The Stanley Family History
The Stanleys successfully picked their way through the War of the Roses (Coward). Thomas Stanley made a last minute decision to support Henry Bolingbroke in his claim for the crown and was rewarded for his support with the Earldom of Derby. The Stanley family gained money, prestige, and land. The family sought to strengthen their place in the English chronicles by claiming that they had two Talbots in their ancestry who had fought against Joan of Arc (Gurr 258).
Later, during Elizabeth's reign, the Stanleys continued to claim their noble lineage. This was not solely due to family pride, but became "particularly critical in the early 1590s, when speculation regarding the succession to the English throne had reached a fevered, if secretive, pitch" (Catherine Grace Canino, 5). The patronage of the arts can also be seen as a means to cement their place in the nobility. The patronage of artists helped to spread the family's good name across the realm. As Elizabeth neared the end of her reign in the 1590s, the Stanleys were caught up in the issue of the heir apparent as Ferdinando Stanley was put forward by some as a contender for the crown.
The family continued to do well until the Civil War. In 1644, Charlotte Stanley, the Countess of Derby defended Lathom House against Parliamentary forces during the Civil War. The house was destroyed once the household was forced to abandon it. However, the family quickly recovered their fortunes with subsequent generations. They found great success in Parliament. The fourteenth Earl of Derby, Edward Stanley, was Prime Minister three times. The current nineteenth Earl of Derby, Edward Stanley, known as "Teddy," still resides at Knowsley Hall ("Knowsley Hall").
The Stanleys during 1587-1590
The period this project focuses on, 1587-1590, saw the execution of Mary Stuart in 1587, and the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. This was a time when government control over the country's nobility tightened. Not surprisingly, the Stanley's mottos were sans changer and Dieu et ma Foy both of which profess loyalty and a firm faith in God (Coward 28). The credibility of these mottos was constantly in question as the Stanleys were increasingly watched by the crown for their religious allegiances and politics.
The two main Stanleys in power during 1587-1590 were Henry Stanley and his son Ferdinando Stanley. Henry ruled as the fourth Earl of Derby from 1572-1593. As a ruling Earl of Derby he held unparalleled power since much of the governing of Lancashire fell outside of the Council of the North's remit. In 1581, the Privy Council thanked the Earl of Derby for offering his house "to serve for the safe keping of the Recusantes in their Diocese," and Puritan preachers like Caldwell and Fleetwood visited the Stanley's households (Findlay and Dutton 9). In 1586, Henry was a commissioner at the court that condemned Mary, Queen of Scots (9). However, by 1587, Fleetwood was writing to Lord Burghley expressing concern over Derby's: "humour of carelesse securitie in tolleratinge and no way sowndly reforming the notoriows backwardnesse of his whole Company in religion, and chefely of the chefest abowte him" (qtd in Findlay and Dutton 9). Simply put, the Stanleys lived in a county whose inhabitants the government believed showed "notoriows backwardness" in their religion.
Many of the Stanley's family members, neighbours, and friends were known Catholics. The Stanleys were in a difficult position, as they had duties both to the crown and to their county. Ferdinando's company, Strange's Men, represented his name throughout the realm. They would have been as scrutinized as their patron for possible support of Catholicism in their repertory. The mix of religious intrigue and power surrounding the Stanleys makes them a useful case study for considering the implications of two different acting companies performing in their households.
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