Our History

History

Knowsley Hall has been in the ownership of the Stanley family since 1385, and from that time the history of the family has been closely intertwined with the history of the country as a whole. Lord Thomas Stanley was created the 1st Earl of Derby (1435-1504) in 1485 after the Battle of Bosworth when Richard III lost the crown of England to Henry Tudor. The Earldom is a local title, coming from the Hundred of West Derby, an important administrative area until the 17th century which included Knowsley and the small port of Liverpool.

Edward Stanley, the 19th and present Earl of Derby was born in 1962. Edward inherited the title and estate in 1994 from his uncle and is married to the Honourable Caroline Emma Neville, daughter of the late Lord Braybrooke.

The Earl & Countess of Derby commissioned the restoration of Knowsley Hall, which took six years and is still ongoing today, with Lady Derby drawing on her expertise gained from eight years’ work in the Royal Collection. They have a daughter, Henrietta, and two sons, Edward and Oliver.

Welcome to the history of the Stanley family. Being born a Neville and marrying a Stanley somehow meant that history was always going to play a large part in my life. I could not have predicted this destiny growing up, but this passion for Art History always ran through my veins, thanks to the nurture of my paternal grandfather Henry Seymour Neville, 9th Baron Braybrooke who made his beautiful art collection at Audley End House come to life. Through my father, Robin Henry Charles Neville 10th Baron Braybrooke, I learned about my Neville family history and the part we played in the history of England as well as internationally, through his pride of being the descendant of Warwick the Kingmaker and also General Cornwallis and his role in the surrender of Yorktown. My forebear Queen Anne Neville was married to Richard III, so it is a bizarre quirk of fate that I marry a man whose family, by swapping sides in the Wars of the Roses, led to the death of King Richard on the battlefield Bosworth in 1485, and Thomas Stanley picking up the dead king’s crown to crown his own stepson, Henry Tudor, Duke of Richmond, to be King Henry VII.

After nearly 30 years of marriage and restoring the Derby family homes, I realised that it was such an important story to tell, as well as share all the exciting discoveries we have made during this restoration process. Last year I produced and presented a podcast highlighting six episodes of my favourite subjects on aspects of the Stanley family life in military battles, politics, art, theatre, and animal conservation. I have been humbled by the success of this podcast, but not surprised by the interest shown, so I have also condensed the “greatest hits” of the podcast into a documentary so you can see the images of the treasures we have found.

The most recent tantalising discovery is the manuscript diary of Edward Geoffrey Smith Stanley later, 14th Earl of Derby, who journeyed through Europe in 1820-21, and also the travel journal of his later trip through Canada and America in 1824-5.  In 2022 I published his European odyssey and called it the Awakening of the Man as it shows his character developing as a great intellectual and man of taste, his astute interpretations of people and events he encountered led to his strong faith, combined with exceptional religious toleration, a pursuit of injustice and interest in education.  In 2024 I am retracing his footsteps on his extraordinary journey through America and Canada, where his experiences there led him as a later cabinet member as Chief Secretary to Ireland and Colonial Secretary and Prime Minister provide free non-denominational primary education in Ireland,  abolish slavery in the British Empire and pass the Jewish Relief Act.   The series of reflections as he journeys through antebellum America I have called The Making of the Man (to be published in 2025) as it shaped his destiny to be a Prime Minister who made his world a better place in his lifetime.

I do hope you can join me on this journey of discovery which is now accessible through the podcast, documentary, and books I am publishing.

The Countess of Derby

Podcast

The Countess of Derby embarks on a mesmerising journey through history as she takes listeners behind the scenes of the recently restored Knowsley Hall, where fascinating discoveries await in the archives, vaults, and previously abandoned rooms.  Written and presented by the Countess of Derby, the podcast episodes explore the fascinating history of her family and their vast contribution to Britain’s political, cultural and national life.  All podcast episodes are listed below and can be listened to by clicking on the episode titles:

Episode 1 – Knowsley Hall, Lathom House and the Stanley family 1385-1651

The Countess of Derby welcomes esteemed guests Dan Snow, the history guy and Dr. William Shannon to join her to delve into the rich history of Knowsley Hall and the Stanley family.

Episode 2 – The Earls of Derby and Shakespearean Theatre 1580-2023

Joined by historians Professor Elspeth Graham and author Dr Vanessa Wilie to discuss the history of patronage, theatrical performance and connections between William Shakespeare and Knowsley Hall.

Episode 3 – The Derby Collection

Lady Derby shares the fascinating tales of how the Derby Collection was amassed, how great pieces of art were lost and the work that goes on behind-the-scenes to preserve this internationally significant collection.  She invited two esteemed art historians Dr Richard Stephens and Dr Stephen Lloyd to explain how the historic art collection was meticulously acquired at Knowsley Hall.

Episode 4 – The Earls of Derby & Horse Racing through the Centuries

Featuring guests Alexandra Mayson and Edward Stanley, the 19th Earl of Derby, this episode explores the family’s association with horse racing that dates back to the late 16th century.

Episode 5 – The ‘Political’ Earls of Derby 1820-1950

Lady Derby takes her audience on a captivating journey through the life of the 14th Earl of Derby, who not only served as Prime Minister three times but also embarked on an epic journey across Europe on horseback from Knowsley Hall in 1820.

Episode 6 – Knowsley Hall Park & Gardens; the 13th Earl’s Aviary & Menagerie, Edward Lear; and the Safari Park

This episode explores the history of the 13th Earl who developed a menagerie on the Knowsley Estate. At this time, it was the largest private zoo in the world. The famous poet Edward Lear, spent time working and living at Knowsley Hall for the 13th Earl.

Bonus Episode – The Architecture of Knowsley Hall

The Countess of Derby sat down with architectural historian Dr John Martin Robinson to discuss the architecture of Knowsley Hall which started as a medieval hunting lodge in the 12th century, but the earliest part of today’s building dates from about 1500. 

Documentary

Following the recent podcast series, with Duchess the Podcast, the Countess of Derby found there was a real appetite from listeners to find out more.   She has compiled highlights from her podcast series, delving into the rich history of the Stanley family and the iconic Knowsley Hall, bringing the hidden discoveries to life.

You can watch the documentary by clicking the link below.

Literature & Publications

After being gripped by the 14th Earl’s travel journals, the Countess of Derby set herself the task of discovering his legacy with the help of the late Professor Angus Hawkins, the Oxford academic and author of The Forgotten Prime Minster – the Earl’s biography.  She decided to follow his footsteps of the 14th Earl and embarked on a grand tour of Europe.  Over a year, the Countess spent time visiting the same places the young earl had visited including Munich, Lake Como, and Milan.

The Countess of Derby is planning to follow up this book with the re-publication of the 14th Earl’s second set of travel diaries which he wrote in 1824 – 1825 of his extensive tour of North America.  His American journal has been called The Making of the Man.  During his tour of the Deep South and on plantations, he saw how enslaved Africans were treated to his horror.  Upon his return from his travels, he put into action all he had seen and learnt and decided to enter politics.  He became Chief Secretary to Ireland, Colonial Secretary and Prime Minister 3 times to Queen Victoria.  Lady Derby will be retracing the journey of Edward Geoffrey Smith Stanley in Canada and America and will publish his thoughts 200 years later which will prove to be every bit as interesting as Alexis de Tocqueville’s volume of Democracy in America.

A Grand Tour Journal 1820-1822, The Awakening of The Man, by Edward G Stanley, edited by Angus Hawkins is available to purchase online by Fronthill Media and can be purchased here.

A North American Tour Journal 1824-1825, The Making of The Man, is due to be published in December 2025.

The Men Who Lost America

Planned for 2026 to mark the 250th anniversary of the 1776 United States Declaration of Independence.

This unique and special trip to the UK in 2026 will focus on three of the key men who lost America. You will stay at Knowsley Hall, home to the Earl & Countess of Derby and Drayton House, made famous as location for the film ‘Saltburn’, and from there visit Audley End House

Knowsley Hall