SMITH STANLEY, James, Lord Strange (1717-1771).

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1741 - 1 June 1771

Family and Education

b. 7 Jan. 1717, 1st s. of Edward, 11th Earl of Derby, by Elizabeth, da. and h. of Robert Hesketh of Rufford, Lancs.  educ. Westminster 1729; Leyden Univ. 1735; Grand Tour c.1737.  m. 17 Mar. 1747, Lucy, da. and coh. of Hugh Smith of Weald Hall, Essex, and assumed name of Smith before Stanley, 3s. 4da.

Offices Held

Ld. lt. Lancs. 1757- d.; P.C. 15 Dec. 1762; chancellor of duchy of Lancaster Dec. 1762- d.


In Lancashire one seat was usually conceded to the Stanley family without opposition. Lord Strange (a title erronously assumed by the family since 1572) soon made his reputation as a leading member of the opposition to the Pelhams. Contemporaries agree that he was essentially independent: he acted ‘on notions of his own,’ wrote Horace Walpole,1 ‘unwedded to any faction’. In 1755 Walpole reckoned him among the foremost speakers in the House;2 and a friend3 wrote after his death: ‘His manner of speaking was manly and concise, and sometimes with a mixture of humour, which he knew very well how to time; nor was any one better heard by the House.’

In Dupplin’s lists of 1754 Strange was classed as ‘doubtful’. He seems to have taken no part in the debates on the subsidy treaties in November-December 1755. In the budget debate of 25 Feb. 1756 he ‘objected strongly to the brick tax, because the houses that ought to pay most, those of the rich, are built of stone’. He intervened repeatedly in the debates on Admiral Byng, and thus defined his attitude on 25 Feb. 1757:

He had always been averse to meddling with Mr. Byng’s cause in Parliament, yet it was very difficult to avoid it now the judges themselves desired it. To refuse this dispensation to them [to empower them to declare what had been their intention in pronouncing Byng guilty] would be a cruelty his blood ran cold at.4

During the Minorca inquiry James West reported to Newcastle on 26 Apr. 1757: ‘Lord Strange very strongly against us and often up.’5 When in April 1757 Fox received the King’s ‘commands to form a plan of Administration’, Strange was one of those ‘who were to have the refusal of the principal employments’; but ‘being then in the country was not applied to’.6 In June, on a new attempt by Fox to form a Government, Strange, apparently judging it futile, ‘expressed his unwillingness to take the chancellorship of the duchy of Lancaster, a post which he was well known to covet’.7 In January 1759 he again objected to a subsidy treaty (with Hesse); but appealed to by Pitt, he moved no amendment, though he voted against the treaty. On the other hand, in March-May 1760 he opposed the qualification bill, a favourite measure of the country gentlemen.8

When on 11 Dec. 1761 George Cooke, a follower of Pitt, moved for the Spanish papers, Strange declared that he had intended to be against the motion, but that it

was so unexceptionable, that he could not object to it ... The House had a right to tender its advice, even unasked ... [The] ministers ... were divided amongst themselves, therefore the people ought to interpose. By showing no confidence to the people, the Administration would destroy their zealous attachment to the Crown.9

‘The only matter I don’t like’, wrote the King to Bute that day,10 ‘is Lord Strange’s taking part with Mr. Pitt’; and in a letter of 17 May 1762 he refers to ‘the idea of the duchy [of Lancaster] for Lord Strange’ as something which had been mooted for some time. The opportunity came in the autumn. On 30 Oct. 1762 Fox wrote to Strange explaining his reasons for joining the Government. He, replying from Derby where he was with the militia, expressed pleasure at seeing Fox in office and his trust that many of the King’s subjects would support the King.11

I have always thought that the King had as good a right to choose his own servants as I have, and for my own part I am determined to support whomsoever he shall employ, as long as I think they act for the benefit of his Majesty and of the nation. I think a good peace the most desirable thing that can happen to this nation, and I should be sorry to see it (if I may use the expression) too good a one, for I am sure none that is not reasonable can be durable.

Through Shelburne and Bute12 this letter apparently reached the King, who wrote to Bute on 4 Nov.:

Nothing can be more full and proper than the expressions of Lord Strange. He is a valuable man for he is esteemed by all an honest one. I wish the chancellorship of the duchy could be got for him.

And on 11 Nov., on Lord Kinnoull’s resignation of the duchy: ‘this vacancy will make Strange a happy man, it having been the wish of his heart.’13 The same day Bute offered it to him—‘I have long in secret wished to see your talents more immediately employed in your King and country’s service.’ Strange replied on 15 Nov. in a letter summarized in the register of Bute’s correspondence:

A Whig in principle. In or out of employment always acts according to the dictates of conscience. Accepts the seals under conditions. A public character cannot avoid envy and scandal.14

And to Fox on the same day:15

I have wrote ... to Lord Bute, and have fully and openly explained my sentiments to him ... I have resolved to accept the seals if his Lordship thinks I can be of more service to my King and country by so doing.

He refused, however, to take the salary of £1,200 a year;16 and did not kiss hands till later, ‘that he may support [the peace], and his writ be moved afterwards’.17 On 1 Dec. Strange seconded the motion that the peace preliminaries be taken into consideration on the 9th, and in the division acted as teller on the Government side. On a later occasion (7 Feb. 1763) he vindicated the peace ‘from the circumstances of our population and finances’.18

On 28 Jan. 1763 Strange started a debate which made some of the Tories look ‘very grave’; he moved that the House should sit on the anniversary of Charles I’s ‘martyrdom’: ‘laughed at such a saint’s day’; and affirmed that the words in the statute enacting the day that ‘“neither Parliament nor people can judge the King”, were contrary to the constitution’. The next day, seconding a motion to repeal the statute, he ‘spoke of Charles's trial as an act of faction and violence’, but ‘added that if a cannon ball had taken off his head in battle, it had been happier for himself and the nation’.19

On 3 Sept. 1763 Grenville sent Strange the letter which he addressed to the principal Government supporters in Parliament on the King's recent negotiations with Pitt and Bute's declared determination to absent himself from the councils and presence of the King. Strange replied approving of Grenville's conduct and promising support. Consequently, in preparation for the autumn session, Grenville, on 15 Oct., wrote to Strange expressing an ‘earnest desire’ to communicate to him the measures to be taken against Wilkes, and to obtain his ‘approbation and assistance’; and asked him in the most flattering terms to take the lead in the matter. Strange's reply is not extant, but he was not at the meeting of the ‘men of business’ at Grenville's house on 13 Nov., and though condemning Wilkes, took an independent line—thus on 3 Feb. 1764, and again on 6 Feb. (when Strange at first thought that the warrant on which Wilkes was apprehended should be produced, though subsequently the debate convinced him of ‘the impropriety of the mode’).20

He also otherwise preserved his independence with regard to the court. On 2 Dec. 1763, when a grant of £80,000 was proposed by Grenville for Princess Augusta on her marriage to the Duke of Brunswick, Strange ‘praised the match ... but doubted how far former precedents applied, and was unwilling to establish a new one’; when the revenue of the Duke of Cumberland was increased, his services were mentioned, to avoid a precedent for unmerited claims by a younger son of a King. Equally regardless was Strange of ‘popularity’: he repeatedly defended the Cider Act, bluntly declaring on 11 Mar. 1763 ‘that it was the private interest of the gentlemen of the cider counties, which made them against it’. On 23 Jan. 1765, when Conway's dismissal for a vote in the House was discussed, Strange tried to justify ‘the prerogative as to removing military officers, as well as civil’; but, according to Walpole, was ‘so roughly handled on his own tergiversations ... that he, who was wont to be all spirit, quickness and fire, was quite abashed, and showed at least the sensibility of virtue’.21

Thirty-odd interventions by Strange in debate on more than a score of subjects are recorded by Harris during the two years of the Grenville Administration. But he was absent from those on the Regency bill. Replying (23, 28 May 1765) from Fulwood Camp to Grenville's account of the May crisis, Strange remarked about the inclusion of the Princess Dowager: ‘what part you took upon the amendment I don't know, but I own had I been in the House I should have been against the compliment’. He was one of the friends to whom Grenville wrote (11 July) when dismissed from office. Strange replied (16 July) in a letter appreciative of Grenville's Administration; and mentioned ‘an intimation’ he had received that day from the new Government, ‘my answer to which is nearly all the same with the letter I wrote to Lord Bute, and which you told me you saw’. The text is not extant, only fragmentary reports. Robert Nugent wrote to Grenville, 8 Aug.:

Has Lord Strange given you an account of his answer to Lord John Cavendish's embassy? I have seen it in his own handwriting: it is as short but not as sweet as a Shrewsbury cake.

And Strange to Grenville, from Knowsley, 20 Aug.:

I have not here either the copy of my letter to Lord Bute ... nor have I that of my letter to Lord G. [sic.] Cavendish ... the purport of it to the best of my remembrance was, ‘that a Whig Administration I should always approve of, and if such a one was appointed I should certainly vote with them whenever I thought them right, and that I would go no further with any Administration; that I heartily wished to see such a one established as would be agreeable to the King and too the nation, and that if my office was wanted I should quit it as cheerfully as I received it.’ Since this I have heard nothing from his Lordship or from any of them.

To begin with there may have been an idea of dismissing Strange;22 but if so, it was soon dropped; and he was left undisturbed although classed by Rockingham as ‘doubtful’.

Over the Anstruther election petition, which the Rockinghams treated as a test case, Strange voted against them, 31 Jan. 1766, and was mentioned in the list which Conway sent to the King ‘of those who were particularly remarked on this occasion’.23 He spoke and voted against the repeal of the Stamp Act; and on 10 Feb., ‘having occasion to go into the King on some affair of his office’, was told by him that he was for modification of the Act, ‘but if the different parties were too wild to come into that’, the King ‘declared for repeal, instead of enforcing’. The King authorized Strange to repeat this to whoever declared ‘that in all cases I was for the repeal’. According to Walpole, Strange ‘made full use of the authority he had received, and trumpeted all over the town the conversation he had had with the King’.24 The words were reported to John Offley with a slight change of emphasis: the King assured Strange ‘that he did not wish the repeal of the Stamp Act, only wished that it might be altered’.25 Rockingham went to complain to the King, who seems to have stood his ground—‘I found Lord Strange had most correctly reported what I had said.’ In the crucial debate of 21-22 Feb. Strange ‘spoke very strongly for the modification and against the repeal’. When about this time a group of ‘King's friends’ discussed in confidence how ‘on the probable dissolution’ of the Rockingham Administration ‘the free choice of his own servants’ could be secured for the King, Strange was named among ‘the principal of those who are attached to him’, and who, if appealed to by him, ‘would probably give more support than ever under a settled Administration’. Yet so little was he of a courtier that when the question came up in April 1766 of an establishment for the King's brothers, which the King had much at heart, Newcastle expected it to ‘meet with great difficulty in Parliament. Mr. Pitt and Lord Strange against it’: wherein Strange merely adhered to his previous line concerning grants to younger members of the royal family.26

Under the Chatham Administration Strange was classed by Rockingham, Newcastle and Townshend as a supporter of the Government, and in both division lists extant for the period—on the land tax, 27 Feb. 1767, and the nullum tempus bill, 17 Feb. 1768—voted with them, acting as teller on the latter occasion. He adhered to the line he had taken on the land tax in 1751, and over nullum tempus to what he thought right in the practice of his own office. Rockingham wrote to Newcastle's secretary, Hurdis, on 17 Jan. 1768:27

The duchy court of Lancaster have within the last year or two made several attempts to revive and make out old claims which in the northern counties had already made great uneasiness. This event in the Duke of Portland's case of somewhat a similar nature makes the greater impression there from their minds being already agitated by those circumstances.

And Sir Anthony Abdy, obviously alluding to this matter, referred in a letter to Rockingham28 to ‘the personal hatred so deservedly fixed upon Lord Strange’ in Lancashire—a wishful exaggeration.

In 1768 Strange was once more returned unopposed. He now took a sharp line against Wilkes, and on 14 Nov. 1768 demanded an inquiry in his claim to privilege of Parliament.29 On 17 Feb. 1769 Strange moved the resolution that Wilkes was incapable of sitting in the Parliament from which he had been expelled; next, that Wilkes's re-election be declared void; and lastly, that a new writ be issued. He appears in all the three divisions lists on Wilkes and the Middlesex election which give the names of the majority (3 Feb., 15 Apr., and 8 May 1769). In his last session, November 1770-May 1771, Strange frequently intervened on the Government side in the debates on the printers' case, and presumably voted for committing the lord mayor to the Tower, 27 Mar. 1771.

Strange died v.p. 1 June 1771.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Mems. Geo. III, i. 283.
  • 2. Mems. Geo. II, ii. 145.
  • 3. Quoted Collins, Peerage, iii. 100.
  • 4. Walpole, Mems. Geo. II, ii. 178, 330.
  • 5. Add. 35877, f. 363.
  • 6. Waldegrave, Mems. 102-5.
  • 7. Ilchester, Hen. Fox, ii. 57.
  • 8. Add. 32887, ff. 351, 355; 32903, f. 94; 32905, f. 246.
  • 9. Add. 32932, ff. 32-38; Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, i. 89-90.
  • 10. Sedgwick, 73, 106.
  • 11. 1 Nov., Henry Fox mss.
  • 12. Shelburne to Bute [3 Nov. 1762], Bute mss.
  • 13. Sedgwick, 156, 162.
  • 14. Add. 38200, f. 102; 36796.
  • 15. Henry Fox mss.
  • 16. Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, i. 284; Collins, Peerage, iii. 100.
  • 17. Fox to Bute, 23 Nov., Bute mss.
  • 18. Harris’s ‘Debates’.
  • 19. Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, i. 190-1; Harris's 'Debates'.
  • 20. Bodl. Grenville mss; Grenville Pprs. ii. 104-7, 134-6, 206; Chatham Corresp. ii. 285; Harris's 'Debates'.
  • 21. Harris's 'Debates'; Jenkinson to Bute, 11 Mar. 1763, Bodl. North mss; Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, ii. 35.
  • 22. Grenville mss (JM); Grenville letter bk.
  • 23. Ibid. 249-50.
  • 24. Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, ii. 205; Fortescue, i. 266, 268-70; Beaton, Narrative of Changes in the Ministry, 51-52.
  • 25. Offley to Rockingham, 11 Feb. 1766, Rockingham mss.
  • 26. Add. 32973, ff. 45-46; 32974, f. 397; Jenkinson Pprs. 404-8.
  • 27. Add. 32988, f. 31.
  • 28. 10 Sept. 1769, Rockingham mss.
  • 29. Cavendish Debates, i. 47, 61, 228, 233, 237.