Select Stanley Surname Genealogy

The surname Stanley is locational, derived from the Old English stan meaning “stone” and leah meaning “clearing”– i.e. a stony meadow.  It occurred in many places in England, in Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Durham and Yorkshire for instance.  It was the manor of Stoneley in Staffordshire which gave rise to the famous Stanley family.  The name first appeared as Robert de Stanleya in the 1130 pipe rolls of Staffordshire.

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EnglandThe Stanleys traced their descent from a companion of William the Conqueror, Adam de Aldithley, who held lands in Staffordshire.  One line of this family became Audleys.  But a grandson Adam was married to the heiress of the manor of Stoneley in Staffordshire and around 1130 took the name of Stanley.  This family's rise to power in England:
  • began with Sir John Stanley who married well and then backed the right monarch (Henry IV), which gave him many rewards including, in 1405, tenure of the Isle of Man
  • and was strengthened by Thomas Baron Stanley, kingmaker during the Wars of the Roses, who again backed the right monarch (Henry VII) and in 1485 was rewarded by being ennobled as the Earl of Derby and appointed High Constable of England.  He had three sons - George (the heir apparent), Edward, and James (the Bishop of Ely).
The senior line via George Stanley continued to hold the Earldom of Derby until the death of the 10th Earl in 1736 (although James, the 7th Earl, was executed in 1651 for his role in the Civil War).  It was only at that time, in 1736, that the Stanleys finally relinquished their grip of the Isle of Man where they had been lords since 1405.  The title of Earl of Derby passed to a junior branch of the family, the Baronets of Bickerstaffe, which still holds it today.  This history was narrated in Brian S. Roberts' 1998 book The House of Stanley.  

The Stanleys spread to Cheshire (Stourton and Alderley) and Lancashire (Ashton in Makerfield, Bickerstaffe, Lathon and Knowsley) and also elsewhere in England.  These Stanleys included:
  • the Stanley line at Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire which apparently died out in the early 1500’s, although there were Stanleys there later and at Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire.  
  • Thomas Stanley who became a scrivener in London in early Tudor times.  His family acquired the Cumberlow estate in Hertfordshire, the home of the poet and translator Sir Thomas Stanley.
  • Venetia Stanley, born in Shropsihire, who was a noted beauty of the early Stuart period.  She died in mysterious circumstances at the age of thirty three.
  • the Stanleys in Kent who had come in the early 1600's from a Stanley family in Lancashire.
  • while the Victorians Edward Stanley, Bishop of Norwich, and Dean Stanley of Westminster came from a Cheshire Stanley family.
Ireland.  There was a record of a Nicholas be Staneley as presbyter in the diocese of Armagh in the year 1310.   Charles Stanley bought land at Derryhale in county Armagh in 1713.  Born in 1690, he lived to be 104 years old.

Other Stanley outposts in Ireland were in Westmeath and Louth: 
  • Michael Stanley was the first of the Stanleys in Westmeath in 1666.  His family as it grew lived in a number of locations around Athlone, their prime residence being Low Park. 
  • another Stanley family was to be found at Ardbolies near Clogher in Louth.  Joe Stanley, born around there, acted as printer to the republicans during the 1916 uprising.  Fintan Stanley of a later generation made his name as a musician, playing the accordion.   
America.  Stanleys came to America; but none, it would appear, from the main Earl of Derby line.

New England.  Robert Stanley from Tenterden in Kent had three sons - John, Thomas, and Timothy - who departed for Boston on the Elizabeth & Dorcas in 1634.  John died on the voyage; but his ten year old son, also named John, reached Boston.  Thomas, Timothy and their nephew John were among the founders of Hartford,
Connecticut, John living there until his death in 1706.  The family history was covered in Israel Warren's 1887 book The Stanley Families of America.

From this line is thought to have come the Stanleys of New Britain, Connecticut.  Gad Stanley, born there in 1735, distinguished himself in the Revolutionary War.  His son Gad died at sea in 1820.  But in 1843 his grandson Frederick founded in New Britain a small tool company which, developed by his cousin Henry in the years after the Civil War, later became the Stanley Works - now one of the world's most recognized brand of tools.

Virginia.  Early arrivals to Virginia were:
  • Hugh Stanley, transported to Virgina in 1635 at the age of 17.  He later made his way to Maryland and died there in 1671   
  • and Thomas Stanley the Quaker who arrived in Virginia sometime in the 1680's and made his home in New Kent county.  His descendants today hold reunions annually.
Samuel Stanley, also in New Kent county, fought in the Revolutionary War.  His descendants moved to Columbia, South Carolina where William Byrd Stanley was its mayor for three terms.  He opened Stanley's China Hall in the town in 1849.
Family legend has George Stanley, one of three hat-making brothers, coming to Virginia in the 1740's.  There were firmer sightings of this family in Spartenburg, South Carolina by the 1790's and in Cobb county, Georgia by 1814.

Other Stanleys.  Stanley in America can be the anglicized version of some like-sounding immigrant names, such as the Polish Stanislawski.  Alex Stanislawski came to Chicago in 1916 and his descendants were Stanleys.  

CanadaLord Stanley of Preston, later to be the 16th Earl of Derby, was appointed Governor General of Canada in 1888.   He was only in Canada for five years.  But his name lives on in the Stanley Cup for which ice hockey teams in North America compete.

New Zealand.  John and Mary Stanley left their home in Worcestershire in 1850 on the Randolph for New Zealand.  John became a fruit farmer at Papanui in Christchurch, introducing the cox apple and establishing the country’s first commercial orchard.   A photograph has been preserved of John and his family on their bullock cart in Cathedral Square, Christchurch in 1866.

Tom Stanley from Kent was drawn to the gold mining town of Macraes Flat in Otago in the 1870’s.  He took over a ramshackle hotel there and decided to rebuild.  Stanley’s Hotel is now a landmark building in the area.

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If you would like to read more, click on the miscellany page for further stories and accounts:

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Sir John Stanley was the 14th century founder of the Stanley fortunes, being made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and granted sovereignty over the Isle of Man.
Thomas Baron Stanley placed the English crown on the head of Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 and was created the Earl of Derby.
Henry Stanley, born John Rowlands, was the explorer in Africa famous for his search and discovery of the Scottish explorer David Livingstone.
The Stanley Cup, first contested in 1894, is the cup for which North American ice hockey teams compete.
Harold Stanley, an American businessman, was one of the founders of the investment bank Morgan Stanley in 1935.

Select Stanleys Today
  • 26,000 in the UK (most numerous in Lancashire)
  • 33,000 in America (most numerous in Texas) 
  • 14,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

PS.  You might want to check out the surnames page on this website.  It covers surname genealogy in this and companion websites for more than 800 surnames.

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