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Interesting roots

“Who do you think you are?” has returned and the third episode of the new series (20 July) featured Clare Balding. After last year’s programmes , this one and this other recent one, it is no surprise that tracing this racing presenter’s royal ancestry is a little easier.

Clare’s great-grandmother was Lady Victoria (hence the middle name) Stanley, who married, secondly, Sir Malcolm Bullock. This links her to the Earls of Derby, the first of whom was that Thomas, Lord Stanley who liked watching battles, although they were not broadcast live in his time. In particular, the 17th Earl married Lady Alice Montagu, who shared “Tudor” descent such that Ferdinando (5th Earl, 1559-94) was regarded as a hypothetical Catholic claimant after Mary of Scotland’s execution. Unsurprisingly, the Derby, one of the events she has often presented, was named for an ancestor (the 12th Earl, above right) from 1780.

Additionally, her uncle is William Hastings-Bass, the 17th Earl of Huntingdon and once the Queen’s trainer, connecting her to the marriage between Francis (2nd Earl, tomb in Ashby de la Zouch to the left) and Catherine Pole, thus to George, Duke of Clarence and Edward III.

I would rather have heard the Huntingdon line mentioned than so much about her Dutch-American forebears at the end.

17th Century Consequences for the Stanley Family

‘Charles I exhibited an almost pathological distrust of the Stanleys, despite the instinctive loyalty shown by the earl to his king…The reasons for the king’s distrust are rooted deep in his own complex character, but it is certain that part of that distrust was based on the behaviour of Thomas, the first Earl of Derby, at Bosworth. The battle might have been nearly two hundred years in the past, but to Charles’s mind it proved that the Stanleys were not to be trusted on the battlefield. He is also said to be afraid that Stanley had aspirations to royalty, as was shown by his marriage to a lady with so many royal connections…’

To Play the Man, The story of Lady Derby and the siege of Lathom House, 1643-1645, by Colin Pilkington pp.32-33. Carnegie Publishing 1991.

How ironic, given that Charles I would not have been king, or indeed even have existed, but for that Stanley treachery at Bosworth.

James Stanley, Earl of Derby, remained a loyal if somewhat ineffective supporter of the royalist cause. He was eventually executed in 1651 because of his involvement in the massacre at Bolton in 1644 – a massacre which (unlike certain others in the Civil War) is now largely and conveniently forgotten. The Stanleys’ principal home Lathom House, was destroyed after its eventual capture, and never rebuilt.

Stanleydee and Stanleydum…

Thomasley Stanley 3 Thomas Stanley 2 Thomas Stanley 1 Ferdinando Stanley - 5th Earl of Derby Pretty Boy Stanley

I have been delving into the world of mediaeval and Tudor portraits, this time in search of Sir William Stanley, the louse who turned traitor on Richard III at Bosworth and cost him his throne, his realm and his life. Sir William’s eventual reward was to be beheaded by the very man he helped so signally to put on Richard’s throne, Henry VII. There’s gratitude for you.

So, Sir William was not Henry’s favourite person, nor is he mine. He is also something of a mystery, even though so very well-known and documented. Most people who are interested in this period of history are acquainted with portraits of Sir William’s older brother, Thomas Stanley, Earl of Derby. He of the awful beard. Well, I think it’s awful, but I know many will disagree, and I mean no offence to those with such hirsute chins.

The thing is, I could not find Sir William’s likeness anywhere, only Thomas. Then I happened upon the following reference: “Sir William Stanley, English soldier. Lord Chamberlain of the household to Henry VII. Engraved by H Robinson, from the picture at Wentworth House, Yorkshire. Published by Fisher, Son & Co, London, 1836.” It referred to the final and largest portrait above, of the gentleman in lavishly decorated armour above. Well, it’s far too late to be from life, Sir William’s head having been neatly separated from his body on 10th February, 1495. This portrait might even have been of good Sir Walter Raleigh, or Drake, or someone of that later period. But there he is, positively identified as ‘our’ Sir William Stanley, not a later one. Whatever else, he is a Stanley.

Yet when I look at portraits of his brother, Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby (third from left above), and then at Thomas’ son, another Thomas, the 2nd Earl of Derby (second left above), I think how alike they all are. Good-looking men, I have to say. Grudgingly. My initial thought about the portrait of Sir William was that the artist had simply taken a chance and decided Willy really was like Tommy I, because Tommy II looked like Tommy I. Then I looked at the 3rd Earl of Derby, Edward Stanley (far left above), and yes, there is that same face again! And again with Ferdinando, the 5th Earl (far right above). I have no idea about the 4th Earl, but as he came from the same stock, I imagine the same mould was used as well. So did all the Stanley men look alike? Seems a good chance to me. Although it might have gone awry with the 6th earl, another William Stanley, who is similar, but not as good looking. Well, not in his portrait anyway. I haven’t included him.

(November 2016. I have changed my mind about the 6th earl. Here he is:-)



Oh, I do love these old portraits, because they raise as many questions as they answer. By the way, I hope I have correctly identified the above gentlemen, and believe I have, but they are all Stanleys, and it’s the likeness between them all that fascinates me.

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