Charlotte Stanley, Countess of Derby

In February 1644, Parliamentarian forces besieged Lathom House in Lancashire, one of the last remaining Royalist strongholds in the county.  The defence of the castle by its defiant mistress, Lady Stanley, become one of the famous events of the English Civil Wars, when for three months, the Countess, in the absence of her husband,  who was away defending the Isle of Man, repeatedly refused to surrender her home, and instead fortified the castle against the enemy.  The siege was broken when Royalist help arrived in May,  led by the King’s nephew, Prince Rupert.

She fled to the Isle of Man, but after her husband’s capture at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, and his subsequent beheading, she surrendered the island to her enemies, and in the words of an 18th century writer, became  “the last person in the three kingdoms, and in all their dependent dominions, who submitted to the victorious rebels”.

The below portrait of Lady Stanley is said to date from the 17th century,  and is attributed to a follower of Van Dyck. (source: ebay)


A woman of noble birth – the daughter of a French nobleman, and granddaughter of William I, Prince of Orange – the Countess would endure great trials following the war, with the execution of her husband, James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby, leaving her widowed with 5 children, and a seemingly endless legal fight with Parliament over the seizure and dispersal of her estate. She claimed be ‘the only woman that ever was sequestered for acting on that side to which her husband adhered,” and complained she was being treated more severely than others for her “crazy life”.

James Stanley, Lord Strange, Later Seventh Earl of Derby, with his Wife, Charlotte, and their daughter, c. 1636, Anthony Van Dyck. ©The Frick Collection

Despite these struggles, Charlotte survived until 1664,  with Sir Peter Lely capturing a last image of her a few years before her death.

Charlotte,_Countess_of_Derby_by_Sir_Peter_Lely 1657
Portrait after Sir Peter Lely, based on a work of 1657. ©National Portrait Gallery, London

Leave a comment


  1. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Parliament was more venomous in pursuing the Countess, simply because she was female. It wouldn’t be an isolated instance of that sort of thing.

    Is there any information about which of their daughters is in the family portrait? I’m hopeless at estimating children’s ages, do you think she could be Lady Henriette, who was born in 1630? I like that she’s wearing orange, nice reminder of her mother’s family.


  2. I’m a bit of a fan of the Countess because I’ve been reading through the Committee for Compounding records, 5 massive volumes of court cases where Royalists were fined and bankrupted just for being Royalist. Charlotte’s case is the longest I’ve found, 17 pages worth, and it’s just page after page of their property being sold off, and neighbours or rivals taking their chance to grab some of the land, or demanding payment of old debts. Some of it is so petty it’s unbelievable. I think the Committees thought she’d be a pushover because she was a woman alone, but she wouldn’t give up and argued her case for years, well into the mid 1650s. She tried the ‘I’m a foreigner, a widow, a Protestant and a mother’ argument but they weren’t having it. They definitely were punishing her more than others, I think, but probably more because her husband was a very prominent and massively wealthy Royalist, and they wanted to make an example of her.

    I’m not sure which daughter it is. The gallery label only says a daughter. The orange is a nice touch though!


  3. I read about her in Jane Lane’s novel The Countess At War, a looong time ago. And cringe, there’s an editon of it sporting a portrait of Bianca Capello on the front, from around 1580. AAAAAAAAAAAGGHHHHHHHHHHH!



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