Ferdinando Stanley (1559-1594), Lord Strange associated with the likes of Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare as well as the poet Edmund Spenser. In the 1580s Lord Strange’s men performed in London and when Stanley’s father died and Ferdinando became the Earl of Derby the players became Derby’s Men. In short, Ferdinando splashed the cash like his mother Margaret Clifford before him except whereas she’d gambled he invested in becoming a patron of the arts. It is as such is is most commonly remembered and written about.
History knows that he graduated from Oxford University at the age of twelve and was then summoned by his distant cousin Queen Elizabeth to court as a squire so that he could learn ‘good manners’ and presumably so that she could keep an eye on him.
He married Alice Spencer of Althorp in Northamptonshire in 1579 who after her husband’s death became involved in a legal tangle with her brother-in-law over what was rightfully hers.
So far so straight forward – except of course Ferdinando was the two times great grandson of Henry VII. Under the terms of Henry VIII’s will it should have been his family line who ascended to the throne after Elizabeth I died. As it was his mother was dead as were his cousins the three Grey sisters, Jane, Katherine and Mary. Elizabeth had successfully illegitimised the two sons of Lady Katherine Grey although they were permitted to inherit their father’s estates and ultimately their father Edward Seymour found the priest who had performed the marriage ceremony for him and Katherine.
Back to Ferdinando. It is thought that Catholic discontents and possibly the papacy approached Ferdinando with a view to him becoming a contender for the throne. They sent a man named Richard Hesketh who had links with the Stanley family. Ferdinando, clearly a sensible man, rejected the idea out of hand and very swiftly found someone in authority to tell recognizing that Cecil who’d learned of a plot in Rome would probably find out about Stanley having a chat to a conspirator. Hesketh was swiftly arrested and executed although he is said to have told Ferdinando that if he didn’t agree to the plan he would find himself very dead soon afterwards. The episode is referred to as the Hesketh Plot and the whole episode described in detail by John Stowe, the Tudor historian.
Unfortunately Stanley’s hopes of being rewarded for his loyalty were ill-founded. He should have realized from the fate of his mother and her cousins that Elizabeth would not look kindly on a possible candidate for her crown.
He died in unexplained circumstances on 16th April 1594 having been taken suddenly and severely ill with vomiting. He is buried in Ormskirk. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography he asked his doctors to stop treating him as he knew he was dying. Rumours spread that it was the work of Jesuits. His gentleman of the horse was apparently accused and unsurprisingly fled on one of the earl’s best horses. The man was never seen again.
Ferdinando’d been earl for less than a year and he had no male heirs other than his brother who now became the sixth Earl of Derby. However, he did have daughters and England does not have salic laws preventing a woman from inheriting the throne (I bet the Grey sisters and Lady Margaret Stanley all wished there was a salic law by the time Cousin Elizabeth had done with them.) Ferdinando’s eldest daughter, Anne Stanley, Countess of Castlehaven now became Elizabeth I’s heir presumptive under the terms of Henry VIII’s will.
However, by that time the Privy Council headed up by the Cecil family had identified Mary Queen of Scots’ son, James VI of Scotland, as Elizabeth’s heir and Elizabeth’s tacit agreement with this meant that other contenders for the throne ceased to have such political importance unless someone European started evolving plots to put them on the throne – poor Arbella Stuart is a case in point- and it should also be added that Lord Burghley (Cecil) arranged for the marriage of his granddaughter to the new earl of Derby demonstrating that intrigue, politics and marriage went hand in hand during the Tudor period.
David Kathman, ‘Stanley, Ferdinando, fifth earl of Derby (1559?–1594)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sept 2013 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/26269, accessed 10 March 2017]
|Countess of Derby
Alice Spencer, Countess of Derby
by circle of Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger