Died: 29 Sep 1596, Cleveland Row, London, Middlesex, England
Buried: 22 Oct 1596, Westminster Abbey, London, Middlessex, England
Father: Henry CLIFFORD (2º E. Cumberland)
Mother: Eleanor BRANDON (C. Cumberland)
Married: Henry STANLEY (4º E. Derby) 7 Feb 1555, Royal Chapel, Whitehall, London, Middlessex, England
1. Edward STANLEY
2. Ferdinando STANLEY (5º E. Derby)
3. William STANLEY (6º E. Derby)
4. Francis STANLEY
Margaret Clifford, Countess of Derby
Portrait attributed to Hans Eworth c.1560 may be Lady Strange
Daughter of Henry Clifford, 2nd E. of Cumberland and Eleanor Brandon, and as the great-granddaughter of Henry VII was next in line to inherit the throne of England after the three Grey sisters under the terms of Henry VIII’s will.
The Duke of Northumberland proposed to marry her to either his son, Guildford, or his brother, Sir Andrew Dudley, but Cumberland refused the match and took no part in the attempt to make Lady Jane Grey queen. Margaret married Henry Stanley, Lord Strange (Sep 1531-Sep 25,1593) at Westminster on 7 Feb 1555. Queen Mary gave her the confiscated Dudley jewels and robes as a wedding gift.
By 1557, Margaret was openly asserting that Lady Jane’s treason had excluded her sisters, Catherine and Mary Grey, from the succession, thus making Margaret heiress presumptive of the throne. She excluded Elizabeth Tudor because she was not a Catholic. Lady Strange was, but that did little to increase support for her claim. The “poor esteem” in which Lord and Lady Strange were held kept Felipe II from backing them.
Early in Elizabeth Tudor’s reign, the poet John Harington chose Margaret as his ideal of a royal lady. Robert Greene dedicated The Mirror of Modesty to her, and Thomas Lupton’s dedication to A Thousand Notable Things and Sundry Sortes called her “the affable Lady Margaret”, but she was not generally regarded as a likeable woman. She was a spendthrift. In 1558, she was reduced to borrowing £300 from Mrs. Calfhell, her lady-in-waiting. Margaret quarreled with her father-in-law, Edward, third Earl of Derby, over money matters.
In 1565, Margaret was at court as the Queen’s trainbearer and she was a lady of the Privy Chamber from 1568-1570.
By 1566, the family finances were stretched by the weddings of two of Lord Strange's sisters. Each received a dowry of £1500. At about the same time, Henry Stanley was forced to sell land to pay her creditors. She owed another £1500. Eventually the couple separated, the final rift coming when he broke up the household at Gaddesden. Margaret also claimed that he'd offered one of her ladies £200 to spy on her. Lord Strange consoled himself with a mistress, Jane Halsall, by whom he eventually had four acknowledged children.
Lady Strange developed a dangerous interest in alchemy, to which she had been introduced by her father. An interest in the occult, although widespread among Elizabethans, could be a dangerous hobby; an interest in fortune-telling especially so for one in Margaret's position on the periphery of the sticcession dispute. From 1572, Margaret was countess of Derby. She consulted with wizards "with a vain credulity, and out of I know not what ambitious hope”, according to William Camden, and lost the Queen’s favor. In 1578 she was accused of employing a "magician", actually a well-known physician named Dr. Randall, to cast spells to discover how long Queen Elizabeth would live. According to one source, Randall was hanged and Margaret was banished from court and spent the rest of her life, eighteen years, in the custody of her kinsman, Thomas Seckford (d.1587), Master of Requests, to whom she was related through his mother, Margaret (d. 1557), the daughter of Sir John Wingfield (d. 1509) of Letheringham, and aunt of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Later she had a series of keepers, although she was allowed to live in her own house at Isleworth.
According to a book on the Stanley family, her debts continued to mount. In 1579, the Privy Council ordered the Lord Mayor of London to pressure her creditors to stop hounding her. In May 1580, Margaret's husband petitioned to be allowed to sell lands to pay debts. In Jun 1581, the Privy Council appointed a commission to find ways to reduce the Derbys' debts. In Dec 1581, the Privy Council was after the Earl to pay Margaret her pension. In 1582, Queen Elizabeth finally approved the sale of Derby lands. Margaret proceeded to sell off land in Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, and Staffordshire valued at £88 8s.4d/year. With a twenty year purchase, that meant she probably received £1,768 6s.10d. In 1584-93, her husband and sons borrowed at least £8,732 13s.4d. against Derby holdings and sold other land for £3800. Not only had Margaret's debts mounted, but the Earl had incurred other debts in the course of undertaking diplomatic missions for the Crown. Before their separation, Margaret gave Lord Strange four sons, Edward and Francis, who died young, Ferdinando, 5th Earl of Derby, and William, 6th Earl of Derby.
In spite of chronic reumatism and toothache, her husband infidelities and their acrimonious financial disputes, the Countess of Derby lived on into the mid-1590´s. The historian William Camden said of her that "through an idle mixture of curiosity and ambition, supported by sanguine hopes and a credulous fancy, she much used the conversations of necromancers and figure flingers". She seems to have been rather a frivolous and silly woman.
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