Stanley Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select Stanley Meaning
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 Resources on

Stanley Ancestry

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
to the heiress of the manor of

in Staffordshire and around 1130 took the name of Stanley.
This family’s rise to power in England:

  • began
    with Sir
    Stanley who married well and then backed the right monarch (Henry IV),
    gave him many rewards including, in 1405, tenure of the Isle of Man
  • and
    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
    ennobled as the Earl of Derby and appointed High Constable of England.  He had three sons – George (the heir
    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
James, the 7th Earl, was executed in 1651 for his role in the Civil
War).  It
only at that time, in 1736, that the Stanleys finally relinquished
their grip of the Isle of Man where they had been lords since
The title of Earl of Derby passed to a junior
branch of
the family, the Baronets of Bickerstaffe, which still holds it
  This history was narrated in Brian S.
Roberts’ 1998 book The House of

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
    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
    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.
Stanley from Tenterden in Kent had three sons – John, Thomas, and
Timothy – who departed
for Boston on the Elizabeth &
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
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,
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
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
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.
in America can be the anglicized version of
some like-sounding immigrant names, such as the Polish
Stanislawski came to Chicago in 1916 and his descendants were Stanleys.

Stanley of Preston, later to be the 16th Earl of
Derby, was appointed Governor General of Canada in 1888.  
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
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


Stanley 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
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.

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
King loyally.  But he had been a Yorkist
Henry Tudor never quite trusted him.  In
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 Stanley 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.

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
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

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

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.

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

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
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
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

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

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
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

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
building in Macraes Flat.  It
outbuildings include a billiards room, stone shed, stables, and pig


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.

Select 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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