Rise of the House of Hastings
An extract adapted from "Leicester Forest": by Levi Fox and Percy Russell (1948). Part 2. Ch. 4. by Percy Russell
The Hastings family and lands at Braunstone and Kirby
The manor of Braunstone had long been held by the Herle family; but in 1364 Robert de Herle, dying without issue, left his land to his sister's son, Ralph Hastings, and so brought into Sparkenhoe Hundred that famous family, with which the subsequent history of Leicester forest is so closely connected.
The senior branch of the Hastings family, long associated with Fillongley in Warwickshire, came to an untimely end in the Christmas tournament of 1389; but the Leicestershire branch was then coming to the fore.
Sir Ralph Hastings of Wistow was a hard-fighting soldier, who rose to command the garrison at York, and died of wounds received at the battle of Neville's Cross. He married Margaret de Herle. It was their son Ralph who came to Braunstone in 1364, after he inherited the manor from Robert de Herle. Like his father the younger Ralph was a capable man: he went with Simon Pakeman of Kirby to the Parliament in the following year, and appears in the Duchy of Lancaster records as one of John of Gaunt's most trusted commanders in the field. He died in 1398. He had three sons and the eldest son, another Ralph, became his heir.
The Hastings family had close connections with Yorkshire and in 1405 the heir, the third Ralph, was unlucky enough to be implicated in the Scrope rebellion and lost his head in consequence.
The middle son, Ralph's brother Richard, held the lands in Braunstone and Kirby until his death in 1436 and appears to have resided in Kirby, where both he and later the youngest brother, Leonard, rented the old Pakeman lands from the well-known family of Villiers of Brooksby. One of the Villiers had married a daughter and heiress of the last of the Pakemans, Simon (1306-1376).
Leonard Hastings, like so many of his family, possessed great ability in administration, and he was sheriff of the counties of Leicester and Warwick in 1453. Following his ancestors, Leonard still held closely in his affection to the Yorkshire interests; and when he died in 1455, Richard, Duke of York (father of King Edward IV), was among his executors.
It was the friendship between the young men of the two families that raised the Hastings name to such eminence in Leicestershire. Leonard's son William and the Duke's son Edward were hand in glove, and stood together on many a stricken field. As soon as Edward attained the throne in 1461, William became Baron Hastings and holder of many honours. He obtained nearly all the offices of profit appertaining to the duchy of Lancaster in Leicestershire: Steward of the honor of Leicester, Constable of Leicester Castle, and Ranger of Leicester Forest, Leicester park (presumably the Frith), Barn park (outside Kirby) and Tooley park (near Peckleton). These offices brought in a useful revenue, with residences and pickings for a considerable number of his henchmen.
In 1470 he fully repaid the generosity of his master. When Edward had been driven out of his kingdom by the uprising of the Earl of Warwick, and could only re-appear on the Yorkshire coast with a handful of men, William Hastings, with speed and resolution, raised a well-equipped army in the Midlands; and so enabled Edward to overthrow Warwick at the battle of Barnet and recover the kingdom.
After 1470, Edward and Hastings set themselves to enjoy the sweets of victory and Hastings devoted much of his time to the development of his estates in Leicestershire. The scope of his plans was vast; for, in 1474, he obtained a licence to enclose 3,000 acres near Ashby, 2,000 near Bagworth and 2,000 near Kirby. These manors, and many others including Donnington, were accretions to his modest patrimony at Braunstone and Kirby.
He ceased to be a tenant at Braunstone and Kirby by acquiring the manorial rights from the Villiers family a few months before his inclosure schemes were licenced.
At Ashby William Hastings certainly inclosed considerable lands to enrich the magnificent buildings he then erected; but of additional inclosures at Kirby there is no trace. His general scheme appears to have been to develop Bagworth and Kirby as useful halting places between Ashby and Leicester, so as to have available horses and places of refreshment in the severest of winter weather.
(from Leicester Forest by Levi Fox and Percy Russell, published by Edgar Backus, Leicester for the Leicestershire Archaeological Society, now the Leicestershire Archaeological and Historical Society (LAHS). Reproduced by kind permission of the LAHS, 2007.)