Margaret Stanley, Countess of Derby

Margaret Stanley, Countess of Derby
Lady Margaret Clifford.

Margaret Stanley, Countess of Derby (née Clifford) (1540 – 28 September 1596) was the only surviving daughter of Henry Clifford, 2nd Earl of Cumberland and Lady Eleanor Brandon.

Her maternal grandparents were Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk and Mary Tudor, former queen consort of France. Mary was the third daughter of King Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York.


Heiress to the throne

According to the will of Henry VIII, Margaret was in line to inherit the throne of England. Upon the death of her mother she became seventh in line. However, both her cousins Jane Grey and Mary Grey died without issue, and their sister, her other cousin, Catherine Grey, died without the legitimacy of her two sons ever being proven. Margaret quickly moved up to becoming the first in line to the throne, but died prior to the death of Elizabeth I.

Marriage and family

In 1552 John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland suggested a marriage of his youngest son Guildford to Margaret, yet, although the proposal had the warm support of Edward VI, her father was against it.[1] A year later, in June 1553, the Imperial ambassador Jehan Scheyfve reported that Northumberland's brother Andrew Dudley would marry Margaret.[2] The Dudleys were imprisoned when Mary I gained the throne and Margaret married Henry Stanley, 4th Earl of Derby on 7 February 1554. They had something of a stormy relationship. Margaret wrote that there were several "breaches ansd reconciliations", but that her husband finally left her leaving serious debt.[3]

They had five children:

Disgrace and death

In 1579 she was arrested after she had been heard discussing a proposed marriage of Queen Elizabeth to the Duke d'Alencon. She was opposed to it as it threatened her own possible accession to the crown. She was then accused of using sorcery to predict when Elizabeth would die, and even of planning to poison Elizabeth.[3] Simply predicting the death of a monarch was a capital offence at the time. The countess was put under house arrest. She wrote to Francis Walsingham insisting on her innocence. She claimed that the accused sorcerer, William Randall, was in fact her physician, who was staying with her because he could cure "sickness and weakness in my body". Randall was subsequently executed. No charges were brought against the countess, but she was banished from court. She wrote repeatedly to the queen complaining that she was in a "black dungeon of sorrow and despair....overwhelmed with heaviness through the loss of your majesty's favor and gracious countenance." She also continued to be plagued by demands from creditors.[3] She died in 1596 without having recovered royal favour.

Margaret outlived her eldest son, Ferdinando; her granddaughter, Lady Anne Stanley, Ferdinando's oldest daughter, took her place as heiress presumptive. This proved meaningless as Anne was never allowed to succeed Queen regnant Elizabeth I of England. Anne, her two younger sisters and their children were passed over for James VI of Scotland.


  1. ^ David Loades: John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland 1504–1553, Clarendon Press, 1996, ISBN 0198201931, pp. 226, 238
  2. ^ Calendar State papers Spain 1553, vol. 11, (1916), 51.
  3. ^ a b c Lawrence Manley, "From Strange's Men to Pembroke's Men: 2 "Henry VI" and "The First Part of the Contention".", Shakespeare Quarterly, vol. 54, No. 3 (Autumn, 2003), pp. 253-287.
Margaret Stanley, Countess of Derby
House of Tudor
Born: 1540 Died: 28 September 1596
English royalty
Preceded by
No designated heir under Elizabeth I of England. Potential heir was Lady Mary Grey
Potential Heir to the English and Irish Thrones
by the will of Henry VIII
20 April 1578-28 September 1596
Succeeded by
Lady Anne Stanley

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