William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby
William Stanley, the 6th Earl of Derby
|Died||29 September 1642
|Title||Earl of Derby|
|Known for||travels, Shakespeare authorship candidate|
William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby, KG (1561 – 29 September 1642) was an English nobleman. Stanley inherited a prominent social position that was both dangerous and unstable, as his mother was heir to Queen Elizabeth I under the Third Succession Act, a position that fell to his deceased brother's oldest daughter in 1596, shortly after William took the title of Earl. After a period of European travel in his youth, a long legal battle eventually consolidated the Earl's social position. Nevertheless, he was careful to remain circumspect in national politics, devoting himself to administration and cultural projects, including playwriting.
His own literary works are lost or unidentified, but in the 1890s he was put forward as one of the contenders to be the true author of the works of William Shakespeare, according to some proponents of the Shakespeare authorship question.
He was a son of Henry Stanley, 4th Earl of Derby, and Lady Margaret Clifford. His mother was heiress presumptive of Elizabeth I of England from 1578 to her own death in 1596. After his mother died his older brother Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby, became a potential heir to the throne. Ferdinando died before he could inherit. 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.
Stanley attended St John's College, Oxford. In 1582 he travelled to the continent to study in university towns in France, also possibly attending Henry of Navarre's academy at Nérac. In 1585 he returned home, but was once more sent to Paris as part of an embassy to Henry III of France. He then remained in Europe for three years of personal travel before returning home once more. He may have been accompanied on his travels by the young John Donne.
During his travels he is said to have led an adventurous existence, being involved in duels and love affairs, and travelling in disguise as a friar while in Italy. He is supposed to have also visited Egypt, where he fought and killed a tiger, then going on to Turkey, where it is claimed he narrowly escaped being executed for insulting the prophet Mohammed; he was supposedly released because a Muslim noblewoman wanted to marry him. According to the story, he turned her down, travelling on to Moscow and then to Greenland, from which he returned to Europe in a whaling ship.
These colourful adventures are traceable to a popular ballad entitled Sir William Stanley's Garland, which exaggerates his three years away to "twenty one years travels through most parts of the world". This was recorded in 1800 and its contents published in 1801. There is no extant documentary evidence for these supposed adventures, but the stories were regularly repeated in 19th-century biographies of the Earl.
After the death of his father in 1593, his elder brother Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby, had inherited the Earldom and its estates, but died a few months later in April 1594 leaving three daughters but no male heir. Ferdinando's daughters claimed the rights to their father's estates, while William inherited the title. He also assumed the title Baron Strange. A further complexity was that Ferdinando's eldest daughter Anne Stanley, Countess of Castlehaven, became officially the heir presumptive to Elizabeth's throne in 1596. A complex legal dispute followed, which dragged on for many years. It led to a ruling that the Isle of Man, then possessed by the Stanleys, was forfeit to the Queen. However, the Queen ceded her right to it in recognition of the Stanley family's services. In the end Stanley was granted Lathom and Knowsley with all relevant lands and estates in Lancashire, Cumberland, Yorkshire, Cheshire, and Wales. A number of other estates were granted to him. Ferdinando's daughters received a number of other properties linked to baronies. The daughters were also granted the Isle of Man, but it was purchased by the new Earl and his title to it was later confirmed by James I. While retaining the title Lord of Mann, Derby passed the administration of the Isle to Anne Stanley. He transferred the title to his wife Elizabeth in 1612. Derby's assumption of the barony of Strange was not contested in his lifetime, but after his death it was determined to have been incorrect. A new form of the barony was then created for his son.
The Stanley family were suspected of pro-Catholic sympathies, as legal heirs to the throne of England through Henry VIII's sister Mary Tudor, Queen of France. There were many rumours surrounding the untimely death of Ferdinando, who had been approached to lead an attempt to overthrow the queen, but remained loyal. Poisoning was widely suspected due to the sudden and violent nature of his illness. Possibly because of the potential for military rebellion in alliance with Irish Catholics, the new Earl was expressly forbidden by the queen to take part in the Earl of Essex's campaign in Ireland. The Earl limited his involvement with national politics, devoting himself primarily to the management of his estates and his dominant position in local administration in Lancashire and Cheshire. In 1603 he became a member of the Privy Council.
Queen Elizabeth eventually granted him the Order of the Garter. James I appointed him Lord Chamberlain of Chester. A few years after the death of his wife the elderly Earl being "old and infirm, and desirous of withdrawing himself from the hurry and fatigue of life" assigned his estates to his son James, retaining an annuity of £1,000. The Earl purchased a house beside the River Dee just outside Chester, where he lived in retirement until his death on 29 September 1642.
Derby is one of several individuals who have been claimed by proponents of the Shakespearean authorship question to be the true author of William Shakespeare's works. Derby's candidacy was first proposed in 1891 by the archivist James H. Greenstreet, who identified a pair of 1599 letters by the Jesuit spy George Fenner in which he reported that Derby was not likely to advance the Catholic cause, as he was "busy penning plays for the common players." Greenstreet argued that the comic scenes in Love's Labour's Lost were influenced by a pageant of the Nine Worthies only ever performed in Derby's home town of Chester. Greenstreet attempted to develop his ideas in a second paper, but died suddenly in 1892, leaving his arguments incomplete. The theory was revived by the American writer Robert Frazer in The Silent Shakespeare (1915), who concluded that "William Stanley was William Shakespeare". The idea was then taken up in France and was first advocated in scholarly detail when the Rabelais expert Abel Lefranc published his 1918 book, Sous le masque de William Shakespeare: William Stanley, VIe comte de Derby. Several other authors later supported Derby's candidacy, sometimes as part of a group of writers.
While accepting Shakespeare's own authorship of the canon, Leo Daugherty, who wrote an account of Stanley's life for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), has argued in a recent book that Stanley is the Fair Youth of Shakespeare's sonnets and that Richard Barnfield is the "Rival Poet".
On 26 January 1595 he married Elizabeth de Vere, daughter of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, and Anne Cecil. Elizabeth's maternal grandparents were William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, and his second wife Mildred Cooke. Mildred was the eldest daughter of Anthony Cooke and his wife Anne Fitzwilliam. It has been suggested that the occasion of their wedding was the inspiration for William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and that the play was first performed at the couple's wedding festivities. In the early years the relationship was stormy, including claims that Elizabeth had had affairs with Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, and Walter Ralegh. The relationship settled down as Derby's financial and social position stabilised. The couple had five children:
- James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby (31 January 1607 – 15 October 1651).
- Robert Stanley (d. 1632).
- Anne Stanley, Countess of Ancram (d. 1657). Married first Sir Henry Portman and secondly Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Ancram.
- Elizabeth Stanley. Died young.
- Elizabeth Stanley. Named after deceased older sister. Died young.
- Leo Daugherty, "William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby", Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.
- Thomas Aspen, Historical Sketches of the House of Stanley and Biography of Edward Geoffrey 14th Earl of Derby, Comprising numerous brilliant Adventures, Thrilling Incidents and Interesting Sketches and Debates. With Portraits and Fac-Similes of the Autograph of the Fourteenth and the Fifteenth Earls, Preston, 1877.
- Barry Coward, The Stanleys, Lords Stanley, and Earls of Derby, 1385–1672: the origins, wealth, and power of a landowning family, Manchester University Press, 1984, p. 64, n. 6.
- 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.
- Barry Coward, The Stanleys, Lords Stanley, and Earls of Derby, 1385–1672: the origins, wealth, and power of a landowning family, Manchester University Press, 1984, p. 140.
- Greenstreet, James. "A Hitherto Unknown Noble Writer of Elizabethan Comedies", The Genealogist, New Series, 1891, Vol. 7
- Greenstreet, James, "Testimonies against the accepted authorship of Shakespear’s Plays", The Genealogist, Vol.8, p. 141. London 1892.
- Robert Frazer, The Silent Shakespeare, Philadelphia, (1915), p. 210.
- Daugherty, Leo (2010), William Shakespeare, Richard Barnfield, and the Sixth Earl of Derby., Cambria Press, p. passim., ISBN 1-60497-712-4
- Kathy Lynn Emerson, A Who's Who of Tudor Women, retrieved 18-12-09
- Honigmann, E. A. J. (1998), Shakespeare:the "lost years", Manchester University Press, ISBN 978-0-7190-5425-9
- A biographical article on him
- Stanley's patronage of theater and/or music: Patrons and Performances Web Site
Title last held byThe 4th Earl of Derby
|Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire and Lancashire
with Lord Strange (1626–1642)
|Vice-Admiral of Cheshire and Lancashire
|Peerage of England|
|Earl of Derby
|Head of State of the Isle of Man|
|Lord of Mann
Elizabeth de Vere, Countess of Derby