JAMES Stanley, the 7th Earl of Derby, was a staunch Royalist during the Civil War who was executed in Bolton town centre for his part in a massacre which killed a high proportion of the town's Parliamentarian population.

A plaque still stands in Churchgate marking the spot outside the Man and Scythe in Churchgate where Lord Derby was beheaded in 1651 for the 'criminal' taking of Bolton.

James Stanley was born in 1607 at Knowsley into a life of privilege, status and a family with great power and influence in Lancashire. He held the title of Lord Strange until he inherited the Earldom of Derby in 1642.

At the age of 18 he was elected Member of Parliament for Liverpool and by the time Civil War broke out in 1642 he had became the Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire and Cheshire. The war split Lancashire as neighbouring towns throughout the county declared their loyalty for opposing sides.

Bolton, like many other semi-industrialised communities, such as Manchester, was filled with strong Parliamentary supporters.

Rural districts like Wigan and Preston preferred loyalty to the King. It was within Wigan where the Earl based his military command. Despite his high rank and status he had little success in battle.

His only victory was in Westhoughton, when a large number of Parliamentarians were taken prisoner by his troops. His first two attacks against Bolton had little effect. The third, however, resulted in mass bloodshed and was later condemned as a criminal act. It ultimately cost the Earl his life.

The first attack on Bolton came on February 16, 1643. Sixteen people died in the skirmish and the Royalists were beaten back after four hours. On March 28, 1644, a second Royalist attack on Bolton took place after dark, led by the Earl and Captain Anderton, of Lostock Hall. But after hand-to-hand fighting on the six foot thick mud walls the Royalists were again beaten off.

The attack left 23 Royalists dead but no Parliamentarian casualties.

Within a few months the Earl and his cousin, the King's nephew Prince Rupert attempted again to take Bolton, this time with a force of 12,000 horse and foot soldiers.

Bolton was defended by less than a fifth of that number.

The first assault was beaten off, but a second was successful.

As many as 1,500 Bolton people were massacred and much of the town destroyed.

During the day-long carnage the Earl is reported to have personally killed a prisoner, Captain Bootle.

However, although the Royalists may have conquered Bolton, they did not win the war.

Charles I was beheaded and the throne abolished.

Parliament condemned the taking of Bolton as a crime and Oliver Cromwell himself demanded the death penalty for the Earl -- who had fled to the Isle of Man.

He returned to England in 1651 in a bid to help the Prince of Wales regain the throne but was captured after a battle in Worcester in which the Royalists had been heavily defeated.

He was court-martialled on grounds of high treason and executed on October 15, 1651.

His body was buried in Ormskirk where he later became known as the "martyr Earl of Derby".