Power in the Landscape: The Grey & Hastings Families in Leicestershire

Speaker: Katie Bridger

16 January 2018

The first talk of 2018 was entitled ‘Power in the Landscape: The Grey and Hastings families in Leicestershire’ by Katie Bridger, a PhD student in the Centre for English Local History at the University of Leicester, whose principal interest is in people and the landscape.

Katie started by saying that throughout history it is important to anchor people and events down to places. Places have an important influence on people and vice versa. Her talk focused on two important landowners in Leicestershire during the 15th century: Thomas Grey (1455-1501) 1st Marquis of Dorset, and William Hastings (1431- 1483) who was knighted at the battle of Towton.

A Yorkist, William Hastings became one of the key figures in England during the reigns of Edward IV and was buried at St George’s Chapel Windsor, close to the tomb of Edward despite the fall from grace which saw him executed for treason by Richard III. In 1474 he was given ‘licence to crenellate’ (fortify his property) at Ashby de la Zouch and Kirby Muxloe. At Ashby, his major achievement was the Hastings Tower. That the tower was built in a hurry can be seen from the haphazard arrangement of doors and windows. His ‘device’ is plastered all over the building, and the ‘sun in splendor’ and rose motifs around the fireplace demonstrate he was favoured by the King. At Kirby, he began a fortified redbrick house with a moat. The gatehouse and walls have his ‘device’, his initials, and other symbols picked out in blue brickwork. It was never finished because of his execution but the quality of construction can be seen.

Kirby Muxloe was built on the King’s Highway through Leicester Forest (roughly the route of the present day A47) and both the Hastings family and the Greys had land close to it. The highway was the scene of many disputes as local people would be supporters of one family or the other and there had been a long battle for supremacy in the area between the two.

Thomas Grey was the eldest son of Elizabeth Woodville who later married Edward IV. He was made 1st Marquis of Dorset in 1475 and had interests all over the country. In Leicestershire, his properties included Groby Old Hall and Bradgate Park.   At Groby, Grey built on what had been there before, very close but not on top of the old castle. Bradgate House is thought to have been started during the first Marquis’s time and shows a change in thoughts about building, for example: by locating it at the centre of the park rather than close to a highway and not at the highest point; manipulating the water supply; and the building itself was not so tall. All of this shows more evidence of building for comfort rather than purely for power. However, Bradgate still looks out over Leicester and the people of Leicester can always see Bradgate.


Further reading/ References used in the talk

Childs, J., Henry VIII’s Last Victim: The Life and Times of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (London, 2008).

Head, D. M., The Ebbs and Flows of Fortune: The Life of Thomas Howard, Third Duke of Norfolk (Georgia, U.S.A., 2009).

Hutchinson, R., House of Treason: The Rise and Fall of a Tudor Dynasty (London, 2009).

Skillington, S. H., ‘Star Chamber proceedings’, TLAHS, 12, no. 1 (1921), pp. 129-158.

Toulmin Smith, L. (ed.), The Itinerary of John Leland in or about the Years 1535-1543, J. Leland (London, 1907-1910), vols. 1-5.