Post-classical history

EDWARD IV, 1471–83




The Lord Hastings had become an even greater power in the land. No one had contributed more to the restoration of Edward IV. He had played a vital role in detaching Clarence from Warwick, he had brought his 3,000 troops to the King’s aid at just the right moment, and he had led the right wing at Barnet and Tewkesbury. He was rewarded in full measure. Among his most important new offices were those of Constable of Nottingham Castle and Lieutenant of Calais. Even the Duke of Clarence rewarded him, with the stewardship of the honour of Tutbury and a string of Duchy of Lancaster manors in Staffordshire and Derbyshire; when the King ‘resumed’ (i.e. took back) the honour two years later, he reappointed William as steward for life. The Midland gentry flocked to his affinity.

William’s family shared in his good fortune. His brothers Ralph and Richard Hastings, together with his nephews John and Henry Ferrers, and his brother-in-law John Donne, were knighted on the battlefield at Tewkesbury. ‘Rauf’ (as he called himself) was appointed Captain of Guisnes, one of the castles that guarded the marches of Calais, while Richard would eventually be summoned to Parliament as ‘Lord Hastings of Welles’ – by right of his wife Baroness Welles, who was Margaret Beaufort’s stepniece.1

William had become a very rich man indeed. Besides the income from his wide estates, that from offices and pensions in England alone has been estimated at between £600 and £700 a year. This was supplemented by profits from grants and wardships of which no details survive. In addition, Charles of Burgundy was paying him a pension of £1,000, ostensibly in appreciation of his heroic conduct during the Readeption, though also, presumably, to further Burgundian interests at the English court. (We know from Commynes that William always remained a staunch friend of Burgundy, deeply hostile to France.)

In Lord Hastings’ capacity as chamberlain, it was his pleasant duty to supervise the entertainment of Louis de Gruuthuse, the Burgundian nobleman who had been so kind to King Edward during his exile, when he visited the English court as an honoured guest in the autumn of 1472. Bluemantle Pursuivant, who accompanied Gruuthuse, has left us a detailed account of the visit, in particular of his stay at Windsor.

When the Seigneur de Gruuthuse and his son arrived at the castle, they were met by William, who brought them to King Edward and the Queen, before taking them to three richly hung chambers where they and their gentlemen were to sleep. That evening, with Edward they watched the Queen’s ladies dance in her bedchamber – the King dancing with his six-year-old daughter Elizabeth. After mass next morning, Edward gave Gruuthuse a gold cup set with a piece of unicorn’s horn. He was presented to the Prince of Wales (not yet two) by the Prince’s chamberlain. Later the Gruuthuses and the King went shooting with crossbows and then, having dined at about 10 a.m., buck-hunting with hounds. After supper, they strolled through the castle gardens with Edward, visiting the ‘vineyard of pleasure’, and hearing Vespers sung in St George’s Chapel before retiring.

The highlight of the second day was dinner in Queen Elizabeth’s bedchamber. The Gruuthuses sat with the royal couple at the main table, together with the young Duke and Duchess of Buckingham, the Duchess of Exeter (the King’s sister), and Princess Elizabeth. Courtiers and Gruuthuse’s gentlemen sat at two other tables. The meal was followed by dancing, Buckingham partnering Princess Elizabeth. Gruuthuse and his son were then taken to new and still more sumptuously furnished chambers, hung with white silk and with carpets on the floors.2

Before going to their luxurious beds – one with a cloth-of-gold quilt lined with ermine – the Gruuthuses had a bath, Hastings bathing with them. (The baths were wooden tubs under white canopies, placed on a floor covered by warm towels, hot water being brought in ewers by a procession of servants.) The Lord Chamberlain said goodnight after the guests had been served with green ginger, comfits and spiced wine.

Calais, with its standing army of a thousand troops, was England’s only permanent military establishment. Lord Hastings was appointed lieutenant in July 1471 (to the lasting resentment of its former lieutenant, Lord Rivers). When his fleet sailed into the roadstead in August with 1,700 men on board, the Lancastrian garrison commanders surrendered at once and were sent back to make their peace with King Edward.

William now had to spend a substantial part of each year at Calais. It needed manning by a large and extremely expensive garrison and the maintenance of strong walls and gatehouses, batteries of heavy cannon and a well-stocked arsenal, because the French were always on the alert for an opportunity to recapture it. Their eagerness was understandable, since the port was an English bridgehead on French soil from which an invasion force might pour forth at any moment, as in 1475. He must have been constantly inspecting its defences and checking security, and also those at the two castles that guarded the ‘March of Calais’, Hammes and Guisnes. Fortunately, the town itself was in a naturally strong position, defended on the landward side by marshes that could easily be flooded by the garrison in times of danger.

However, as lieutenant Lord Hastings was not merely commander of a permanently beleaguered outpost but the resident governor of a flourishing mercantile community, that of the staplers, who controlled the English wool trade since all exports of raw wool from England had to pass through the port. The ‘woolmen’, who dealt in wool, bought it from the sheep farmers at home across the Channel and then sold it to the staplers, who in turn sold it abroad – mostly in Flanders. Characteristically, William set about making himself popular with them, to the point of actually becoming a merchant of the Staple. No less typically, he appears to have done so with notable professionalism, reaping a fat profit. On a single day alone during 1478 he is known to have exported over 4,000 pells of wool from London. There was nothing to prevent a realistic knight errant from being a successful capitalist.3

In April 1473 Sir John Paston wrote from Dover to his brother in Norfolk that ‘my lord chamberlain’ (Hastings) had sent for his ward, Sir Thomas Hungerford’s daughter, to join him at Calais, with his stepdaughter, little Lady Harrington (Cecily Bonville) and his young neighbour from the Midlands, Lord Zouche. ‘Calais is a merry town,’ adds Sir John with rare gaiety, though he does not know how long the party are going to stay. He says too, in coy allusion to their wealth, ‘These be three great jewels.’ But normally there can have been few amusements in this wet and windy outpost, apart from hawking over the surrounding marshland. William bought every goshawk he could procure, these being the best birds for hunting ducks.

However, he had very little time in which to grow bored, since he was always returning to England to perform his duties at court as chamberlain or to attend to his interests in the Midlands. He must have spent a considerable time on board a ship or on a horse. Then as now, the Dover–Calais crossing could be a truly horrible experience in stormy weather. During a fifteenth-century winter, the voyage might be a matter of days rather than hours, the tubby little sailing vessels of the period often being beaten back again and again by adverse winds, rolling and pitching amid the waves. Crossings of this sort seriously weakened the delicate Sir John Paston’s health, contributing to his early death, though William seems to have survived them well enough.

Lord Hastings held another highly important military post, that of ‘Constable of Nottingham Castle and Keeper of the Gate there’. For not only was that impressive stronghold the key to the entire Midlands but, being almost in the exact centre of the kingdom, it was a strategic strongpoint from which to control all England. As Constable of Nottingham, William would have had a suite of apartments in the castle. Similarly, as steward of the Honour of Tutbury, he must also have had apartments at Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire. This imposing fortress, much of which survives, also possessed considerable strategic importance. Undoubtedly, military considerations were very much in his mind and transformed his own homes.

In April 1474 William obtained licences to fortify his Leicestershire manor houses of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Kirby Muxloe, Bagworth and Thornton, and also his Yorkshire manor of Slingsby. At Ashby he built a great square tower ninety feet high, which contained a chapel sixty feet long together with rooms on three floors. The new Kirby, to be begun in 1480 but never completed, was of red brick and clearly inspired by Tattershall Castle. It had a curtain wall, with an imposing gatehouse, and was surrounded by a moat.

While these manors remained country houses, to some degree they were also fortresses. At Ashby the tower had walls nine feet thick at ground level, with gunports covering the other buildings. They might not be able to stand up to heavy artillery but they could hold out for weeks against anything less. Moreover, there may have been a definite strategic purpose in fortifying four houses in a line that ran from south-east to north-west across Leicestershire.4 (The ruins of Ashby-de-la-Zouch and Kirby Muxloe are well worth a visit.)

The Tudor antiquary John Leland has a story about William and the building of Ashby, which incidentally shows just how much law and order might still be flouted under Edward IV. Even a royal favourite could find himself defied at the sword-point. Belvoir, once the home of the Lancastrian Lord Roos, had been given to William but ‘coming thither upon a time to peruse the ground and to lie in the castle, [he] was suddenly repelled by Mr Harington, a man of power thereabouts and friend to the Lord Roos. Whereupon the Lord Hastings came thither another time with a strong power and upon a raging will spoiled the castle, defacing the roofs and taking the lead.’ He used the lead for Ashby’s roofs, leaving Belvoir to fall into ruin.5


Lord Hastings’ favourite country seat, Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire, which he fortified with a ninety-foot tower and cannon. From an eighteenth-century print.

The ‘man of power’ seems to have been Sir James Harrington of Hornby Castle in Lancashire. A well-known bully and lawbreaker, when his elder brother had died Sir James had seized his estates and castle, evicting his nieces, who were their rightful owners. Regardless of imprisonment and a determined siege by Lord Stanley, he had held on stubbornly to Hornby. Only personal intervention by the King and the Duke of Gloucester forced him to surrender. Nevertheless, he was appointed a Knight of the Body soon after his submission. The reason for Harrington’s immunity was that he was a committed Yorkist, the man who had captured Henry VI in 1465.6

Ashby was the principal seat of Lord Hastings, and his favourite house. At the same time as the licence to crenellate, he obtained permission to enclose and empark 3,000 acres for a deer park in which to hunt fallow-buck. He rebuilt the parish church next to the castle, repairing its roof and adding the clerestory and the Hastings Chapel. (The chapel contains an effigy which may be his brother, the failure Thomas.) Always at pains to be on good terms with neighbours, he secured two new fairs for the little town of Ashby – one beginning at Whitsun and the other on the eve of the feast of SS Simon and Jude (28 October).

It was now that Hastings acquired a really large affinity, enlarging it methodically, and not just in Leicester or Derbyshire. In 1472 he began to expand it to Staffordshire, where it eventually numbered thirty-three, nearly all men of position and influence, whose families provided the county with sheriffs. At its largest his total affinity amounted to over ninety persons, including two peers, nine knights, fifty-eight esquires and twenty gentlemen.

Those 3,000 troops whom William had brought to fight for King Edward in 1471 had been recruited by the affinity. The King was only too well aware of its value. Three weeks after Tewkesbury, he had ordered the Exchequer to pay Lord Grey of Codnor £100 by way of reward for ‘bringing unto us a great number of men defensibly arrayed at his cost and charge’.

By the mid-1470s Hastings’ ‘well-wishers’ could bring far more. Perhaps some neighbours coveted his ‘good lordship’ and joined his affinity because he made a point of being pleasant, signing his letters ‘Your tru frend’ or even ‘Your felaw’. But the main reason was that he had King Edward’s ear.

He used every means of expanding his control over the Midlands. No magnate had a keener eye for a profitable marriage. In 1474 he secured the wardship of the fourteen-year-old George Talbot, fourth Earl of Shrewsbury, later marrying him to his daughter, Anne Hastings. During George’s minority William administered the Talbot estates in the northern Midlands, strengthening his grip on the area and adding the stewardship of Derby to his offices.

He did not neglect his own family interests, marrying Mary Hungerford, heiress to three baronies – Hungerford, Botreaux and Moleyns – to his eldest son Edward. Born in 1466, during his father’s lifetime Edward would be summoned to Parliament as Lord Hastings of Hungerford. However, William experienced one setback. In 1474, after pressure from the King, he gave the hand of his stepdaughter, Cecily Harington, to the queen’s son by her first marriage, Sir Thomas Grey. Created Marquess of Dorset the following year, he was to become his father-in-law’s deadliest enemy.

Wherever he went, William wore a garter around his left leg, below the knee. (Fifteenth-century men did not need garters, their hose resembling the tights worn by women today.) It was the outward sign of his new, exalted rank, of his close friendship with the King. Often he took part in the Garter ceremonies. An account survives of the observance of the feast of St George at Windsor in 1476. Although William was absent, it is worth giving since he attended similar occasions in other years.

On Sunday, the actual day of the feast, the sovereign and the knights of the Order rode to Matins at St George’s Chapel and then, after breakfasting with the Dean, processed into choir, to hear High Mass seated in their stalls. The Order’s three royal ladies came on horseback to hear Mass with them, seated in the rood-loft and wearing ‘murrey’-coloured (reddish-purple) gowns embroidered with garters; they were the Queen, the King’s daughter, Elizabeth of York, and the King’s sister, the Duchess of Suffolk. One of the three ladies who accompanied them, also mounted, was the wife of Sir Richard Hastings, William’s sister-in-law, Dame Anne Hastings. Afterwards the sovereign dined in the great chamber of the castle with the Order’s chancellor, Richard Beauchamp, Bishop of Salisbury, seated on his right, and the Dukes of Clarence and Suffolk on his left. The knights in their blue mantles sat at a long table down one side of the chamber, the Dean and canons of the order in murrey-coloured mantles at a long table down the other side.

The next day, the sovereign and the knights went in procession to the chapter house and then, after a brief conference, into choir. The knights stood before their stalls while the sovereign offered a rich set of mass vestments and copes, received by the Dean, after which High Mass was sung. At the offertory the Marquess of Dorset and the Duke of Suffolk presented the sword of John, late Duke of Norfolk, then Lord Maltravers and Lord Howard presented his helmet, after which the knights – including the three-year-old Duke of York – made their own offerings at the chapel altar. Finally, having said the De Profundis for deceased knights, they processed back to the chapter house.7

The ritual expression of the highest brotherhood in the land, enshrining a sublime dream of chivalry, these ceremonies had a deep spiritual significance for those who took part. Too much has been made (by writers such as Huizinga) of the pagan origins of chivalry, too little of its Christian emphasis; until the Reformation, the Garter ranked as a religious order of the Catholic Church. William was genuinely devoted to it.

Three months later he attended the reburial of the King’s father and brother. The Duke of York and the Earl of Rutland, slain at Wakefield, were disinterred from their previous resting place at Pontefract and brought in solemn procession to the burial place of the House of York at Fotheringhay. Escorted by peers and prelates, with sixty poor men bearing lighted torches, the Duke’s funeral carriage was surmounted by a lifelike effigy dressed in purple velvet and ermine as if he had been a king – with an angel holding a royal crown behind its head, ‘in token that he was king of right’. Each night the bodies rested on a catafalque at a church, the Office of the Dead being said in the evening and a requiem Mass sung in the morning.

When the procession reached Fotheringhay on 29 July, it was met at the church door by King Edward, wearing the same purple mourning as his father’s effigy. A herald recorded that among the peers accompanying the King was ‘le sire de Hastyngs, son chambellan’. The next day, three High Masses were sung, the King and his lords presenting pieces of cloth of gold – arranged in a cross and offered to the bodies. This was one of the greatest spectacles of the Yorkist age, a magnificent public affirmation of the dynasty’s right to the throne of England.

After the service there was a funeral banquet of staggering extravagance, at which over 1,500 guests were served in tents and pavilions. In addition, thousands of poor folk were fed from the royal bounty, so the herald tells us, ‘and there was enough to drink and eat of wine and meat for everybody’. The King provided 40 pipes of wine (over 4,000 gallons) from the royal cellars, besides 31 tuns of ale. No less than 49 beef cattle, 90 calves, 200 piglets and 210 sheep were consumed, together with game, poultry and fish on a similar scale.8

Meanwhile Lord Hastings continued to be Master of the Mint, issuing another new gold coin. This was the angelet of 3s 4d, a smaller version of the angel, which remained part of the currency until the seventeenth century. Like the angel, it was used as a ‘touch-piece’, angelets being presented to those whom the king healed from scrofula (the ‘king’s evil’, tuberculosis of the lymph glands) by touching them.

Clearly the partnership with Mr Brice, his goldsmith colleague at the Mint, was going smoothly. William was even associated with him in patronizing the pioneer printer, William Caxton.9 Some time during 1481 Caxton published an illustrated book on popular science, The Mirrour of the Worlde, stating that he had done so

at the request, desire, cost and dispense of the honourable and worshipful man Hugh Bryce, alderman and citizen of London, intending to present the same unto the most virtuous, noble and puissant lord, William Hastings, lord Chamberlain unto the most Christian king Edward the Fourth, and lieutenant for the same of the town of Calais and the Marches there.

William Hastings had risen so high that Thomas More, having met many people who remembered both, could speak of him in the same breath as the Duke of Buckingham. He describes them as ‘men of honour and of great power, the one by long succession from his ancestors, the other by his offices and the king’s favour’.10 But in saying so More also puts a finger on William’s weakness. His honour and his great power depended entirely upon Edward IV.

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