The strange story of the Stanley boy….

The “Stanley Boy”

Yes, very strange, because there are conflicting histories of this effigy and tomb shown in the image above. The tomb is in St Peter’s Church, Elford, Staffordshire, and both it and the effigy are rather small and therefore generally believed to be that of a child. The story is that the dead boy was John Stanley, last of the line of Elford Stanleys, and that around 1460 he was killed when a ball hit his head. Hence the effigy holds a ball and points to its right temple. However, that is in dispute.

St Peter’s Church, Elford, Staffordshire – much “got at” in the Victorian period

According to the church monuments society

“….The monument is traditionally said to commemorate John Stanley, the last male heir of the Elford Stanleys who was fatally hit by a ball around 1460, but there are no historical records to support this identification. The story itself can be traced back to at least the late sixteenth century: it was recorded by the Staffordshire antiquarian Sampson Erdeswicke (d. 1603). The manner of John’s death is apparently indicated by the object in his left hand and by the right hand touching the point of impact, as confirmed by the Latin motto ‘Ubi dolor ibi digitus’ (Where the pain is, there is the finger). The plinth with its motto is probably Richardson’s work, however, and he was also the first to interpret the ball as a tennis ball. Moreover, there is a curious discrepancy in early accounts of the effigy: Erdeswicke described it as ‘holding a ball to his ear’, whereas according to Thomas Pennant in 1781 ‘one hand points to his ear; the other holds a ball’….

“….The church notes of Erdeswicke’s collaborator William Wyrley identify the ‘Stanley boy’ as the heir of the fourteenth-century house of Aderne and thus much earlier than the traditional c.1460 date. In fact, the effigy is thirteenth-century in style and the true explanation of this monument is probably less sentimental. During the Middle Ages, separate heart burial became a mark of prestige: it offered a focus for prayers for the deceased in more than one location and allowed families to patronise different churches. Miniature effigies were sometimes erected to mark such heart (and sometimes entrail) burials: examples can still be found at Coberley and Berkeley (Gloucestershire), for example. Over time these were often mistaken for child monuments. The Elford effigy may originally have commemorated a heart burial with the ‘ball’ in the left hand representing the heart….”

So is the Sir John Stanley who is also buried in Elford his father perhaps. See more of Sir John here.

I’m told that the dead ‘boy’ is a grandson of Sir John Stanley (all these pesky John Stanleys! 😒and Isabel Lathom, and thus of a cadet branch of the main line (of ill repute to all Ricardians). But it would seem there wasn’t a John Stanley who died around 1460, as genealogics shows, as well as the Eltham male line surviving until 1508.

What is the truth about the Stanley boy? Was he even a boy? Is he 13th, 14th or 15th century? Was he ever killed by a ball? If not, where did the story come from? Was he even a Stanley? Or was he an Aderne? A Lathom? Or a bit of all three? Or none of them? Will we ever get to the heart of it, so to speak?

Further reading: and (from which I have taken the top illustration, and which lists still further reading on the subject)


If you go here you’ll find a lot of photographs of the tombs and effigies in St Peter’s, Elford. Some of them as very beautiful.

And finally this is also interesting for the background of Elford’s connection to Warwick the Kingmaker and Richard III, as well as its more treacherous link to Henry VII before Bosworth.

Sir Thomas Aderne 1337-1391 and Catherine Stafford 1338-1392 – St Peter’s, Elford – from


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: