Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby

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About Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby

Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby

Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby, KG (1435 – 29 July 1504) was titular King of Mann, an English nobleman and stepfather to King Henry VII of England. He was the eldest son of Thomas Stanley, 1st Baron Stanley and Joan Goushill. Through his mother he was a lineal descendant of King Edward I by Elizabeth of Rhuddlan, Countess of Hereford and by the FitzAlan family, Stanley was a descendant of King Henry III.

A landed magnate of immense power, particularly across the northwest of England where his authority went almost unchallenged, even by the Crown, Stanley managed to remain in favour with successive kings throughout the Wars of the Roses until his death in 1504. His estates included what is now Tatton Park in Cheshire, Lathom House in Lancashire, and Derby House in the City of London, now the site of the College of Arms.

Although the king for the early part of his career, Henry VI, was head of the House of Lancaster, Stanley’s marriage to Eleanor, daughter of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury (a descendant of Edward III) and sister of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (‘Warwick the Kingmaker’) in the late 1450s constituted a powerful alliance with the House of York. This did him no harm, however, even after Warwick was toppled from power, and in 1472, with the House of York now occupying the English throne, he married his second wife Lady Margaret Beaufort, whose son, Henry Tudor, was the leading Lancastrian claimant. He was the last to use the style ‘King of Mann’, his successors opting for the safer ‘Lord of Mann’. Stanley was “a man of considerable acumen, and probably the most successful power-broker of his age”.[1]

After the death of his father in 1459, Stanley inherited his father's titles, including those of Baron Stanley and King of Mann as well as his extensive lands and offices in Cheshire and Lancashire. It was a formidable inheritance and gave him ample opportunity to gain experience in the leadership of men. At the same time, his father's prominence in the king's household had provided him with an early introduction to court where he was named among the squires of Henry VI in 1454. Nevertheless, in the febrile and bloodthirsty circumstances of the Wars of the Roses it was a position fraught with danger as rival claimants for the throne – successively the Houses of Lancaster and York – demanded, threatened or begged for the support of Stanley and his followers.

The Stanleys had been among the earliest supporters of Henry Bolingbroke’s bid to win the English throne for the House of Lancaster in 1399 and Stanley’s great-grandfather Sir John Stanley, had been richly rewarded for his assistance. After some years of weak and ineffectual government led by the Lancastrian Henry VI, a challenge from the House of York broke out into open warfare in the 1450s in the War of the Roses. In 1459 an accord between the Lancastrian and the Yorkist lords broke down, and the conflict lapped at the borders of the Stanleys’ sphere of influence. With the Earl of Salisbury (Stanley’s father-in-law) mobilising on behalf of the House of York, Queen Margaret of Anjou at Lichfield ordered Stanley to raise forces to intercept him. However, when the two armies met at the Battle of Blore Heath in 1459, though only a few miles away, Stanley kept his 2,000 men out of the fight. His brother, Sir William Stanley, who was certainly in the Yorkist army was subsequently attainted.

Yet by 1460 Lord Stanley had begun to co-operate with the Yorkist lords who by this time had possession of the King and ruled in his name, and he rapidly consolidated his association with the new regime. In the early 1460s he joined his brother-in-law, Warwick, in the campaigns against the Lancastrian forces and Stanley was confirmed in his fees and offices as the new King, Edward IV, needed him to secure the north-west. In the late 1460s, however, the coalition that had brought the Yorkist Edward to the throne was fracturing and Stanley found his loyalties divided once again. “The dramatic shifts in political fortune between 1469 and 1471, and their impact on the tangled networks of affinity and allegiance, are hard to unravel.”[1] When Warwick, fleeing before Edward in 1470, made his way to Manchester in the hope of support, Stanley was not forthcoming, but on Warwick's return he lent him armed support in the restoration of the House of Lancaster and of Henry VI. Lord Stanley was soon forgiven for his disloyalty. After the restoration of Edward IV in 1471, he was appointed steward of the king's household and thereafter became a regular member of the royal council. Yet, the death of his first wife, Eleanor Neville at this period severed his connection with Warwick and the Nevilles and allowed in 1472 a marriage of still greater political significance. His new wife, Lady Margaret Beaufort, dowager Countess of Richmond, was the mother of Henry Tudor – potential heir of the House of Lancaster. Militarily during this period, and now a stalwart of the Yorkist regime, Stanley led several hundred men in the expedition to France in 1475 and in 1482 served with a large company in the campaign of the Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) in Scotland, playing a key role in the capture of Berwick upon Tweed.

After the unexpected death of Edward IV in 1483 and the accession of his twelve-year-old son Edward V, Stanley was among those who sought to maintain a balance of power between the young king's uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who was now Lord Protector, and his maternal family, the Woodvilles. (Stanley’s own son and heir, George Stanley, Lord Strange was married to Joan Le Strange whose mother was Jacquetta Woodville, the Queen’s mother). When Gloucester attacked this group at a council meeting in June 1483, Stanley was wounded and imprisoned but at least spared the fate of Lord Hastings – that of summary execution. That month, Parliament declared Edward V and his younger brother Richard, Duke of York (the Princes in the Tower) illegitimate on the grounds that their father Edward IV's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville was bigamous, by way of a prior pre-contract of marriage with Eleanor Butler. The Duke of Gloucester was therefore declared king Richard III by public acclamation, later confirmed by Parliament under the Act Titulus Regius.

Apparently “in preparing the ground for the usurpation and in consolidating his position, Richard found it more expedient to appease than to alienate the house of Stanley.”[1] Thus, Lord Stanley was soon at liberty and continued as steward of the royal household, apparently flourishing at the heart of the new regime. He bore the great mace at Richard's coronation, while his wife carried the new queen’s train. Richard stripped Stanley's wife Margaret Beaufort of all her titles and possession for her part "in compassyng and doyng Treason", but transferred all her properties to Stanley, effectively negating much of the punishment.[2]

He was also appointed to the Order of the Garter, taking the stall vacated by the executed Lord Hastings. This commitment bore further fruit in the autumn of 1483, when a series of plots against the King coalesced into Buckingham's rebellion, a rising in southern and western England under the loose leadership of the Duke of Buckingham. When Richard rose to suppress the rebellion, Stanley and his brother William were at the King's side and were richly rewarded from the forfeited estates of the rebels and Stanley was appointed to Buckingham’s position as Lord High Constable of England. Whilst Stanley might have had no other option than to act as Richard’s loyal subject, it is conceivable that he may himself have become involved in the uprising. His wife, Margaret Beaufort, was a key conspirator, having brokered the marriage alliance between Edward IV’s daughter Elizabeth of York and her son Henry Tudor. Indeed, it was only by giving a solemn undertaking to Richard to keep his wife in custody and to end her intrigues that Stanley saved her from attainder and disgrace and presumably his own position at the same time. Richard was evidently well aware of the threat from this quarter since in the summer of 1485, when Stanley sought permission to leave the court and return to his northern fastness of Lathom, the king insisted that his son, George Stanley, Lord Strange, take his place at court as a token for his father’s good behaviour.

The Stanleys had been communicating with the exiled Henry Tudor for some time and Tudor's strategy of landing in Wales and heading east into central England depended on the acquiescence of Sir William Stanley, as Chamberlain of Chester and north Wales, and by extension on that of Lord Stanley himself. On hearing of the invasion, Richard ordered the two Stanleys to raise the men of the region in readiness to oppose the invader. However, once it was clear that Tudor was marching unopposed through Wales, Richard ordered Lord Stanley to join him without delay. According to the Crowland Chronicle, although Lord Stanley excused himself on the grounds of illness, the 'sweating sickness',[3] by now Richard had firm evidence of the Stanleys’ complicity. After an unsuccessful bid to escape from court, Lord Strange had confessed that he and his uncle, Sir William Stanley, had conspired with Henry Tudor. Richard proclaimed him as traitor, and let it be known that Strange’s life was hostage for his father's loyalty in the coming conflict. Indeed, Richard allegedly issued orders for Strange’s execution on the battlefield, although in the event these were never carried out. Lord Stanley’s response to Richard’s threat was reportedly laconic: “Sire, I have other sons”.

Three armies followed each other into the midlands: Lord Stanley and his forces; then Sir William Stanley; and finally Henry Tudor and a host comprising Tudor retainers, dispossessed Lancastrian exiles and many men of Wales and Cheshire. Lord Stanley may have secretly met with Henry on the eve of the battle, but when the Stanleyites arrived south of the village of Market Bosworth on 22 August they took up a position independent of both the royal forces and the rebel army. In effect, the two brothers played similar roles to those they had played at the Battle of Blore Heath over a quarter of a century earlier. Lord Stanley kept his powder dry, taking no direct part in the action but stood unmoving between the two armies and it was Sir William's decisive intervention that gave Henry the victory. After the despatch of Richard, who had gone into battle crowned, Polydore Vergil records that the fallen coronet was retrieved and placed by Lord Stanley on his stepson’s head before his cheering troops, thereby emphasising the critical role the Stanleys had played in bringing Henry Tudor to the throne.[4]

Henry demonstrated his gratitude to his “right dearly beloved father” by creating him Earl of Derby on 27 October 1485, and the following year confirmed him in office as High Constable of England and High Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster, besides granting him other estates and offices. In 1486 Stanley also stood as godfather to Henry’s eldest son, Arthur, Prince of Wales. Even so, at the time of the Lambert Simnel rising of 1487, there may have been some concern that the Stanleys were again hedging their bets, and “there was relief in the royal host when the Stanleyites came in at Nottingham”.[1] The aftermath of the Battle of Stoke, which crushed this rising, brought still further rewards for Stanley – notably the lands forfeited by Viscount Lovell, Sir Thomas Pilkington, and Sir Thomas Broughton in Lancashire and elsewhere. In 1489 the Stanleys again made a notable contribution to the army raised by Henry to suppress a rising in Yorkshire. Less successfully, Stanley’s brother William unwisely supported the later pretender Perkin Warbeck, and was, at last, executed for treason in 1495.

Throughout his career, alongside the main performance of national events, the preservation and enhancement of Stanley’s own role as regional magnate was a very important sideshow. Change of regime never really weakened his grip on the key offices of Chester and Lancaster and throughout his life Stanley consolidated the legacy he had inherited from his father and extended his hegemony and that of his family across the north-west. Given the range of his office-holding both regionally and at court, he did not need to draw ruinously on his own resources to dispense patronage on a grand scale and he was active in the arbitration of local disputes; even state matters were regularly referred for his personal adjudication.[1] That said, ‘good lordship’ also had its harder face and the Stanleys brooked no opposition and tolerated few rivals in their areas of dominance.

Stanley was made Constable of England by Richard III towards the end of 1483, the year in which Edward V and Richard, Duke of York (the Princes in the Tower) disappeared from their confinement in the Tower of London. As Constable (originally a position which constituted command of the royal armies), Stanley was formally responsible for anyone who entered or left the Tower[5] – then the most secure of royal palaces. In this capacity, and as a loyal member of the Ricardian regime at the time, he can be considered at the very least an accessory to the Princes’ deaths, since once they had entered the security of the Tower they were never seen or heard of again.[6] That said, since the Duke of Buckingham preceded Stanley as Constable of the Tower, Stanley could realistically only have had such an opportunity after Buckingham’s rebellion and execution in October and November 1483 on becoming Constable. This would have given Richard and Buckingham – considered a far more likely contender for killer of the Princes[7] – ample opportunity to dispose of the Princes between their confinement in May 1483 and the rebellion in October. Also, since Buckingham’s uprising was expressly staged in favour of Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne – rather than that of the missing Edward V – it seems reasonable to assume that Buckingham knew the Princes were already dead prior to his rebellion and, hence, Stanley succeeding as Constable. However, it has also been suggested that in view of his being the stepfather of Henry Tudor and deserting Richard at Bosworth, it is not inconceivable that Stanley was at least in part responsible for the Princes' death after Henry's accession.[8] The Princes, still living, would have presented just as much of a problem to Henry's occupation of the throne as they did to Richard's.

Stanley died at Lathom on 29 July 1504 and was buried in the family chapel in Burscough Priory, near Ormskirk in Lancashire, surrounded by the tombs of his parents and others of his ancestors. He had been predeceased by his eldest son and heir, George Stanley, Lord Strange by a matter of months and was succeeded as Earl by his grandson, Thomas Stanley, 2nd Earl of Derby. “In his will of 28 July 1504 he ordained masses for the souls of himself, his wives, parents, ancestors, children, siblings, and, ever the good lord, ‘them that have died in the service of my lord my father or of me’”.[1][9]

His first marriage, to Eleanor Neville (daughter of Richard Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury and Alice Montague) produced nine children. Of these six died young and the remaining three themselves attained positions of great status and authority:

  • Thomas Stanley died 1475.
  • Richard Stanley died young.
  • Sir George Stanley (jure uxoris 9th Baron Strange) (1460–1503) – his heir apparent and father of his eventual heir Thomas Stanley, 2nd Earl of Derby.
  • William Stanley died young.
  • Anne Stanley died young.
  • Sir Edward Stanley, 1st Lord Monteagle (1462–1524)
  • Jane Stanley died young.
  • James Stanley, Bishop of Ely (1465–1515).
  • Catherine Stanley died young.

Eleanor Neville died in 1472 and was buried in the church of St James Garlickhythe in London. His second marriage to Lady Margaret Beaufort, had no issue. He is also said to have had an illegitimate son, John, who became the Parker of Shotwick in Cheshire in 1476, but was unrecognised in official pedigrees. He seems to have died in 1477.[10]

At his death, Lord Stanley could look back on a career of forty-five years of remarkable political success amid the most challenging of circumstances. He had not only escaped the bloody fate of so many of his political contemporaries, including his brother, but on top of the great patrimony he inherited from his father, he acquired huge estates and national offices, the Garter and an earldom. These, and his closeness to successive royal families – whom he could count amongst his kith and kin by several different connections – made him a figure of great power and influence. Under his adroit leadership the north-west escaped the worst horrors of decades of civil war that devastated other parts of England and his family “helped bring a degree of cultivation and refinement to the north-west”.[1] Their patronage underpinned the careers of a number of young Lancashire men, including William Smyth, Hugh Oldham, and Christopher Urswick, who went on to become pillars of the Tudor church and state.

The senior line of the descendants of Thomas Stanley and Eleanor Neville continued to hold the Earldom of Derby until the death of James Stanley, 10th Earl of Derby in 1736. The title then passed to a junior branch of the family, the Baronets Stanley of Bickerstaffe, descended from Sir James Stanley, younger brother of Thomas Stanley, 2nd Earl of Derby. This branch still holds the title today. Edward Stanley, born 1962, became 19th Earl of Derby in 1994. (John Stanley a younger brother of Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby was the ancestor of the Barons Stanley of Alderley.)

In the ‘history plays’ of William Shakespeare, Lord Stanley features in a pivotal role throughout the play Richard III as an initially loyal but troubled royal servant whose misgivings as to Richard’s ‘true’ nature lead him towards collaboration with his stepson Henry Tudor and active assistance in placing him on the throne. Richard III is believed to have been written over 1592–93.[12] At this time, it is thought Shakespeare may already have been writing for Lord Strange's Men, the company of Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange later 5th Earl of Derby. (Certainly his actors were members of the company, and Shakespeare himself is formally listed as a member by 1594).[13] As such, the Stanleys would effectively have been patrons of this work. This was a relationship that may have been continued as A Midsummer Night's Dream is thought to have been possibly first performed at the wedding celebrations of William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby in 1595.[14]



  • Sir Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl Derby, 2nd Lord Stanley, Constable of England, Chief Justice of Chester & Flint1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13
  • M, #26773, b. circa 1435, d. 29 July 1504
  • Father Sir Thomas Stanley, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord of Latham and Knowsley, 1st Lord Stanley, Constable & Justice of Chester14,15,16,12 b. c 1405, d. 11 Feb 1459
  • Mother Joan Goushill14,15,16,12 b. c 1401, d. c 27 Apr 1466
  • Sir Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl Derby, 2nd Lord Stanley, Constable of England, Chief Justice of Chester & Flint was born circa 1435 at of Lathom & Knowsley, Lancashire, England; Age 24 in 1459.2,6,11 A settlement for the marriage Sir Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl Derby, 2nd Lord Stanley, Constable of England, Chief Justice of Chester & Flint and Eleanor Neville was made on 17 December 1454; They had 7 sons (John; Sir George, Lord Strange; Richard; Sir Edward; 1st Lord Monteagle; James, Bishop of Ely; Thomas; & William) and 4 daughters (Anne; Alice; Katherine; & Agnes).17,2,4,6,8,9,11,13 A settlement for the marriage Sir Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl Derby, 2nd Lord Stanley, Constable of England, Chief Justice of Chester & Flint and Margaret Beaufort was made on 12 June 1472; They had no issue.2,3,5,6,7,10,11,12 Sir Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl Derby, 2nd Lord Stanley, Constable of England, Chief Justice of Chester & Flint died on 29 July 1504 at Lathom, Lancashire, England; Buried at Burscough Priory, Lancashire.2,3,6,11,12 His estate was probated on 9 November 1504.6,7,11,12
  • Family 1 Eleanor Neville b. c 1438, d. a 6 Apr 1464
  • Children
    • Margaret Stanley
    • Sir George Stanley, Lord Strange, Constable of Pontefract, Knaresborough, & Wicklow Castles+18,6,11 b. c 1460, d. 5 Dec 1503
    • Sir Edward Stanley, 1st Lord Monteagle+2,6,8,11,13 b. c 1463, d. 7 Apr 1523
    • James Stanley, Bishop of Ely, Deacon of Cheshire6,11 b. c 1466, d. 22 Mar 1515
  • Family 2 Margaret Beaufort b. 31 May 1443, d. 29 Jul 1509
  • Citations
  • [S8319] Unknown author, The Complete Peerage, by Cokayne, Vol. IV, p. 205-207; The Lineage and Ancestry of HRH Prince Charles, by Gerald Paget, Vol. 2, p. 447; Burke's Peerage, 1938, p. 785, 786.
  • [S5] Douglas Richardson, Plantagenet Ancestry, p. 680.
  • [S5] Douglas Richardson, Plantagenet Ancestry, p. 726.
  • [S16] Douglas Richardson, Magna Carta Ancestry, 2nd Edition, Vol. III, p. 163.
  • [S16] Douglas Richardson, Magna Carta Ancestry, 2nd Edition, Vol. III, p. 478.
  • [S16] Douglas Richardson, Magna Carta Ancestry, 2nd Edition, Vol. IV, p. 91-92.
  • [S16] Douglas Richardson, Magna Carta Ancestry, 2nd Edition, Vol. IV, p. 222-223.
  • [S16] Douglas Richardson, Magna Carta Ancestry, 2nd Edition, Vol. IV, p. 348-349.
  • [S4] Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry, Vol. IV, p. 125.
  • [S4] Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry, Vol. IV, p. 530.
  • [S4] Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry, Vol. V, p. 28-29.
  • [S4] Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry, Vol. V, p. 202-203.
  • [S4] Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry, Vol. V, p. 374-375.
  • [S5] Douglas Richardson, Plantagenet Ancestry, p. 679-680.
  • [S16] Douglas Richardson, Magna Carta Ancestry, 2nd Edition, Vol. IV, p. 90.
  • [S4] Douglas Richardson, Royal Ancestry, Vol. V, p. 27.
  • [S5] Douglas Richardson, Plantagenet Ancestry, p. 510-511.
  • [S5] Douglas Richardson, Plantagenet Ancestry, p. 680-681.
  • From:


  • Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby1
  • M, #104991, b. circa 1435, d. 29 July 1504
  • Last Edited=13 Dec 2012
  • Consanguinity Index=0.02%
  • Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby was born circa 1435.2 He was the son of Sir Thomas Stanley, 1st Lord Stanley and Joan Goushill.3 He married, firstly, Eleanor Neville, daughter of Richard de Neville, 5th Earl of Salisbury and Alice Montagu, Countess of Salisbury, after 10 May 1457.4 He married, secondly, Lady Margaret Beaufort, daughter of John Beaufort, 1st Duke of Somerset and Margaret Beauchamp, before October 1473.1 He died on 29 July 1504 at Latham, England.3
  • He was Esquire of the Body to King Henry VI in 1454.3 He succeeded to the title of 2nd Lord Stanley [E., 1456] on 20 February 1458/59.3 He was invested as a Knight in 1460.3 He held the office of Chief Justice of Chester.3 He was invested as a Privy Counsellor (P.C.) in 1471.3 He held the office of Steward of the Household the King Edward IV between 1471 and 1483.3 He held the office of Lord High Constable in 1483.3 He was invested as a Knight, Order of the Garter (K.G.) in 1483.3 He held the office of Steward of the Household the King Richard III between 1483 and 1485.3 He held the office of Chief Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster between 1485 and 1504, Northern parts.3 He fought in the Battle of Bosworth on 22 August 1485, where he allegedely betrayed King Rinchard III at a decisive moment.3 He succeeded to the title of 1st Earl of Derby [England] on 27 October 1485.3 In 2003 see BP&B.5
  • Children of Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby and Eleanor Neville
    • Sir George Stanley, Lord Strange (of Knokyn)+3 d. bt 4 Dec 1503 - 5 Dec 1503
    • Sir Edward Stanley, 1st Lord Monteagle+5 d. bt 6 Apr 1523 - 7 Apr 1523
    • James Stanley5
  • Citations
  • [S8] BP1999 volume 1, page 220. See link for full details for this source. Hereinafter cited as. [S8]
  • [S11] Alison Weir, Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy (London, U.K.: The Bodley Head, 1999), page 148. Hereinafter cited as Britain's Royal Families.
  • [S37] BP2003 volume 1, page 1101. See link for full details for this source. Hereinafter cited as. [S37]
  • [S8] BP1999. [S8]
  • [S37] BP2003. [S37]
  • From:


  • Thomas STANLEY (1° E. Derby)
  • Born: ABT 1435
  • Acceded: 27 Oct 1485
  • Died: 29 Jul 1504, Lathom, Lancashire, England
  • Notes: The Complete Peerage vol.IV,pp.205-207.
  • Father: Thomas STANLEY (Knight Lord of Lathom)
  • Mother: Joan GOUSHILL
  • Married: Eleanor NEVILLE AFT 10 May 1457
  • Children:
    • 1. George STANLEY (B. Strange of Knockin)
    • 2. John STANLEY (b. ABT 1460)
    • 3. Thomas STANLEY (b. ABT 1462)
    • 4. William STANLEY (b. ABT 1462)
    • 5. Edward STANLEY (1° B. Mounteagle)
    • 6. Richard STANLEY (b. ABT 1464)
    • 7. Jane STANLEY (b. ABT 1465)
    • 8. Catherine STANLEY (b. ABT 1467)
    • 9. Anne STANLEY (b. ABT 1469)
    • 10. James STANLEY (Bishop of Ely)
    • 11. Margaret STANLEY
    • 12. Alice STANLEY (b. ABT 1475)
    • 13. Agnes STANLEY (b. ABT 1477)
  • Married: Margaret BEAUFORT (C. Richmond/ C. Derby) BEF Nov 1482
  • From: STANLEY (1° E. Derby)


  • Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 54
  • Stanley, Thomas (1435?-1504) by James Tait
  • STANLEY, THOMAS, first Earl of Derby (1435?–1504), was son of Thomas Stanley, first lord Stanley (1406?–1459), and his wife, Joan, daughter and coheiress of Sir Robert Goushill of Hoveringham, Nottinghamshire, by Elizabeth Fitzalan, dowager duchess of Norfolk (d. 1425).
  • Sir John Stanley, K.G. (1350?–1414), the founder of the family fortunes, was his great-grandfather. He came of a younger branch of a famous Staffordshire house, the Audleys of Healey, near Newcastle-under-Lyme; the cadet line took its name from the manor of Stanlegh, close to Cheddleton, but settled in Cheshire under Edward II on acquiring, by marriage, the manor of Storeton and the hereditary forestership of Wirral. The nephew of Sir John (who was a younger son) removed the chief seat of the elder line of Stanley to Hooton in Wirral by marriage with its heiress (Dugdale ii. 247; Ormerod ii. 411). A still more fortunate alliance (before October 1385) with Isabel, daughter of Sir Thomas Latham, made Sir John Stanley himself lord of great part of the hundred of West Derby in south-west Lancashire, including Knowsley and Lathom (Rot. Parl. iii. 205; cf. Wylie, ii. 290). The famous Stanley crest of the eagle and child, which gave rise to a family legend, no doubt came from the Lathams (Baines, i. 49, iv. 248; Seacome, p. 22; Gregson, pp. 244, 250). Their badge in the fifteenth century was an eagle's (or griffin's) leg (Doyle, Official Baronage, i. 553; Gairdner, p. 412; Ormerod, iii. 641). Sir John, who in his youth had served in Aquitaine, went to Ireland as deputy for Richard II's favourite, De Vere, in 1386, and subsequently held important posts both there (lieutenant, 1389–91) and on the Welsh and Scottish borders. Henry IV rewarded his speedy adhesion with Hope and Mold castles and a regrant (10 Dec. 1399) of his old office in Ireland. But he became officially bankrupt, and in 1401 was superseded. Steward of the household to Henry, prince of Wales, from 1403, he entered the order of the Garter in 1405. The king rewarded his services during the northern revolt of that year by a grant, first for life and then in perpetuity, by the service of a cast of falcons at coronations, of the Isle of Man, which had been forfeited by the rebellion of the Earl of Northumberland (Fœdera, viii. 419; Baines, i. 370). In 1409 Stanley was made constable of Windsor. Henry V once more sent him to govern Ireland, and it was at Ardee, in that island, that he died on 18 Jan. 1414 (Dugdale, ii. 248; Seacome, p. 20). The Irish writers ascribed his death to irritation caused by the virulent lampoons of the plundered bard Niall O'Higgin (Gilbert, Viceroys, p. 301). Stanley built the tower in Water Street, Liverpool, which survived till 1821 (Gregson, p. 172). His third son, Thomas, was the ancestor of the Stanleys of Aldford and Elford. The eldest, John, the Manx legislator, married Isabel, sister of Sir William and daughter of Sir John Harrington of Hornby Castle, Lancashire, and died in 1437 (Ormerod, ii. 412; cf. Collins, ed. Brydges, iii, 54).
  • Their eldest son, Thomas Stanley (1406?–1459), born about 1406, first appears in 1424, when an armed affray between ‘Thomas Stanley, the younger of the Tower, esquire,’ and Sir Richard Molyneux (d. 1439) [see under Molyneux, Sir Richard, (d. 1459)], constable of Liverpool Castle, at the opposite end of the town, was prevented only by the arrest of both (Gregson, p. 171). He was knighted before 1431, when Henry VI made him lieutenant-governor of Ireland for six years. In 1446 Eleanor Cobham [see under Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester] was entrusted to his keeping in the Isle of Man. From that year to 1455 Stanley represented Lancashire in parliament; he took part in more than one negotiation with Scotland, and by March 1447 became comptroller of the royal household (Fœdera, xi. 169). The parliament of 1450–1 demanded his dismissal from court with others of Suffolk's party (Rot. Parl. v. 216), but on the triumph of the Yorkists in 1455 he was made, or remained, lord-chamberlain and a privy councillor, and 15 Jan. 1456 received a summons to the house of peers as Lord Stanley. He became K.G. before May 1457, and died on 20 Feb. 1459 (Complete Peerage, iii. 68; cf. Ormerod, iii. 337). By his wife, Joan Goushill, he had four sons and three daughters; the second son, Sir William Stanley of Holt (d. 1495), is separately noticed; the third, John, was the ancestor of the Stanleys of Alderley; the fourth, James, was archdeacon of Carlisle [see under Stanley, James, (1465?–1515)].
  • The eldest, Thomas, who succeeded as second Baron Stanley, was born about 1435, and in 1454 had been one of Henry VI's esquires (Ord. Privy Council, vi. 223). His political attitude was from the first ambiguous. When Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury [q. v.], who was perhaps already his father-in-law, encountered the royal forces at Blore Heath in August 1459, Stanley, though not more than six miles away, kept the two thousand men he had raised at the queen's call out of the fight. His brother William fought openly on the Yorkist side, and was attainted in the subsequent parliament. Stanley himself, though he came in and took the oath of allegiance, was impeached as a traitor by the commons, who alleged that he had given Salisbury a conditional promise of support. The queen, however, thought it better to overlook his suspicious conduct (Rot. Parl. v. 348, 369). He was with Henry at the battle of Northampton in the following summer, but the triumphant Yorkists made him (January 1461) chief justice of Chester and Flint (Doyle). Edward IV's accession was the signal for the reassertion of the Scrope claim to the lordship of Man, which William le Scrope, earl of Wiltshire [q. v.], had held under Richard II, and Stanley's title was still disputed in 1475. When his brother-in-law, Warwick, fleeing before Edward IV in 1470, made his way to Manchester in the hope of support from him, Stanley cautiously held aloof, but on the king-maker's succeeding in restoring Henry VI, he turned to the rising sun, and in March 1471 we find him besieging Hornby Castle on behalf of the Lancastrian government (Paston Letters, ii. 396; Fœdera, xi. 699). Nevertheless, after Warwick's defeat and death, Edward made Stanley lord steward of his household and privy councillor. He took part in the king's French expedition of 1475, when he characteristically seized a private opportunity of recommending himself to the favour of Louis XI (Comines, i. 340, 347), and held a high command in Gloucester's invasion of Scotland seven years later. His services there were specially brought to the attention of parliament (Rot. Parl. vi. 197). Polydore Vergil credits him, perhaps rather partially, with the capture of Berwick. Not long after he married Margaret Beaufort, countess of Richmond, whose second husband, Henry Stafford, younger son of the second Duke of Buckingham, died in the same year.
  • After Edward's death Stanley remained loyal to his son, but though wounded in the head with a halbert during the scuffle in the council chamber (13 June 1483), when Gloucester arrested Hastings, his good fortune did not desert him, and he escaped with a short imprisonment. Gloucester is said to have feared that Stanley's son would raise Lancashire and Cheshire (Fabyan, p. 668; More, pp. 45–8; Polydore Vergil, p. 689). With his accustomed pliancy he carried the mace at Richard's coronation, his wife bearing the queen's train (Excerpta Historica, pp. 380, 384). He remained steward of the household, and succeeded Hastings as knight of the Garter. His wife was deeply engaged in Buckingham's rising [see Stafford, Henry, second Duke of Buckingham] on behalf of her son, Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond; but the wary Stanley avoided committing himself, and actually improved his position by the collapse of the revolt. Richard must have known him well enough to feel sure that he would not turn traitor until he could do so with the minimum of risk. He accepted his assurances of loyalty, and appointed him (16 Dec. 1483) constable of England in Buckingham's place. Stanley undertook to put a stop to his wife's intrigues, ‘keeping her in some secret place at home, without having any servant or company,’ and her estates were transferred to him for life (Hall, p. 398; Rot. Parl. vi. 250). In 1484 Richard employed him in a Scottish mission. No one except the Dukes of Norfolk and Northumberland profited more by Richard's bounty (Ramsay, ii. 534). But Stanley could not but feel that Richard's throne was insecure, and that in any case his own position would be much safer with his stepson wearing the crown. Not long before Richmond's landing, the ‘wily fox’ (Hall) asked and obtained leave to go home to Lancashire on private affairs. Richard apparently suspected nothing at first, for on hearing that Richmond was likely to land in Wales, he ordered Stanley and his brother to be prepared to take the field against the rebels (Gairdner, p. 287). But his prolonged absence at last roused suspicion, and he received peremptory orders either to come to the king at Nottingham himself or send his son, Lord Strange. He sent his son, but when news reached Richard that Richmond was marching unhindered through North Wales, of which Sir William Stanley (d. 1495) [q. v.] was justiciar, he ordered the father imperatively to join him at once. Stanley excused himself, however, on the plea that he was ill of the sweating sickness. Strange's futile attempt to escape from court, and his admission that he and his uncle were in league with Richmond, made Stanley's position still more delicate, though his son offered to guarantee his fidelity if his own life were spared (Cont. Croyl. Chron. p. 573). Richmond reckoned on the support of both Stanleys, but the elder was obliged to temporise, if only to save his son. The two brothers were playing much the same game as they had done at Blore Heath a quarter of a century before. Richmond was pretty sure of Sir William, who had been proclaimed a traitor. But Lord Stanley, who had thrown himself with five thousand men between the two approaching armies, evacuated Lichfield before Henry, and after a secret interview with him at Atherstone (20 Aug.) he marched on ahead to Bosworth. He selected an ambiguous position and returned an evasive answer when Richmond begged him to join forces before the battle began. He took no part in the action, hanging between the two armies, and it was his brother's intervention which gave Henry the victory. It was he, however, who placed the crown, taken from Richard's corpse, upon the victor's head. Richard had given orders for his son's execution, but they had been ignored (Polydore Vergil, p. 563; cf. Baines, i. 436).
  • Stanley's services were duly rewarded. The forfeited estates of the Pilkingtons (between Manchester and Bury) and several other Lancashire families swelled his possessions, and on 27 Oct. following he was created Earl of Derby; the title was taken from the county in which he had no lands, and not from the hundred of West Derby, in which the bulk of his estates lay (Complete Peerage, iii. 69). He purchased the Yorkshire and Axholme estates of the Mowbrays from William, marquis of Berkeley, for whose soul he provided for prayers at Burscough Priory in his will (Stonehouse, Isle of Axholme, p. 140; Dugdale, ii. 249).
  • Stanley figured in the coronations of Henry and Elizabeth of York as one of the commissioners for executing the office of lord high steward (Leland, Collectanea, iv. 225). Henry confirmed him in his posts of constable of England (5 March 1486), high steward of the duchy of Lancaster, and high forester north of Trent, adding the constableship of Halton Castle, Cheshire, the receivership of the county palatine of Lancaster, and other lucrative positions (Rot. Parl. vi. 373). He was godfather to Prince Arthur, and in July 1495 the king and queen paid him a visit of nearly a month's duration at Knowsley and Lathom (Excerpta Historica, p. 104). He enlarged Knowsley House and built a bridge at Warrington for the occasion (Gregson, p. 230). Henry probably intended the honour as an assurance that he dissociated Derby from the treason of his brother, who had perished on the scaffold in the previous February. He died at Lathom on 29 July 1504, and was buried with his ancestors in the neighbouring priory of Burscough.
  • His portrait at Knowsley, engraved in Baines's ‘History of Lancashire,’ shows a long thin face, with a full beard.
  • Derby married twice: his first wife was Eleanor Neville, daughter of Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury [q. v.]; they were married before 1460, and she died between 1464 and 1473 (Rot. Parl. v. 545, vi. 46). By her he had six sons, several of whom died young, and four daughters. George, the eldest surviving son, married Joan, only child of Lord Strange (d. 1477) of Knockin in the march of Wales, and in her right was summoned to the House of Lords under that title from 1482; Henry VII made him a knight of the Garter (1487) and a privy councillor. He died on 5 Dec. 1497 (‘at an ungodly banquet, alas! he was poisoned,’ Seacome, p. 36) at Derby House, St. Paul's Wharf, London, whose site is now occupied by the Heralds' College, and was buried with his mother at St. James's, Garlickhithe. His widow died on 20 March 1514. Thomas, eldest of four sons, became second earl of Derby [see under Stanley, Edward, third Earl of Derby]. Two younger sons of Derby—Edward, lord Monteagle [q. v.], and James, bishop of Ely [q. v.] —are separately noticed.
  • Derby's second wife (c. 1482) was Margaret Beaufort, countess of Richmond [q. v.], then widow of Sir Henry Stafford (d. 1481).
  • Derby was a benefactor of Burscough priory, in which he erected a tomb with effigies of himself and his two wives, and placed images of his ancestors up to his great-grandfather in the arches of the chancel (Dugdale, ii. 249).
  • [The early history of the Stanleys received a romantic colouring in the ‘Song of the Lady Bessy’ by Humphrey Brereton, a retainer of the first Earl of Derby, and the metrical family chronicle said to have been written about 1562 by Thomas Stanley, bishop of Sodor and Man [see under Stanley, Edward, (1460?–1523)]. The metrical history supplied Seacome (Memoirs of the House of Stanley, 1741; 7th ed. 1840) with the romantic details in the early life of the first Sir John Stanley which passed into the short histories of the family by Ross (1848), Draper (1864), and others. See also Rotuli Parliamentorum; Ordinances of the Privy Council, ed. Nicolas; Rymer's Fœdera, orig. edit.; Polydore Vergil's Anglica Historia; More's Richard III, ed. Lumby; Fabyan and Hall's Chronicles, ed. Ellis; Continuation of the Croyland Chronicle, ed. Gale, 1691; Paston Letters, ed. Gairdner; Comines's Memoirs, ed. Dupont; Dugdale's Baronage; G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage; Ormerod's History of Cheshire, ed. Helsby; Baines's History of Lancashire; Gregson's Portfolio of Fragments relating to the History of Lancashire, 1817; Leland's Collectanea, ed. Hearne; Bentley's Excerpta Historica, 1831; Gairdner's Richard III; Ramsay's Lancaster and York; Wylie's History of Henry IV; Palatine Note Book, iii. 161; Stanley Papers (Chetham Soc.); Hutton's Bosworth Field, 1813.]
  • From:,_Thomas_(1435%3F-1504)_(DNB00)


  • Sir Thomas Stanley
  • Birth: 1435 Lathom, Lancashire, England
  • Death: Jul. 28, 1504 Lathom, Lancashire, England
  • Son of Sir Thomas Stanley and Joan Goushill. Grandson of Sir John Stanley and Elizabeth Harington, Sir Robert Goushill and Elizabeth Arundel. Sir Thomas was a direct descendent of King Edward I and King Henry III.
  • Husband of Eleanor de Neville, daughter of Sir Robert de Neville and Alice Montagu. They were married about 17 Dec 1454, the date of the marriage settlement, and had seven sons and four daughters:
    • John
    • Sir George, Lord Strange
    • Richard
    • Sir Edward, Lord Monteagle
    • James, Bishop of Ely
    • Thomas
    • William
    • Anne
    • Alice
    • Katherine
    • Agnes
  • Eleanor died in 1464
  • Secondly, he was the fourth and last husband of Margaret Beaufort, daughter and heiress of Sir John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset and Margaret Beauchamp, and the widow of Sir Edmund Tudor and Henry Stafford. They were married shortly before 12 June 1472, the date of their marriage settlement. They had no children.
  • Sir Thomas was at the Battle of Northampton in 1460, and summoned to Parliament 1460 to 1483. Thomas and Margaret were present at the coronation of King Richard III, Margaret bearing the queen's train.
  • Thomas was said to have betrayed the king at the Battle of Bosworth and set the King's crown on top of his step-son's head, Henry VII. Thomas was created Earl of Derby on 27 Oct 1485, and had the King and Queen as guests at Knowsley and Lathom for nearly a month in June and July of 1495.
  • Family links:
  • Parents:
  • Thomas Stanley (1400 - 1459)
  • Joan Goushill Stanley (1402 - 1460)
  • Spouses:
  • Margaret Beaufort (1443 - 1509)
  • Eleanor de Neville Stanley (1438 - 1464)*
  • Children:
    • James Stanley (____ - 1515)*
    • George Stanley (1460 - 1503)*
    • Edward Stanley, Lord Monteagle (1464 - 1523)*
  • Siblings:
  • William Stanley (____ - 1495)*
  • Katherine Stanley Savage (1430 - 1498)*
  • Thomas Stanley (1435 - 1504)
  • Margaret Stanley Boteler (1436 - ____)*
  • Burial: Burscough Priory, Burscough, West Lancashire District, Lancashire, England
  • Find A Grave Memorial# 82201765
  • From:




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Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby's Timeline

April 1435
Lancashire, UK
Age 19
May 10, 1457
Age 22
Age 24
Knowsley, England
Age 24
Knowsley, Lancastershire, England, United Kingdom
Age 26
Lancashire, United Kingdom
Age 28
Lancashire, United Kingdom
Age 31
Age 33
Age 35
Hutton, Lancashire, England