1561 – 1642

William Stanley,ithe 6th Earl of Derby, had a legitimate claim to the English throne, a theme obsessively addressed in the history plays of Shakespeare. Derby was educated at Oxford and Gray’s Inn, travelled extensively, and reported adventures in France, Spain, and Italy. Loves Labor’s Lost and Measure for Measure contain allusions to events from Derby’s travels. Derby, his wife and her two sisters (all daughters of Edward de Vere), were among courtiers in court masques written by Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones.

Two letters from the Jesuit spy George Fenner, dated June 1599, state that Stanley was “busied only in penning comedies for the common players.” His elder brother, Ferdinando, formed an acting troupe which evolved into the renowned company The King’s Men, known for its Shakespearean productions. Many scholars believe that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written to be performed at Stanley’s wedding to Elizabeth Vere, which took place in the palace in the presence of the Queen.


Stanley was closely associated with “the most noble and incomparable pair of brethren,” William and Philip Herbert, Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery, the two dedicatees of the 1623 First Folio, and named them trustees for his estate. He lived to the age of 81.