STANLEY, John Thomas (1766-1850), of Alderley Park, Cheshire.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1790 - 1796

Family and Education

b. 26 Nov. 1766, 1st s. of Sir John Thomas Stanley, 6th Bt., of Alderley by Margaret, da. and h. of Hugh Owen of Penrhos, Anglesey. educ. Loughborough House sch.; Lambeth Wick 1774-7; James’s sch. Greenwich 1778-80; abroad (by a tutor) 1782-7; Edinburgh Univ. 1788-9. m. 11 Oct. 1796, Hon. Maria Josepha Holroyd, da. of John Baker Holroyd*, 1st Baron Sheffield [I], 2s. 7da. suc. fa. as 7th Bt. 29 Nov. 1807; cr. Baron Stanley 9 May 1839.

Offices Held

Capt. Cheshire militia 1790, maj. 1796-8; gent. of bedchamber 1796-1816; sheriff, Anglesey 1809-10.


Stanley came of a long-established Cheshire family, cadet to the earls of Derby. As his mother ‘was not fond of the routine of an English education’, he was sent abroad with a tutor and served his worldly apprenticeship at the courts of Brunswick and Turin. While a student at Edinburgh, he organized an expedition to Iceland (1789). On his return, he was advised by George Rose*, whom he met at Mrs Nesbitt’s house at Norwood, to aspire to Parliament and informed his tutor Dr Scot on 13 Jan. 1790:

I have acquiesced. I come in, therefore, for a borough on the side of government, and Rose takes me by the hand. Had I arrived in London and communicated my views to him a few weeks sooner, I might have been at no greater expense than £1,200. It will now be some thousands.

The opening Stanley missed was at Okehampton, as he noted in his journal on 7 Feb.; on 17 Feb. he added:

I breakfasted ... with Rose ... Mr Rose had been employed with Mr Pitt in looking over the list of boroughs which were to be disposed of, and the persons who wished to come into Parliament. He believed Mr Pitt’s engagements were not so numerous but that I might succeed. For himself, he promised me all his influence could do, and that if there should be no opening at the beginning of Parliament, I should be named to fill up the first that happened afterwards.

By April, no seat was forthcoming and Stanley accepted an invitation from Lord Auckland to join his legation at The Hague, but on 10 May he wrote to Scot:

When I wrote to you last, I seriously expected to be on the Continent before a week was at an end. My things were packed up, and I went to take farewell of Mr Rose, when he spoke to me of a borough for which I might come into Parliament under favourable circumstances in every way. The borough is Wootton Bassett, in Wiltshire ... Lord Clarendon ... has given me his interest ... Mr Rose, who promises nothing, but gives me great encouragement, has introduced me to Mr Pitt, who has said everything that was flattering in my favour, and has gone so far as to say, what can be done for me shall be done.1

After his election, Stanley nevertheless joined Auckland at The Hague, and returned via Paris in time for Parliament. Witnessing the revolution in Paris, he expressed his agreement with Edmund Burke’s hostility to it. In his maiden speech, 14 Dec. 1790, he defended and praised the convention with Spain. On 14 Feb. 1791 he objected to the House’s procedure on the question of continuing the impeachment of Warren Hastings, but was unable to frame an amendment himself. When Joseph Jekyll proposed one instead, Stanley protested that it was not to his liking, as he wished the impeachment to continue. On 12 Apr. 1791, he defended Pitt’s conduct over the Russian armament: ‘he would as readily vote against a resolution brought forward at a wrong season, as against one that he disapproved of in itself’. Besides, he deprecated Grey’s ‘specious eloquence’: ‘an armament fitted out to give weight to a negotiation had artfully been represented as a direct attack on Russia, and equivalent to a declaration of war’. He went on to justify the eventuality of war with Russia. A week later he was swayed in favour of the abolition of the slave trade, having intended to vote against it, so he informed the House, and on 30 May he defended the Sierra Leone project against its critics as a praiseworthy experiment. He had been listed the month before among opponents of repeal of the Test Act in Scotland.

On 29 Feb. 1792, he professed disappointment at administration’s conduct over the Russian armament: ‘if Oczakov was not worth our contention, why then did we contend for it?’ Nevertheless, he thought Pitt did right in bowing to public opinion. On 7 Mar. he criticized the increases in the Duke of York’s establishment. On 28 Dec. he defended the aliens bill, while commending French émigrés to ministerial humanity: he hoped opposition would rally to government in the contest with France. On 7 May 1793 he said that he was a friend of parliamentary reform, ‘under some modifications’, but not at that moment. He supported the institution of the board of agriculture, 17 May. On 31 Jan. 1794 he vigorously defended the war against France and tried to rally the House: ‘it should be shown that England had yet her country gentlemen, anxious for her welfare and earnest in their desire to step forward and defend her interest’. He also supported the landing in England of subsidized foreign troops, 10 Feb. On 4 Feb., however, he had expressed disgust at the conduct of the trials of Scots Jacobins:

when the lord advocate said that the proceedings of a court of justiciary could not be inquired into by Members of the House without their being guilty of great indiscretion, I went away lest I should be put in a passion and tempted to speak [he wrote afterwards]. If I had stayed I should certainly have voted with the minority as I have hitherto done whenever these Scotch trials have been the cause of divisions. ... So much for politics, in which I am not so interested as I used to be.2

Either he or Thomas Stanley defended the French émigré enlistment bill, 14 Apr. 1794. His name was occasionally found in minority lists, such as those in favour of Gen. Lafayette, 17 Mar. 1794, which he supported by personal testimony (unless this was Thomas Stanley), and for the amendment on the Prince of Wales’s debts, 1 June 1795. On 9 Nov. 1795, for the first time, he spoke violently against administration, on the seditious meetings bill, which he considered unconstitutional.3 He opposed it throughout. On 26 Nov. he complained that

a melancholy deviation from true honest English sentiment has been driving men to the extreme of toryism and democracy, while the deserted Whig, who had fondly fancied himself, as to political opinion, in full sympathy, at least, with the majority of his countrymen, has in vain been looking round for the coincidence of mind which he had taught himself to expect from every quarter, and which he had once experienced.

He tried by amendment to mitigate the two anti-Jacobin bills and to limit their duration to two years, but failed. On 11 Feb. 1796 he was teller for a bill to prevent Members from contracting for foreign loans. He supported the abolition of the slave trade, 15 Mar. He also voted for Lechmere’s bill to enforce the public sale of grain, 11 May 1796.

Stanley’s disillusionment with public life was complete. On 19 May 1796, his fiancee informed her aunt:

he does not intend to come in again which I am very glad of, as he is so warm in politics when engaged, and on the liberty side too, which may lead to anything bad, with the best original intentions, that it is much better and safer for the domestic happiness of both, that he should give up the pursuit entirely, not having the least ambitious turn of mind.

To another correspondent she wrote on 30 May:

I am rejoiced to say he does not continue a politician, for he is not at all calculated for one. He would be too violent and he has too much Roman virtue to make either a good government tool or a decided oppositionist, and yet in these desperate times, a man must choose his party and stick to it. Voting and acting according to conscience will not do.4

Stanley, who subscribed £2,000 to the loyalty loan for 1797, thereafter confined himself to his militia duties (though he resigned his commission in 1798 after being passed over in a promotion); the succour of French émigrés; his literary and antiquarian interests and Cheshire affairs—he was a chairman of quarter sessions for more than 20 years. Although in 1812 an attempt was made to persuade him to stand for Cheshire, he refused because, as he explained to his mother, 23 July, ‘My politics are disapproved by almost all our gentlemen and I have not money enough to throw away in disputing their will’. In his public reply, he reminded the freeholders that he was an advocate of parliamentary reform, though a moderate one, and opposed to election expenses. He died 23 Oct. 1850. ‘He was essentially dignified, high-minded and intellectual’ wrote a descendant. ‘His chief characteristics were the hatred of injustice and the love of truth.’5

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. ‘Praeterita’ (an autobiographical fragment), published in J. Adeane, The Early Married Life of Lady Stanley, 15-54, 88, 90, 96.
  • 2. Ibid. 102.
  • 3. Oracle, 12 Nov. 1795.
  • 4. Adeane, The Girlhood of Maria Josepha Holroyd, 386, 388.
  • 5. UCNW, Penrhos mss 518, 519; Adeane, Early Married Life, p. viii.