The atmospheric ruins of Kirby Muxloe Castle, showing the moat, the gatehouse and the only tower to near completion ..
Kirby Muxloe Castle, lies in Leicestershire countryside, in ruins, the unfinished project of William, Lord Hastings. Hastings was the epitome of a successful and powerful 15th century lord. But as with other nobles of those turbulent times, success run cheek by jowl with downfall, dishonour, betrayal and death. Hastings’ life is well documented elsewhere and I want to concentrate more upon Kirby Muxloe Castle but to tell the story of the castle its necessary for a brief summary of Hastings life to be told too.
Hastings, c1430-1483, had been raised to be a loyal Yorkist from youth, his father, Sir Leonard Hastings having been a retainer of Richard Duke of York. He first begun his rise and rise to power and fortune after the Battle of Towton 29 March 1461 where he was knighted. Soon after as a mark of the closeness between him and Edward IV he was made Chamberlain of the royal household and in 1462 he was further rewarded with the granting of ‘full power to receive persons into the king’s grace at his discretion’. Grants and lands, removed from defeated and disenfranchised Lancastrians, enabling him to support his new status were swiftly bestowed upon him.
THE STALL PLATE OF WILLIAM HASTINGS, ST GEORGE CHAPEL, WINDSOR c.Geoffrey Wheeler
Manticore badge of William Hastings c.1470
He seems to have been blessed with the trait of being able to run with the hounds and play with the foxes as he managed to stay on friendly terms with his brother in law, the great Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, known later as the Kingmaker, after Warwick become disenchanted with Edward IV. Rosemary Horrox suggests that Warwick may have seen Hastings as ‘the acceptable face of Edward’s court circle, but it is certainly not evidence that Hastings had supported the earl’ (1). Indeed when Edward went into exile in the Low Countries Hastings accompanied him, thus strengthening even more the bond between them.
Hastings extraordinary power and privilege stemmed from this closeness to the king and was known and commented upon at the time, a servant of the Pastons observing ‘what my seyd lord Chamberleyn may do wyth the Kyng and wyth all the lordys of Inglond I trowe it be not unknowyn to yow, most of eny on man alyve’ (2). No doubt this would have led to clashes with the Queen, Elizabeth Wydeville, and her delightful family, including her sons, despite one of them, Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset being married to Hastings step daughter, Cicely Bonville. Later, Edward knowing death was approaching, pleaded with his bosom pal Hastings and his stepson, Grey, to put their differences behind them and work together for the benefit of Edward’s young son. Edward died at a comparative young age, 42, a death which came out of the blue for some. Hastings, no doubt alarmed at the appalling thought of his enemies, the upstart and voracious Wydevilles getting it all, sent a letter to Edward’s brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester, warning him of the Wydeville plots. Hastings seems to have got on well with Richard, as he had with Warwick. Gloucester, having been warned, took control of the situation and with a minimum of bloodshed took up his role of Lord Protector as set out in the late king’s will. Croyland Chronicler reports Hastings ‘as bursting with joy over this new world’ (3) The rest is history, and the mystery of why Richard, known for his fairness, had Hastings removed from a council meeting at the Tower of London and beheaded on the 13th June 1483 can only be speculated upon. After his death Richard dealt kindly with his widow, Katherine Hastings nee Neville, granting permission for Hastings to be buried close to his late friend and king, in St Georges Chapel, Windsor , as requested in Edward’s will and allowing her to keep her husband’s lands and which leads me to Kirby Muxloe….
The Western Tower with the Gate House to the left..with thanks to Bobrad for photo.
On the 17th April 1474 Edward IV had granted Hastings, by then a very wealthy man. licence to fortify with walls and battlements four of his properties plus enclose large areas of land to create hunting parks around them, one of these properties being Kirby Muxloe (4) There was already an earlier medieval manor house there but I have been unable to ascertain what condition it was in when building of the castle commenced. Its most likely that whatever condition it was in the intention would have been to demolish it at some stage as completion of the castle neared its end. Indeed its known that some repair work was carried out on the old house while building of the new castle was taking place. The foundations of this old house can still be seen today. Its an indication of Hastings fabulous wealth that he had not completed Ashby de la Zouch Castle, intended to be his main seat, before work commenced on Kirby Muxloe in 1480. The plans were for a rectangle courtyard surrounded by a moat with a tower at each of the four corners. The gatehouse and one tower were nearing completion when news reached the builders of Hastings execution. This must have thrown the workmen and craftsmen into disarray and its not beyond probability some of their number would have downed tools at that stage although Katherine Hastings continued the work on a much smaller scale until finally giving up altogether the following summer.
Hastings had employed master mason John Cowper who trained as an apprentice in the building of Eton College. It is from Eton that Cowper would have come across the method of bricklaying known as ‘diaper work’ – patterns made from dark bricks built into lighter brickwork – and used it in the design of the walls at Kirby Muxloe. The initials WH (although not the initials of his wife..really Sir William!), the maunce or sleeve from his coat of arms, a ship and a jug are among designs incorporated into the diaper work. Cowper was also familiar with Tattershall Castle and may have based the gate house at Kirby on Tattershall’s great tower. All that remains of what would have been a massive gatehouse is the base. The remains of a wooden bridge that led to the gatehouse and drawbridge were discovered in 1911 and are preserved in the moat. On entering through the gate two rooms are to be found, both with fireplaces, one of them likely intended as a porters lodge. Two spiral staircases, both made of brick lead to the first floor with rooms containing fireplaces, latrines and windows. The floors above were never completed.
Example of the diaper work at Kirkby Muxloe.
Six towers were intended, four at each corner and two midway in the perimeter walls. The surviving foundations of these towers can still be seen. The West Tower is the only complete tower to survive, square in shape and comprising of three floors, a spiral staircase and latrines.
Luckily the building accounts for the castle have survived. They were written in a mixture of Latin, French and English by Hastings’ steward Roger Bowlett. So we know that a Flemish man called Antony Yzebrond in charge of the manufacturing of the huge amounts of bricks required was paid 10d a week, a man called John Powell was redirecting a brook to feed the moat, another man, Hugh Geffrey, was building a cart track for the carriage of stone while John Peyntour was sent to gather crab apple trees to be used as grafting stock. Were these gentlemen present when the shocking news arrived of the demise of their master we will disappointingly never know. After Hasting’s widow, Katherine, gave up her valiant attempt to complete the work the following year Kirby Muxloe was abandoned, used as farm buildings for a while before being finally given up to the elements.
Gatehouse with replacement wooden bridge…
It is interesting to compare the rise and fall of Hastings to that of the building and fall of Kirkby Muxloe. Whatever led to the execution of Hastings – did he betray Richard? Who in turn betrayed him? – Catesby perhaps? Was he perhaps bitter that he was not given the awards he had hoped for by Richard, Richard being a different kettle of fish to his brother Edward, as he watched the rise and rise of Buckingham..Or was it that Richard blamed him for keeping the pre contract between Edward and Eleanor Butler nee Talbot a secret from him..a secret that was the catalyst for the fall of the House of York. Its sad to reflect that if Hastings had survived those initial very dangerous days his presence at Bosworth alongside Richard may well have led to a completely different outcome.
William Hastings, first Baron Hastings’ signature..
Doorway in the gatehouse leading to possibly a porters lodge.
I give a massive thank you to John Goodall and his most informative Guidebook on Ashby de laZouch and Kirby Muxloe. Also to Rosemary Horrox for her article Hastings, William, first Baron Hastings to be found on the Oxford DNB.
- Hastings, William, first Baron Hastings Rosemary Horrox Oxford DNB
- Paston Letters 1.581
- Croyland Chronicle Continuations,159
- License to crenellate: Although never mandated by the monarchy nor a common practice until after 1200, applying for a license to erect a castle or to fortify a standing residence indicated not only that the applicant had the self-confidence to approach the king, but also demonstrated that he possessed the financial and personal status that came with the ability to build a castle. For many lords, receiving the license to crenellate was accomplishment enough, so they felt no urgency to complete the process with an outlandish expenditure of money that could result in bankruptcy. Just having the royal license proved they were qualified to move in the circles of the rich and famous and that the monarch recognized their social status. Lise Hull Kirby Muxloe Castle – Quadrangular Glory in Brick and Water