STANLEY, John (d.1437), of Knowsley and Lathom, Lancs., lord of the Isle of Man.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer



May 1413
Nov. 1414

Family and Education

s. and h. of Sir John Stanley (d. 18 Jan. 1414) KG, lord of the Isle of Man, by Isabel (d. 26 Oct. 1414), da. of Sir Thomas Lathom (d.1382) of Lathom and Knowsley. m. by 1405, Elizabeth, da. of Sir John Haryngton of Hornby, at least 1s. Sir Thomas, 1da. Kntd. c. Oct. 1415.1

Offices Held

J.p. Lancs. July 1413, Mar. 1418, Dec. 1435, Mar. 1436, Feb. 1437.2

Steward of the lordship of Macclesfield and master forester and surveyor of the forests of Macclesfield, Delamare and Mondrem, Cheshire 1 Feb. 1414-d.3

Commr. of inquiry, Lancs. Mar. 1414 (insanity of Arthur Worsley),4 Apr. 1431 (persons liable for taxation), Oct. 1431 (feudal tenures);5 to treat for royal loans Nov. 1419, Lanes., Cheshire July 1426, May 1428, Cheshire Feb. 1430,6 Lancs. Feb. 1434, Feb. 1436, Cheshire Mar. 1436;7 confiscate illicit consignments of grain Apr. 1427.

Justice in eyre, Macclesfield 1 Mar. 4-aft. 22 Oct. 1436.8

Steward of Tottington, Rochdale and Penwortham in the duchy of Lancaster, Lancs. c. Nov. 1424-7 Nov. 1437; steward of Blackburn hundred and master forester of Blackburn, Lancs. for the feoffees of Henry V c.1425-d.9

Collector of a tax, Lancs. Apr. 1431;10 assessor Jan. 1436.


The story of Sir John Stanley, the father of this MP and founder of a baronial dynasty, is one of a remarkable rise from comparative poverty to a position of dominance in the councils of three successive English kings. As the younger son of an obscure Cheshire landowner Sir John’s early prospects appeared somewhat bleak, especially as his share of the family property was confined to a modest estate in Macclesfield. His fortunes improved dramatically, however, with his marriage to Isabel Lathom, who became heir on the sudden death of her niece to the two manors of Lathom and Knowsley with extensive appurtenances in the hundred of West Derby. But it was chiefly to his own military and administrative skills that Stanley owed his remarkable success. First singled out by Richard II for the difficult task of imposing royal authority in Ireland, he none the less managed to effect a smooth and convincing change of allegiance in 1399; and from then on his public career went from strength to strength. Besides serving two further terms as lieutenant of Ireland (where he incurred the undying hatred of the native population), he held office steward of the prince of Wales’s household until 1405, when he assumed the same rank in the household of the King himself. Although his expenses in Ireland caused him serious financial problems, Stanley died a wealthy man thanks to Henry IV’s generosity where grants of land and offices were concerned. Not only was Sir John able to leave his descendants the Flintshire estates confiscated in 1400 from the rebel earl of Salisbury, but he also acquired through a combination of exchange and purchase the manors of Bideston in Cheshire and Weeton in Lancashire. Vituperative attacks made upon Sir John by contemporary Irish polemicists claimed that he had grown rich through venality and extortion. Whatever the truth of these lampoons—whose venom was said (at least by their authors) to have brought about his death—there can be little doubt that his income from official quarters alone more than sufficed to finance an ambitious programme of territorial expansion. A virtual monopoly of posts in the lordship of Macclesfield, for example, brought him fees of 100 marks p.a. as well as impressive reserves of patronage through which he was able to extend and strengthen the power base of the Stanleys in the surrounding area. Most important of all was the grant to him and his heirs in perpetuity of the lordship of the Isle of Man, since this gave them quasi-regal status and also increased their revenues by upwards of £400 a year. Unmistakable evidence of Sir John’s meteoric rise from the ranks of the lesser gentry to political dominance in the north-west is to be found in the marriage contracts which he negotiated for his two elder sons. Thomas took as his wife an heiress to the Arderne estates in Cheshire and Staffordshire, while John, the subject of this biography, married into one of the most influential families in Lancashire. His connexion with the Haryngtons of Hornby was to prove useful throughout his life, although the Stanleys were already a force to be reckoned with when he came of age at the beginning of the 15th century.11

In 1407 John Stanley received an annuity of £20 from the prince of Wales, having perhaps been received into the latter’s entourage on the recommendation of his father. Towards the end of Sir John’s life he began to assume more responsibilities, notably where the government of the Isle of Man was concerned. Official commitments made it impossible for Sir John to discipline the rebellious ecclesiastical landowners who lived on the island, so his son was sent out to provide a sharp reminder of the authority of the Stanleys. This early visit seems to have given him a lasting interest in Manx affairs, which few of his descendants were to share. In Lancashire, too, John helped to maintain a family presence, being returned to the first Parliament of Henry V’s reign in May 1413, and taking up a seat on the county bench not long afterwards. His father’s death in Ireland in January 1414, followed by that of his mother ten months later, left him in control of both the Stanley and the Lathom estates; and it was during this period that he and his wife marked their new status by obtaining a papal indult for the use of a private confessor. To a certain extent, he also inherited the royal favour previously shown to his father, for Henry V allowed him to retain all the late Sir John’s offices in Macclesfield, together with the customary fees. Stanley’s motives in seeking election to the second Parliament of 1414 may, indeed, have been influenced by the desire to secure further patronage, as on the day after the Commons assembled he obtained the custody of the property and person of Robert Worsley’s* son, Arthur (whom he had previously, in his capacity as a crown commissioner, certified as insane). Shortly after the dissolution of Parliament, John and his colleague, Robert Laurence, offered joint securities of £100 to Sir William Fulthorpe, for reasons not now recorded. As lord of Man, John appeared among the parties to a truce between England and France drawn up in February 1415, even though plans for an English offensive were already well under way, and he himself was an enthusiastic supporter of the war-effort. As well as helping to provide a levy of 50 Lancashire archers, he contracted to serve the King with a personal retinue of eight men-at-arms and 24 archers, most of whom fought under his banner at Agincourt. His brother-in-law, Sir William Haryngton, was also present on the field as Henry V’s standard-bearer, and was later made a Knight of the Garter for his services. John, too, received a knighthood from the King at this time.12

Once back in Lancashire, Sir John threw himself whole-heartedly into the affairs of the local community, often acting as a commissioner or agent on behalf of the Crown. In March 1416 his ‘expenses and assiduous labours’ in surveying the late Sir Nicholas Longford’s manor of Withington were made good with an award by Henry V of the farm of the property; and in the following year he obtained joint custody of the Trafford estates during the minority of the young heir. Sir John was increasingly in demand as an arbitrator in quarrels between landowners in the north-west, partly because of his growing authority at both national and regional levels, and also as a result of his not inconsiderable legal expertise. (He is said in some sources to have studied at one of the inns of court, but no evidence of such professional training has survived.) Often working in conjunction with his brother-in-law, he helped to settled many potentially disruptive disputes, and thus did much to enhance and consolidate the power of the Stanleys. Not that his authority was always exercised impartially or without regard for personal profit. His own retainers or putative adherents usually received support, however dubious their claims; and the threat of his ‘heavy lordship’ could be relied upon to cow all but the most intransigent. Sometimes, however, even Sir John went too far, as in 1418 when he forcibly seized the manor of Walton on behalf of his client, Robert Fazakerley, and was bound over to keep the peace in consequence. Yet in the end it was he who made the final award in the matter of ownership, ensuring that Fazakerley did not depart empty-handed.13

Not surprisingly, many influential figures considered it expedient to win Sir John’s favour, and he was called upon to stand surety for a number of local gentlemen, as well as for Beatrice, the widow of Gilbert, Lord Talbot (d.1418), and other persons of wider repute. He likewise acted as an executor for Sir Richard Hoghton*, and was godfather to the eldest son of the eminent lawyer and crown official, William Chauntrell. His deferential neighbour, Nicholas Blundell*, referred to him as ‘my sovereign master’, and tailored an arbitration award to fit his requirements, while the Lancashire property owner, Sir Laurence Warren, actually entered a formal agreement with Stanley, ‘for to be maintained and supported’ in possession of his estates (some of which were held by a rather uncertain title), offering securities of no less than £2,000, in 1422, that he would accept without demur whatever arrangement might be made for the marriage of his son and heir to Sir John’s daughter. The same assured, even highhanded, attitude is to be found in Stanley’s relations with the Isle of Man, whither he returned at this time to deal with an outbreak of disaffection on the part of his feudal tenants. At a special meeting of the Tynwald court, held in August 1422, he overawed the opposition with a display of almost regal splendour; and it was on his instigation that a thorough survey of the island was carried out, resulting in the promulgation of legal reforms some years later.14

Meanwhile, in 1422, Sir John took on the lease of extensive pasture land belonging to the duchy of Lancaster in and around Myerscough. In the following year he received a gift of timber from the Crown to help fence in his new park near Liverpool; and not long afterwards he secured the farm of the estates of yet another royal ward, the young William Hope. The grant to him of several important offices on the duchy of Lancaster estates in Blackburnshire must also have been a cause of considerable satisfaction, albeit somewhat offset by similar marks of preferment shown to his rival, Sir Richard Molyneux of Sefton, who had been his fathers ward and may well have been exploited by the Stanleys. Sir Richard’s appointment as constable of Liverpool in 1422 clearly intensified the mutual suspicion and distrust felt by the two families, both of whom were already locked in a struggle for local hegemony. Sir John’s part in the armed confrontation of June 1425 between his young son, (Sir) Thomas, and Sir Richard Molyneux, which reputedly involved over 3,000 men and threatened to plunge the Liverpool area into a state of pandemonium, is now impossible to determine, although he must have lent the youth some practical assistance. He was then becoming involved in a quarrel of far wider political implications between Humphrey, duke of Gloucester, the Protector, and Henry, Bishop Beaufort, the chancellor, over their contest for control of the government during the minority of Henry VI. Unlike his brother-in-law, Sir William Haryngton, who supported Beaufort, Stanley appears to have favoured the duke. He acted as a mainpernor on his behalf in June 1425, and received a New Year’s gift from him personally in the following January. On the other hand, both he and Sir William were trusted by John, duke of Bedford, who used them as agents in an ill-fated attempt to reconcile the two rivals. In January 1426, for example, they reported Gloucester’s fears that violence would erupt before the forthcoming Leicester Parliament unless his own men were segregated from those of the bishop.15

The turbulent events of 1425 had little lasting effect on the now burgeoning career of Stanley’s son. He was, indeed, returned to Parliament by the electors of Lancashire for the first time two years later, and in 1431 he assumed office as lieutenant of Ireland. Unlike his grandfather, who had discharged most of his duties in person, (Sir) Thomas spent long periods in England. He again entered the House of Commons in 1433, when his father, who did not usually attend the county elections, helped to secure his return—possibly so that he could more effectively press for the payment of his fees, which had already fallen heavily into arrears. Sir John Stanley, his brother-in-law, Sir William Haryngton, and their erstwhile enemy, Sir Richard Molyneux, headed the list of Lancashire gentry who were to take the oath of May 1434 that they would not assist anyone who disturbed the peace. By then, however, their feud had become less bitter, and a marriage alliance subsequently effected a lasting reconciliation. Sir John and his son now frequently worked together in the business of local administration. Both were, for example, commissioned in February 1436 to raise government loans from the Lancashire gentry; and both made sizeable contributions of, respectively, 100 marks and £40 towards the cost of the duke of York’s expedition to France. Sir John died early in December 1437, just a few days after arranging with the Crown for his offices in the duchy of Lancaster to be held jointly in survivorship with Ralph, Lord Cromwell, then treasurer of England. (Sir) Thomas Stanley succeeded to the family estates, became chamberlain to Henry VI, and as a reward for years of loyal service was, in January 1456, elevated to the peerage as Lord Stanley. Viewed in retrospect, Sir John’s life can be seen as a period of steady consolidation, lacking the dramatic success which characterized the careers of his father and son. Even so, it was through his efforts that this important family built up much of its political influence in the north-west.16

Ref Volumes: 1386-1421

Author: C.R.


  • 1. Chetham Soc. xcv. 20, 105-6; (ser. 3), xxx. 6, 194; M.J. Bennett, ‘Late Med. Soc. in N.W. Eng.’ (Lancaster Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1975), 447-51, 461; CPL, vi. 402.
  • 2. Chetham Soc. n.s. xcvi. 124-5; DKR, xl. 532-4.
  • 3. DKR, xxxi. 243-4; xxxvii (2), 484, 666.
  • 4. Chetham Soc. xcv. 118.
  • 5. Feudal Aids, iii. 92-96.
  • 6. DKR, xxxvii (2), 670.
  • 7. Ibid. 671.
  • 8. DKR, xxxi. 243-4; xxxvii (2), 666-72.
  • 9. Chetham Soc. n.s. xcvi. 125, 128; Somerville, Duchy, i. 500, 507.
  • 10. DKR, xxxiii. 33.
  • 11. Chetham Soc. (ser. 3), xxx. 2-6; CP, xii (1), 248-9; Bennett, 166, 447-54; A.J. Otway-Ruthven, Med. Ire. 347-8.
  • 12. Chetham Soc. xcv. 105-6, 118; n.s. xcvi. 123-4; (ser. 3), xxx. 99; CP, xii (1), 250; DKR, xxxvi (2), 447; xliv. 564; E404/31/316; CPL. vi. 402; CCR, 1413-19, p. 197; Bennett, 160, 450.
  • 13. Bennett, 455-6, 458-60; Chetham Soc. n.s. xcvi. 125; DKR, xxxiii. 15, 39; xxxvii (2), 637, 667, 670; VCH Lancs. iii. 25; CCR, 1413-19, pp. 411-12.
  • 14. M.J. Bennett, Community, Class and Careerism, 219-22; Chetham Soc. (ser. 3), xxx. 100-1; PPC, iii. 346; CCR, 1413-19, p. 358; CPR, 1416-22, p. 258, DKR, xxxiii. 27.
  • 15. DL42/18 (2), f. 110; E404/42/306; Bennett, ‘Late Med. Soc. in N.W. Eng.’, 461; Lancs. and Cheshire Hist. Soc. lxxxv. 85-87; PPC, iii. 183; DKR, xxxvii (2), 668-9; CFR, xv. 103.
  • 16. C219/14/4; CPR, 1429-36, p. 379; PPC, iv. 323, 327; DKR, xxxiii. 38; Chetham Soc. n.s. xcvi. 128, 162-72; CP, xii (1), 250-1.