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William Stanley

Earl of Derby

1561 - 1642

William Stanley was educated at Oxford and Gray’s Inn. He traveled extensively with adventures in France, Spain, and Italy. Some believe that both Loves Labor’s Lost and Measure for Measure contain allusions to events from the Earl of Derby’s travels. Derby, his wife and her two sisters (all daughters of Edward de Vere), were in court masques co-written by Ben Jonson.

This Earl, had a legitimate claim to the English throne, a theme obsessively addressed in the history plays of Shakespeare. 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 became, The King’s Men, a renowned company known for their Shakespearean productions. Many scholars believe that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was written for Stanley’s wedding to Elizabeth de Vere. The play was performed during this event at the palace in the presence of the Queen.

Stanley named Mary Sidney's two boys, the Earls of Pembroke and Montgomery, trustees for his estate. He lived to the age of  81.

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