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Lady Margaret Stanley, Countess of Derby

LadyMargaretCliffordHenry VIII’s will specified the order in which his relations were to inherit the throne. He began with his own children and then progressed to his nieces – the English ones descended from Princess Mary Tudor, once married to Louis XII of France, then to Charles Brandon, were identified as having a superior claim to the descendants of Margaret Tudor. Mary was actually the third daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York whilst Margaret was the first daughter born to the new dynasty – so technically speaking Henry VIII played fast and loose with the order of inheritance in any event…possibly the least of his worries. However, the 1544 Act of Parliament enshrined the whole thing in law and presumably no one liked to mention the discrepancy to Henry.

To recap – Frances and Eleanor Brandon were the only surviving children of Mary and Charles. There had been two little boys both called, somewhat confusingly, Henry Brandon. The older boy lived long enough to become Earl of Lincoln.  The younger boy was born in 1516 and died in 1522. The second Henry Brandon was born in 1523. He had been destined to marry Katherine Willoughby but after he and his mother died, the bereft duke of married his young ward in 1534.

Frances survived to adulthood, married Henry Grey and had three daughters – Lady Jane Grey, Lady Katherine Grey and Lady Mary Grey.  Grey managed to get himself executed in 1554. Frances swiftly married her master of horse, Adrian Stokes, and in marrying a commoner took herself out of the equation.

When Elizabeth I came to the throne her heir presumptive were in turn Katherine and Mary Grey. After they died, and Elizabeth without children of her own not to mention a coyness when it came to naming successors, it was inevitable that Henry’s will should be looked at once again.

Eleanor Brandon, Frances’ younger sister, died in 1547. She was predeceased by her two sons, Henry and Charles, who had died in infancy. Lady Margaret Clifford was the only surviving daughter of Henry Clifford, 2nd Earl of Cumberland  and Lady Eleanor Brandon.

She was the great granddaughter of Henry VII and according to Henry VIII’s will if anything happened to Elizabeth she would become queen of England. She therefore became Elizabeth’s heir presumptive. It was not a good place to be.

Before then she’d managed to avoid becoming a pawn in the game of crowns through her father’s forethought and then through her own lack of popularity. In 1553 the Duke of Northumberland had proposed to marry her to either his son, Guildford, or his brother, Sir Andrew Dudley, but Cumberland refused the match on his daughter’s behalf and took no part in the attempt to make Lady Jane Grey queen (sensible man).

Instead, Margaret was married with Queen Mary’s blessing in Westminster Abbey in February 1555 to Henry Stanley, Lord Strange. He was descended from the Woodvilles, Howards, Nevilles and a certain Thomas Stanley who happened to be married to Margaret Beaufort and who sat around on hillsides during key battles of the Wars of the Roses waiting to see how it would all pan out – landing the title Earl of Derby for his pains.

By 1557 Margaret was recorded as saying that Lady Jane Grey’s treason had excluded her sisters, Catherine and Mary Grey, from the succession, thus making Margaret, Queen Mary’s heiress presumptive…yes I know there was Elizabeth to take into consideration but Mary’s relationship with her sister was fraught by 1557.  Mary was fond of stating that Elizabeth had the look of lute player Mark Smeaton.  There was also the fact that Elizabeth was notably not Catholic whereas Margaret was.

Let’s just say that Lord and Lady Strange weren’t terribly popular so there wasn’t a rush of aristocratic types to support her claim for the throne.

Margaret had to settle for being a lady at court.  Poets dedicated their works to her and she spent huge sums of money. She spent so much money that she had to borrow from her own lady-in-waiting. Lord Strange had to sell land to settle her debts which probably didn’t help their relationship. By 1578 her creditors were hounding her in the streets of London – by that time she was the Countess of Derby and Henry had gone off to live with his mistress.

Unfortunately it was at about that time she became Elizabeth I’s heir presumptive.  It turned out that whilst Elizabeth could tolerate her cousin getting the odd dedication from artistic types she didn’t much like her sizing up the throne and crown.

Margaret had an interest in the sciences that she’d inherited from her father. She enjoyed dabbling in alchemy and astrology. In 1578 she was accused of employing a “magician,” named Dr. Randall, to cast spells to discover how long Queen Elizabeth would live. No one was interested in Margaret’s protests that Randall was a doctor dealing with her rheumatism. According to one source, Randall was hanged and Margaret was banished from court and spent the rest of her life, eighteen years in all, under house arrest in her home at Isleworth.

 

Interestingly she had two sons who survived to adulthood.  Both of them would become Earls of Derby in their turn: Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby (c. 1559 – 16 April, 1594) and William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby (c. 1561 – 29 September 1642).

Yes – I know that’s two adult English males with Tudor blood…albeit Stanleys. More on Ferdinado anon.

 

 

 

 

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