Edward George Villiers Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby KG GCB GCVO TD KStJ PC JP (4 April 1865 – 4 February 1948), styled Mr Edward Stanley until 1886, then The Hon Edward Stanley and finally Lord Stanley from 1893 to 1908, was a British soldier, Conservative politician, diplomat and racehorse owner. He was twice Secretary of State for War and also served as British Ambassador to France.
Background and education
Derby was born at 23 St. James's Square, London, the eldest son of Frederick Stanley, 16th Earl of Derby, by his wife Lady Constance Villiers. His paternal grandfather Edward Smith-Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, was three times Prime Minister of the United Kingdom while his maternal grandfather was the Liberal statesman George Villiers, 4th Earl of Clarendon. He was educated at Wellington College, Berkshire.
Stanley initially received a lieutenant's commission in a militia unit, the 3rd Battalion, King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment), on 4 May 1882, and then joined the Grenadier Guards as a lieutenant from 6 May 1885 until 3 April 1895, when he resigned his commission. He was seconded as aide-de-camp to the Governor General of Canada, his father, between 8 August 1889 and 1891. He was again seconded from his regiment on 10 July 1892, to take his seat in the House of Commons.
On 11 January 1899, he was commissioned a lieutenant in the reserve of officers, and on 17 May, was made honorary colonel of the 2nd Volunteer Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. Lord Stanley served on the staff in the Second Boer War, and was appointed Chief Press Censor at Cape Town, graded as assistant adjutant-general, on 18 January 1900. He accompanied Lord Roberts' headquarters as Press Censor when he left Cape Town, and was mentioned in despatches of 31 March 1900 by Roberts for his "tact and discretion" in that role. He was subsequently appointed Roberts' private secretary on 25 July 1900. and was again mentioned in despatches of 2 April 1901 for his "thorough knowledge of men and affairs". On 24 December 1902, he was appointed honorary colonel of the 6th Battalion, Manchester Regiment (a militia unit).
Derby entered Parliament for Westhoughton in 1892, and served under Lord Salisbury as a Lord of the Treasury between 1895 and 1900 and under Salisbury and later Arthur Balfour as Financial Secretary to the War Office between 1901 and 1903. In October 1903 he entered the cabinet as Postmaster General, a post he held until the government fell in December 1905. He lost his seat in the 1906 general election. In 1908 he succeeded his father in the earldom and took his seat in the House of Lords.
In August 1914 Lord Derby organised one of the most successful recruitment campaigns to Kitchener's Army in Liverpool. Over two days, 1500 Liverpudlians joined the new battalion. Speaking to the men he said: "This should be a battalion of pals, a battalion in which friends from the same office will fight shoulder to shoulder for the honour of Britain and the credit of Liverpool." Within the next few days three more pals battalions were raised in Liverpool. In October 1915, as Director-General of Recruiting, he instituted the Derby Scheme, a halfway-house between voluntary enlistment and conscription (which the Government was reluctant to adopt). It was not sufficiently successful in spite of the fact that the execution of Nurse Edith Cavell by the Germans on 12 October 1915 was used in recruitment rallies and conscription followed in 1916.
In July 1916 Derby returned to the government when he was appointed Under-Secretary of State for War by H. H. Asquith, and in December 1916 he was promoted to Secretary of State for War by David Lloyd George. In this position he was a strong supporter of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff Sir William Robertson and of the Commander-in-Chief of the BEF, Field Marshal Haig. Haig privately had little respect for him, writing to his wife (10 January 1918) that Derby was “like the feather pillow, bear(ing) the mark of the last person who sat on him” and remarking that he was known in London as the “genial Judas”. Robertson's biographer writes that during the crisis over Robertson's removal Derby "made himself ridiculous" by asking everyone, including the King, whether or not he should resign, and then in the end not doing so, only to be removed from the War Office a few weeks later.
In April 1918 he was made Ambassador to France, which he remained until 1920. In April 1921 he was sent secretly to Ireland for talks with Éamon de Valera, and it is likely that these talks paved the way for the truce which in turn led to the Anglo-Irish Treaty. He again served as Secretary of State for War under Andrew Bonar Law and Stanley Baldwin from 1922 to 1924. Derby was made a CB in 1900, sworn of the Privy Council in 1903, KCVO in 1905 and a GCVO in 1908, Knight of the Garter in 1915, GCB in 1920.
Other public positions
Derby was Lord Mayor of Liverpool between 1911 and 1912. He served as honorary president of the Rugby Football League, and donated a cup for the French authorities to use for a knock-out competition, much as his father had done for ice hockey with the Stanley Cup. This is now known as the Lord Derby Cup. He was also, from 1929 to 1945, the chairman of the Pilgrims Society, becoming their president, until his death in 1948. Derby served as East Lancashire Provincial Grand Master of Freemasonry from 1899 until his death. He also held the post of Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire between 1928 and 1948.
The Epsom Derby was named after the 12th Earl while the Epsom Oaks was named after the 12th Earl's house near Epsom. Derby followed in the family tradition and was one of the most prominent owner breeders during the first half of the 20th century. Among his stables' important wins were:
- Epsom Derby (3) : 1924, 1933, 1942
- Epsom Oaks (2) : 1928, 1945
- St. Leger Stakes (6) : 1910, 1919, 1923, 1928, 1933, 1943
- 1,000 Guineas (7) : 1916, 1918, 1923, 1930, 1936, 1943, 1945
- 2,000 Guineas (2) : 1926, 1944
Amidst great fanfare that included making the cover of TIME, in 1930 the 17th Earl visited Louisville, Kentucky with Joseph E. Widener where he was the honoured guest of Churchill Downs president Col. Matt Winn at the 56th running of the Kentucky Derby.
His biggest achievement though was his breeding of the horse Phalaris. Phalaris was a champion sprinter and a stallion par excellence responsible for establishing the most dominant sire line in Europe and later, the United States through his four sons – Sickle, Pharamond, Pharos and Fairway.
Lord Derby married Lady Alice Maude Olivia Montagu, daughter of William Montagu, 7th Duke of Manchester and Louisa von Alten, and step-daughter of the leading Liberal politician Lord Hartington, at the Guards Chapel, Wellington Barracks, London, on 5 January 1889. They had three children together. Two of them, Edward, Lord Stanley and Oliver, achieved the rare distinction of sitting in the same Cabinet between May and October 1938 until Edward's death. Their daughter, Lady Victoria, married the Liberal politician Neil James Archibald Primrose and, after his death in World War I, married the Conservative politician Malcolm Bullock. Lord Derby died February 1948 at the family seat of Knowsley Hall, Lancashire, aged 82. His other country seat was Coworth Park at Sunningdale in Berkshire. He was succeeded in the earldom by his grandson, Edward. He is buried at St Mary's Church, Knowsley. The Countess of Derby died in July 1957. Many good stories are told of Lord Derby, including the following, which is surely apocryphal not least because he was a man of utter probity. He was spotted by a steward feeding one of his horses shortly before the start of a race. When challenged, His Lordship explained the substance was sugar, and promptly ate a lump himself to show that it was innocuous. 'Keep the creature on a tight rein until a furlong out, then let him have his head, He'll do the rest'. His Lordship added, almost as an afterthought: ‘If you hear anything coming up behind you, don’t worry and don’t turn round, it will only be me’.
A county director of 1903 describes Coworth House as ‘an ancient building standing in a thickly wooded park’. As Derby also owned Knowsley Hall in Lancashire, his principal country-seat, and a magnificent London town-house in Stratford Place, St. James’s, Coworth tended to be occupied only during Ascot race meetings. The Derby landholdings in 1833 consisted of some seventy thousand acres in Lancashire, Cheshire, Flintshire, Surrey and Kent, but not a single acre in Derbyshire. The Landholding produced a rent-roll of £163,273 p.a. the equivalent, perhaps, in millennium money to something in the region of £7m.
Coworth House continued with Lord Derby until his death in 1948. It then became the home of his widow, Alice Stanley, Countess of Derby (1862–1957), the youngest daughter of William Montagu, 7th Duke of Manchester, and a lady-in-waiting to her friend, Queen Alexandra. Lady Derby died here Wednesday 24 July 1957, aged ninety-four. A month later her former home was advertised for sale in The Times; and at this or a subsequent date was converted to use as a Roman Catholic convent school. The next owner is thought to have been Vivian 'White' Lloyd who died in 1972.
Books Used for Citations
- Victor Bonham-Carter (1963). Soldier True:the Life and Times of Field-Marshal Sir William Robertson. London: Frederick Muller Limited.
- Sheffield, Gary & Bourne, Douglas Haig War Diaries and Letters 1914-18, (Phoenix, London, 2005) ISBN 0-7538-2075-7