Stanley was a prominent politician and diplomat in his day. He entered parliament in 1559 and succeeded his father as earl and lord lieutenant of Lancashire in 1572. Stanley was admitted a Knight of the Garter on 24 April 1574 and appointed privy councillor on 20 May 1585. He married Margaret (1540-1596), eldest daughter of Henry Clifford, 2nd Earl of Cumberland (1517-1570) and his first wife Lady Eleanor Brandon (1519-1547). Lady Brandon was the daughter of Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk (1484-1545) and Princess Mary Tudor (1496-1533) who was Henry VIII’s younger sister.
According to a Heinz library card, this lot was erroneously said to have been included in the Shakespeare Exhibition in Stratford-on-Avon in 1964, as no. 7. Stanley was however a patron of a company of actors: ‘Derby’s Men’. His sons Ferdinando Stanley, 5th Earl of Derby (1559-1594) and William Stanley, 6th Earl of Derby (c.1561-1642) were also heavily involved with theatre. Interestingly, a portrait of William was included in this particular exhibition. ‘Derby’s Men’ became famous under the patronage of Ferdinando. Before succeeding his father as earl in 1593 he even had his own company of players: ‘ Strange’s Men’, who were the leading company in England by 1592. Shakespeare was probably a member of the company at that time. In the 20th century William was primarily well known, because he was put forward as the ‘real Shakespeare’, these claims however were unfounded. Nevertheless, William was a gifted writer of comedies in his own right and also had his own troupe of theatre players. It is a popular claim that Shakespeare wrote his A Midsummer Night’s Dream for William’s wedding to Elizabeth de Vere (1575-1624) in 1595.