Earls of Derby - Encyclopedia

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EARLS OF. DERBY The 1st earl of Derby was probably Robert de Ferrers (d. 1139), who is said by John of Hexham to have been made an earl by King Stephen after the battle of the Standard in 1138. Robert and his descendants retained the earldom until 1266, when Robert (c. 1240 - c. 1279), probably the 6th earl, having taken a prominent part in the baronial rising against Henry III., was deprived of his lands and practically of his title. These earlier earls of Derby were also known as Earls Ferrers, or de Ferrers, from their surname; as earls of Tutbury from their residence; and as earls of Nottingham because this county was a lordship under their rule. The large estates which were taken from Earl Robert in 1266 were given by Henry III. in the same year to his son, Edmund, earl of Lancaster; and Edmund's son, Thomas, earl of Lancaster, called himself Earl Ferrers. In 1337 Edmund's grandson, Henry (c. 1299-1361), afterwards duke of Lancaster, was created earl of Derby, and this title was taken by Edward III.'s son, John of Gaunt, who had married Henry's daughter, Blanche. John of Gaunt's son and successor was Henry, earl of Derby, who became king as Henry IV. in 1399.

In October 1485 Thomas, Lord Stanley, was created earl of Derby, and the title has since been retained by the Stanleys, who, however, have little or no connexion with the county of Derby. Thomas also inherited the sovereign lordship of the Isle of Man, which had been granted by the crown in 1406 to his great-grandfather, Sir John Stanley; and this sovereignty remained in possession of the earls of Derby till 1736, when it passed to the duke of Athol'.

The earl of Derby is one of the three "catskin earls," the others being the earls of Shrewsbury and Huntingdon. The term "catskin" is possibly a corruption of quatre-skin, derived from the fact that in ancient times the robes of an earl (as depicted in some early representations) were decorated with four rows of ermine, as in the robes of a modern duke, instead of the three rows to which they were restricted in later centuries. The three "catskin" earldoms are the only earldoms now in existence which date from creations prior to the 17th century. (A. W. H.*) Thomas Stanley, ist earl of Derby (c. 1435-1504), was the son of Thomas Stanley, who was created Baron Stanley in 1456 and died in 14J9. His grandfather, Sir John Stanley (d. 1414), had founded the fortunes of his family by marrying Isabel Lathom, the heiress of a great estate in the hundred of West Derby in Lancashire; he was lieutenant of Ireland in 1389-1391, and again in 1399-1401, and in 1405 received a grant of the lordship of Man from Henry IV. The future earl of Derby was a squire to Henry VI. in 1454, but not long afterwards married Eleanor, daughter of the Yorkist leader, Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury. At the battle of Blore Heath in August 1459 Stanley, though close at hand with a large force, did not join the royal army, whilst his brother William fought openly for York. In 1461 Stanley was made chief justice of Cheshire by Edward IV., but ten years later he sided with his brother-in-law Warwick in the Lancastrian restoration. Nevertheless, after Warwick's fall, Edward made Stanley steward of his household. Stanley served with the king in the French expedition of 1475, and with Richard of Gloucester in Scotland in 1482. About the latter date he married, as his second wife, Margaret Beaufort, mother of the exiled Henry Tudor. Stanley was one of the executors of Edward IV., and was at first loyal to the young king Edward V. But he acquiesced in Richard's usurpation, and retaining his office as steward avoided any entanglement through his wife's share in Buckingham's rebellion. He was made constable of England in succession to Buckingham, and granted possession of his wife's estates with a charge to keep her in some secret place at home. Richard could not well afford to quarrel with so powerful a noble, but early in 1485 Stanley asked leave to retire to his estates in Lancashire. In the summer Richard, suspicious of his continued absence, required him to send his eldest son, Lord Strange, to court as a hostage. After Henry of Richmond had landed, Stanley made excuses for not joining the king; for his son's sake he was obliged to temporize, even when his brother William had been publicly proclaimed a traitor. Both the Stanleys took the field; but whilst William was in treaty with Richmond, Thomas professedly supported Richard. On the morning of Bosworth (August 22), Richard summoned Stanley to join him, and when he received an evasive reply ordered Strange to be executed. In the battle it was William Stanley who turned the scale in Henry's favour, but Thomas, who had taken no part in the fighting, was the first to salute the new king. Henry VII. confirmed Stanley in all his offices, and on the 27th of October created him earl of Derby. As husband of the king's mother Derby held a great position, which was not affected by the treason of his brother William in February 1495. In the following July the earl entertained the king and queen with much state at Knowsley. Derby died on the 29th of July 1504. Strange had escaped execution in 1485, through neglect to obey Richard's orders; but he died before his father in 1497, and his son Thomas succeeded as second earl. An old poem called The Song of the Lady Bessy, which was written by a retainer of the Stanleys, gives a romantic story of how Derby was enlisted by Elizabeth of York in the cause of his wife's son.

For fuller narratives see J. Gairdner's Richard III. and J. H. Ramsay's Lancaster and York; also Seacome's Memoirs of the House of Stanley (1741). (C. L. K.)

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