Post-classical history




Among those determined that Edward IV should stay upon the throne was William Hastings, who owed his entire good fortune to being the King’s best and most trusted friend. His life, which had begun to change after Mortimer’s Cross, had been altered dramatically by Towton, where he was knighted on the field, one of only six gentlemen so honoured. A month after the coronation, he was created ‘Lord Hastings of Hastings’. Although hitherto unconnected with Sussex, his rewards included one or two manors in that county together with Hastings Castle – hence his choice of title.1

The patent confirming his peerage, which was issued in the following year, is of the utmost interest. It reveals the King’s deep esteem for him. Seldom has a document of this sort radiated such genuine affection:

Calling to mind the honourable service, probity and valiant deeds of our dearly beloved knight William Hastynges, our chamberlain, we wish to raise him to the rank of baron and peer of our realm, as much for his martial exploits as for his good example and good counsel. We particularly single out how the said William with a large force of his servants, friends and well-wishers [benivolorum] did at heavy and burdensome cost and at manifold peril expose himself most courageously and shrewdly in our service in campaigns and battles against our arch-enemy the former pretended king of England, ‘Henry the Sixth’, with his accomplices and abettors, notably Jasper Pembroke and James Wiltshire, formerly earls, who together with other traitors and rebels waged war on us. From his early manhood he has never ceased to serve us . . .

William was appointed master of the king’s monies, receiver-general for the duchy of Cornwall, and chamberlain of North Wales, as well as constable, steward or keeper of numerous royal castles, manors and forests – acquiring such arcane but lucrative dignities as those of parker of Brigstock Park and master-forester of Rockingham Forest. Each of these offices was accompanied by a substantial salary. As master of the king’s monies he received a groat (4d) for every pound of gold or silver struck into coin of the realm at the London or Calais mints, while as forester of Rockingham he was paid 12d a day.

At the same time he was transformed into a great Midland magnate, being given most of the former lands of the Lancastrian Lords Beaumont, Roos and Wiltshire, ‘for the better maintenance of his estate’, as a grant puts it. As a rich peer, his ‘estate’ was most impressive. He had his own vast household, almost a court in miniature, which accompanied him from mansion to mansion, providing an escort of well over a hundred men. It included a comptroller, a steward, a receiver (of rents and revenues), a treasurer, a master of the horse, a groom of the hall, a groom of the chambers, a clerk of the kitchens, a librarian, a master of the wardrobe, a master of the fishponds, and a master of hounds, together with a carver, marshals and ushers, gentlemen and yeomen waiters, pages, chaplains, singing men and minstrels – not to mention cooks, larderers and cellarers. Pack-horses and mules carried not only clothing and provisions, but bedding, linen, and even furniture and windows – the latter being frames holding glass.

He also had his own baronial council, gentlemen servants from his household – his steward, his comptroller, his receiver, his chaplain, his treasurer or anyone else who had something useful to contribute. They advised him on estate management, legal and financial matters, on problems among the local community, sometimes even on political affairs. Occasionally men from outside the household were enlisted, experts such as feed lawyers. One day he would recruit a young neighbour with particularly valuable legal skills, a Northamptonshire squire called Mr William Catesby.

In July 1461 Hastings was made steward of the honour of Leicester, a vast network of royal manors in Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire. The post’s basic duties were administrative – looking after Crown estates and collecting revenues – but obviously gave the steward great influence throughout the region. For the appointment had a strategic purpose, William’s job being to win support for the new regime in an area hitherto noted for its loyalty to Henry VI.

Clearly encouraged by King Edward, Lord Hastings began building up an affinity among the Midland gentry, retaining them by indentures. He recruited less than a dozen during the first decade, but eventually the affinity would number more than ninety.2 In one indenture Sir Simon Montfort promised ‘his full part and quarrel to take against all others’ and ‘to be ready at all times and places within this realm of England to attend upon the said lord [Hastings] . . . as well in time of peace as war, upon reasonable warning accompanied with such people as thereto shall be requisite’. Most of the retainers promised to come ‘accompanied with as many persons defensibly arrayed as he may goodly make or assemble, at the cost of the same lord [Hastings]’. They pledged themselves ‘with him to ride and go within the ground of England at all such times as shall like his lorship’. In return William promised them ‘good lorship’, by which he meant that he would further their interests in every way he could. Undoubtedly the affinity was the biggest in England. It was also exceptional in owing its creation in large part to the King. The well-wishers were as much Edward’s as they were William’s – a subtle means of strengthening Yorkist authority in the Midlands.

These indentures would prove an invaluable political and military investment. The men whom he gathered into his affinity (and thus prevented from joining the affinities of other magnates) were the leaders of local society, and they enabled him to control the machinery that governed their respective counties. Over the next two decades at least ten would serve as MPs, another twenty as sheriffs, and no less than thirty-three as JPs. They also provided the captains who raised and officered the levies that composed the bulk of the King’s armies.

Many of the affinity were the heads of families that continued to own substantial estates in the Midlands down to the present century, and in some cases still do. Among their names were those of Gresley, Eyre, Pole, Savile, Clifton, Chaworth, Harcourt and Fitzherbert. As people of substance, no fewer than six have left likenesses which survive today, since their sons could afford to commemorate them with brasses in their parish churches. Made from ‘latten’, an alloy of copper and zinc that was generally imported from Cologne and then engraved locally, such brasses were not cheap. Almost invariably, those depicted are shown wearing full armour so that no passer-by beholding them could fail to realize that they were gentlemen.

Even peers coveted William Hastings’ good lordship, such as Lord Grey of Codnor, who became his well-wisher in 1464. Henry Grey was a former Lancastrian whose seat was the castle (now more or less demolished) at Codnor near Ripley in Derbyshire. An alchemist, he was engaged in the search for the philosopher’s stone and the secret of how to change lead or iron into gold; in 1463 Edward IV licensed him to ‘labour by the conning of philosophy the transmutation of metals at his own cost, but he should answer to the king if any profit grew’. However, the fantastic alchemist was also a most formidable soldier who took an energetic part in both local and national politics.

Although undeniably useful, such well-wishers could also be a source of grave worry to their ‘good lords’. Like so many contemporary magnates, Grey was quarrelsome and violent. He waged a bitter feud against the Vernons of Haddon Hall, who were backed by another local magnate, the Earl of Shrewsbury. In November 1467 Grey’s men clashed with a band of Shrewsbury’s in a skirmish near Derby during which ‘horrible murder’ was done, the principal victim being Roger Vernon.3 Lord Hastings, together with the Duke of Clarence and Earl Rivers, were sent to restore order at the beginning of 1468, but in the summer of the same year Grey on the one hand and the Vernons and Shrewsbury on the other had to be bound over to stop them intimidating jurors. In 1471 Grey would be accused of inciting dangerous riots in Nottingham against the Mayor and corporation. It is likely that Hastings had to intervene and save him. Grey’s turbulent career highlights one of the problems faced by a great magnate with an affinity; often its members were at daggers drawn with each other – in 1471 Hastings would recruit none other than Henry Vernon, the son of the murdered William, while continuing to retain Lord Grey. Obviously, very considerable tact was needed if such mutually hostile well-wishers were going to ride side by side, let alone go into battle together.

Much of William’s ‘good lordship’, the fifteenth-century term for influence, derived from his special position as chamberlain. According to the anonymous author of the Black Book of the Household of Edward IV, the chamberlain was ‘chief head of rulers in the king’s chamber’. In modern terms his job combined the duties of house and staff manager with those of private secretary. He ordered the King’s meals and was responsible for arranging audiences – no one could meet Edward IV unless they asked Hastings. A friend of the Pastons wrote with awe of ‘what my said lord chamberlain may do with the king and with all the lords of England’.

Indeed, his good lordship was considered so valuable that he had no need to pay his retainers annual fees in cash, as was the normal practice. Everybody wanted William to be on their side. ‘An impressive list of English lords and ladies, bishops, abbots and gentry paid him annuities or gave him profitable sinecures, and thought it money well spent to engage his influence with the king,’ observes Professor Ross.

William’s special position as chamberlain brought him nearer to the King than any other man. In 1436 Robert Russell, an official in the household of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, wrote The Boke of Nurture, which deals with the duties of staff in a royal household and describes a chamberlain’s functions in some detail.4 It was the chamberlain’s task to ensure that fires were tended and candles lit in his lord’s bedroom, that the bed was aired and the chamber pot emptied. After waking his lord in the early morning, he helped him to dress, first proffering him clean linen (warmed at a fire in cold weather) and then handing him well-brushed clothes. Later he aired the chamber, making sure to ‘drive out dog or cat or else give them a good clout’. At night he helped his lord undress and go to bed. He also prepared his baths. This, according to Russell, entailed hanging linen sheets around a wooden tub and on a canopy over it, placing a large sponge in it for the lord to sit on, and personally washing him with a soft sponge, before finally sprinkling him with rose water. If necessary, he could provide a medicinal bath, using such herbs as hollyhock, mallow, fennel, camomile and scabious. Although he had pages to help him, and a deputy to take his place when he was away, presumably William performed all these intimate services for King Edward.

On St George’s Day 1462 William was installed as a Knight of the Garter at Windsor. A page buckled the garter on his leg below the knee, before robing him in a purple surcoat and a blue mantle. Then two knights led him before their sovereign who received him into the order. Finally he dined with his knight companions, ‘a very sumptuous and noble feast’. His helm, crest, sword, banner and garter-plate were set up over his stall in St George’s Chapel. The plate is still there, with his crest of a bull’s head.

Sometimes heraldry tells us a little about a man. Proud of his ancestry, William bore the Hastings arms of argent, a maunche sable – a black sleeve on silver – which he could never alter. However, his choice of bulls as supporters (shown on his seal but not on the garter-plate) may be a demonstration of loyalty to King Edward, who used a bull and a lion as supporters for the royal arms. More is revealed by William’s badge, a ‘manticore’ or man-tiger. This may well express a womanizer’s self-conscious virility. A drawing of the badge depicts a fantastic beast with exaggerated genitalia and with a satyr’s grinning face, which must surely be a caricature of William.

The King reserved the Garter for foreign monarchs, for England’s most powerful magnates and for his closest friends. He could have paid Hastings no greater compliment. Yet Edward IV’s friendship was demanding. No doubt William shared his tastes for hunting and women; in Mancini’s words, William was ‘the accomplice and partner of his privy pleasures’, and he may even have pimped for him. But that was only one side of his life. Besides the daily running of his department at court, he had countless other duties. ‘The typical Yorkist courtier was no pleasure-loving favourite, no idle fop-about-town,’ Professor Ross reminds us. ‘He was generally not only a courtier but also a councillor, administrator and king’s servant.’5 In addition, he had to be a good soldier as well as something very like a party boss in his own particular part of England.

William was ubiquitous and highly effective. Indispensable at the siege of Alnwick in 1462 – from where young John Paston wrote excitedly ‘I am well acquainted with my Lord Hastings and my Lord Dacre, which now be greatest about the king’s person’ – William would play a key role in the negotiations with the Duke of Brittany in 1465, and in those with the Duke of Burgundy and the King of France in 1466. However, his most remarkable achievement would be to oversee the introduction of a new coinage.


The garter-plate of Lord Hastings at St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

Because of an increasing shortage of bullion, English coins were undervalued; a profit could be made from exchanging them abroad or melting them down, as Mr Alderman Lambert must have been very well aware. In consequence, not enough money was in circulation. The council that met at Reading in September 1464 agreed that there should be a reform of the coinage.

As master of the King’s monies, Lord Hastings was nominally in charge of the operation. Technical details were handled by his deputy, Hugh Bryce,6 a London goldsmith of Irish origin – from Dublin – who paid another goldsmith, Edmund Shaa, twenty pounds a year to strike the coins. William was responsible for security; although the mint was sited between the inner and outer walls of the Tower, so much bullion and cash was a temptation to criminals.

In the event, everything went well. New groats (4d), half-groats, pence, halfpence and farthings were issued, their silver content reduced by a fifth. A new rose noble or ryal of 10s replaced the old noble of 6s 8d, while a new coin of 6s 8d, the angel (one of the most beautiful in numismatic history), was introduced. All this involved calling in and recoining the previous currency.7

The Shores and Lamberts undoubtedly noticed the coins’ decreased purchasing power. ‘And they made new groats not so good as the old, but they were worth 4d,’ says Gregory resentfully. As for the rose nobles and angels, ‘at the beginning of this money men grudged passing sore, for they could not reckon that gold so quickly as they did the old gold. And men might go throughout a street or through a whole passage ere that he might change it. And some men said that the new gold was not so good as the old gold was, for it was alloyed.’

Despite initial hostility, the new coins were eventually accepted so that in just over two years the King made nearly £15,500 out of the reform. Men such as William Shore and his father-in-law profited too, if they had bought bullion early on. It was a triumph for Hastings, revealing a practical side to his character very different from the knight errant of tradition.

Since Lord Hastings had to spend so much time in attendance on King Edward, he needed a London home big enough to accommodate his retinue. This seems to have been the house near Paul’s Wharf (‘in the parish of St Bene’ts’) which he leased for sixty years in June 1463 from the Austin canons of St Bartholomew the Great, Prior Reynold merely asking a token rent of a single red rose each year. Narrow but with two solars (forerunners of the drawing-room), the chamberlain’s new residence was within walking distance of the Tower and the Cheap, conveniently close to the Thames along which a fast wherry could take him to Westminster or to Windsor.

Two of William’s brothers shared in his good fortune. Ralph, who had fought by his side, was appointed an Esquire of the Body (a member of the King’s bodyguard) in 1461 and given an estate.8 He was made ‘keeper of the king’s lions, lionesses and leopards’ at the Tower, for which he received 12d a day with 6d a day for their food.9 He also became Edward’s Master of the Horse. As a courtier but also a country gentleman, Ralph was, to quote Ross, among the men who formed ‘one of the chief links between court and country’. Richard Hastings’ rewards came later. Thomas, the youngest brother, was not so lucky. A former murder suspect, he may have been seen as the family’s black sheep.

In 1462, or soon after, the Hastings brothers’ youngest sister Elizabeth married a Welsh gentleman, John Donne. This was perhaps a little surprising since the English still regarded the Welsh as a conquered and, to some degree, a subject race.10 (John’s grandfather had risen against the English in Owain Glyn Dŵr’s revolt.) However, during the last decades of the Hundred Years’ War, his father, Gruffydd ap Maredudd Dŵn of Kidwelly, had served in the Duke of York’s retinue in France, where John was born about 1430. John had entered the Duke’s household, where he must have met William, and he had fought at Mortimer’s Cross. In 1462 King Edward appointed him an usher of the chamber – in which capacity he served under William – promoting him to an Esquire of the Body three years later.11


The face of William Hastings? The head of his ‘man-tiger’ emblem may well be a portrait. From a sketch of, c. 1466–70.

As for William’s own marriage, the squire of Burton Hastings had risen so high that he was considered a good enough catch for the Earl of Warwick’s fifth sister, Catherine, the widowed Lady Harington, who had a jointure of £400 a year. Her husband had fallen at Wakefield, leaving her with a posthumous daughter, Cecil, Baroness Harington and Bonville, who was the heiress to great estates and whose wardship provided her stepfather with further income. Catherine was to give William three sons and a daughter. The marriage, which took place some time before February 1462, made him not only brother-in-law to the ‘Kingmaker’ but first cousin to the King.

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