Kirby Muxloe Castle and William, Lord Hastings

DSC_0077There’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.

DSC_0087.JPGThe 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



7 thoughts on “Kirby Muxloe Castle and William, Lord Hastings

  1. Dear Julia how nice it is t read your clear and interesting article. My old Uncle Charles Hastings lived near Monmouth. I met him often when very young when he came to my Great aunt Sarahs funeral in London. He told me of family tombs in Abergavenny church. He told me he was not Welsh but lived in the forest. Of course as i grew i saw that it was the Forest of Dean and England.He was a long faced fellow like Henry V and almost as pious but 1950 was a far different world than even 1960. So now it is history and old uncle Mortimer and uncle Hastings are but memories. We as a family must have married into ever branch of rich and powerful women and men over 1000 years of heritage. Is it any real wonder why I told my dear father I would be an historian. He disagreed and I entered Public school and Uni before joining Harrods as trainee technician in the studio design dept. Still studied and wrote two books on history. Love your mind dear lady as it tells of tales so well tread by me yet finely put.

  2. This is an excellent article, but I have a coup!e of questions about the Woodville plot.
    Why would a plot be needed to gain them the control of the young king, when they already had that control? Edward had been educated in Ludlow under the supervision of Earl Rivers. On the death of Edward IV, the Woodvilles also had control of the spare, who was with his mother.

    Earl Rivers was an experienced soldier. If he was planning a strike at Gloucester, why was Richard not defeated? Although the king’s escort was limited in number, it still out numbered Gloucester’s by a decisive scale. And yet there is no report of any fighting.

    If a preemptive strike were planned, the young king would have been secretly separated from the force that was expect to fight.

    Also, the idea that a large retinue for the king is inappropriate seems rather odd. If I were suspicious, the person I would be wary of would be the person suggesting that any limit should be imposed. You would ask why?

    • The problem hinged on Edward IV’s will which identified Richard, Duke of Gloucester as regent. It also gave him control of the young king’s person. In not notifying Richard of his brother’s death the Woodvilles were attempting to ensure that they had control of Edward V, the spare and of London – Richard not being particularly well known in the south – thus incapacitating his control as regent. During Henry VI’s minority there had effectively been a split regency with none of Henry V’s brothers/uncle having sole control. I don’t necessarily think that Rivers was planning to strike at Richard. In fact I don’t think he realised what was being planned in London. Rivers stayed in Ludlow without any sign of haste and turned back to meet Richard and Buckingham when he should have pressed on. The accounts of Rivers are of a man who was an expert jouster, someone who was generally likeable and who wore a hair shirt – He got caught up in faction politics and was neutralised. In terms of the numbers of the retinue I agree it does seem rather odd and the only thing I can think is that Londoners took a dim view of armies marching around the capital, it might have looked far too much like a hostile takeover bid on the crown. I also seem to recall there’s something else to do with stockpiled weapons but I need to go back through my notes as I’m not entirely sure whether that episode occurred at this point in proceedings. It does make you wonder what else was said and never reported. A fascinating period of history.

    • Richard was not a murderer. He acted legally in his capacity as Lord High Constable of England.
      You are obviously not a historian as your grudge is personal and ridiculous after 500 years.

      • Oh dear – I think that might be a case of pot and kettle. Legality and justice are not the same commodity. Hastings might reasonably have expected a trial before his peers rather than having his head lopped off the same day -the outcome may well have been the same. Or he could have ended up like William de la Pole with his head on a spike beside his decapitated body on a beach somewhere.The choices for getting rid of political opponents were many and varied. Richard wasn’t the only one. His brother, George Duke of Clarence kidnapped Ankarette Twynyho from her home, put her in front of a jury at Warwick and then had her hanged within a couple of hours – it was legal but it was also murder. Richard was one man who acted, like most other magnates did, in the interests of political and personal self preservation. Great medieval men were lovely people – they did what needed to be done – Henry VI was a pious man but he was not an effective medieval monarch despite the length of his reign. That doesn’t mean I have a grudge against any of them or personally dislike any of them. They’re dead!

  3. Excellent article. However, Richard acted quite lawfully in his capacity as both Lord Protector and High Constable of England, the later he had held since 1469. The role had evolved to the form it became under Edward iv. John Tiptoft used the role quite ruthlessly and used both summary and none summary justice. Those who understand the powers of this role understand that as Constable Richard had the power to hear evidence against and to condemn Hastings. Such a hearing might be brief and without appeal. Punishment could also be swift. It is believed by experts that Richard acted in this capacity, that he held a Courts Marshall and the Council heard evidence. There are some sources which date the execution to one week later. There are others who give the theory that Hastings had knowledge which endangered Richard’s life and the line of succession which he withheld. Another theory was that he did indeed plot with the Wydeville faction. He had the largest private army and was out to see what he could get from whichever faction rewarded him. He wasn’t to be trusted. The man was a worm. There is evidence that Buckingham presented evidence to the Council. The Court of Chivalry allowed summary execution in the case of Treason or armed rebellion. Richard knew the law. He had used his powers as Constable lightly so this action was unusual. It is a most ruthless if necessary action. That’s how he saw it and with only sketchy and missing or contracting sources, it is difficult to know the full story. It wasn’t murder and no Hastings wasn’t innocent. His motivation may have been to stop Richard, we just don’t know but in any case, there was some evidence against him and Richard acted as his official powers allowed. Only one source puts Thomas Stanley at the Council in the Tower, others do not mention him. He was carrying Richard’s crown 3 weeks later with no sign of injury.
    Both Margaret and Thomas Stanley were prominent in the coronation.
    Buckingham was pretty pleased with himself and then tried to promote his own claim and that of Henry Tudor in a rebellion. Contrary to myth, he wasn’t Richard’s best friend but he was his ally from the start of his Protectorate and even before hand. Buckingham had a hand in the arrest of Richard Grey and Anthony Wydeville.
    Neither man was murdered. They were both held separately and brought to Pontefract where they were tried for treason before the Earl of Northumberland, Richards deputy. They were found guilty and executed. Anthony Wydeville made a will before hand and wasn’t Attainted. Nor was Hastings whose tomb was still allowed to be his resting place and his family were restored to their wealth by Richard iii. There are conflicting versions of what happened in Northampton and what Grey and Wydeville may be guilty off, from planning an ambush to being delinquent in their duty to the young Edward V by leaving him without proper protection. It was originally arranged to meet at Stoney Stafford and to meet the King, not for Wydeville to travel 16 miles onwards. Richard Grey wasn’t there until the night of 29th April and he had come from the Queen. One theory is that he came to warn or involve Anthony of or in his sisters coup. Another is that Richard heard of the coup and Anthony was the victim of his sisters plotting. Without some of the information which is missing, many interpretations are possible. As its not clear when Richard knew he would take the throne as its not entirely clear when he received confirmation of the marriage between Edward iv and Eleanor Talbot, we don’t know his mind. But in the case of Hastings he acted quickly, maybe ruthlessly but perfectly legally.

    Annette Carson has written a paper which is in publication on the role of Protector and the role of High Constable. She has also done several articles on the Hastings affair and the events of 1483. She has also researched the contract with Eleanor Butler as have Peter Hammond and several others from the legal insight of canon law and Parliament.

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