ASHBY DE LA ZOUCH CASTLE
Fortified during the fifteenth century by William, Lord Hastings, Ashby de la Zouch Castle became the family seat for his descendants, the Earls of Huntingdon. Briefly acting as a gaol for Mary, Queen of Scots it was later held for the King during the Civil War after which it was slighted on the orders of Parliament.
The site of Ashby de la Zouch Castle was originally occupied by a small fortified manor house which was built around the time of the Norman invasion. Mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, the property was owned by the Earl of Leicester. It was subsequently granted to the la Zouch family who held it until the end of the fourteenth century.
Ashby came into the ownership of William, Lord Hastings in the mid fifteenth century. He had risen to prominence during the Wars of the Roses where he was a key supporter of the Yorkist cause. He led the Yorkist right wing at the Battle of Towton (1461) and was knighted on the field by the victorious Edward IV. In the years that followed he benefited from numerous grants of lands including Ashby. In 1474 he sought Royal permission to crenallate (fortify) Ashby and his other his manors at Kirby-Muxloe, Bagworth and Slingsby. Work had already begun by this time though; Lord Hastings had commissioned upgrades at Ashby no later than 1472 which he sought to convert into his primary residence.
The fortifications came to a halt in 1483 when Lord Hastings was executed by Richard, Duke of Gloucester. That year Edward IV unexpectedly died and Richard sought to disinherit his son, Edward V. Richard calculated that Lord Hastings would not agree to removal of the young King and, to enable him to proceed with the plan, accused him of treason whilst in Council in the Tower of London. Lord Hastings was promptly taken outside and beheaded without even a trial. Richard took the throne (as Richard III) whilst the fate of Edward V, one of the ‘Princes in the Tower’, has never been solved. The new King perhaps felt some guilt at this vicious act against an individual that had been so loyal to the Yorkist cause as, a little over one month after William's execution, the family estates were restored to them.
Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field (1485) and Henry VII, first of the Tudors, took the throne. The Hastings family continued to prosper after this change of Royal dynasty with George Hastings being ennobled as Earl of Huntingdon by Henry VIII in 1529. The family continued to serve the Tudors and, during the reign of Elizabeth I, the then owner of Ashby - Henry, Earl of Huntingdon - was trusted to act as gaoler for Mary, Queen of Scots. The Scottish Queen stayed briefly at the castle whilst being moved between Bolton Castle and Tutbury Castle.
By the time of the seventeenth century Civil War Ashby Castle was in a poor state of repair. Nevertheless it was garrisoned for the Royalist cause and was re-fortified. A vital link between the fighting in the north and the south, Ashby was visited twice by Charles I including the night after the decisive defeat at Naseby on 14 June 1645. The castle was surrendered to Parliament on 28 February 1646 and, after being initially used as a prison for Royalists, was partially demolished to prevent its use as a military base. The castle was never fully repaired, despite efforts throughout the nineteenth century, and drifted into ruin.
Allen, R (1976). English Castles. Batsford, London.
Bell, H.N (1821). The Huntingdon Peerage. London.
Bennett, M (1980). Henry Hastings and the Flying Army of Ashby de la Zouch. Leicestershire Archaeological Society.
Emery, A (1996). Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, Vol. I. 1300-1500. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Fosbrooke, T.H (1911). Ashby de la Zouch Castle. London.
Goodall, J (2011). Ashby de la Zouch Castle and Kirby-Muxloe Castle. English Heritage, London.
Historic England (2016). Listing Report: Ashby de la Zouch 1013324. London.
Jones, T.L (1984). Ashby de la Zouch Castle. London
Pevsner, N and Williamson, E (1984). The Buildings of England: Leicestershire and Rutland. London
The extensive remains of a fortified manor house including the Great Tower that has been blown apart by gunpowder but still exists to its full height and provides an excellent cutaway of the interior. The staircase of the Great Tower has survived and can be accessed giving superb views.
Ashby de la Zouch Castle is well sign posted but the car park is reserved for disabled visitors only (and is shared with a local tennis club). There is a pay and display car park available on South Street just a short walk from castle.
South Street, LE65 1BR
Ashby de la Zouch Castle