STANLEY, Edward John (1802-1869), of 38 Lower Brook Street, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1831 - 1832
1832 - 1841
1847 - 12 May 1848

Family and Education

b. 13 Nov. 1802, 1st s. of Sir John Thomas Stanley†, 7th bt., of Alderley Park, Cheshire and Penrhos, Anglesey and Hon. Maria Josepha Holroyd, da. of John Baker Holroyd†, 1st earl of Sheffield [I]. educ. Eton 1816; Christ Church, Oxf. 1822. m. 7 Oct. 1826, at Florence (and again, 26 June 1833, at Alderley), Hon. Henrietta Maria Dillon Lee, da. of Henry Augustus Dillon Lee†, 13th Visct. Dillon [I], 4s. 8da. (3 d.v.p.). cr. Bar. Eddisbury 12 May 1848; suc. fa. as 2nd Bar. Stanley of Alderley 23 Oct. 1850. d. 16 June 1869.

Offices Held

Under-sec. of state for home affairs July-Nov. 1834; sec. to treasury Apr. 1835-June 1841; paymaster-gen. July-Sept. 1841, Feb. 1852, Jan. 1853-Mar. 1855; PC 11 Aug. 1841; under-sec. of state for foreign affairs July 1846-Dec. 1851; vice-pres. bd. of trade Feb. 1852, Jan. 1853-Mar. 1855, pres. Mar. 1855-Feb. 1858; postmaster-gen. Aug. 1860-July 1866.


‘Ben’ Stanley was how this Member was familiarly known, after his Oxford nickname ‘Sir Benjamin Backbite’, a character in Sheridan’s School for Scandal, which he earned for his cutting satirical powers.1 It also usefully distinguished him from his contemporary and distant relation Edward Smith Stanley*, who later sat in the Lords as Lord Stanley of Bickerstaffe and 14th earl of Derby.2 Another Edward Stanley, Edward John’s uncle, was bishop of Norwich, and had a son, Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, who became dean of Westminster. John Thomas Stanley, who was a Pittite Member for Wootton Bassett in the 1790 Parliament, retired from politics in 1796, but was wooed by the Whigs, and, having succeeded to his father’s baronetcy in 1807, he became one of their leading supporters in Cheshire, where he had his principal estates.3 From at least 1813 Edward John, the elder of his twin sons, was educated at ‘Egglesfield House’, probably a school in Eaglesfield, near Cockermouth, from where he recounted his early visits to the Lakes.4 In 1816 his maternal grandfather, now earl of Sheffield, who thought him ‘a stout, square, squat little fellow, just like his grandpapa’, related an incident in which he was believed to have been drowned in the Thames at Eton, but had actually just abandoned his clothes on the riverbank, and gone to dine in a borrowed outfit. By 1820 Sheffield had decided that Stanley should have a career in diplomacy, ‘in which his talents will not be thrown away, in which he may pass his time most agreeably, and fit himself for the first offices in the state’.5

Stanley’s tutor, the Rev. Charles Girdlestone, described him as ‘giddy’ on his first introduction to university life, and as not overly attentive to his studies. His coming of age was celebrated on his father’s Anglesey estate in 1823, and the following year he may have spoken at a dinner on the construction of the Menai Straits Bridge and served on the Anglesey grand jury.6 Later in 1824 he badly damaged, and may even have lost part of, a finger during a shooting accident at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire.7 Having taken his degree in 1825, he travelled via Brussels, Frankfurt and Geneva to Florence. From there he wrote to his mother, 15 Dec. 1825, that ‘I feel it perfectly impossible to live the life of a quiet country gentleman; for from my present views and intimacies I could not bear the rough vulgarity of honest goodfellows’; and he explained his intention of residing in Italy for at least three years, perhaps as an attaché, in order to prepare for his career.8 It was there, in the autumn of the following year, that he married a young woman of pronounced radical opinions, the daughter of the flamboyant but penurious Irish peer Lord Dillon, who was one of the leaders of Florence’s émigré circle. He was elected to Brooks’s, 24 Feb. 1828, sponsored by Lords Normanby* and Duncannon*. He attended the Cheshire Whig Club dinner in October that year, and the county meeting on reform, 17 Mar. 1831, at which his father took a prominent part.9 It was possibly at about this time that he became, for a short period, private secretary to Lord Durham, the lord privy seal.10 At the general election that year his father’s Whig neighbour and political associate Lord Grosvenor put him up for his vacant seat at Hindon, and he was elected in second place, ahead of an anti-reformer.11 At a meeting in Macclesfield, 4 May, he advocated moderate reform, and ‘speaking of boroughmongers, said that they were in distress and hung out a sham banner of reform, with which they hoped to mislead and delude the people’. He seconded the nomination of the reformer George Wilbraham* at the Cheshire election, 13 May 1831.12

Stanley voted for the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, at least once against adjourning proceedings on it, 12 July 1831, and thereafter with great regularity for its details. He made his maiden speech (as ‘Mr. John Stanley’), 28 July, when, supporting the partial disfranchisement of Dorchester, he pointed out that the schedule B boroughs had been so chosen because they were too small to deserve two seats and that ‘if I were of opinion that they were all mere nomination boroughs, I should come forward at once and move that they be transferred to schedule A’. He spoke against enfranchising Stoke, 4 Aug., arguing that, compared to a more populous county like Lancashire, Staffordshire was already sufficiently represented. He moved an amendment to, and made a suggestion on, the game bill, 8 Aug., and intervened in defence of Thomas Duncombe, 9 Aug. He opposed the idea of giving Merthyr Tydfil a separate seat, since Glamorgan was proportionately well represented, 10 Aug., and that day he defended ministers’ treatment of Wales in the reform bill. He may have voted for, or abstained on, Lord Chandos’s amendment, 18 Aug., because, as he later told the Cheshire electors:


When the clause was introduced into the reform bill which gave the right of voting to £50 tenants-at-will, he felt upon principle that he could not oppose this extension of the franchise to a class he thought entitled to a voice in the choice of representative: but he had great fears of the result, in consequence of their necessary dependence; and he was sorry to say that his fears had been justified.13


He sided with ministers on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug. He voted for the third reading of the reform bill, 19 Sept., its passage, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. At the Cheshire county meeting, 25 Oct. 1831, he moved the address to the king, and, in a long reform speech, he opposed the tactic of withholding supplies, but insisted that there was no popular reaction against the bill and that delaying concessions to public opinion would be dangerous.14

He voted for the second reading of the revised bill, 17 Dec. 1831, the disfranchisement clauses, 20, 23 Jan. 1832, and again for its details. He praised the division of counties as a means of reducing costs, 27 Jan., on the grounds that ‘the expenses of elections ... deters many independent men of moderate fortunes from engaging in a contest’, and, making specific reference to Cheshire, that ‘the arrangement will tend to increase the influence of the landed [over the manufacturing] interest’. He was added to the select committee on the East India Company’s affairs, 1 Feb. He voted with government against the production of information on Portugal, 9 Feb. He moved for accounts of the silk trade, 16 Feb., and on 1 Mar. he pointed out that distress in this industry extended beyond Manchester to Congleton and Macclesfield. He opposed uniting Gateshead with Durham and transferring its intended seat to Merthyr, 5 Mar. He told the House that the two principal arguments against reform, its inexpediency and unpopularity, had been overturned, 22 Mar., when he gave a lengthy recital of the Whig arguments in favour of restoring the constitution to its original purity. He ridiculed opposition for its pettiness in pointing out minor inconsistencies and declared that the solution to the prevailing evils was ‘to destroy irresponsible power, which is tyranny, and to make it responsible, which is good government’, and ‘to restore sympathy between the governors and the governed’. He also denied the allegation of the Cheshire anti-reform petition that public opinion had turned against the bill, and of course divided with ministers in favour of the third reading that day. He voted against the recommittal of the Irish registry of deeds bill, 9 Apr. He voted in favour of Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May, and the third reading of the Irish bill, 25 May. He paired against increasing the county representation of Scotland, 1 June. His only other known votes in this Parliament were with ministers for the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 and (pairing) 16 July 1832.

His seat at Hindon was abolished by the Reform Act, but having spoken in praise of reform, against pledges and reluctantly in favour of the ballot, he was elected as a Liberal for Cheshire North at the general election in December 1832.15 He continued to represent his county, except during the 1841 Parliament, while his twin, William Owen Stanley, entered the House as Liberal Member for Anglesey in 1837, and subsequently sat for Chester and Beaumaris District. Stanley acted as Whig whip during Lord Melbourne’s second ministry and was one of the founders of the Reform Club in 1836. He was given a peerage in 1848, and in 1850 he succeeded his father, who had been created Baron Stanley of Alderley in 1839. He held several ministerial offices and, as postmaster-general, sat in Lord Palmerston and Lord John Russell’s cabinets. In 1834 the duchesse de Dino described him as ‘une espèce de faux dandy parfaitement radical et de la plus mauvaise et vulgaire sorte’; and although Lord Malmesbury thought him ‘a very amusing man, and clever’, he was known to be a ‘rough diamond’.16 The family biographer Nancy Mitford wrote that ‘he was a very disagreeable man indeed. I have heard it said, and I hope it is true, that on his death bed he apologized to his wife and children for his great nastiness to them at all times’.17 He died in June 1869, in noticing which even The Times was drawn to comment that he was ‘a man of ready and somewhat incisive wit’, which ‘has been accused of having in it the spice of ill-nature’. He was survived by his charming and intelligent wife, who was a fervent Liberal and one of the earliest champions of women’s education. The bulk of his estate passed in trust to his eldest son, Henry Edward John (1827-1903), an eccentric diplomat and Muslim, who succeeded him as 3rd Baron Stanley.18 His second son, John Constantine (1837-78), was colonel of the Coldstream Guards, and his fourth, Algernon Charles (1843-1928), was bishop of Emmaus, while his third, Edward Lyulph (1839-1925), who was Liberal Member for Oldham, 1880-5, succeeded as 4th Baron Stanley in 1903 and as 4th earl of Sheffield in 1909.


Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Greville Mems. iii. 62-63; Malmesbury Mems. i. 285.
  • 2. P. Draper, House of Stanley, 335; J.P. Earwaker, E. Cheshire, ii. 602-5.
  • 3. Girlhood of Maria Josepha Holroyd ed. J.H. Adeane, 388-9; Cheshire RO, Stanley of Alderley mss DSA 12c, Wilbraham to Stanley, n.d.
  • 4. Stanley mss 45; 136.
  • 5. Early Married Life of Lady Stanley ed. J.H. Adeane, 368-9, 391, 414-15.
  • 6. Stanley mss 4c, Mouton to J. T. Stanley, 28 Jan.; 45; 136, E.J. to Louisa Stanley, 18 Aug. 1824.
  • 7. Ibid. 69.
  • 8. Ibid. 45; P. Mandler, Aristocratic Government in Age of Reform, 68-69.
  • 9. The Times, 11 Oct. 1828; Chester Courant, 22 Mar. 1831.
  • 10. Oxford DNB.
  • 11. Devizes Gazette, 5 May 1831.
  • 12. Chester Courant, 10, 17 May 1831.
  • 13. Ibid. 1 Jan. 1833.
  • 14. Ibid. 1 Nov. 1831.
  • 15. The Times, 21 Dec. 1832.
  • 16. Chronique de 1831 à 1862 ed. Princess Radziwill, i. 191; Malmesbury Mems. i. 285; Letters of Lady Augusta Stanley ed. A.P. Stanley, 230.
  • 17. N. Mitford, Ladies of Alderley, p. xxii; Stanleys of Alderley ed. N. Mitford, p. xi.
  • 18. The Times, 17 June, 28 Aug. 1869, 11 Dec. 1903; Illustrated London News, 26 June 1869; Ann. Reg. (1895), Chron. pp. 147-8; Lady St. Helier, Mems. of Fifty Years, 149-50; DNB; Oxford DNB.