Henry Hastings, born in 1535, was the great grandson of Margaret, Countess of Salisbury – the redoubtable lady who defied the executioner in the Tower of London , and as the very entertaining Yeoman of the Guard explained during my visit, “had it away on her toes.” She was in her 80s at the time and about to be the victim of judicial murder. He was descended from the Pole family so was a Plantagenet, Margaret was the niece of King Edward IV. It was a bloodline that did rather mean that his family was prone to sudden death by beheading. Both his maternal grandparents had suffered a similar fate and his two times great grandfather the Duke of Clarence was the chap who suffered an unfortunate end in a vat of malmsey.
Henry loyal to the Tudors and his country was a protestant with puritan tendencies having spent much of his childhood as companion to King Edward VI. He was even married to the Duke of Northumberland’s daughter Catherine Dudley (making him a brother-in-law to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester). Upon his father’s death he became the Third Earl of Huntingdon.
When Elizabeth was seriously ill in 1562 his name was given as a potential replacement. It would have meant ignoring the rights of Lady Catherine Grey but his bloodline, his faith and, of course, his gender made his claim a powerful one.
His protestant sympathies were so strong that he asked Queen Elizabeth if he could go to France to support the Huguenots. There was talk of him selling his estates to raise an army. It is perhaps not surprising then, that as a possible heir to the English throne and a man of Protestant principle he was not one of Mary Queen of Scots admirers; he’d been invited to hear the evidence against Mary as presented by Moray in the form of the Casket Letters. He was firmly against a marriage between Mary and the Duke of Norfolk in 1569, not least because it would have weakened his own position.
At this time the Earl of Shrewsbury, Mary Queen of Scots jailor, was ill and had been with the queen to take the waters in Buxton. He had gone without Elizabeth’s permission. Now, ordered back to Tutbury Mary was about to make the acquaintance of Huntingdon. He was sent ostensibly to assist Shrewsbury to guard the queen against the northern earls who were planning to raise an army, march south and free the queen. He arrived on the 19th of September. Mary feared for her life and said as much in a letter to the French ambassador. Shrewsbury must have agreed with Mary because he wrote back saying that his health was sufficient to guard his charge and that he had no desire to be replaced. In the event Mary was conveyed to Coventry and out of reach of the Northern Earls via Ashby de La Zouche castle which belonged to Huntingdon. The shared responsibility for the queen was not a happy alliance as letters in the National Archives demonstrate.
Huntingdon soon departed from his temporary role as joint custodian of the queen. He soon found another occupation. The threat of the Northern Earls loomed ever larger in 1569 so it was decided that Huntingdon should be made lord-lieutenant of Leicestershire and Rutlandshire. He was also created Lord Presedent of the North in 1672. The following year he was one of the Duke of Norfolk’s judges when he was tried for the crime of treason.
His offices in the North grew and as a consequence it was he who represented Queen Elizabeth in a conference with the Scottish regent Moray following the Raid of Reidswire; he looked into the religious beliefs of the gentry of the north – no doubt in search of Catholic plotters- and was part of the force that gathered to repel the expected Spanish invasion.
In his spare time he wrote a family history, a poignant task given his lack of children. He also invested in the early chemical industry buying land in Dorset with an alum and coppera mine, the manor of Puddletown and part of the manor of Canford, which had previously belonged to Lord Mountjoy. The two men became involved in a legal wrangle about who had the right to extract the minerals. Mountjoy claimed that he had stipulated that he should retain the rights to extract the minerals. The conflict was eventually resolved after many years. The mines did indeed belong to Huntingdon but he had to pay Mountjoy’s son (the old lord had died by that time) £6000 in compensation.
Henry Hastings died in December 1595 and was buried in Ashby-de-la-Zouche. His brother George became the Fourth Earl.