Sir William Stanley

Is your surname Stanley?

Research the Stanley family

Sir William Stanley's Geni Profile

Share your family tree and photos with the people you know and love

  • Build your family tree online
  • Share photos and videos
  • Smart Matching™ technology
  • Free!


William Stanley

Birthdate: (82)
Death: 1630 (81)
Immediate Family:

Son of Rowland Stanley and Margaret Stanley
Husband of Elizabeth Stanley
Father of William Stanley

Managed by: Stanley Welsh Duke, Jr.
Last Updated:

About Sir William Stanley

William Stanley (Elizabethan)

Sir William Stanley (1548–1630), son of Sir Rowland Stanley of Hooton (died 1612), was a member of the Stanley family. He was an officer and a recusant, who served under Elizabeth I of England and is most noted for his surrender of Deventer to the Spanish in 1587.

Stanley was educated with Dr. Standish at Lathom and was brought up in the Catholic faith. After school, he entered the service of his kinsman, Edward Stanley, 3rd Earl of Derby (c.1508–1572), and then served in the Netherlands as a volunteer under the Duke of Alba from 1567 to 1570. In 1570 he was sent on service to Ireland.

On the outbreak of the Second Desmond Rebellion in 1579, Stanley was promoted to captain under Sir William Drury, lord justice of Ireland, who knighted him at Waterford for his service in penetrating Limerick in pursuit of the followers of Gerald FitzGerald, 15th Earl of Desmond. He fought in the battle of Monasternenagh and defended the town of Adare. In 1580, he enlisted troops in England and led them to the rebellious province of Munster; but the new lord deputy, Lord Grey, quickly recalled him to the Pale to help put down the rebellion that had broken out in the vicinity of Dublin.

In 1581, he campaigned against the clans of Kavanagh and O'Toole, and on 30 August 1581 was commissioned to follow the lord deputy in the government's campaign against Fiach McHugh O'Byrne, a rebel leader whose fastness lay in the Wicklow mountains. During that campaign he was engaged at the Battle of Glenmalure in charge of the rear guard, and covered the retreat of Grey's forces after they had been routed from the glens. At the end of the year his troops were discharged, and he went to England to seek further employment from the queen's principal secretary, Lord Burghley.

At the beginning of 1583, Stanley was sent back to Ireland to deal with the rebel Geraldines of Desmond, and was appointed by the Earl of Ormond as commander of the garrison at Lismore; he was also constable of Castlemaine, which he intended to "make a town of English". During this tour of duty he assisted in the pursuit of the earl of Desmond and James Fitzedmund Fitzgerald, the seneschal of Imokilly, and in the final subjugation of Munster at the end of the rebellion.

The defeat of the rebels presented many opportunities for advancement to the New English, those adventurers and administrators who had taken advantage of crown policy in Ireland to establish fortunes for themselves outside of their restricted circumstances at home. Stanley became ambitious and sought the presidency of the province of Connacht by petitioning Sir Francis Walsingham and Burghley, but this was denied. Instead, he was made sheriff of Cork in August 1583, and then assumed the government of Munster in the absence of Sir John Norris. He boasted of having hanged 300 rebels and of leaving the rest so terrified that, "a man might now travel the whole country and none molest him".

At the end of 1584, the new lord deputy, Sir John Perrot, sent Stanley north in the company of Sir Henry Bagenal to act against the Ulster chieftains and the Scots led by Sorley Boy MacDonnell. During this campaign he received severe wounds and was laid up for several months. He had marched with two companies to Ballycastle to join up with a troop of cavalry stationed in Bunamargey Abbey (the burial place of the MacDonnells), after Bagenal was forced to take refuge in Carrickfergus. On 1 January 1585, the enemy took him completely by surprise in camp beside the abbey, when half a dozen horsemen at the head of the Scots foot set the thatched roof of the church on fire. Stanley was forced to fight in his shirt, having had no time to don armour, and was wounded in the thigh, the arm and side, and in the back (he claimed he had turned to his men to urge them on). Some of the horse were burned in the abbey, and the enemy fell away without pursuit, and soon after twenty four oared galleys of the Scots rowed across Ballycastle Bay while Stanley's ships remained at anchor in flat calm conditions. Although he subsequently almost defeated Sorley Boy's nephew, reinforcements arrived from Scotland and there was little more to be achieved. Stanley returned to England in October, where his service in Ireland was considered to have been brilliant.

At the start of the Anglo-Spanish War, Stanley accompanied Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester in the 1585 expedition to the Netherlands, and was then sent to Ireland for the recruitment of troops. He expressed his enthusiasm for Irish soldiers, considering those who had fought under the Geraldine John of Desmond as resolute as any in Europe; in 1579 he had commented that the only difference between English and Irish soldiers lay in the superior discipline of the former.

Having raised 1,400 troops – most of them Irish – Stanley set out for the continent. En route he stayed at London, where it was reported that he had been in the confidence of Jesuits and privy to part of the Babington Plot, and that he had corresponded with the Spanish ambassador, Mendoza, and with the Tower-bound Earl of Arundel. When ordered to carry on to the Netherlands, he tarried in England, supposedly in the expectation of an attempt on Elizabeth's life or the arrival of a Spanish fleet. Eventually he was obliged to sail, but anticipated joining with the Duke of Parma.

In August 1586, Stanley joined Leicester and, with John Norris, took Doesborg in a violent assault. Following his service at Zutphen, where Sir Philip Sidney was fatally wounded, Leicester deemed him "worth his weight in pearl"; in October, with Sir William Pelham he took Deventer, where he was appointed governor of the city in command of a garrison of his own – mostly Irish – troops, numbering 1,200.

The quarrel between Leicester and Norris resulted in a commission for Stanley to act independently of the latter, who had taken over command of the English forces on Leicester's departure, an arrangement that prompted dissent from the States General. Stanley promptly communicated with the Spanish governor of Zutphen, and Deventer was surrendered by him to the Spanish in January 1587, whereupon almost the entire garrison entered the Spanish service. This occurred the day after Zutphen had similarly been betrayed by the English commander Rowland York (28 January).

Cardinal William Allen published a letter at Antwerp justifying Stanley's actions and setting out the case for the assassination of Elizabeth I as a heretic, citing the Papal bull Regnans in Excelsis. At the time, the queen had been considering Stanley for honours and titles, including his appointment as viceroy of Ireland; but he was almost certainly in complete sympathy with the Jesuits, which order his brother had joined and whose members sang his praises. Thereafter he plotted an invasion of England – the troops to disembark at Milford-Haven and in Ireland, where bases for the larger operation might be established – but he was disappointed at the countenance he received from the Spanish authorities, although they did award him a crown pension (the arrears of which he had to pursue in later years).

In 1588, the year of the Spanish Armada, Stanley was at the head of 700 men in the Netherlands, ready to embark with the invasion fleet. After the failure of the Armada, Sir William Fitzwilliam, lord deputy of Ireland, speculated that Stanley might be chosen to lead the Spanish army in any further attempt to invade England. In any event, he maintained his regiment in the Netherlands while travelling often to Spain to urge action against Elizabeth.

In the early 1590s he fostered numerous attempts to assassinate the Queen, but all of them were badly planned and easily detected. Patrick O'Collun, an Irish fencing master, and his accomplice John Annias, who had both served under Stanley, were executed at Tyburn in 1594 for having agreed at Stanley's instigation to murder the Queen, as were Richard Williams and Edmund York the following year. Stanley is said to have been greatly under the influence of his former army lieutenant Jacques de Francisco (Captain Jacques), a somewhat shadowy individual, and the Jesuit William Holt, both of whom believed sincerely that the killing of Elizabeth was a meritorious act.

By 1595 Stanley was desperate and suffered a reproof from the Spanish governor of the Netherlands for his violent language against Elizabeth. He continued in military service for the Spanish and was opposed to King James I on his accession in 1603, but he soon sued for a pardon and seemed desirous of returning to England. Sir Robert Cecil exonerated him from complicity in the Gunpowder Plot, but he never gained permission to visit England and spent the rest of his life in relative obscurity. He maintained a close association with the Jesuits, and when he had fallen out with them, with the English Carthusians.

Stanley died at Ghent on 3 March 1630.

In 1560, he had married Anne Dutton, a bride of ten, but the marriage was dissolved in 1565. His second marriage was to Elizabeth Egerton (d. 1614). He had two sons and three daughters; one of his sons, James Stanley, was an associate of the Earl of Arundel in the 17th century, as they plotted to overthrow the Jamestown Colony.

Richard Barnfield dedicated his poem Cynthia (a long ode to Queen Elizabeth I) to Stanley in 1595.



  • William STANLEY (Sir Knight)
  • Born: 1548
  • Died: 3 Mar 1630, Ghent
  • Notes: See his Biography.
  • Father: Rowland STANLEY of Hooton and Storeton (Sir Knight)
  • Mother: Margaret ALDERSEY
  • Married 1: Anne DUTTON 1560 Dissolved 1565
  • Married 2: Elizabeth EGERTON (dau. of John Egerton of Egerton and Jane Mostyn)
  • Children:
    • 1. William STANLEY of Hooton
    • 2. Rowland STANLEY
    • 3. Jane STANLEY
    • 4. Dau. STANLEY
    • 5. Dau. STANLEY
  • From: STANLEY (Sir Knight)1
  • Sir William Stanley was probably born in Hooton. He was the eldest son of Sir Rowland Stanley of Hooton and Storeton, Cheshire, the head of the senior branch of the house of Stanley. Sir Rowland died in 1612 at the age of 96, the oldest knight in England. William had a brother, John Stanley.
  • The young William was brought up a Catholic and at the age of 12 was married to Anne Dutton, a bride of ten, but the marriage was dissolved in 1565. After this marriage he was sent to school with a Dr Standish at Lathom, where he entered the service of his kinsman Edward Stanley, 3rd Earl of Derby. Soon afterwards, he crossed to the Spanish Netherlands and began his illustrious military career. Firstly he was a volunteer under the Spanish General Alva in 1567, but in 1570 he quit the Spanish forces and joined Elizabeth's forces in Ireland where he served with distinction for over 15 years.
  • In 1579 as one of Sir William Drury's captains in the campaign against the Earl of Desmond, he distinguished himself at Limerick and for his gallantry was knighted by Drury at Waterford. He again distinguished himself at the battles of Monasternenagh and Adare. In 1580 he returned briefly to England to enlist troops which he subsequently led to Munster, but was again recalled to assist in putting down the rebellion that had broken out in the Pale.
  • Once more he returned to Ireland. At Wicklow, Lismore, and Munster he was instrumental in hunting down rebels loyal to the Earl of Desmond, for which he was made Constable of Castlemain. In Mar 1584 he supplicated Burghley and Walsingham to make him president of Connaught. This was refused, but in Aug of the same year, he was made sheriff of Cork. Towards the end of 1584 he was sent north to campaign against the Ulster rebels, and for his troubles received several wounds, the severity of which necessitated his return to England.
  • His Irish career was effectively over, and although it had been a most brilliant one and had earned him a reputation as one of England's finest soldiers, Burghley noted that the war in Ireland was essentially a religious one, and Stanley was a Catholic. Nevertheless, he had served with honour and fidelity and never questioned his service to the Crown.
  • As the months passed, he became more and more dissillusioned. The great Desmond estates which he had been instrumental in securing had been divided up and he had received nothing, while others who had been merely on the fringe of the action were handsomely rewarded.
  • In late 1585 he was despatched to the Spanish Netherlands with the Earl of Leicester, after first recruiting soldiers from Ireland. On his way from Ireland to the United Provinces he was seen in the company of Jesuit priests, and was said to have known much of the Babington Plot, although he was not himself involved. He corresponded with Mendoza, and delayed his departure for the Spanish Netherlands in case the Queen was killed or that the Spanish fleet might arrive from Cadiz.
  • Stanley's forces eventually joined Leicester on 12 Aug 1586 where he assisted in the capture of Doesborg, and then later saw action at the battle of Zutphen where Sir Phillip Sidney received his fatal wounds. At the same time he was instrumental in the seizure of Deventer, and was duly appointed Governor in charge of a garrison of 1200 men, most of whom were Irish Catholics.
  • Having acquired a full mastery of the city and given the commission to act independantly of Norreys, he communicated with the Spanish Governor of Zutphen, Juan De Tassis, and surrendered the town on 29 Jan 1587.
  • Although many claim that during this part of his life he was totally under the control of the Jesuits (of which his brother John was a lay-brother), he received little commendation for his actions from either the Jesuit faction, or the Spanish court, although the Jesuits had the audacity to publish a book extolling the treachery of Stanley. It was ironic that his actions were as a result of his passing over of reward for his Irish services, yet at the time of this treachery, Elizabeth was preparing to appoint him Viceroy of Ireland.
  • Over the next year, Stanley made several trips to the Spanish court and offered advice on a planned invasion of England, indicating that it would be better to use Ireland and its sympathetic Catholics as a platform from which to launch a naval attack. However the Spanish ignored his suggestions, and subsequently the Spanish Armada was defeated in 1588. Stanley immediately retired to Antwerp. By 1590 he was back in Madrid as the representative of a thousand strong legion of Irishmen and expatriate Englishmen known as the English Legion. Into the services of this regiment eventually came the likes of Guy Fawkes and Thomas Wintour. Stanley indicated his willingness to join any armed revolt or uprising against Elizabeth, and was now closely identified as a member of the Jesuit faction. In 1591 he consulted in Rome with other enemies of Elizabeth I, and announced his support for Lady Arabella Stuart, or Ferdinando Stanley, Lord Strange as Elizabeth's successor. He made yearly visits to Spain, and was present with the Spanish in 1596 when they invaded France. He fought at Amiens, at Geldern against Maurice of Nassau, and at Newport.
  • On Elizabeth's death, Stanley, who had previously sent Thomas Wintour to Spain, despatched Guy Fawkes and Christopher Wright, an emissary of Robert Catesby, to warn Felipe II against James, and again recommend an invasion using Ireland as the stopping-off point.
  • Soon after the failure of this mission, it appears he began secret negotiations with the English government to secure his own pardon, and there is no direct evidence to connect him with complicity in the Gunpowder Plot, although he was placed under house arrest in Brussels on suspicion after being denounced by Fawkes. However, on 30 Jan 1606, Sir Robert Cecil, the Secretary of State, exonerated him from the charge. This may have been due to the confession of Thomas Wintour who states "Sir William Stanley was not returned from Spain, so as he [Fawkes] uttered the matter only to Owen, who seemed well pleased with the business, but told him that surely Sir William would not be acquainted with any plot, as having business now afoot in the Court of England, but he himself would be always ready to tell it him and send him away as soon as it were done". But the theory has been put forward that Stanley was prepared to offer information (in particular regarding the Spanish Treason and the movements of Fawkes, Wintour, and Wright) in order to secure his own pardon from the Crown. It is true that upon release he held a public thanksgiving in the cathedral of Malines
  • After the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, Stanley plainly recognized that the Catholic cause had become severely fragmented and completely discredited, and he no longer entertained plans with Spain with regard to an English invasion, even though peace had been declared between the two enemies. Therefore, the remainder of his life was spent in relative obscurity. He assisted in establishing a Jesuit novitiate in Liege in 1614, and appears to have been appointed governor of Mechlin. He spent much of his latter years with the English Carthusians in Ostend, having several times sought in vain to return to England. He died at Ghent on 3 Mar 1630 and was buried at Mechlin.
  • By his wife Elizabeth, daughter of John Egerton of Egerton he had two sons and three daughters. Eventually his grandson succeeded to the family estates at Hooton in Cheshire, and his great-grandson was created a Baronet in 1661.
  • From:



view all

Sir William Stanley's Timeline