Henry Hastings, the 3rd Earl of Huntingdon, makes a cameo appearance in Tony Thistlewood’s novel, When the Time is Ripe. We meet the Earl when the Queen’s chief minister, Lord Burghley, is interrogating him about his family. Surprisingly, Burghley seems more interested in a portrait of Henry’s wife than in his illustrious ancestors. Even so, it is an uncomfortable interview.
If only are possibly the saddest words in the English language, and Henry Hastings, 3rd Earl of Huntingdon, could study his family tree and justifiably sigh a few if onlys.
Pictured here is the Earl's ancestral home... or what is left of it. In the sixteenth century, Ashby de la Zouch Castle in Leicestershire, England, would have been a suitable birthplace for a future monarch… if only…
Being descended from Edward III, Henry Hastings was a Plantagenet through and through.
At the time of his birth in 1535, the Tudor’s had already been in power for fifty years; Henry VIII was firmly established on the throne, and his long marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was recently annulled.
Social and ecclesiastical change was about to sweep the land for England was on the threshold of being reformed into a Protestant country. Even so, at this important juncture in England’s history, being a Plantagenet was still considered marginally worse than being a Catholic.
Henry VIII and his father, Henry VII, had done their level best to eliminate all Plantagenet pretenders to the throne. Even a cursory glance at the Earl’s family tree shows how effectively the two Tudor kings had decimated the Plantagenet ranks.
Henry Hastings’s maternal grandparents, (Henry, 1st Baron Montagu and his wife, Jane Neville), were both executed, and so too were his great-grandmother (Margaret Plantagenet) and great-great-grandfather (George, 1st Duke of Clarence).
Yet the carnage didn’t end there: Margaret’s other son, Geoffrey, Henry Hastings’s great-uncle, was also beheaded, while her third son, Reginald de la Pole who, in 1536, had been created a Cardinal by Pope Paul III, avoided the axe by escaping to Rome. Henry Hastings later briefly lived and travelled with Reginald.
When Queen Mary I, a Catholic, ascended the throne in 1553, she immediately brought Reginald back from Rome and appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury. He was the last Catholic to hold that office.
One of the strangest mysteries of the Tudor era involves Queen Mary and Archbishop Reginald de la Pole. Mary died on 17th November 1558, allegedly from a severe bout of influenza; strangely, Reginald de la Pole died only hours later. Suspicious? Of course, it was. After all, Reginald was a powerful Catholic Plantagenet with a very strong claim to the throne – nothing could have been worse. And Protestant England was still fuming at “Bloody Mary” and her Catholic Archbishop for burning at the stake nearly three hundred Protestants. So, if the ‘flu didn’t take these two, then what did?
A few years later, in October 1562, the fifth and last Tudor Monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, contracted smallpox and, by all accounts, was at death’s door. She was not married; she had not named an heir; and there were no viable Tudors left to succeed her. If there was ever an ideal opportunity to restore the Plantagenet line, this was it. The time could not have been better for the twenty-seven-year-old Henry Hastings to raise an army and seize the throne that he always thought was his by right.
But he did not do it!
Instead, Henry left it to his brother-in-law, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, to promote his claim to the throne.
If only Henry Hastings had been made of sterner stuff… and if only Queen Elizabeth had died…
But he wasn’t, and she didn’t.
Queen Elizabeth made a full recovery and Robert Dudley immediately and wisely lost interest in Henry’s claim. Elizabeth reigned for another forty-one years, outliving Henry Hastings by eight years.
The wily Lord Burghley later appointed Henry Hastings President of the Council of the North thus effectively removing him from the Court. Henry lived in York, well out of the way, for the rest of his working life and became a loyal and effective servant of the Tudors.
Nevertheless, there is little doubt that Henry Hastings, 3rd Earl of Huntingdon, harboured thoughts of gaining the throne. He spent much of his later years researching and documenting his family history, and those documents are now in the British Museum.
Sadly, Henry Hastings made little impact on English history, and yet, as the Tudor’s faded away, the country was spared from having another warring Plantagenet monarch… but if only…
Date of Birth: c. 1535
Place of Birth: Ashby de la Zouch Castle, Leicestershire, England
Date of Death: 14th December 1595
Buried: Ashby de la Zouch.
m. 1553 Catherine Dudley (b.c. 1545 d.1620) (sister of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester)
They had no children and so the title passed to Henry’s brother, George, who became the 4th Earl of Huntingdon.
Principal Positions held:
Ashby de la Zouch Castle, Leicestershire.
In the mid 15th century, the Yorkist king, Edward IV, gave the castle to Henry Hasting’s great-great-grandfather, William, 1st Baron Hastings, for services rendered. The castle, strictly speaking it was a fortified manor house, remained in the family until it fell foul of Cromwell during the civil wars. In 1646, the castle was surrendered to Parliamentary forces and slighted (destroyed). Only the ruins remain today – see picture above.
Read more about Tony Thistlewood's historical novel:
Or return to Historical Characters and read the snapshot bios of more of the Elizabethan characters that feature in Tony's books.
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