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Stanley [née de La Trémoille], Charlotte, countess of Derbylocked

  • John Callow

Charlotte Stanley, countess of Derby (1599–1664)

by Gerrit van Honthorst, 1632 [as Minerva]

Stanley [née de La Trémoille], Charlotte, countess of Derby (1599–1664), noblewoman and royalist heroine, was born at the château of Thouars, Poitou, in France, in early December 1599, the second child and eldest daughter of Claude de La Trémoille, duc de Thouars (1566–1604), and his wife, Princess Charlotte Brabantine of Orange-Nassau (1580–1626). As the granddaughter of William the Silent and the daughter of one of France's leading Huguenot families she could count among her uncles three of the leaders of European protestantism: Prince Maurice of Nassau, Henri, duc de Bouillon, and Frederick IV, the elector palatine.

Having survived an attack of smallpox as an infant she was raised—according to the last wishes of her father—in strict adherence to the reformed faith. By the age of five or six she wrote confidently to her mother that she could converse in Latin and that she knew seventeen psalms by heart. She spent most of her childhood and youth at Thouars, only rarely appearing at the court at Paris.

In June 1625 the duchesse de Thouars went to England as part of the household of Henrietta Maria, and arranged a marriage between Charlotte and James Stanley (1607–1651). Known at least from February 1626 as Lord Strange, he was the son of William Stanley, sixth earl of Derby, and his wife, Elizabeth Stanley (née de Vere). Though it was never actually paid, the offer of an enormous dowry—potentially as much as £26,000—and the prospect of forging an alliance with a family of royal pedigree and international prestige proved an extremely attractive proposition for the Stanleys, and one which they could not lightly refuse. Accordingly, the couple were married in the palace at The Hague on 26 June 1626 in a magnificent ceremony.

In August 1626 Lady Strange accompanied her husband to the court at Whitehall and waited in attendance upon Henrietta Maria. Unfortunately the combination of Charles I's dislike for Lord Strange—whom he believed to be a potential rival for the throne—and Henrietta Maria's contempt for Huguenots ensured that the Stanleys quickly fell victim to court gossip and censure. As a result in August 1627 they retired to their estates at Lathom and Knowsley, in Lancashire. Save for a brief reappearance at court, when she acted the part of a nymph in Ben Jonson's Chlorinda in 1630, and a visit to her family in The Hague in the spring of 1632, Lady Strange remained in the north-west of England for most of the next fourteen years. Between January 1627 and November 1641 she gave birth to nine children—six of whom were to survive into adulthood—setting the seal upon a remarkably happy and devoted marriage, and one for which she duly thanked the will of God, the love of her husband, and the foresight of her mother for fashioning.

However, Lady Strange's domestic bliss was shattered, in the early 1640s, by the cumulative blows of the threat of Irish invasion, the death of her father-in-law—on 28 September 1642—and by the slide of the nation into civil war. Her husband, now seventh earl of Derby, had initially attempted neutrality in the conflict, following the traditional policy of the Stanley family in Lancashire of placing themselves both outside and above the wranglings of conflicting interest groups within county politics. However, perceiving this to be no longer viable, in autumn 1642 Derby embraced the royalist cause with an enthusiasm not matched by his military abilities. Following the crushing defeat of his local army in April 1643 Countess Charlotte, having urged her husband to go to York to seek help from the queen, herself wrote to Henrietta Maria appealing for reinforcements but received only the curt reply that the earl of Derby should obey the commands of the king and secure his faltering hold over the Isle of Man.

By winter 1643 the countess was secure behind the heavily fortified walls of Lathom House and, in the absence of her husband, was jibed at by an enemy propagandist who said that she 'had stolen the Earl's breeches when he had fled … into the Isle of Man, and hath in his absence play'd the man at Lathom' (Ormerod, 2.163, 167). Though the surrounding area was hostile towards the royalist garrison local parliamentary forces were not powerful enough to assault the stronghold, with its nine towers and deep moat. However, this situation changed overnight following Sir Thomas Fairfax's victory at the battle of Nantwich, on 25 January 1644. In February the Manchester committee of the parliamentarian forces decided that Lathom should be besieged and on the 27th of that month their troops surrounded the house. The countess managed skilfully to spin out negotiations over the possible surrender of the garrison until 11 March, but revealed something of her imperious and haughty nature in her contemptuous reception of colonels Rigby and Assheton, and in her demands for Fairfax to both wait upon, and defer to, her person.

Hostilities commenced on 12 March and the siege lasted for eleven long weeks. The countess had the command of a garrison of some three hundred men, and following Fairfax's sudden withdrawal into Yorkshire the besieging army was never experienced or numerous enough to prevent the royalists from breaking out and raiding with virtual impunity. During this period the countess was instrumental in raising morale among her soldiers and the legend was born of her valiant and selfless defence of her home, romanticized in Victorian novels by Sir Walter Scott, W. H. Ainsworth, and others. The seizure of a 13-inch mortar by the garrison, on 25 April, appeared to have removed the most immediate danger threatening the fortress, but it was the news of the approach of Prince Rupert's relief column which ultimately proved decisive. The parliamentarians raised their siege on 26 May, and Rupert subsequently presented the countess with twenty-two enemy colours taken at the storm of Bolton, which had not three days before 'proudly flourish't before her house' (Ormerod, 2.183).

Upon the advice of Prince Rupert the countess left Lancashire and, on 30 July 1644, transported herself and her children to the Isle of Man. From there she could only watch as a helpless bystander as her possessions in the north-west of England fell one by one to parliament in the wake of the royalist defeat at Marston Moor. Lathom itself capitulated in December 1645 and was completely demolished the following year. With Lancashire lost to them the Stanleys now began to consolidate their power in the Isle of Man. Such was their desire to recapture something of the splendour of the court life denied to them, and their need to reimpose their rule upon a thoroughly disaffected subject people, that they fostered the growth of elaborate ceremonial and courtly ritual at Castle Rushen, and sponsored the performance of masques as part of extravagant Twelfth night celebrations.

Though her husband was specifically excluded from the offer of pardon extended by parliament in November 1645 the countess travelled to London two years later in a largely futile attempt to save the Stanley estates from sequestration. More seriously she broke from her son and heir, Charles Stanley, Lord Strange (1627–1672), over his decision to marry, in 1650, Dorothea Helena de Rupa, a lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth of Bohemia. Choosing only to refer to her new daughter-in-law as Delilah she signalled her scorn for her son by bequeathing him a derisory sum of £5 in her will drawn up in May 1654.

The outbreak of the third civil war in the late summer of 1651 saw the seventh earl landing a fresh army upon the Fylde coast and entrusting the defence of the Isle of Man to his wife. However the Manx feared that the countess was planning to make separate terms with parliament, by which they would be sold 'for 2d. or 3d. a head', and rose in revolt on the night of 19 October 1651 (Harrison, Illiam Dhône, 4–8). The outlying forts fell easily to the insurgents but the stone walls and presence of professional soldiers meant that the castles of Peel and Rushen held out until the landing of Commonwealth troops over a week later. It was from their envoys that the countess learned, for the first time, of her husband's execution at Bolton on 15 October. This news, brusquely delivered, appears to have broken her resolve and she tamely surrendered Castle Rushen to parliamentary authority on 30 October, although she appears to have remained at liberty upon the Isle of Man until December.

Countess Charlotte then went to London in an attempt to salvage something of her family's fortunes. Authorized by the council of state, trustees had begun to sell off the Stanley estates in July 1651, while the income from the residue the family was permitted to retain was not, it was claimed, reaching them. The situation was aggravated by suspicion of the dowager countess: informers alleged not only that she had maltreated parliamentary prisoners on the Isle of Man but also that she had visited Charles II in Scotland. In consequence she had to wait until 1653 to compound for her estates.

By March 1652 the countess was writing bitterly of the failure of her son and daughter-in-law to do anything to alleviate her poverty while she was in London, but she was nevertheless able to arrange marriages for her three surviving daughters, Henrietta Maria (1630–1685), Katherine, and Amelia-Anna-Sophia (d. 1703), respectively to William Wentworth, second earl of Strafford (in 1655), Henry Pierrepoint, marquess of Dorchester, and John Murray, second earl and first marquess of Atholl (in 1659). In 1655 mounting debts forced her to abandon her life in London and to hurry back to her estates at Knowsley, in an attempt to shake off the attentions of her most persistent creditors. She remained there, living quietly, fearful of the government and careful not to draw too much attention to herself, until the Restoration of May 1660. Choosing to celebrate this event by donating a large font, bearing a pro-monarchist inscription, to the parish church of Ormskirk, the countess dowager returned to London and was present at the coronation of Charles II on 23 April 1661. However, hers was not a heart to be moved by the spirit of the Acts of Indemnity and Oblivion and she embarked upon a bitter struggle to win back her lost estates, and to bring to trial all those who had had a hand in the conviction and execution of the seventh earl. Once again, forced back to Lancashire by the pressure of her mounting debts and by the indifference of the court to her vengeful campaign, she continued in her denunciations of radicals, Quakers, and presbyterians, and fully concurred with the decision of her son—to whom she was now reconciled—to purge thoroughly the municipalities of the north-west of both protestant and Roman Catholic dissenters. Having fallen seriously ill during the winter of 1663–4 she died at her hall at Knowsley on 22 March 1664 and was buried beside Earl James, 'in her owne Chancell', at Ormskirk on 6 April (Draper, 244).


  • L. Marlet, Charlotte de Trémoille, comtesse de Derby (1599–1664) (Paris, 1895)
  • G. de Witt, The lady of Lathom: being the life and original letters of Charlotte de la Trémoille, countess of Derby (1869)
  • F. R. Raines, ed., Private devotions and miscellanies of James, seventh earl of Derby, 3 vols. (1867)
  • G. Ormerod, ed., Tracts relating to military proceedings in Lancashire during the great civil war, Chetham Society, 2 (1844)
  • P. Marchegay, ed., Lettres à la duchesse de la Trémoille (Paris, 1875)
  • P. Draper, The house of Stanley, including the sieges of Lathom House (1864)
  • B. Coward, The Stanleys, lords Stanley and earls of Derby, 1385–1672: the origins, wealth and power of a landowning family, Chetham Society, 3rd ser., 30 (1983)
  • J. Seacome, The history of the house of Stanley to 1776 (1793)
  • J. Seacome, Memoirs containing a genealogical and historical account of the antient and honourable house of Stanley (1767)
  • J. J. Bagley, The earls of Derby 1485–1985 (1985)
  • W. Harrison, ed., Illiam Dhône and the Manx rebellion of 1651 (1877)
  • W. Harrison, ed., Mona miscellany (1873)
  • J. G. Cumming, The great Stanley, or James VIIth earl of Derby and his noble countess, Charlotte de la Tremouille in their land of Man (1867)
  • E. Broxap, The great civil war in Lancashire, 1642–51, 2nd edn (1971)
  • J. I. Kermode and C. B. Phillips, eds., Seventeenth century Lancashire (1983)
  • [E. Hall ?], ‘A journal of the siege of Lathom House’, in L. Hutchinson, Memoirs of the life of Col. Hutchinson (1904), 491–516
  • C. Pilkington, To play the man: the story of Lady Derby and the siege of Lathom House, 1643–45 (1991)
  • The earl of Derby and his family (1843)
  • A description of the memorable sieges and battles in the north of England … chiefly contained in the memoirs of General Fairfax and James earl of Derby (1785)
  • W. Scott, Peveril of the Peak (1822)
  • W. H. Ainsworth, The leagues of Lathom (1876)
  • J. L. Motley, The rise of the Dutch republic, 3 vols. (1889), vol. 3


  • Chetham's Library, Manchester, diary of seventh earl of Derby, MS. MUN.A4.62
  • Flintshire RO, Hawarden, Charles Stanley, eighth earl of Derby's papers relating to restoration of Stanley estates, NOS 278–282
  • NA Scot., pocket book and writings of seventh earl of Derby, MSS GD 38/208, 684, 1253
  • account of siege of Lathom House, Harleian MS 2074


  • G. van Honthorst, portrait, 1632; Christies, 26 Oct 1984, lot 34 [see illus.]
  • A. Van Dyck, group portrait, oils, 1636, Frick Collection, New York
  • Van Dyck, oils, 1638–1640; version (with her husband), priv. coll.
  • oils, 1651, NPG
  • oils, 1657 (after P. Lely), NPG
  • C. Turner, two mezzotints, pubd 1810 (after unknown artist), NPG
  • attrib. B. Flessiers, oils (as a young woman), Althorp, Northamptonshire
  • Rubens, portrait (as a young girl)
  • Van Dyck, sketch (for portrait, c.1638–1640), BM

Wealth at Death

£9000 to daughter, Lady Mary Stanley; £1000 to Mr Nevill; £3000 to Amelia-Anna-Sophia (‘Emile’); manors of Thirsk and Kirby Malloral to son, Edward Stanley; properties in Holland to be divided between sons Edward and William; £1000 to son William to be paid out of sales of manors; £5 to eldest son Charles, earl of Derby; £40 p.a. to Samuel Rutter, bishop: will, 2 May 1654, Raines, ed., Private devotions, vol. 3, pp. ccclxxvii–ccclxxxv