William Hastings, 1st Baron Hastings

Born: c. 1430

Kirby, Leicestershire, England

Died: June 13, 1483

Tower Hamlets, London, England (Age c. 53)

Hastings in History

The Hastings family had been loyal supporter of the house of York since at least 1435 when William's father Leonard served Richard Plantagenet, then Duke of York. When Leonard Hastings died in 1455 just after the Battle of St Albans (the first battle of the Wars of the Roses between the houses of York and Lancaster), William, the new Lord Hastings, followed his father as a loyal Yorkist supporter and was awarded several positions by the duke. By 1459, the Yorkists had come under attainder by the reigning Lancastrian regime and were forced to flee to Ireland. Hastings did not join them and, most likely, kept a low profile until the Yorkists returned. Unfortunately, when the Yorkists did return, they were ultimately defeated by the Lancastrians at Wakefield (after some earlier successes) with York himself being killed in the battle. The Yorkist cause was now taken up by York's eldest son Edward, Earl of March. Young Edward defeated the Lancastrians at Towton, with Hastings present, and crowned himself as King Edward IV after his enemies were forced to flee the country.

With Edward now king, Hastings experienced a surplus of royal favor. For his loyal service to the house of York, he was rewarded with an endless number of lands, titles and positions, which included being made a Knight of the Garter and lord chamberlain of the royal household. By 1469, however, the Earl of Warwick and the king's brother George, Duke of Clarence, were in rebellion. They defeated Edward's forces at the Battle of  Edgecote and imprisoned the king himself. During this period, Hastings remained loyal to Edward IV, but also seems to have been looked at with kindness by Warwick, a sign that he was a genuinely well-loved person overall. Warwick and Clarence fled England after releasing the king and returned with French reinforcements. They chased out Edward and his followers, and Henry VI was placed back on the throne. For Yorkist supporters, this readeption would, luckily, only be temporary.

Edward returned to England and annihilated Warwick and the Lancastrians in two decisive battles at Barnet and Tewksbury to regain his crown. With Edward's throne now secure (and all Lancastrian claimants either dead or in exile) Hastings returned to his place of favor and was continuously awarded new positions, including that of lieutenant of Calais, and built up quite an amount of wealth in the process. Unfortunately, things would come to a crashing halt when Edward IV died suddenly in 1483. With a power struggle brewing between the Woodvilles (Edward IV's in-laws) and the Duke of Gloucester (Edward IV's brother) over possession of the new King Edward V (who was underage), Hastings was forced to choose sides. Since it seems he and the Woodvilles were never on the best of terms, the obvious choice was to side with Gloucester, a man who he knew and trusted. Therefore, Hastings supported Gloucester's request to be made protector over the minority king. However, it soon became clear that Gloucester intended to seize the throne himself. Hastings did not agree with his methods and was promptly taken and executed. Despite all his loyal service to the house of York, in the end, Hastings simply chose the wrong man to trust.

Hastings in Shakespeare

Appears in: Henry VI, Part 3; Richard III

Hastings appears in 3 Henry VI as a loyal supporter of Edward IV and the Yorkists, fighting at the battles of Barnet and Tewksbury. In Richard III, he is released from prison at the play's beginning, where he was apparently put on advice from the Woodvilles, Edward IV's in-laws. For this reason, Hastings joins forces with Gloucester against their common enemy and is thrilled to find out that several of the Woodvilles have been executed. However, when Hastings then refuses to support Gloucester's ascent to the throne over his nephew, he is taken, under orders from Gloucester, and immediately executed. Within the play, the execution of Hastings is placed at the wrong time, being that he is executed after Earl Rivers, Lord Grey and Thomas Vaughan. Historically, Hastings was executed about two weeks before the others. Hastings appears later in the play as a ghost to haunt Richard III before the Battle of Bosworth.


Horrox, Rosemary. ‘Hastings, William, first Baron Hastings (c.1430–1483)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/12588, accessed 2 Feb 2010]

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