Ferdinando STANLEY

(5th E. Derby)

Born: ABT 1559, London, England

Died: 16 Apr 1594, Ormskirk, Lancashire, England

Buried: Ormskirk

Father: Henry STANLEY (4 E. Derby)

Mother: Margaret CLIFFORD (C. Derby)

Married: Alice SPENCER (C. Derby) BEF 1580


1. Elizabeth STANLEY (C. Huntingdon)

2. Anne STANLEY (B. Chandos of Sudeley / C. Castleheaven)

3. Frances STANLEY

I want to thank Aaron Bennett and Jessica Don, of the Bristol Renassaince Faire, for the research he had done about Ferdinando Stanley and Alice Spencer.

Eldest surviving of four sons, to Sir Henry Stanley, 4 E. Derby, and Margaret Clifford. Born of ancient royal blood on both sides of his family, Lord Ferdinando was considered the Queen’s Heir Apparent.

Having matriculated at the age of thirteen into the University of Oxford, he was called to Court a year later by the Queen herself "to be shaped in good manners". Later, he was summoned to Parliament v.p. (28 Jan 1588/9) in his father's Barony of Strange (of Knokyn) as Lord Strange. 19 Feb 1592/3, by writs directed "Ferdinando D'no Straunge". A supporter of the arts, Lord Strange enjoyed, music, dance, poetry, and singing; but above all he loved the theatre. He was the patron of several poets, authors, and playwrights, including, among others: Christopher Marlowe, Robert Greene, Edmund Spenser, and William Shakespeare. Shakespeare may have been employed by Strange in his early years. Strange's began as a troupe of acrobats and tumblers in London in the early 1580s, but in 1588 the company was reorganized, emphasizing acting. By 1590, Strange's was allied with Admiral's Men, performing at The Theatre (owned by James Burbage, father of Richard; he became the troupe's leading tragedian). In 1593, Lord Strange became Earl Derby, changing the company's name to Derby's Men. Scholars believe that Shakespeare was involved with Strange's as both actor and playwright. The troupe produced "Titus Andronicus" and "Henry VI". In 1603, Shakespeare's troupe received a patent from James I allowing them to style themselves the King's Men.

He had married Alice Spencer in 1579; in his last days, dreaming that his lady was "most dangerously sick to death", he started weeping from his bed, raised an alarm, called out for help, and could not be comforted until he found her well.

Alice Spencer was the baby of the six daughters and one son of Sir John Spencer of Althorp and Catherine Kytson.

Ferdinando was "of an exalted genius as well as birth", and during the absence of his father on State business, discharged the duties, of the Lieutenancies of Lancashire and Cheshire with great credit and ability,. He was himself a poet and author, and enjoyed the society of the eminent men of letters who have made the reign of Elizabeth famous. Spencer, 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, and Ferdinando's were included in that work, but none of the poems bear the signature of the noble lord, and the identity is to a great extent a matter of conjecture.

The death of this Earl was a most mysterious one. A number of rebels, who hid fled to foreign countries, sent over a man named Richard Hesketh to urge Earl Ferdinando to set up a claim to the crown of England by right of his descent from Mary, Queen Dowager of France, the second daughter of Henry VII, and younger sister to Henry VIII. The Heskeths were ancient retainers of the Stanley family and were family friends, which is why Richard was chosen to approach him about the matter that has come to be known as "The Hesketh Affair". Threatening that unless he undertook the project, and conceal the messengers and instigators of it, he should shortly die in a most wretched manner; but if he complied, he might be assured of powerful assistance. Ferdinando rejected the proposition with scorn and indignation.

The unexpected death of Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby, on 16 Apr 1594 was an event of major political importance in the later years of Queen Elizabeth I of England. Supposed to have been poisoned by the Jesuits, his gentleman of horse was greatly suspected of administering the poison, for on the same day that the Earl was attacked, he fled on one of the best horses, and was never heard of again. His death was so significant that the historian John Stow recorded his illness in great detail. Ferdinando left three daughters, but no sons. The Earldom of Derby devolved on his brother and heir male, 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.

Alice Spencer

Countess of Derby

Alice Spencer, Countess of Derby

by circle of Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger

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