James Stanley, Baron Strange, 7th Earl of Derby, 1607-51

Powerful Lancashire nobleman who refused to submit to the Commonwealth and was finally executed after the defeat of Charles II at Worcester.

Portrait of the Earl of DerbyJames Stanley was born at Knowsley on 31 January 1607 into a family of great power and influence in Lancashire. His father was William Stanley, the sixth Earl of Derby, and his mother was Elizabeth de Vere, daughter of the Earl of Oxford. In July 1626, Stanley married Charlotte de la Trémoille, a daughter of the Duke of Thouars and grand-daughter of William the Silent, Prince of Orange. Their marriage at The Hague was attended by the Elector Palatine and his wife. They had six children who survived beyond infancy. Stanley was known as Baron Strange until the death of his father in September 1642 when he succeeded as seventh Earl of Derby and hereditary Lord of the Isle of Man.

Although he disapproved of the Laudian reforms introduced into the Anglican church by King Charles, Strange remained loyal to the crown. He raised troops in Lancashire to fight in the Bishops' Wars (1639-40) and became involved in some of the earliest fighting of the English Civil War when he attempted to prevent the implementation of Parliament's Militia Ordinance at Manchester in July 1642, for which he was impeached for treason in the House of Commons. During the early months of the war, Strange attempted to broker a truce between Parliamentarians and Royalists in the north-west, which aroused suspicion amongst the King's advisers. His relations with the leading Royalist commanders in Lancashire, Lord Molyneux and Sir Thomas Tyldesley, were further strained because they were both Catholics.

Stanley succeeded to the earldom of Derby in September 1642 when he was engaged in an attempt to besiege Manchester, which he was forced to abandon early in October. He concentrated Royalist forces around Preston, Wigan and at his headquarters in Warrington. During the spring of 1643, with many of his best troops transferred to the Oxford army, Derby was gradually hemmed in around Warrington by Parliamentarian forces from Lancashire and Cheshire. On 20 April, he was decisively defeated at Whalley Abbey by Colonel Ashton. In June 1643, Derby was ordered to the Isle of Man, which was believed to be threatened by a Scottish invasion. He put down a potential rebellion against his authority on Man then returned to England in March 1644 when he received news that the Countess of Derby was besieged at Lathom House, the Stanley family seat and the last Royalist stronghold in Lancashire. Derby joined Prince Rupert on the early stages of the York March during which the siege of Lathom was lifted. On 28 May, Derby took a leading part in the notorious storming and sack of Bolton, where at least 1,000 soldiers and civilians were massacred.

Prince Rupert's defeat at Marston Moor in July 1644 and the subsequent surrender of York effectively ended Royalist power in the north of England. Derby returned to the Isle of Man with the Countess and remained there for the duration of the First and Second Civil Wars. After suppressing a second rebellion against his authority, he set about extending the island's defences and scornfully rejected an order to surrender the island after the declaration of the Commonwealth in 1649. Derby was excepted from pardon for his part in the wars. His younger daughters were imprisoned and his estates on the mainland were confiscated and sold.

In 1651, at the insistence of the Countess, Derby was one of the few Royalists to respond to Charles II's call-to-arms on his march south from Scotland on the Worcester campaign. Derby landed with a small force in Lancashire in August 1651. He joined Edward Massie in an attempt to raise further Royalist support in Lancashire but met with little success and his forces were decisively defeated by Colonel Lilburne at Wigan. Derby escaped from Wigan and was sheltered by the Penderell family at Boscobel House in Shropshire before rejoining Charles immediately before his disastrous defeat at the battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651. Derby helped Charles to escape after the battle and guided him to the loyal Penderells at Boscobel, then made his way northwards with other fugitives. He surrendered to Captain Edge near Nantwich and was imprisoned in Chester Castle.

On 29 September, Derby was tried by court-martial on charges of assisting the declared traitor Charles Stuart to invade England. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. He appealed for clemency on the grounds that he had surrendered to Captain Edge on promise of quarter but despite the support of Oliver Cromwell, the appeal was rejected. Derby was taken to Bolton, the scene of the massacre of 1644, and beheaded in the market-place on 15 October 1651. His body was buried in the Derby chapel at Ormskirk church.


Barry Coward, James Stanley, seventh earl of Derby, Oxford DNB, 2004

G.R. Smith & M. Toynbee, Leaders of the Civil Wars 1642-48 (Kineton 1977)