William Hastings’ Last Will and Testament

On June 13, 1483, as most readers of this blog know, William Hastings was seized at a council meeting, dragged out to Tower Green, and executed without trial, or as the Crowland Chronicler put it, “without justice or judgement,” by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, soon to be Richard III. I’ve written about Hastings’ execution here and here, so I’ll spare you my rant on the subject today and stick to the title topic.

Hastings might have died without a trial, but he did not die without a will. Hastings’ lengthy will, made two years before his death, is printed in full in volume 1 of The Logge Register of PCC Wills, 1479 to 1486, edited by Lesley Boatwright, Moira Habberjam, and Peter Hammond; an abstract can be found here at Testamenta Vetusta (page 368).

Hastings, who was about 53 when he died, made his will in London on either June 26 or 27, 1481 (the Logge transcription of it contains both dates). Most people at the time did not make their wills far in advance, but waited until they were seriously ill, old, or getting ready to undertake a hazardous enterprise, such as going to war. Hastings’ will makes no mention of an illness. At the time, however, Edward IV was preparing to lead an army against the Scots; indeed, on June 22, a few days before the date of Hastings’ will, Edward IV had adjourned the courts in order to deal with the Scottish threat. Perhaps, therefore, Hastings was anticipating going to battle, though in the event he did not participate in the Scottish campaign, which was led by Gloucester. It may be, however, as the editors of the Logge Register suggest, that Hastings simply “was the sort of man who liked to do things well in advance.”

Hastings was certainly not in a hurry when he wrote his will: it takes up eight and a half pages in the Logge Register, so I’ll just point out some of the highlights here.

Famously, Hastings started his will by noting that Edward IV had allowed him to be buried “in a place by his grace assignid” in the Chapel of St. George at Windsor, where Edward IV himself was “disposid to be buryed.” He bequeathed 100 marks for the cost of his tomb and asked that on the day of his burial, 20 pounds be given to the ministers of divine service, to the poor knights present at his burial, and for other alms. Hastings also requested that a jewel of gold or silver to the value of 20 pounds be given by his executors to the dean and canons of the chapel.

Hastings devoted much time in his will to the welfare of his soul, providing for daily masses and yearly obits and giving many bequests to places of religion. He asked that a priest be found to pray daily for his soul, his wife’s soul, for the king’s prosperous estate during his life and for his soul after his death, and for all Christian souls. (The king in question, of course, was Edward IV.) On the anniversary of his death, 20 shillings in alms were to be distributed. Hastings also asked that 100 pounds be dispersed to the friars of Notthingham, Northampton, Leicester, and Derby and to other prisoners and poor folks of those shires.

Lord Hastings was generous toward his family. His sister, Elizabeth Donne, received 100 marks; he gave 300 marks toward the marriages of various nieces. Much of his will is taken up with arrangements for the marriage of his daughter Anne, who Hastings intended to marry his ward George, Earl of Shrewsbury.

Hastings’ eldest son was named, not surprisingly, Edward. He had three other sons: Richard, George, and William, though George was probably dead by 1481, since he is not mentioned in the will. Hastings made arrangements for both of his younger sons to receive lands when they reached the age of 18. He assigned certain manors to his widow and arranged for plate, jewels, and “stuff” to be divided between his daughter, his two younger sons, his wife, and his heir, Edward Hastings.

Touchingly, Hastings charged his heir to be “feythfull and trewe to the kinges grace, to my lord prince, and there heiris.” He named “Kateryn my enterly belovid wiff,” his eldest son, Sir William Husee, Chief Judge of the King’s Bench, and Richard Pygot, one of the king’s sergeants at law, as his executors. For “the more parfite and sure execution” of his will, Hastings also made John Morton, Bishop of Ely (arrested along with Hastings in 1483) and John, Lord Dynham (Hastings’ lieutenant at Calais), surveyors of the will. He closed his will by beseeching Edward IV to be a good and gracious lord to his wife, his heir, and to all of his children, who in turn he charged to be “tru sogettes and servaunts” to the king and to all of his issue. Loyalty might have been Gloucester’s motto, but as Hastings’ will shows, it was the guiding principle of Hastings’ life.

12 thoughts on “William Hastings’ Last Will and Testament”

  1. Susan, I'm still not quite sure what to make of it all, though no doubt he didn't deserve what he got (or at least not how he got it.) Hastings wasn't history's most faithful husband, so his "entirely beloved wife" bit leaves me a little cold. He probably loved Edward more than anyone and his expressions of it are touching, yes.

  2. Susan Higginbotham

    RS, I wonder how much of a bed-hopper Hastings really was. I haven't found any mention of him fathering illegitimate children, as one might expect. I think he did at least respect his wife, as he named her one of his executors.

    Kathryn, the two-volume Logge register is great fun to look through. Most of the wills in it are by ordinary people.

  3. Susan, I'm sure Hastings recognised his wife's worth in many ways. But he was as much of a chancer as any of the favourites at the time, though his personal loyalty to Edward IV would seem to have been very real. I don't subscribe to a view of him as debauched sex addict, but I think his loyalty to Edward, and the manner and method of his death tend more to excite people's sympathies than otherwise, and any negatives kind of get washed out. My sympathies, in this instance, are with Katheryn.

  4. Interesting post – especially as I've not long finished 'Richard III and the Murder in the Tower', which attempted to do the unbelievable – whitewash Richard of the dreadful murder of Hastings, a truly shocking crime, even by those standards.

    I think the reference to 'entirely beloved wife' shows his respect for his wife, if not his fidelity. He wasn't alone in being a straying husband – interesting that there is no mention of any illegitimate children, when even that 'good' husband Richard III was known to have at least one illegitimate son.

  5. Susan Higginbotham

    Anjere–yes, while I certainly have sympathy for medieval women married to straying husbands, it must have been very hard for men to avoid temptation, given the double standard of the time! Those husbands who remained faithful deserve commendation.

    I thought the book in question was interesting, but I didn't buy its thesis either.

  6. i bought that book in the hopes that it would tell me something useful that I didn't know. Unfortunately, it wasn't money well spent. For true Ricardians, the murder of Hastings is a difficult thing to normalise and for those of us who quite like Richard but have few illusions, shuffling the blame onto Catesby doesn't help at all.

  7. I am sorry Sue if I've become the historical researcher from hell

    But then my stance has always been the logical rather than the historical.

    As it is Peter Hancock's book has become the last straw.

  8. Susan Higginbotham

    Ragged Staff, how true!

    Trish, well, at least it's a step up from Annette Carson's book, which suggests that Hastings (along with the Woodvilles, of course) poisoned Edward IV.

  9. It might surprise you Sue but in the matter of Hastings I'm not that far removed from Annette. What might surprise her is what else I picked up in her book that led me down a somewhat different path.

  10. Oh dear! Poor Annette! What a treasure trove of serendipity her opus is turning out to be. Things haven't looked this black for R3 since the Battle of Bosworth.

    As for Hastings his halo's gone AWOL too.

    Finally poor Horace, he of the historic doubts and the guy who coined the term 'serendipity'. Bet he wishes he hadn't.

  11. Thank you, Susan, for posting this. Hastings is my favorite character of the period and I sponge up whatever I can get on him. I find the fact that he wrote his will ahead of the typical time of doing so rather in line with what I have read of him. He would have been a fascinating man to have known, I believe.

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