Service, for the most parte, sins tyme of the said Mariage; and the said Anne hath helle separatid from the said William, in such places as her father hath appointed her; . . .

The William Stanley in question here was the son of Sir Rowland Stanley of Hooton in the Wirral, head of the senior branch of the family. (Sir Rowland had been knighted in 1533 at the same time as Sir Thomas, (Sir) Edward’s older brother.) He was the future Sir William (1548-1630) who gained his spurs and was knighted in Ireland, went to the Netherlands under the Earl of Leicester in 1585 and, for personal and religious reasons, defected to the Spanish in 1587 when he surrendered Deventer to them. He lived in exile for the rest of his life on a pension from Philip II, moving between the Spanish Netherlands and Spain and dying at Ghent. (Ghent had long had Lancastrian associations as the birthplace of John of Gaunt [= Ghent], Duke of Lancaster, a Shakespeare character with a famous patriotic speech in Richard II.) Sir William played the role of Military Leader of the English Catholics in exile, the Spiritual Leader being Cardinal William Allen of Rossall, Lancashire.

One might safely assume that the three Stanley brothers at Lathom House and a few of their ‘cousins’ received their schooling at home from various Catholic clerics. The Dr Standish mentioned above was Henry Standish from Standish Hall, who acted as chaplain to the Earl of Derby and was known as ‘a passionate preacher’. (Sir) Edward Sr therefore presumably had as equally ‘passionate’ Catholic education as his ‘cousin’ Sir William.

One assumes that Furnivall’s call in 1897 for the immediate hanging of a Cheshire antiquary triggered an upsurge in transcription activities. Unfortunately, no results in Cheshire detected so far shed any more light on Sir Edward’s biography.


Young adulthood up to the 1560s

And so we see him in the late 1550s, with nothing documented about his life before this date. We do, however, know that his older brother Sir Thomas had been knighted by Lord Arundel on behalf of Queen Mary on the day after her coronation in 1553, along with their ‘cousin’ Sir Rowland Stanley of Hooton (schoolfriend ‘cousin’ William’s father) and Sir Thomas Gerard, a close friend of the family. Predictably, in the reign of Catholic Queen Mary, these new knights were Catholic.

During the reign of Mary his two older brothers married. Henry, Lord Strange married Margaret Clifford, daughter of Henry, 2nd Earl of Cumberland on 7 February 1554/5 in the Royal Chapel, Whitehall in the presence of Queen Mary and her husband Philip II, King of Spain. Incidentally, this is one event behind the most sensible explanation for their naming their son and heir Ferdinando (born 1558/9), his godfather and/or namesake being presumably one of several Ferdinand(o)s in King Philip’s family. This included all the Spanish Ferdinandos and also leading members of the Austrian Habsburg dynasty in the Holy Roman Empire, Philip’s father Charles V having been Emperor. Exactly which Ferdinand(o) was the most likely godfather has yet to be established. His mother, Lord Henry’s wife, was the daughter of Lady Eleanor Brandon, who because she was the daughter Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France, sister of Henry VIII, was in the line of succession to Elizabeth’s throne. Ferdinando thus inherited this right.

Brother Sir Thomas married Margaret Vernon of Haddon Hall in Derbyshire in c.1558, not quite so splendidly, but presumably in a suitable fashion for the son of an Earl and the daughter of Sir George Vernon, ‘The King of the Peak’. One might assume that youngest brother (Sir) Edward was present at both these ceremonies. (Sir Thomas and his marriage is covered, of course, in his own biography.)

Then Elizabeth came to the throne in November 1558 and father Earl Edward was received cordially. He joined her Privy Council and in 1559 she appointed him Chamberlain of Chester, to add to his titles and duties in the North West. Perhaps it was because of Earl Edward’s position at court that on 2 January 1560 she knighted his youngest son Sir Edward by proxy in Ireland. He was presumably there during the first attempt at suppressing the Desmond Rebellion in Munster. On the same day were knighted Thomas Manners and James Fitzgerald (Shaw’s Book of Knights, pp. 70-71). Whether or not he displayed heroism remains unknown, but this seems to have been the only time he ever served as a soldier. From now on we can leave out the brackets round Sir. A further exploration of other events in Ireland around this time might shed more light on his biography.

The only recorded event in 1561 of relevance is the baptism of nephew William on 20 July in London, the second son of brother Henry, Lord Strange. This was of importance to Sir Edward in the light of their future lives.

1562 turned out to be one of the years with most records relevant to Sir Edward. In August-September 1562 Earl Edward and all three sons attended Preston Guild. This was a long established part of the calendar of important events in Lancashire. It was held every twenty years (still today, the latest one in 2012). Attendance and registration was obligatory for every burgess and any merchant who wished to trade in the town, but increasingly it had also become an important social event, attended by many of the gentry from the surrounding area, with the Earl of Derby presiding over all. There were always several dramatic performances. Luckily the Preston Guild Rolls have survived, and so we know the names of all males who attended in 1562. We also therefore know where Sir Edward spent two weeks from the end of August of this year and the names of many of those he must have met. One of these names, interestingly, was ‘John Shakeshafte, glover’, whom I propose was one and the same as John Shakespeare, glover of Stratford-upon-Avon - a story which will be pursued elsewhere.

Around the time of Preston Guild brother Sir Thomas’s son Edward was born. The date can be calculated fairly accurately as mid-late 1562. Exactly where he was born is not known, but the most likely place was Lathom House, the main residence of Earl Edward. Lady Margaret must have been highly pregnant or a recent mother at the time of Preston Guild, so presumably did not attend the social events in Preston. Or maybe she did, and Edward Jr was actually born there? Alas we will never know. What we do know, from later events, is that Sir Edward Sr and (Sir) Edward Jr were bonded for life, through blood and by sharing the same name. From the MI on the Stanley tomb in Tong we know that Sir Thomas and Margaret had another son Henry, who died young. The text is ‘by whom he had issue two sons Henry and Edward. Henry died an infant and Edward survived, to whom Thomas’s Lordships descended.’ The implication is that Henry was the first son and Edward the second, which in turn implies that Henry had been born between the marriage in c.1558 and Edward Jr’s birth in 1562. Exactly when and where Henry ‘died an infant’ is not known. He might or might not have still been alive during Preston Guild in 1562, but other events indicate that he had probably died before this. Edward Jr must have therefore seemed all the more precious to his parents and his uncle Sir Edward.

1562 and the birth of Edward Jr also saw another significant event. Earl Edward obviously decided that he needed to start thinking about the future inheritance of his younger sons and his first grandson with the surname Stanley. One major event was a deed of settlement of many Derby manors and lands on Sir Thomas for life, then to his wife Margaret, passing to their son Edward Jr (this presents strong evidence for ‘infant Henry’ already having died). In the event of no further male heir, all properties were to revert to the Earldom of Derby. The terms were: ‘a deed of settlement granting to Sir Thomas for life all his manors and land in the counties of Chester, Warwick, Oxford and Devon with remainder to his wife Margaret for life, with remainder to their son Edward for life.’ The full list for Cheshire was ‘Dunham-massey, Bowden, Rungey, Hale, Aeton and Darfield’.

At the same time he awarded a settlement of lands to his son Sir Edward Sr, presumably under the same conditions. These were at least in Thirsk and Kirkby Malzeard in Yorkshire. No one had any idea at the time that (Sir) Edward Jr would die in 1632 without a male heir, or that Sir Edward Sr would never marry and therefore also produce no male heir. However, all these lands were to play a part in the life of Sir Edward Sr during the following decades. He had his own lands in Yorkshire to administer and presumably often visited his brother Sir Thomas until the latter’s death in 1576. When he adopted the role of father-figure to Edward Jr, he also kept an eye on all the lands that would come to him in due course. But all this still lay in the future.

In 1562 Sir Thomas was appointed by father Earl Edward as Governor of the Isle of Man, a position he held for four years. Alas we have no record as to how much time he spent on the Isle of Man, nor any idea whether or not his wife and young son Edward Jr accompanied him, nor whether or not Sir Edward visited him there.

1562 also saw the appearance of a poem, the ‘Rhyming Chronicle(s)’, a sort of history in verse of the Stanley family continued to the year 1562. This has generally been attributed to Thomas Stanley, Bishop of Man. This Thomas Stanley was almost certainly an illegitimate son of Sir Edward Stanley, hero at Flodden in 1513 and thus created 1st Lord Monteagle of Hornby Castle near Lancaster. Sir Edward Sr must have known of this ‘Rhyming Chronicle’ and presumably read it. Bishop Stanley also happened to be Rector of Winwick, and as a cleric, was sometimes referred to as ‘Sir Thomas Stanley’. His legitimate brother was also Sir Thomas Stanley, 2nd Lord Mo(u)nteagle. (Bishop Stanley’s story appears in ‘Chapter XII. An excursion to Winwick’ in the Epitaphs book.)

The importance of Winwick in the story is that in the following year Sir Thomas leased the Rectory of Winwick from Thomas, Bishop of Man, for 99 years. This led to his being known from then on as Sir Thomas Stanley of Winwick and his son later known as (Sir) Edward of Winwick. Sir Edward Sr visited his brother and later his nephew in Winwick regularly from then on, and so it becomes part of his own biography. In 1568-9 Sir Thomas was Mayor of Liverpool, another traditional Derby office, and in 1569 was a Commissioner of Muster for Lancashire, along with father ‘Earl Edward, Lord Monteagle, Sir George Stanley, Sir John Atherton, Edward Holland and Edmund Ashton’.

The rest of the 1560s remains a blank for any records of Sir Edward Sr. His two older brothers continued to progress in their respective careers.


The 1570s

In 1570 disaster struck. Sir Thomas and Sir Edward, along with their friend Sir Thomas Gerard of Bryn, dreamt up a scheme to rescue Mary, Queen of Scots from Chatsworth House, where she had just been placed under the custodianship of the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, one of the richest men in England, and his second wife Elizabeth, known in popular history as Bess of Hardwick. This story has been told in great detail by Mary S. Lovell in Bess of Hardwick (2005), with relevant extracts appearing in ‘Chapter XIII. 1570: Sir Thomas & Sir Edward Sr and Mary, Queen of Scots’ in the Epitaphs book. Both were summoned to London to explain themselves and both ended up in the Tower of London. Sir Thomas was definitely tortured, confirmation coming from Prisoners in the Tower by A. H. Cook, formerly Chief Warder at H.M. Tower of London (two handwritten volumes, 1959): ‘A confession on the rack brought about his arrest and committal to the Tower (Ridolfi Plot)’. Sir Thomas seems to have been kept there for up to three years along with Sir Thomas Gerard, and maybe even longer. Sir Edward Sr seems to have got off more lightly and been released rather sooner. One story is:

Sir Edward Stanley strongly denied that he had had any effective part in it, giving the ingenious excuse that he had been away in the north at the time courting a Mrs Strickland.       

(Fraser, Mary, Queen of Scots, 1970.)

If he did court her, he was unsuccessful, because he never married. Strickland was a fairly common name in Cumberland, which matches Sir Edward’s admired lady being ‘in the north’. Meanwhile he must have been very well aware what was happening to his brother. In May 1572 Sir Thomas was still in the Tower along with the Bishop of Ross, the Earl of Southampton, Lord Lumley and Thomas, the brother of Lord Cobham; all were suspected of being involved with the Duke of Norfolk’s plots and plans. On 2 June the Duke of Norfolk was executed in the Tower. He was an in-law of all the Stanleys, Earls of Derby. His half-sister Dorothy née Howard was Earl Edward Stanley’s second wife and mother of Sir Thomas and Sir Edward.

Then on the 22 August Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland was executed at York for his role in the Northern Rebellion of 1569-70. He left four daughters, the second one Lucy, who later married (Sir) Edward Jr. It is tempting to imagine that uncle Sir Edward Sr might have played a role in arranging this match.

The next major family event was the death of Earl Edward, with the elaborate funeral taking place on 4 December 1572 at Ormskirk, the Stanley church. Sir Thomas was still in the Tower, but the whereabouts of Sir Edward Sr is not known. He is not listed amongst the mourners in the procession.

During the following year or later Sir Thomas was released from the Tower and went to live at Tong Castle, his wife’s property, where he was certainly living in 1575, ‘now latlie by credible report Sir Thomas Stanley is come to dwell in this cuntrie, and many papists gentilmen resorte unto him.’ Whether Sir Edward Sr was classed as one of these ‘papists gentilmen’ is not known, but his life was about to change when his brother died the following year. In his will he mentioned only his wife Lady Margaret and his son Edward Jr.

Whether he was present at his brother’s death and funeral in Tong in December 1576 is not known, but from then on he seems to have adopted the role of surrogate father to his nephew Edward Jr, fourteen years old at the time and an only child. Whether this was by moving into Tong Castle or taking him to live at Lathom or elsewhere to receive tuition is not known. There would have been other possibilities, of course. Within the next year or so Lady Margaret married again, William Mather, who, of course, became young Edward Jr’s stepfather. As far as is known this was a happy marriage, but there is a hint in Lady Margaret’s later will that she and her second husband might have been happy to allow his uncle to act in loco parentis. Although an only child and her son and heir, he is not mentioned at all. In any case there is no doubt that the two Edwards, uncle and nephew, continued to have a close relationship. Sir Edward Sr also seems to have taken an active interest in his other nephewsFerdinando and William (and Francis), who were a little older than Edward Jr.

In c.1579 Ferdinando, aged twenty, married Alice Spencer (born 4 May 1559), the youngest of eight daughters of Sir John Spencer (d. 1586) of Althorp, Northamptonshire, and Katherine Kytson, eldest daughter and heiress of Sir Thomas Kytson of London. The marriage took place secretly. ‘Since he and his mother, Margaret, Countess of Derby, were potential successors to Elizabeth I, the marriage caused considerable suspicion, especially as it had been promoted by the Earl of Leicester.’ (ODNB) Given the ‘secrecy’, it will never be known where the wedding took place, nor whether Sir Edward Sr was present. There is little doubt, however, that he followed all news from this marriage, and the birth of their daughters, with great interest. Their first daughter Anne was born in 1580 and she, of course, inherited Ferdinando’s place in line of succession to Elizabeth’s throne.


The 1580s

In 1581/2 his second nephew Edward Jr married. This was to Lucy Percy, second daughter of Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland and Anne née Somerset, daughter of Henry Somerset, 2nd Earl of Worcester. Lucy’s father had been executed in 1572 for his role in the Northern Rebellion and her mother, also one of the instigators, had fled into exile, never to return to England. It was speculated above that Sir Edward might have had a hand in organizing this match. Lucy had been brought up by her uncle Henry Percy, 8th Earl of Northumberland, who inherited the title from her father. She had thus lived from an early age at Petworth House, Sussex. No record has survived of the date or place of the marriage, but a date of late 1581 to mid-1582 is indicated by their entertainment of uncle Sir Edward Sr at Eynsham in 1582. Indeed, Sir Edward Sr is reported as actually living at Eynsham in 1582 with his nephew Edward Jr and his wife. The approximate date of marriage is confirmed by the fact that their first daughter Arabella was born in 1582/3. (We know this because she was aged 18 when she died at Walthamstow in early-mid 1601.) The very fact that Edward Jr and Lucy were living at Eynsham and not at Tong at the beginning of their married life raises several questions, which may never find an answer, but one thing is certain – uncle Sir Edward Sr wasted no time in visiting the newly-married couple, perhaps even living with them for some time.

It may well have been from Eynsham that they set off for the North West for a family reunion. At the end of August 1582 several of the Stanleys were at Preston Guild together: Earl Henry, his sons Ferdinando, William and Francis (the latter to die not too long afterwards), Sir Edward Sr and Edward Jr.Also there in first place among the gentry was Thomas Hoghton of Lea and Hoghton Tower with four of his sons. This was the brother of Alexander Hoghton, who the previous year had written his will naming William Shakeshafte three times in combination with musical instruments and playclothes.  He had asked brother Thomas to accept him and Fulke Gyllom into his service, if he wished, and if not, to send them to their friend Thomas Hesketh of Rufford. This was indeed their destination ‘for a short time’, according to family tradition, and Thomas Hesketh was at Preston Guild, in third place in the gentry list. But by now William Shakeshafte/Shakespeare had almost certainly passed on again into Derby’s Men, later renamed Strange’s Players/Men when Ferdinando took over as their patron. It is difficult to imagine that Strange’s Players did not turn up at Preston Guild to perform. One can thus fondly imagine that young William Shakespeare might have performed there in front of Sir Edward Sr and his family, with his father John Shakeshafte/Shakespeare and many of his family also in the audience.

On 16 September 1583 his young nephew Francis was buried at Ormskirk, and one might imagine that Sir Edward attended the funeral. As well as this loss, there had been two recent new additions to the family in the form of second daughter, Frances to nephew Ferdinando and Alice, and Arabella - the first of many daughters - to nephew Edward Jr and his wife Lucy née Percy. Her name was a rather unusual one, but reasonably common in the aristocracy, particularly those with Scottish connections. One of her distant relatives had the same name, Ar(a)bella Stuart (born 1575), a first cousin of James VI of Scotland. This may or may not be a coincidence. She had a similar claim to the throne of England as Ferdinando and his daughter, with one descended from Margaret Tudor and the other from Mary Tudor, sisters of Henry VIII. Arbella Stuart at this time was orphaned and had been put under the guardianship of her grandmother Bess of Hardwick, married to Gilbert Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. It was from their ‘guardianship’ at Chatsworth that Sir Edward’s brother Sir Thomas (and Sir Edward Sr himself?) had planned to rescue Mary, Queen of Scots back in 1570. Another granddaughter of Bess was Grace Pierrepoint, who was later to marry Sir George Manners, Sir Thomas’s nephew and Edward Jr’s first cousin. 

In 1584 another Stanley popped up at Eynsham, Sir Edward Sr’s nephew William, although it is not obvious that Sir Edwards Sr and Jr were there at the same time. William was back in England for a while between his travels on the continent, and took the opportunity while in Eynsham to establish the family rights to the manorial pew, denying them to Thomas Peniston. As the latter had bought half of the manor, it is difficult to see the reason for this. Perhaps there had been some other dispute? It at least shows that William as well as his uncle Sir Edward Sr used Eynsham as a convenient stopping-off place on their journeys between London and Lancashire.

From January to March 1585 Sir Edward was perhaps called upon again to hold the fort back at Lathom while his brother Earl Henry was on a mission to France for Queen Elizabeth. This was ostensibly to invest Henri III as Knight of the Garter, but is generally presumed to have also involved secret negotiations and discussions on how France and England should act together against the Spanish in the Low Countries. The result of these talks was that Elizabeth decided to send an English army to the Netherlands under the command of her ‘favourite’, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who had many interests in Stanley territory in Cheshire and Wales. At this time he was Chamberlain of Chester, a post he held from 1565 until his death in 1588.

At least two Stanleys accompanied him to the Netherlands. One was another Edward Stanley, who was to become a hero when he stormed the fort at Zutphen in October 1586 almost single-handed and was promptly knighted by Leicester. (See ‘Chapter XXII. Other (Sir) Edward Stanleys’ in the Epitaphs book.) He has often been confused with Sir Edward Stanley Sr (e.g. by Seacome, the pious first Derby biographer in 1741), but it was definitely not ‘our’ Sir Edward, who had already been a knight for twenty-six years. The Edward at Zutphen might well have been Sir Edward Stanley of Elford ‘knighted in Netherland, slaine in Ireland in 1597’ (Stanley, Visitation of Cheshire, 1580). The other was Sir William Stanley of Hooton, the one who was at school at Lathom, presumably with Sir Thomas and Sir Edward, and in Ireland when the latter was knighted there in 1560. In January 1587 he surrendered Deventer to the Spanish and never returned to England. He became the military commander of the English troops in exile, the spiritual leader of the English Catholic exiles being (later Cardinal) William Allen, from Rossall in Lancashire, who had founded the school at Douai. During one report on Sir William Stanley, now known as ‘the exile’ and ‘the traitor’, and other Stanleys, it was stated that ‘meanwhile Sir Edward Stanley in London harboured priests’. One might assume that this was ‘our’ Sir Edward Stanley.

During this period Sir Edward seemed to pursue his usual activity of visiting his relatives. On 29 June, 1586 he was at Winwick, from where he ‘wrote a letter from his nephew’s house at Winwick, asking his brother, the Earl of Derby, to use his good offices with the Archbishop of Canterbury, to appoint his friend John Kine one of the proctors of the court of Arches.’ From this alone one might suspect that Sir Edward Sr often visited his nephew Edward Jr in Winwick when both were visiting Earl Henry at Lathom.

December 1586 saw the wedding of Ursula Stanley (Sir Edward Sr’s niece) and John Salusbury at Lleweni, Denbigh. This is presumed by some as the event that inspired Shakespeare’s poem The Phoenix and the Turtle. Ursula was an illegitimate, but fully recognised daughter of Henry, 4th Earl of Derby; John Salusbury was another descendant of Henry VII via an illegitimate son and Catherine of Berain. His brother Thomas Salusbury had been executed earlier this year (21 September) as one of the conspirators in the Babington Plot. Again, we do not know whether Sir Edward attended this wedding, but he and John Salusbury were regular guests at Lathom during the following years. Brother Earl Henry was absent again in 1587 when he was on the ‘jury’ at the ‘trial’ at Fotheringay of Mary, Queen of Scots.

From now until 1590 all details come from the Derby Household Books, with Sir Edward’s visits given in full in ‘Chapter XVII. Sir Edward Sr & Jr in the Derby Household Books’, and repeated to a certain extent in ‘Chapter XX. Sir Edward Sr and Jr’s diaries 1586-90’ in the Epitpahs book. They are thus not repeated here. In brief, Sir Edward Sr was a frequent visitor at his brother Earl Henry’s seats in Lancashire and the Wirral, frequently overlapping with visits by his nephews and on occasion arriving there from London.  We take up the story again in the 1590s.


The 1590s

‘A tenement called the church house in Northchurch in the tenure of -------Axhill was granted in 1590/1 to Sir Edward Stanley.’ (VCH Hertford, Vol. 2) This seems to have been Sir Edward Sr, because Edward Jr had not yet been knighted. It might, of course, have been the Sir Edward who was destined to be killed in Ireland in 1597 or a different Sir Edward Stanley, as yet unidentified. If it was ‘our’ Sir Edward Sr, this provides the mystery as to why he should have acquired this tenement. Around the same time he is reporting as owning lands in other parts of the country: ‘Of the vast possessions of Sir Edward Stanley, Erdeswick writing circa 1596, speaks of him as “now Lord of Harlaston”, 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.”’ These are the only references detected to the potential inheritance of Derby lands back in the settlement of 1562/3, when his brother Sir Thomas had been awarded a set of lands, subsequently inherited by Lady Margaret and their son (Sir) Edward Jr. If all indeed refer to Sir Edward Sr, then they present a lead as to where he might well have spent time during the long periods when otherwise no record of him has remained.

Meanwhile, in 1592 Sir Edward was mentioned as a recusant and ‘a dangerous person’. Again, one can only presume that this was ‘our’ Sir Edward, but if he was ‘a dangerous person’ he managed to steer clear of any direct confrontation with the authorities. It was still a time of great suspicion and fear that there might be another attempt at Spanish invasion via Ireland and ‘whispers that predominantly Catholic Lancashire might be the invasion bridge had raised suspicions about the local magnate, the Earl of Derby’. It was natural that his brother should also come under suspicion.

From now until the end of the 1590s, alas, all that remains of his story comes from events involving his close relatives, all of whose biographies have been told elsewhere. His elder brother Henry, 4th Earl of Derby, after a protracted illness, died on 25 September, 1593 at Lathom. This left Sir Edward Sr as the sole survivor of the three sons of Earl Edward, and the senior member of the family. In this capacity, one can only presume that he was present on many family occasions and that his advice was sought on many matters.

His nephew Ferdinando became 5th Earl of Derby and was immediately involved in the ‘Hesketh Plot’, which was an attempt by English Catholics in Exile to put forward Ferdinando as their favourite successor to Queen Elizabeth. We know that Sir Edward was present at Lathom from a report: ‘On Thursday the 27th (September, 1593) Richard (Hesketh) went over to Lathom to hand in Hickman’s letter and show his passport to Sir Edward Stanley. Ferdinando, the new earl, also saw his passport, as did the bishop of Chester who happened to be staying there.’ Interestingly, there is no mention of William. This letter led to Ferdinando departing to London to ‘defend’ himself against any prior knowledge of or participation in this ‘plot’. Sir Edward Sr presumably took over all the reins at Lathom and organised the funeral of his brother, which duly took place in Ormskirk Church on 4 December. The investigation of the ‘plot’ by the authorities in London led to the execution of Richard Hesketh in St Albans. It also led to the poisoning of Ferdinando, back at Lathom, resulting in two agonising weeks for him before his death on 16 April, 1594. He left his widow Countess Alice and three young daughters.

Nephew William was in a strange position. As the younger son he had never expected to inherit the earldom. He had spent many of the years since 1582 on three ‘grand tours’ travelling in Europe and as far as Jerusalem, Constantinople and Moscow, returning to England in between for only short periods. When he finally returned in 1593 he was immediately appointed Governor of the Isle of Man, and was thus absent at his father’s death. From the quote above about ‘the Hickman letter’ we know that it was Sir Edward who was now considered as the head of the family after his brother Henry’s death, followed by Ferdinando, with William not mentioned. On brother Ferdinando’s death, having himself been abroad for so long, it must indeed have been an enormous leap to suddenly take on all the responsibilities of being an earl without any of the normal preparations for this. It was not at all certain that his succession as 6th Earl would be approved by the authorities. One suspects that Sir Edward might well have been instrumental in obtaining this approval and, after some doubt, William did indeed become the 6th Earl. He must have been grateful for the presence and experience of uncle Sir Edward in coping with all his new responsibilities. These must have been aggravated by the retirement of the long-standing Comptroller of the Household for the last three earls, William Farington (‘author’ of the Derby Household Books).

After surmounting various other problems, he married Elizabeth de Vere in January, 1595 at Greenwich in the presence of Queen Elizabeth, an occasion which is a strong contender for the first performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. At the end of the decade he was writing plays in London. During these early years of his marriage there were not a few problems and disagreements and the only child to appear was a daughter, who died soon after birth. There were also the disagreeable legal battles with Countess Alice, who was fighting to retain as much as possible of her husband’s inheritance for her daughters.

Sir Edward Sr presumably felt divided in his loyalties between two of his closest relatives in the younger generation. One suspects, because of his obvious regular presence in the bosom of the family, that he felt a strong commitment to the welfare of all, and it is easy to imagine him trying to play the role of mediator. The scanty evidence that remains indicates that he sided more with his nephew William than his niece-in-law Countess Alice. Both he and William were very concerned about the succession of the earldom of Derby. Sir Edward Sr had never married, and therefore had no son. Nephew William had no son – yet. And meanwhile nephew Edward Jr and his wife Lucy kept producing daughters, the sixth one in c.1598, but no son. It must have been an extremely worrying time for all. At least one worry had been removed - that of another poisoning in the family because of the line of succession to the throne. In 1596 Countess Alice had achieved one of her aims – to have her eldest daughter Anne officially declared in line of succession, following her father Ferdinando.

There is one other area of activity during this period about which Sir Edward must have been well informed, although here again, the story is murky. This revolves around the activities of Dr John Dee, named ‘The Arch-Conjuror of England’ in the title of his latest biography (Glyn Parry, 2011). In 1596 he was appointed Warden of Manchester College, with his official residence in what is today Chetham’s Library, the oldest public library in England (since 1653). The building was owned by William, 6th Earl of Derby and the appointment was largely because of William’s intervention. In this post of Warden Dr Dee replaced William Chaderton, Bishop of Chester, who had meanwhile become Bishop of Lincoln. We met him briefly above as present at Lathom with Sir Edward when the ‘Hickman letter’ from Richard Hesketh was delivered. The precise identity of ‘Hickman’ is unknown, there being three of this name involved in spying at the time. One of these was Bartholomew Hickman, who appears in many entries in Dr John Dee’s Diaries, acting in the role of his ‘skryer’ or medium during his spiritualist activities. Richard Hesketh had also appeared in his diary in 1581. We know from this diary that William and his entourage visited him in Manchester on at least one occasion. One can only presume that Sir Edward was with him in his entourage or that, yet again, he was holding the fort back at Lathom.

None of them had any idea at the time that William Stanley, during the following two centuries, would have a ballad written about his travels, which involved him with Dr Dee in Moscow (a muddle of Dr John in Bohemia and his son Dr Arthur later in Moscow). Nor that three hundred years later William would be proposed as an Alternative Authorship Candidate for some of Shakespeare’s plays, along with his father-in-law Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford and his nephew Edward Jr’s ‘cousin’ Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland. Nor did they have any idea that Dr John Dee would be proposed as the prototype for Prospero in The Tempest. They might have had an idea that Shakespeare revealed his acquaintance with them in some ‘secret’ way, such as naming the King of Navarre in Love’s Labour’s Lost Ferdinand, and they must have known that he had given roles to many of their ancestors in his Lancastrian king plays. They might have known that John Shakespeare in 1599 had successfully applied for impalement of his wife Mary’s arms – those of the Ardernes of Arden near Stockport, just down the road from Manchester, who claimed kinship with the Stanleys. Although William Shakespeare had not yet written the two verse epitaphs for Edward Jr, their ‘friendship’ or at least acquaintance must have known about by Sir Edward. He must also have known whether or not Shakespeare had written the poem The Phoenix and the Turtle on the occasion of the wedding of his niece Ursula and her husband John Salusbury.

Sir Edward Sr must have known all of these people - his brothers and nieces and nephews and their in-laws, of course, but also Dr John Dee, Hickman and John and William Shakeshafte/speare. What a pity he left no diary. If he had, it might have nipped in the bud so many later muddles and wild speculations. There were enough of these at the time, but not as many as a few centuries later when trying to disentangle them all.  


The end

In 1600 he appeared in a list of lands in reversion to the Earldom, as part of the long drawn-out dispute between Countess Alice, Ferdinando’s widow and William, 6th Earl. These were in Thirsk and Kirkby Malzeard in Yorkshire. In 1601 he presumably grieved along with his nephew (Sir) Edward Jr, who lost his wife and four daughters when staying at Walthamstow in Essex. In August 1602 Sir Edward Sr, cousin William and nephew Edward Jr were all together again at Preston Guild.  One wonders whether he was at James’s coronation in 1603 when nephew Edward Jr was knighted. If so, and if at the procession postponed until the following year, he would have met William Shakespeare again. Wherever he spent the beginning of this year, in the summer he was back at Lathom, the house where he was born, had spent so much of his life and which was now where he died. On 4 September, 1604 he was buried in the Derby Chapel in Ormskirk Church. The entry in the Parish Register reads ‘S*ere Edward Stanley bur. in my Lords Chapl’. He was united there with so many of his relatives.

And so ends the very first biography of this minor yet seminal figure - but his story is not yet quite at an end. His death has been reported as in 1609 in several places, although there is no doubt that it was in 1604. This namesake remains elusive. The false date was first given by Seacome (1741), which is surprising, because living at Knowsley Hall he presumably had access to Ormskirk Parish Records. However, he gave 1609 as his date of death and it has been repeated ever since. Also, the lands he owned still had to be sorted out after his death. As seen, these were in reversion to the Earldom on his death without an immediate heir. No last will and testament has survived, so we have no idea of his dying wishes. But his two nephews survived him by many years, Sir Edward Jr until 1632 and William, 6th Earl until 1642, so many memories of Sir Edward Sr must have lived on.

Ormskirk church suffered much damage during the Civil War, so there might have been a memorial plaque, which has not survived. Lathom House, where he had spent so much of his life, was razed to the ground after the Civil War. Many of his papers might well have gone up in flames at this time.

In the index for the early Parish Records of Ormskirk appear twenty-three Edward Stanleys. This covers albeit a longer period than Sir Edward Sr’s lifetime and includes baptisms, marriages and burials, so some refer to the same person. Most of the family of the Earl of Derby married elsewhere and christened their babies in their own private chapel, so do not appear in the Parish Registers. Of course it will never be known how many of those in the Parish Register were named after Sir Edward Sr, or just because it was a family name. The name lived on in the 11th-19th Earls of Derby, descendants of Sir James Stanley of Cross Hall, Lathom, younger brother of Sir Edward Sr’s grandfather Thomas, 2nd Earl of Derby.

One is fortunate to have been able to separate this Sir Edward Sr from all his other contemporary namesakes. More details about him might yet emerge.

Copyright © 2013. All Rights Reserved.