Stanley Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Stanley Surname Meaning

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.

Stanley Surname Resources on The Internet

Stanley Surname Ancestry

  • from England (Staffordshire and Lancashire)
  • to Isle of Man, Ireland, Canada and New Zealand

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.  Later the Stanleys moved to Storeton on the Wirral after William Stanley had eloped with the Soreton heiress in 1282.  

This family’s rise to power in England:

  • began with a younger brother of the line, John Stanley, who also married an heiress with lands in Lancashire.  He then backed the right monarch (Henry IV), which gave him many rewards including, in 1405, tenure of the Isle of Man.  
  • the Stanley position was then strengthened by Thomas Baron Stanley, kingmaker during the Wars of the Roses.  He again backed the right monarch (Henry VII) and in 1485 was rewarded by being ennobled as the Earl of Derby and was 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.

Other Stanleys.  Stanleys spread to Cheshire (Stourton and Alderley) and to Lancashire (Ashton in Makerfield, Bickerstaffe, Lathon and Knowsley).

Stanleys also spread elsewhere.  Their numbers 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.

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 Virginia 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.

James and Catherine Stanley who married in the 1790’s were Quakers from Virginia.  Their son Elijah, born in 1798, departed North Carolina with his family in a large wagon train for Taney county, Missouri in 1851.  He and his wife Rachel had nine children, some of whom moved onto Iowa.

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.

Stanley Surname Miscellany

Stoneley and Stanley in Staffordshire.  The Stonely manor in Staffordshire dated from Saxon times. At the time of the Norman Conquest, this estate belonged to Sir Henry de Stoneley, the place of his residence in that day supplying the surname of the owner.

Two young Normans at that time, Adam and William de Alditheley, married wives of this Saxon de Stoneley family.  It was Adam, after an exchange with his cousin William, who made Stoneley his family residence.  In honor of his wife who came from a longstanding Saxon family, he assumed the surname of Stanley and became, sometime in the early 1100’s, the recognized founder of the Stanley family.

Reader Feedback – Early History of the Stanley Family.  The early history given here is not totally correct. The following is taken from Tales from the Yew Tree, a series of articles I have researched and written for our parish magazine.

The Stanley family moved from Stoneley in Staffordshire when the heiress Jane Baumville (Bamville) of Storeton on the Wirral eloped with William Stanley to Astbury on the border of Staffordshire.  There they were married by William’s uncle John de Stanley, the vicar of St Mary’s Astbury on 12th September, 1282.

They came back to the Wirral.  On the death of Jane’s father William inherited the hereditary title Forester of Wirral, together with the manor of Storeton and bailiwick of Wirral which brought him a considerable fortune. They moved to Hooton, Wirral when the 8th Lord William Stanley married Margery, heiress to the manor of Hooton. The church in Eastham became their parish church and there are tombs of later Stanleys in the Stanley Chapel inside the church.

This branch was the senior branch, but later became overshadowed when the 8th Lord William Stanley’s younger brother John married an heiress from Lathom and inherited vast lands in Lancashire.  Sir John as he became served both Richard II and Henry IV and in 1385 became Lord Deputy of Ireland.  He was granted the manor of Blake Castle in Ireland.

In the seventh year of Henry IV, Sir John “obtained a grant in fee of the Isle of Man, with all the isles adjacent, to be holden of the said king, his heirs and successors, by homage and the service of two falcons, payable on the days of their coronation”. In fact he was the titular King of Mann. When Henry V came to the throne, he was made a Knight of the Garter, and Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, a position he continued to hold until he died in 1414.

The story of how this younger son came to inherit so much on his marriage is worth checking out by anyone interested enough, as is the elopement of Jane Bamville and Lord William Stanley.

Valmai Bonnard (

Thomas and William Stanley, Brothers at Bosworth Field in 1485.  Thomas and William Stanley took different sides in the conflict between York and Lancaster in the War of the Roses.  They came together in one glorious moment at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. Afterwards their paths diverged again and their fates turned out to be very different.

Thomas the elder played on both sides of the conflict for some time before coming down on the Lancastrian side by helping to broker the marriage of Henry Tudor with Elizabeth of York.  Meanwhile his younger brother William had been overtly seen in the Yorkist camp.  Both were present with their own forces at the decisive battle between the two camps at Bosworth Field.  It was said to have been Sir William Stanley’s decisive intervention which gave Henry Tudor the victory.

After Bosworth Field, Thomas was held in the highest esteem. Henry demonstrated his gratitude to his “right dearly beloved father” by creating him the Earl of Derby and the following year confirming him in office as the High Constable of England.

William was said to have served the new King loyally.  But he had been a Yorkist and Henry Tudor never quite trusted him.  In addition, he was rich and the King was said to have had one eye on his fortune.  His downfall came in 1495.  It was portrayed as follows in the 1972 BBC drama series The Shadow of the Tower.

“Sir William Stanley was detained in the Tower of London on suspicion of supporting a pretender to the throne.  He held his tongue, apparently convinced that the affair was a ruse by Henry to extort a large fine.  He reminded Henry that it was Stanley who took Richard’s crown at Bosworth and placed it on Henry’s head.  Henry’s perception was that this was only after S anley had seen which way the battle was going and switched sides.  Nevertheless Henry intended to pardon him.

However, in an unguarded moment Stanley met with a fellow prisoner and was soon drawn into a treasonous tirade.  This was reported and Stanley was put on trial. He was found guilty, sentenced to the forfeit of his estates and a painful death, which the King later commuted to beheading.”

James Stanley, Bishop of Ely.  James Stanley, born into the powerful Stanley family, was a churchman, although not necessarily a very devout one.  Like many senior churchmen of his day, there was a lady in his life and she bore him four children, three sons and one daughter.  He himself was an enthusiastic huntsman and took a great interest in cockfighting. The other singular fact about him was his height.  Reputed to be some 6 feet 7 inches tall, he was described as the tallest man in England.

Politically, he was well-connected.  The year 1495 saw him entertaining King Henry VII at his rectory at Warwick. In 1506 he was appointed Bishop of Ely, a position he held until his death in 1515.  At that time he restored the bishop’s palace and added a deer park in the nearby village of Somersham.

The following perhaps flattering verses commemorated him at his death:

  • “A goodly tall man as was in all England
  • And sped well all matters that he took in hand
  • King Harry the VIIth, a prince noble and sage
  • Made him bishop for wisdom and parentage
  • Of Ely. Many a day was he bishop there.
  • He built Somersham the bishop’s chief manner
  • A great palace as any in his days
  • For bishops that then was, this is no dispraise.
  • Because he was a priest I dare do no less
  • But tell, as I know not, of his hardiness.
  • What proud priest hath a blow n the ear suddenly
  • Turneth the other ear likewise for humility.
  • He could not so do by the ross in my purse
  • Yet I trust his soul faireth never the worse.
  • He did end his life in merry Manchester
  • And right honorable lieth he buried there
  • In his chapel, which he began of freestone
  • Sir John Stanley built it out when he was gone.
  • God send his soul to the heavenly company
  • Farewell godly James, Bishop of Ely.”

His eldest son Sir John, knighted after the Battle of Flodden Field in 1513, had married the heiress of Handforth Hall in Cheshire.

Captain Gad Stanley in the Revolutionary War.  Captain Gad Stanley was an early advocate of the American cause.  He was part of a committee in New Britain, Connecticut that went from house to house collecting provisions to be sent to Boston.

In 1775, when British ships-of-war cannonaded Stonington and other coastal towns, couriers were dispatched among the colonies to warn them of their danger.  News that armed vessels had appeared off New London reached New Britain one Sunday afternoon at the close of the service.  Dr. Smalley had just left the pulpit and was urging support for the king.  But Stanley immediately stepped into the aisle and gave notice for his militia to meet next morning at the Parade.

Captain Stanley later became Colonel Stanley on the field of battle.  In 1776 at the Battle of Long Island, he distinguished himself for his bravery and skill.  It had been disastrous day for the American forces, all of whom were raw recruits. But Colonel Stanley maintained his position for as long as possible.  When the retreat was ordered, he succeeded through a clever maneuver in leading of his regiment safely past the British forces.

Stanley’s China Hall.  William B. Stanley opened Stanley’s China Hall on Richardson Street (now Main Street) in Columbia, South Carolina in 1849.  The store quickly prospered.  Its early history was covered in Dorothy Coker’s 2005 book Enterprising Merchants in Antebellum Columbia.

The store survived the Civil War and continued successfully until 1926.  It offered a wide selection of housewares, including knives, kettles, and baskets. These wares were to be found in the Colonia Hotel, the Jefferson Hotel, the University of South Carolina, the Children’s Home, the State Hospital, the Ridgewood Club, and many other places.

Stanleys New in Missouri.  Early in 1866 the Enos Stanley family moved in two wagons to Taney County, Missouri.  They also drove 33 head of sheep and several cattle. Some of the Stanley children were old enough to ride their saddle-horses and help drive the other animals. Chickens were hauled in a coop. A Newfoundland dog called Old Bruce followed behind or, due to his age, rode in one of the wagons.  They finally stopped at a farm, below where Little Beaver emptied into Big Beaver Creek.

Panther, bobcat, wolves, bear, wild dogs, deer and many other wild animals were plentiful in the Ozark Mountain forests surrounding their new home. Therefore the Stanley children herded their sheep each day. Enos built a high rail fences around his corn crib.  He left the sheep inside the lot. The next morning he went to feed his livestock. There laid twelve of his sheep dead. Their inwards had been ripped out and eaten by animals.

That night he took his gun and hid inside the corn crib. About midnight he saw a wolf come out of the woods into the moonlight. There were long log braces inside and outside at each corner of the feed lot. The wolf walked up one of those braces and jumped inside among the sheep. Enos shot the wolf. Next morning he removed the outside braces and had no more loss of sheep.

The Stanley Cup.  Lord Stanley of Preston, later to be the 16th Earl of Derby, was appointed Governor General of Canada in 1888.  When he and his family arrived there, they became quickly enthusiastic about ice hockey.  The Montreal Gazette reported that Lord Stanley “expressed his great delight with the game of hockey and the expertise of the players.” During that time, organized ice hockey in Canada was still in its infancy and only Montreal and Ottawa had anything resembling leagues.

Two of his sons, Arthur and Algernon, soon formed a new team called the Ottawa Rideau Hall Rebels.  Arthur played a key role in the formation of what became known as the Ontario Hockey Association and would go on to be the founder of ice hockey in Great Britain.  He and Algernon then persuaded their father to donate a trophy to be “an outward and visible sign of the hockey championship.”

Soon afterwards, Lord Stanley purchased a decorative punch bowl made in Sheffield and had the words “Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup” engraved on one side of the outside rim and “From Stanley of Preston” on the other side.  In 1894, in the first Stanley Cup Final game, the Montreal Hockey Club defeated the Ottawa Hockey Club by a score of 3-1.  By that time, however, Lord Stanley of Preston had had to return to England.

Stanley’s Hotel in Macrae Flat.  Tom Stanley from Kent, the son of a sea captain, was drawn to the gold mining town of Macraes Flat in Otago, New Zealand in the 1870’s.  He took over a ramshackle hotel there and decided to rebuild.

“He quarried stone from the hill behind the Catholic church, bringing it down by tip-dray, and engaged the stonemason from Hyde, an old salt called John Budge, to ‘build me an inn that will last.’

Budge, noted for his craftsmanship, his indolence, and his Falstaffian capacity for beer, erected an inn fit for a king. It took him five years.  On some days he did not face a stone, succumbing to an invitation to “come and have one” before he put foot on the ladder. His payment was wholly in beer.

When in 1895 the Earl of Glasgow unexpectedly arrived for lunch at a newly completed stone inn, a satisfied mason was back in his home town reflecting on his consumption for his toils – seventy two hogsheads in all.”

Stanley’s Hotel remained in the Stanley family until 1960.  It is now the only surviving hotel from the gold-boom period and is the most substantial building in Macraes Flat.  It outbuildings include a billiards room, stone shed, stables, and pig pen.

Stanley Names

  • 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.

Stanley Numbers 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)




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Written by Colin Shelley

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