Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby

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Ferdinando Stanley
Fernando Stanley.jpg
Ferdinando Stanley, the 5th Earl of Derby
Born 1559
Died 16 April 1594
Title Earl of Derby
Tenure 1593-1594
Nationality English
Locality Lancashire, Cheshire

Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby (1559 – 16 April 1594) was the son of Henry Stanley, 4th Earl of Derby and Lady Margaret Clifford. According to the will of Henry VIII, his mother was heiress presumptive of Elizabeth I of England from 1578 to her own death in 1596. After her death Ferdinando would have become heir to Elizabeth I, but he predeceased his mother by two years and the queen by nine years. His sudden death led to widespread suspicion of poisoning amid fears of Catholic plots to overthrow Elizabeth.

His maternal grandparents were Henry Clifford, 2nd Earl of Cumberland and Lady Eleanor Brandon. Eleanor was the third child of Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk and Mary Tudor. Mary was the fifth child of Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York.

Baron Strange[edit]

His matriculation occurred around 1572 when he was about thirteen years old and then attended the University of Oxford. He was called to Court a year later by the Queen Elizabeth "to be shaped in good manners". He was subsequently summoned to Parliament in his father's Barony of Strange (of Knokyn) and became known as "Ferdinando D'no Straunge". In 1579 he married Alice Spencer, the youngest daughter of Sir John Spencer of Althorp and Catherine Kytson.

He was a supporter of the arts, enjoying music, dance, poetry, and singing, but above all he loved the theatre. He was the patron of many writers including Robert Greene, Christopher Marlowe, Edmund Spenser and William Shakespeare. Shakespeare may have been employed by Strange in his early years as part of Lord Strange's Men when this troupe of acrobats and tumblers was reorganized in 1592, emphasizing acting. By 1590, Strange's was allied with the Admiral's Men, performing at The Theatre (owned by James Burbage, father of Richard Burbage).

During this period Ferdinando remained circumspect about his true opinions on religion and other matters. The Jesuit writer Robert Parsons expressed frustration, stating that "diverse men" were not satisfied "with the course of this lord hitherto". Parsons hoped that the accession of the Stanleys to the English throne might aid the Catholic cause, but that "the Earl of Derby's religion is held to be doubtful, as some do think him to be of all three religions [Catholic; Episcopal Protestant; Puritan] and others of none." He added that "no side will esteem or trust him" because of this.[1] Nevertheless Elizabeth's chief minister Lord Burghley received several reports that Catholics were attempting to build support for Ferdinando "who might be made king by the Catholics unanimously", as one informant stated.[1]

Earl of Derby[edit]

Cultural patronage[edit]

His father died on 25 September 1593 and Ferdinando succeeded him as the 5th Earl of Derby. Lord Strange's Men were renamed to Derby's Men accordingly. Scholars believe that Shakespeare was involved with Strange's as both actor and playwright. The troupe produced Titus Andronicus and the trilogy of Henry VI, Part 1, Henry VI, Part 2 and Henry VI, Part 3. Some of these plays may contain oblique references to the Stanley family's political position at the time.[1]

Ferdinando was considered "of an exalted genius as well as birth", and during the absence of his father on State business, he ably discharged the duties, of the Lieutenancies of Lancashire and Cheshire. He was both a poet and author, enjoying the society of eminent Elizabethan men of letters. Edmund Spenser, the poet, personified Ferdindando as "Amyntas", and his Countess as "Amaryllis". In 1610, a collection of English poems, entitled Belvedere; or the Garden of the Muses was published including Ferdinando's work, but without his signature, and the identity is to a great extent a matter of conjecture.

Hesketh plot[edit]

After his succession to the Earldom, more reports of Catholic plots on his behalf reached Burghley, particularly of a priest in Rome who had stated that Stanley "though he were of no religion, should find friends to decide a nearer estate [to the throne]". A number of rebels, who had fled to foreign countries, sent over a man named Richard Hesketh to urge him a claim to the crown of England by right of his descent from Mary, Queen Dowager of France, the second surviving daughter of Henry VII, and younger sister to Henry VIII. The Heskeths were ancient retainers of the Stanley family and were family friends. This is why Richard was chosen to approach him about the matter that has come to be known as "The Hesketh Affair". Ferdinando held two secret meetings with Hesketh, and then took him to London for further discussions with his mother, who had earlier been excluded from court for allegedly plotting against Elizabeth. Stanley finally dramatically rejected Hesketh's proposition with displays of scorn and indignation, turning Hesketh over to the authorities.[1]

Hesketh was interrogated and later executed. However, Stanley, who had hoped his display of loyalty would be rewarded, was shut out of the case and was marginalised. He was dismayed when the position of Lord Chamberlain of Chester was given to Thomas Egerton rather than himself, complaining that he was "crossed in court and crossed in his country".[1]


His death was mysterious. A few months after the Hesketh affair, he was suddenly taken ill with a severe and violent sickness. Poisoning was suspected. It was claimed that Hesketh had threatened him that he would soon die if he did not accept his plans.[1] He was said to have been poisoned by the Jesuits, his gentleman of horse being suspected of administering the poison. The historian John Stow recorded his illness in great detail. It has been suggested that poisonous mushrooms were used.[2]

The unexpected death of Ferdinando on 16 April 1594 was an event of major political importance in the later years of Queen Elizabeth's reign as it opened up the succession question once more.


From his marriage to Alice Spencer he had his eldest daughter, Anne Stanley, Countess of Castlehaven, in 1580. Henry VIII's will would have made her queen in 1603 as heiress of Henry's younger sister Mary Tudor; Elizabeth was actually succeeded by James VI of Scotland, the heir of Henry's older sister, Margaret Tudor.

Bernard Burke also mentioned two younger daughters of the Earl and Alice Spencer. Lady Frances Stanley (1583–1636) would become the wife of John Egerton, 1st Earl of Bridgewater and mother of John Egerton, 2nd Earl of Bridgewater. Lady Elizabeth Stanley (1588–1633) was married to Henry Hastings, 5th Earl of Huntingdon. Their son Ferdinando Hastings, 6th Earl of Huntingdon was named after his maternal grandfather.

Ferdinando was succeeded as Earl of Derby by his younger brother, William. But the Baronies of Strange (of Knokyn) [1299], Mohun (of Dunster) [1299], and Stanley [1456], fell into abeyance between his daughters and coheirs. The Barony of Strange (of Knokyn) was, however, improperly assumed by the succeeding Earls of Derby, and being, erroneously, supposed, in 1628, to belong to them, gave occasion to a writ of that date whereby a new Barony of the name of "Strange" was created.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Lawrence Manley, "From Strange's Men to Pembroke's Men: 2 "Henry VI" and "The First Part of the Contention".", Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 54, No. 3 (Autumn, 2003), pp. 253-287.
  2. ^ Adrian Reuben, "The Last Gasp or Caveat Cenans!", Hepatology, Volume 38, Issue 1, p.278

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
The 4th Earl of Derby
Vice-Admiral of Cheshire and Lancashire
Title next held by
The 6th Earl of Derby
Peerage of England
Preceded by
Henry Stanley
Earl of Derby
Succeeded by
William Stanley
Baron Stanley
Title next held by
Edith Abney-Hastings, 1921
Baron Mohun
Baron Strange
(writ in acceleration)

Title next held by
Elizabeth Philipps, 1921
Head of State of the Isle of Man
Preceded by
Henry Stanley
Lord of Mann
Succession dispute
Title next held by
Henry Howard, 1607-08