There’s not much left of Kirby Muxloe Castle today apart from two red brick octagonal corner turrets and a gate-house. There’s also a rather fine moat filled with water lilies and at this time of year rather a lot of Canada geese. DOn’t go during the week because the doors are locked! The gate house boasts some state of the art gun loops which reflect the ways in which war fare was changing during the fifteenth century.
Originally there was a manor at Kirby Muxloe but when William Lord Hastings got hold of it in 1474, he applied for a license to crenulate. Being best buddies with Edward IV, Hastings was promptly granted the right to turn the manor into a castle. He began work in 1480.
The bricks which form the towers and gate house were fired locally under the direction of John Cowper, who’d been an apprentice working on Henry VI’s school at Eton. The red bricks are interspaced with a black diamond or ‘diaper’ pattern which also incorporates the initials WH – William wanted folk to know who lived in the snazzy new castle. There’s also a sleeve or ‘maunch’ from his coat of arms, a jug and a boat – although the guide book admits that historians are till scratching their heads as to why Hastings wanted those particular decorations. A set of accounts survives from 1480 to 1484 detailing work on the castle. It reveals 100,000 bricks a week were being fired.
The west tower was the only part of Hastings’ project to be completed. Work stopped five years later when Hastings had a nasty accident with an axe on Tower Green on 13 June 1483. Hastings’ wife continued working on the building and the family continued to live there until 1630 although Hastings’ plan was never fulfilled.
So who was William, Lord Hastings? He was born in approximately 1430 and his father owed his service to Richard, Duke of York. William was knighted by Edward IV in the aftermath of Towton in 1461 and swiftly became chamberlain to Edward’s household. He was one of the courtiers who helped arrange the marriage of Margaret of York (Edward’s sister) to the Duke of Burgundy. Hastings took the opportunity to build his land base in his native Leicestershire – principly Ashby de la Zouche and Kirkby Muxloe as well as Slingsby in Yorkshire whilst in the royal household. When Edward briefly lost his throne in 1470 on account of the Kingmaker being unamused at Edward’s secret wedding to Elizabeth Woodville, Hastings fled to the continent with his monarch. Hastings was with Edward fighting against the Earl of Warwick at the Battle of Barnet which may have taken some explaining at home as Hastings’ wife Katherine was actually Katherine Neville – the Earl of Warwick’s sister (also making him cousin by marriage to Edward IV and Richard, Duke of Gloucester).
Hastings took part in the Battle of Tewkesbury which saw the death of Lancastrian Prince Edward and the capture of Henry VI’s queen, Margaret of Anjou. In the aftermath of Tewkesbury Hastings found himself being sent to Calais in order to restore order on behalf of Edward IV. As a consequence of all that loyalty and martial activity he was even more liberally rewarded once the Yorkists were secure on the throne… and he got to go to all of Edward IV’s parties as well. Mancini describes Hastings as being privy to all of Edward’s pleasures ( i.e. all that drinking and debauchery that ruined Edward IV’s health).
Of course, like many other of Edward’s courtiers Hastings fought a running smear campaign against the Woodvilles and in particular with Edward’s step-son Thomas Grey, the Earl of Dorset and Elizabeth Woodville’s brother Anthony (Earl Rivers). It was, perhaps, as a consequence of this faction fighting that Hastings sent a messenger to Richard in Middleham when Edward died unexpectedly on April 9, 1483. The Croyland Chronicle suggests that Hastings may have feared for his life.
The Woodvilles seemed to be about to conduct a coup which would have seen them in control of the young king Edward V and which would have paid no heed to Edward IV’s clear instructions that Richard, Duke of Gloucester was to be the regent. Things must have looked bad when Hastings tried to stop the proposed coronation of 4 May saying that the Woodvilles should wait until Richard arrived in London.
What we know is thus:
April 9 1483: Edward IV died.
April 11 1483: Edward V proclaimed king. The date for the coronation was fixed on May 4. Edward V was summoned to London from Ludlow. There was an argument between Elizabeth Woodville and Hastings over the number of men who should be sent to bring the king to London. Hastings threatened to go to Calais . Hastings wrote to Richard, Duke of Gloucester in Middleham informing him of his brother’s death and the dangers of a Woodville coup. Richard had the letter by April 20th.
April 14 1483: News of Edward IV’s death reaches Ludlow and probably the Duke of Buckingham.
April 20: Council sits in London. Arguments between Woodville faction and other older noble stock including Hastings about apparent haste of coronation.
April 24: Earl Rivers sets out for London with Edward V and 2,000 men.
April 26: Richard of Gloucester in Nottingham where a certain Humphrey Percival met with him in secret to discuss the Duke of Buckingham’s proposal to meet with him in Northampton. Earl Rivers met with messengers on the road and agreed to meet Gloucester and Buckingham in Northampton.
April 29: Edward V and Lord Rivers arrive in Northampton. Sir Richard Grey (Edward’s half brother) arrived from London ordering Rivers to hurry to London. Rivers moved on to Stony Stratford- Rivers then went back to Northampton where Buckingham and Goucester had arrived to find the king gone.
April 30: Lord Rivers discovered that he was a prisoner. Sir Richard Grey was arrested as were others of Edward V’s escort. Late on the evening of the 30th Elizabeth Woodville went into sanctuary at Westminster Abbey with her remaining son and her daughters. Dr Morton, (Lord Chancellor and later Cardinal and Henry Tudor’s right hand man) surrendered the Great Seal into Elizabeth Woodville’s keeping. Hastings wrote and told Richard what Morton had done.
April 31: Hastings speaks to the Councilsaying that Gloucester was “fastly faithful to his prince.” (Weir: 85). He also said that Rivers and Grey would receive impartial justice.
May 2: Gloucester despatches Rivers and Grey north. Issues orders that Dr Morton was to be sacked as Lord Chancellor but the bishop was allowed to keep his seat on the Council.
May 3: Edward V and Richard, Duke of Gloucester leave Northampton for London.
May 4: Having spent the night in St Albans the king and the duke travel towards London.
To all intents and purposes Richard, Duke of Gloucester was in complete control. The Croyland Chronicle comments on how well Lord Hastings was doing out of the whole affair. But something was wrong. Perhaps Hastings resented the fact that he’d stayed in London at the heart of the danger sending information to Richard for very little reward. Perhaps he didn’t much like the Duke of Buckingham who seemed to be in the ascendant. Perhaps he was a bit concerned about Richard’s power. Certainly he discussed with like minded peers how the regent’s new powers should be kept under control. Was it possible that Hastings changed his mind and began negotiating with the Woodvilles? How was Edward IV’s mistress Jane Shore involved?
Jane Shore had transferred her affections from the deceased Edward IV to William Hastings if Mancini and Thomas More (who was a child at the time but who seems to have got his information from the Howard family) are to be believed. Alison Weir comments that Edward IV was generous with his friends in that he wasn’t jealous of his mistresses’ affections. It appears that one of the causes of rivalry between Hastings and Dorset were a shared interest in Mistress Shore (Weir: 55)
June 10 1483 Richard sent Sir Richard Ratcliffe north to the mayor of York and the Earl of Northumberland with letters ordering them south to support Richard against the Woodvilles. The letters state that Richard believed that the Woodvilles intended to murder him (Cole:185).
Friday June 13 1485: Lord Howard called in at Jane Shore’s house where he collected William, Lord Hastings. Howard and Hastings made their way to a council meeting in the Tower of London. At 9 in the morning Richard arrived at the meeting and sent Dr Morton the Bishop of Ely for a “mess of strawberries.” Richard excused himself and returned an hour and a half later in a bit of a temper. Hastings was accused of treason. Lord Stanley was taken prisoner, as was Dr Morton.
Hastings was dragged down to the courtyard and beheaded on some timber after his confession had been heard by a cleric. A herald was sent through London denouncing Hastings’ plot and announcing his execution.
Monday June 16 1485: Westminster Abbey surrounded by armed men. Richard, Duke of York went into the Tower to keep Edward V company , Richard the Protector having given his word as to the boy’s safety.
June 25 1485: Anthony Woodville, Elizabeth Woodville’s brother executed at Pontefract Castle.
Richard restored Hastings’ family to its position the month after William was killed with their titles, estates and wealth. Royle and other historians of the Wars of the Roses make the point that Richard’s accusation that Hastings was plotting with the Woodvilles via Jane Shore seems hard to believe. Hastings couldn’t stand the Woodvilles. Was it possible that Hastings feared that Richard would usurp the throne? Did he know something that no one else knew at that time? Did Richard have to silence him – a case of political expediency? Mancini wrote that Hastings needed to be taken out in order for Richard to claim the throne and that Hastings never suspected his friend of duplicity. Medieval politics weren’t just brutal, they were deadly.
Hastings’ death is the first of the historical events chalked up against Richard III – whatever we might think of him as an individual or a monarch. It was an execution without trial and as such must be seen as murder. Earl Rivers and Richard Grey didn’t get a trial either. And no, he’s not the only monarch to indulge in a spot of murder – with or without the law on his side.
Cole, Hubert (1973). The Wars of the Roses. London:Granada Publishing
Royle, Trevor. (2009). The Road to Bosworth Field. London: Little Brown
Weir, Alison. (1992) The Princes in the Tower. New York: Ballantine