(Bishop of Ely)

Born: ABT 1471

Died: 22 Mar 1514/5, Manchester

Father: Thomas STANLEY (1 E. Derby)

Mother: Eleanor NEVILLE

Associated with: ?


1. John STANLEY of Honford

Sixth son of Thomas first Earl of Derby. He passed some time both at Oxford and Cambridge, and finally graduated at the latter University in or about 1458, in which year he took holy orders and was made prebendary of Holywell in the church of St Paul in London. Probably without much regard to his own inclinations he was early destined to the Church, in which, for at least several generations before him, there had always been at least one cadet of the house of Lathom to be found. His uncle, a churchman of his own name, probably gave him his name at the font and chose his profession for him.

In, 1470 he was appointed prebendary of Driffield, in the church, of York. In 1479 he was collated to the prebend of Dunham in, the church of Southwell; and so quickly did preferments come upon him that on 22 Jul 1485, he succeeded his uncle in the valuable wardenship of the Collegiate Church at Manchester. A pluralist already still, further promotion awaited him. In 1491, he was installed in the, prebend of Yatminster Prima, of the Church of Salisbury, and the next year in the prebend of Beaminster in the same church.

In 1493 he was made dean of the royal chapel of St. Martin's-le-Grand in London, in 1478 rector of Rostherne, Cheshire, in 1500 archdeacon of Richmond, and in 1505 precentor of Salisbury. We can hardly suppose that all these preferments could have flowed in upon him without his having some good qualities, which history has omitted to record, and there is an improbability in the story which Jortin tells of him, that when Erasmus was in Paris with Lord Mountjoy and some other young nobles, in 1490, he was offered promises and a pension if he would take under his tuition James Stanley and fit him to be made a Bishop, for James Stanley had then been long in the church, and was no longer young; moreover, though he was always said to be armis quam libris peritior, it is hardly likely that one who had mixed as he had done in his father's halls with Hugh Oldham, Bishop of Exeter, William Smith, Bishop of Lincoln, and the other learned persons whom Margaret of Richmond drew around her, there could be an illiterate person. For his next step in dignity, his advance to the mitre, he is believed to have been indebted to the Countess of Richmond, which it has been said we must not reckon amongst her many good deeds, but as the very. worst thing she ever did.

On the 17 Jul 1506, Pope Julius II. Signed his bull of provision constituting him Bishop of Ely, and in the following year the University of Oxford granted and decreed that he might be created a doctor of decrees by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Bishop of London placing a cap upon his head. At this. time, if not before he resigned the living of Winwick. On Holyrood Day, 3 May 1495, when the Earl of Derby as constable of England sat in the King's Chamber at Westminster to hear and decide a suit of arms between Sir Thomas Assheton and Sir Piers Legh, knight, as to the right of the latter to quarter-the Assheton arms, James Stanley, then warden of Manchester, and his brother Sir Edward Stanley, attended to hear and, witness the Earl's decision, and in the same year, when the King and Queen came on a progress to Lathom to visit the King's mother and the Earl of Derby, they slept at Winwick on the night of the 20 Jul, where they were probably the guests of the rector. In the very next year the King, who never spared his friends when money was concerned, sued the rector under the statute of liveries. Let us hope that the offending livery had, not been used during the royal visit to Winwick.

After James Stanley's promotion to the See of Ely, he resided chiefly at the Episcopal Palace at Somersham, which he much improved, but he was very often both at Manchester and at Lathom. In 1508 two notices of the Bishop occur in the memorials of Bemard of Tholouse. In the first, dated in Jan, he mentions the Bishop's coming to London; but in the second, dated six months later, he records the Bishop's coming to Court after being long kept away by his bodily, infirmity and the necessary attendance on his private affairs. But perhaps that circumstance in his life to which Fuller alludes may have had something to do with the Bishop's absence from Court. "I blame not the Bishop for passing his summer with the Earl of Derby, but for living all the winter with one who was not his sister, and who wanted nothing to make her his wife save marriage". It was the stain upon his birth that made his son Sir John Stanley of Honford, write up so frequently the Scripture text "Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas", and at last drive him to retire into a convent.

The barbarous sport of cock-fighting, which had so long been popular in Lancashire that according to the sheriffs King John kept there no less than 260 birds of game, had lost none of its popularity in the days of the Bishop of Ely. By previous appointment, and in compliance with a custom then seemingly common at Winwick, a great cock fight took place there on 27 Apr 1514, and, as was not unusual, a great quarrel took place among the gentry who were present, and several angry law suits were the result; and the fight in the cock pit was followed by another fight in a court of law. The Bishop of Ely, though he is said to have fixed the day and place of the cock fight, was not himself present there; but the amusement seems not to have been held unclerical, for the evidence in the suits shows that several priests and ecclesiastics were present and were among those who took an active part in it. It required a better monarch than King John to discountenance so barbarous a sport as cock-fighting, which, except during a short interval when it was forbidden by Cromwell, continued to hold its ground to our own day, when, to the glory of the present reign, it was abolished by law; and it is to be hoped has now finally and for ever disappeared.

When all Lancashire was astir with the King's summons before Flodden, the Earl of Surrey, as we are told in the "Scottish Field", supposing the Bishop to be either at Manchester or at Lathom, caused a messenger to ride.

To the Bishop of Eley
That bode in those partes.
By no means slack in answering the call, the Bishop mustered his large contingent, and being semper paratus ad arma in his calling and, if the infirmities of years had not forbidden it, he would have imitated Anthony de Bak, the famous old Bishop of Durham, and put himself at their head; as it was, however, he found an able substitute in Sir John Stanley of Honford, whom he sent in his stead.

The Bishop appropriated the rectory of Great Shelford to Jesus College, in Cambridge, and he compiled the statutes of that college and obtained the confirmation of them from Pope Julius II. He added largely to and improved the episcopal palace of Somersham, and in conjunction with Sir John Stanley of Honford, he undertook to build the large chapel of St. John the Baptist on the north side of the collegiate church of Manchester.
He died at Manchester, 22 Mar 1514/5, and was buried in the above chapel under a tomb of grey marble, on which there was a small figure of him in brass and this inscription: "Of your charity pray for the soul of James Stanley, sometime Bishop of Ely, and warden of Manchester, who deceased out of this transitory world the 22nd day of Mar, 1515, upon whose soul and all Christian souls Jesu have mercy.

Vive Deo gratus, toto mundo tumulatus
Crimine inundatus semper transire paratus.
Filii hominum usque quo gravi corde ut quid diligitis vanitatem et quocritis mendacium. Utinam saperent et intelligerent ae novissima providerent"

In the rhyming chronicle of the Stanleys, where there is a notice of the Bishop's death and burial, we have a flattering portrait of his appearance.

A goodly tall man he was as any in England
He did end his life in merry Manchester
And right honourably he lies buried there.

The chronicler's laudation of the Bishop extends only to comeliness of person and his great stature; but Godwin, forgetting that men's good deeds being written in water die with them, and that their evil deeds being written in brags survive them, and remembering only the scandal of the Bishop's private life, for which to the King's honour he was discountenanced at Court, and laboured under the Pope's sentence of excommunication until he went to the grave, would rob the Bishop of every good quality. Perhaps it would be safer to suppose that having attained the mitre it proved too heavy for his head and made him forget the good qualities which had led to his previous advancement.

After the Bishop's death his executors instituted a suit in court to recover some arrears of a pension due to him.

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